Nominal Christianity in the South (part 2)

I wish I could say that I believed everyone who said they were Christian actually was. The South is full of them who do, but the fact is there are some who are not Christian at all.

On the other hand, it would be equally false to say that most of those who have this cultural confession found in my homeland of the Southern United States are not Christian or that this appearance of Christian influence down South is hypocritical.

As discussed in my last article, there is a couple of reasons why that conjecture is impossible and in fact, unbiblical.

There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12, ESV)

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4, ESV)

A few bad apples…

Obviously, although a few rotten apples will spoil the whole bunch, you shouldn’t cut the tree down that they fell from because all of the good apples fell from the same branches. In other words, just because there are those who claim to be Christian but aren’t, doesn’t mean that the entire South is full of delusional hypocrites. If that were true it wouldn’t only be true in the South, but it would be true in every church in the world.

What’s the standard?

Outside of judging an entire culture because of a perception of false piety, there is in fact a standard that may be used to determine if an individual has authentic faith in Christ. It is called confession.

Of course I don’t mean the kind of confession that is done in the Roman Church involving a booth and a priest. I mean the kind of confession expressed in a classical sense. I have in mind the same confession that Paul has in mind in the tenth chapter of his letter to the Romans-faith that is expressed with the tongue.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8–9, ESV)

That’s pretty simple it seems to me. Where’s the loophole?

It’s really a syllogism of sort.

Premise 1-confession that Jesus is Lord

Premise 2-belief that God raised him from the dead

Conclusion-That person is saved!

In fact, the commentators agree that confession of Christ as Lord is a necessary outcome of true faith and true faith will always result in true confession.

These are not separate activities but two aspects of the one expression of faith in Jesus as Lord. Believing with the heart without confession with the mouth is not true faith. Confession with the mouth without belief in the heart would be hypocrisy. Those who believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths are saved.[1]-DA Carson

“Since the Lord sets his word before our face, no doubt he calls upon us to confess it.” For wherever the word of the Lord is, it ought to bring forth fruit; and the fruit is the confession of the mouth[2]-Calvin

This confession voices faith; for true faith is never silent, it always confesses[3]-Lenski

Since we know that we are not able to judge the heart and discern whether true faith exists within it, we are left with mere confession as our point of determination.

Is this person a Christian, you ask? Tell me, do they confess Christ as Lord? Do they believe that God raised him from the dead?

If their answer is yes, then you must say that they are a Christian.

I know that sounds simple and for some it may make you bristle a little considering the sinful lives lived by so many who confess Christ, but you are warned by Scripture to pass no judgment in this regard.

We may speak of what it means to confess Christ as Lord. We can nuance what it means to believe God raised him from the dead, but would you complicate what God has made simple so as to disqualify those sinners who you would not save?

Simply put, this confession and faith is simply stated. The person and the work of Christ are always the question. Who he is and what he did is the gospel.

Do not complicate that which God condescends to the child and the simple minded.

As far as this idea that there is a plethora of false Christians in the South, I just don’t buy it.

Many have passed judgment on this culture because of conditions they would place on Christ’s gift of faith.

The perception of racism (one that’s overestimated as proved by the folks in Charleston, SC), the problems of fundamentalism and traditionalism, and plain apathy negate saving faith as God’s requirement for His salvation for those who come to judge. And although I don’t deny that these problems and many others exist in some measure, as far as what I can see in Scripture, Christ died for those sins. We cannot destroy the blood of Christ with a zeal for holiness, however genuine that zeal may be.

I’m sorry, but you are left with confession as your pointer and guide. What one says about Christ is your only way to know whether to call them brother or pray for their conversion.

That being said, I’ll bet if you went door to door, asking those folks who you so quickly judged “just who do you believe Jesus is?” They’d say “Jesus is God”.

I’ll bet if you asked them what did he do, they’d reply, “he died for my sins and rose from the dead”.

Not all of them would answer that way. Some would get it wrong. Some wouldn’t know what to say. But I’ll bet you’d be surprised at how many of those who you disqualified would answer with a right confession. If so, you should be ashamed.

So why does this matter?

If many of these professing Christians are in fact confessing Christians, what will it hurt to treat them as less than-Christians and continue giving them the gospel? Are we failing at anything else? Is this miscalculation blinding us to another problem?

The gospel won’t hurt them, of course. It can only continually sanctify them. Denying that there are thousands of Christians that need something else by merely disqualifying them eludes the real problem though.

Avoiding, evading, or misunderstanding the real problem of nominal Christianity in the South is another question. It’s one I’ll deal with next time…



[1] Kruse, C. G. (2012). Paul’s Letter to the Romans. (D. A. Carson, Ed.) (p. 410). Cambridge, U.K.; Nottingham, England; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos.

[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (p. 392). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Lenski, R. C. H. (1936). The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (p. 655). Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern.

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