As I was doing some of my regular blog reading I came across the oft heard phrase “nominal Christian.” It was used in the context of examining two groups of people who step away from their faith either momentarily or permanently. I’ve heard that description many times over the years and it always gives me pause – what exactly is a “nominal Christian?” Is it someone who sits on the sidelines and never participates in the ministry of the gospel, personally or socially? Is it someone who came to faith early on in life and never sought or got involved in discipleship training? Is it someone who claims the title “Christian” simply for social or business purposes? Would Jesus be comfortable with “nominal Christians” in his band of twelve?
During some of my Bible reading time, going through the book of James, there’s a verse in chapter one that seems curiously placed. Understanding that the genre of James is fascinatingly allusive, verse 12 of chapter one appears to clearly illustrate that point. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him (NASB).” There are biblical scholars who see verse twelve plainly connected to vv. 2-11 and there are those who see the verse connected to v. 13ff. Where one chooses to situate the verse is somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the teaching of the verse. It is almost a capsule of James’ purpose in writing the instructions to the “twelve tribes who are dispersed.”
Whether it’s persecution or social injustice, the man/woman who perseveres under trial – translate as endures with the goal of perfection or completeness – will receive the crown of life. A promise from the Lord to those who keep loving him. Now in my mind there’s not much room there for “nominal.”
It’s true that there will be periods of inconsistency in our pilgrimage of faith. There will be times when we want to cry out “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” There will be trials that push us to the edge of the envelope and force us to put our faith cards on the table. There may even be times when we find ourselves in the camp of the double-minded. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve abandoned faith – it simply means we’re still struggling to “count it all joy when (we) face various trials.” That is not characteristic of a “nominal Christian” – one who exists in name only?
The measure of a Christian is one who is moving forward. If measured on a scale of one to ten, ten being perfect and complete in Christ, if we’re a six our goal ought to be to get to seven! Sure we want a ten, we believe in ten, but our goal is moving forward. How fast we move is determined by many things – but the point is simply this, we are moving forward. We are enduring. We are persevering. There’s nothing nominal about that!