In a recent conversation, I realized that in India, the label of “nominal” Christian is very different than what I understood growing up in the US.
In India, people are religious almost as an ethnicity. You are born into a certain religion. On your government applications, you check the religious affiliation box based on the religion of your family. You become a member of a church so that you are ensured to have a place to get married and buried. A nominal Christian is literally that. It is another name you give yourself.
In America as I experienced it, a nominal Christian could be compared to a political affiliation. You aren’t necessarily born with it, but you choose it out based on your values. Nurture and family pressure do play a key role in this choice, but it is still a choice.
In India, the nominal Christian in America is a believer because he made a choice. In America, the same is probably assumed true. However, I wonder if it really is. To find an answer, we need to consider the original Christians, the Jews.
The difference between a Jew and a Christian is that one says that Jesus is the Messiah, and one says that the Messiah hasn’t come yet. If the choice of Messiah was the key, then all the Old Testament heroes are probably in trouble because they never got the chance to know Jesus as Messiah. However, if knowing Jesus as God is the key. The real test becomes do you choose God as your god. This complies with the prophets in the Old Testament who would probably call the Israelites of the day as “nominal” Israelites. They meet the criteria in both America and in India. They were born as Jews and they chose to be Jews during Passover and the other religious rituals. Yet, the prophets condemned them. It necessarily could as not be because they didn’t know Jesus. The problem was that they didn’t know God.
Therefore, knowing Jesus must not be the key. It must be knowing God. For those who accept the Trinity as the same being with three names, then at least we must know Jesus as we are supposed to know God. Only then does the same terms apply to the Jew of the Old Testament and the Christian of the New Testament. Further, knowing must not be based on “knowledge”, since the Jews were thoroughly knowledgeable in God. Knowing must be something more, something similar to the intimate form of knowledge often referred to in the Old Testament.
I attended a conference on Cat Christians and Dog Christians. The idea is that Cat Christians are Christians who are aware of all that God does for them, yet understand those actions to mean that they are god, and God is there to serve them. The Dog Christian is aware of all the same things, but understands that they are the servant and their god is God. The speaker tried to convince that both are Christians, and that the difference between Cat and Dog is the scale of sanctification. Yet, clearly the Cat Christian and the Dog Christian have two very different relationships with their masters. How is it possible that a Cat Christian can “know” God if they do not even perceive of him as their god?
No matter how much I try to isolate a common ground in which both can be Christians, it only logically follows that a Dog Christian is the only Christian. The Cat Christian has made themselves god and therefore has no relationship with God in which he is god. I suppose the only hope is in the understanding that this is a scale and no one is completely Cat nor completely Dog.
One thing must be certain, becoming a follower of Christ is not the same as being born into an ethnicity or choosing a party affiliation (the conversion prayer). The Jews did both and were vehemently rejected by God. If it is neither of these two options, it begs the question as to how do I know whether or not I am a Christian?