That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest.
Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
I have been having an internal debate about writing this post. On the one hand, Lewis captures very well the reasons why I prefer not to have this blog used for theological debates; on the other hand, I know that by writing this post I risk just that. But I think it is worth putting into words my thoughts…using Lewis’s words.
Lewis explains in the Preface why it is he wrote this book: “…to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” He notes that the things that divide Christians are often of such high Theology or of ecclesiastical history – topics that should be treated by experts and not fodder for division among the body.
To my point: those of you who are truly experts on such matters will find much more fruitful conversation elsewhere.
He notes up front the one topic that he will not touch: “the Blessed Virgin Mary,” at least not any more than necessary to discuss the Virgin Birth:
…there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this.
Anyone who has heard a Protestant speak on this point understands the venom; anyone who hears a Catholic speak on this point understands both the sincere religious belief as well as the almost chivalrous sensibility of a man defending his mother’s or wife’s honor.
One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements.
Topics that are almost irrelevant to some are of paramount importance to others – and even this disagreement about disagreements causes division.
Who is Lewis to decide who is or isn’t a Christian, or which doctrines are important? Lewis offers that this is certainly a right, sensitive, and spiritual objection.
It has every available quality except that of being useful.
Lewis refers to the first use of the term Christian, to be found in the book of Acts…
…to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teachings of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were ‘far closer to the spirit of Christ’ than the less satisfactory of the disciples.
What does Lewis see as the purpose of this book? Is it to provide an alternative to existing creeds – perhaps in place of Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy?
It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.
Just getting people into the hall is a significant task; it is a place to wait in, to try some of the different doors. It is not a place to live in. Consider the rooms the various denominations or creeds; in the rooms are fires and tables and meals.
…of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.
Now…you strictist of the strict Calvinists out there, take some deep breaths!
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.
So what of the “mere” part of Christianity, at least as Lewis sees it?
The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.
You might recall my post from a couple of months ago making the same point. Christians will debate how it works and why it works, but they agree on the key point: it works.
Lewis will add:
There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.
There may be some variations on the theme, but anyone professing to teach you Christian doctrine will certainly teach you to use all three.
The journey I have been on over the last several years has, at times, caused me to feel as if it would pull me away from my faith; there were times that I stopped working on a topic because of this. I would say that ultimately, this journey has done just the opposite. Further, it has helped me to be less headstrong about what I thought were mandatory Christian beliefs. The Resurrection is sufficient for me.
And now I read Lewis.