The New Nominalism

It was once considered in some circles that most nominal Christianity was found in the mainline churches. Perhaps that was a little unfair but it was somewhat easier to claim to be a Christian on the basis of infant baptism and occasional, or even regular, attendance. In many cases the mainline churches offered a cultural form of Christianity, having its origins in the christianisation of society, which began in the days of Constantine. This was the beginning of the catholic principle whereby all within the boundaries of the Empire were nominally Christian. It was not a matter of personal faith; rather Christianity was defined through the rites of passage. The Church was comprised of a mixed multitude, expressed as wheat and tares growing together until the separation at the end of the age. This is not a Biblical model of the Church, which is comprised of the called out ones, distinct from the rest of society.

Growing up in a Classic Pentecostal church, I found that it was generally believed that the other denominations were not truly Christian. No doubt, other denominations held the same position and some still do so today. Essentially, in practice, the judgment was made on matters of form. In other words, different forms of service defined whether a particular group were genuinely Christian or not. Clearly, this is flawed as it is not form but faith which is the defining issue. Further, a distinction has been made around the issue of conversion. The more evangelistic groups would emphasize crisis conversion, while others would speak of process or discovery. For some, it was essential to know the time and place of conversion, any other way being excluded. Without doubt, conversion is a Biblical truth, as is the new birth. Jesus said,
“no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”. (John 3:3).
Jesus also said,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ……. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”. (Matt.28:19-20).
The true test of conversion is discipleship. Faith is a decision but it is discovered in process.

Nominalism is a reality. Not all who say they are Christian have a living faith. However, a significant change has taken place in the Church which takes our focus into another place. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s the Charismatic Movement spread across the boundaries of the denominations. Charismatics could be found in such diverse places as Roman Catholicism and Brethrenism. Of course, there have remained those staunchly opposed. Nevertheless the effects of the Charismatic Renewal have been widespread and significant. The Charismatic Renewal is a mixed bag, both good and bad. It has not unified the Church, neither has it given a consistent theology which all parties can agree to. As a subject it is complex and I do not seek to address it here. My point is this: with the coming of the Charismatic Movement, there has been a change of style across the boundaries which has given a new definition to the idea of where to find true faith. The ardent dispensationalist can’t find true faith in the Charismatic Movement. He is wrong but it is not that sector I wish to address. The charismatic style includes anything from hand raising and contemporary music to extreme manifestations. So we have conservative charismatics and extreme charismatics. Here’s the point; a person is deemed to be a true believer because he raises his hands or falls in line with the manifestation of the day, be it roaring like a lion or jumping up and down like a pogo stick. The new nominalism is based upon style. In other words how an individual performs in church gatherings, tells us whether someone is a Christian or not. So we have “charismatics” laying hands on others and praying for them, we have “worship” groups performing music and even erotic dance at the front of our gatherings all based upon the acceptance of style being the determining factor of faith. Don’t misunderstand me, I like some contemporary styles, depending on the quality of the music and the content of the words. I practice the laying on of hands but I like to know who it is before I let someone lay hands on me. The new nominalism defines the spirituality of the individual by the nature of their actions and behaviour, or manifestation, in the gathering.

Here’s my problem. Saul was in the gathering and began to prophesy. This is how it is described,
“When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam.10:11).
It’s confusing. Outward manifestation didn’t make Saul the true king. So it is with the charismatic presumption: it’s confusing. The bar has been set too low. We call it the limbo dancing church. In others words, setting the bar as low as possible but still scraping under it. It’s become too easy to be a Christian. The seeker sensitive, felt needs gospel of the day, does not represent the Gospel of the Jesus of the Bible. Jesus said,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father or mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27).