Nominal Christian

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The evangelical Lausanne Movement defines a nominal Christian as "a person who has not responded in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour and Lord"...[he] "may be a practising or non-practising church member. He may give intellectual assent to basic Christian doctrines and claim to be a Christian. He may be faithful in attending liturgical rites and worship services, and be an active member involved in church affairs."[1] American Reformed theologian Douglas Wilson disagrees with the category of "nominal Christian" and argues that all who are baptized enter into a covenant with God, and are obliged to serve him; there is, therefore, "no such thing as a merely nominal Christian any more than we can find a man who is a nominal husband".[2] There are, however, "wicked and faithless Christians."[3]

According to data from the European Social Survey in 2012 show that around a third of European Christians say they attend services once a month or more.[4] More than two-thirds of Latin American Christians and 90% of African Christians said they attended church regularly.[4] Missionaries Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, estimate that 1.2 billion people are "nominal and non-practising 'Christians'."[5]

Sunday Christian[edit]

A Sunday Christian or Sunday morning Christian (also once-a-weeker) is a derisive term used to refer to someone who typically attends Christian church services on Sundays, but is presumed or witnessed not to adhere to the doctrines or rules of the religion (either actively or passively), or refuses to register as a church member. These members are sometimes considered to be hypocritical in how or what they practice[6] due in part to their confusion or cherry-picking how they live their religion.[7]

Cafeteria Christianity[edit]


The ancestor term, "cafeteria Catholicism", was coined by E. Michael Jones's Fidelity Magazine in 1986. The first use of Cafeteria Christianity in print has been dated to the magazine, The Month, in 1992.

Another early use was by Richard Holloway in an interview in Third Way in September 2001.

You get cafeteria Christianity, a kind of shopping for ideas you approve of. They turned out to be right for the wrong reasons, because I think that once you admit that there are in scripture large sections that by our standards are not just inappropriate but scarcely moral – such as the justification of slavery...

Since the cafeteria Christian may be someone who wants "to reject the parts of scripture they find objectionable and embrace only the parts they like",[8] the term can be used ad hominem, either to disqualify a person's omission of a Christian precept, or to invalidate their advocacy of a different precept entirely.

Equated with "Christianity Lite", it is sometimes used to deride the mass-appeal subculture of megachurches.[9]

"Cafeteria Christianity" is a derogatory term to accuse other Christian individuals or denominations of selecting which Christian doctrines they will follow, and which they will not.[10]

The related term "cafeteria Catholicism" is a pejorative term applied to Catholics who dissent from Roman Catholic moral teaching on issues such as abortion, birth control, premarital sex, masturbation or homosexuality. The term is less frequently applied to those who dissent from other Catholic moral teaching on issues such as social justice, capital punishment, or just war.


Cafeteria-style means picking and choosing, as if "sliding our food tray along a cafeteria's counter".[11][12] The term implies that an individual's professed religious belief is actually a proxy for their personal opinions rather than an acceptance of Christian doctrine. The selectivity implied may relate to the acceptance of Christian doctrines, or attitudes to moral and ethical issues (for example abortion, homosexuality, racism or idolatry) and the applicability of Old Testament laws to Christians.[13]

As the Christian version of "cherry-picking theology", it is seen as a result of postmodern reading of texts, where the reader goes beyond analysis of what requires interpretation, adopting an approach where "anything goes".[14]

In The Marketplace of Christianity, economists Robert Ekelund, Robert Hébert and Robert Tollison equate Cafeteria Christianity with self-generated Christianity, i.e. the religion of many Christians which "matches their demand profile" and "may be Christian or based in other areas of thought". They conclude that "Christian religious individualists have existed in all times."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christian Witness to Nominal Christians Among Roman Catholics, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization Occasional Paper 10. (LCWE)
  2. ^ Douglas Wilson, Reformed is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2000), 96.
  3. ^ Douglas Wilson, Reformed is Not Enough, 97.
  4. ^ a b Christianity and church attendance
  5. ^ Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World: 21st Century Edition (Paternoster, 2001), 13–14.
  6. ^ Altemeyer, Bob (2004). "PERSPECTIVES: The Decline of Organized Religion in Western Civilization". International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 14 (2): 77–89. doi:10.1207/s15327582ijpr1402_1. S2CID 145243309.
  7. ^ Baggini, Juian (2016). "The myth of mythos". In Carroll, Anthony (ed.). Religion and atheism: Beyond the divide (1 [edition] ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 38–49. ISBN 9781138891890. OCLC 947953930.
  8. ^ D'Souza, Dinesh (2007). What's So Great About Christianity. Regnery Publishing. p. xii. ISBN 978-1596985179. This is 'cafeteria Christianity', and it is worse than literalism. ... The cafeteria Christian simply projects his or her prejudices onto the text.
  9. ^ Balmer, Randall (2006). Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. Oxford University Press. p. 324. ISBN 9780195300468.
  10. ^ Odermann, Valerian (February 2002). "Pass it on: Encouraging the heart". The American Monastic Newsletter. The American Benedictine Academy. 32 (1). Archived from the original on 2012-02-07. Retrieved 2008-03-27. Yet a danger does still remain. It is the danger of "cafeteria Christianity," which lets people mix and match traditions any way they want, without discipline and without accountability. Unless we transcend cafeteria Christianity, our practices will be more sarabaite or gyrovague than Benedictine.
    - "Archbishop calls on Costa Ricans to abandon "cafeteria Christianity" and defend life". San Jose: Catholic News Agency. 29 March 2005. Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Urena of San Jose, Costa Rica, told Costa Ricans in his Easter message to embrace the faith without conditions or short-cuts and to defend the life of the unborn against efforts to legalize abortion. The archbishop warned that “based on a relativistic understanding of the Christian faith and a conditional adherence to the Church, some Catholics seek to construct a Christianity and, consequently, a Church to their own liking, unilateral and outside the identity and mission that Jesus Christ has fundamentally given us.”
  11. ^ Hamilton, Nancy (21 May 2010). Marshmallows in the Sky: Twenty-Three Articles on Christianity Based on Life Experiences. WestBow Press. p. 30. ISBN 9781449702083.
  12. ^ Johnson, Troy (2008). Family Outing: What Happened When I Found Out My Mother Was Gay. Skyhorse Publishing Inc. ISBN 9781611455601.
  13. ^ Jacobs, A. J. (2007). The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Simon & Schuster. p. 327. ISBN 978-0743291477.
  14. ^ Kwak, Arie-Jan (2009). Holy Writ: Interpretation in Law and Religion. Ashgate Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 9780754678960.
  15. ^ Ekelund, Robert; Hébert, Robert; Tollison, Robert (2006). The Marketplace of Christianity. MIT Press. p. 258. ISBN 9780262050821.

Further reading[edit]

  • Eddie Gibbs, In Name Only: Tackling the Problem of Nominal Christianity. Fuller Seminary Press, 2000.
  • Rommen, Edward. "A framework for the analysis of nominal Christianity : a West German case study," in Reflection and projection: Missiology at the threshold of 2001 : festschrift in honor of George W. Peters for his eightieth birthday (Bad Liebenzell : Verlag der Liebenzeller Mission, 1988) p 322–337.