Monday, March 10, 2008

"Mere" Christianity

The previous post inspired me to re-read Mere Christianity for the first time in years. This is the book that rescued me from an adolescent arrogance that threatened to detach me from my Christian upbringing. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, convinced me that intelligence and learning were not incompatible with orthodoxy. And that is what I have always understood "mere" Christianity to be - orthodox Christian doctrine - doctrine that distinguishes Christians from non-Christians.

I haven't read very far yet, but have already, inevitably, found something I really like.

In his preface, Lewis laid out what exactly he had intended to do in these radio talks. He didn't intend to denigrate denominational or doctrinal differences among Christians. He did intend to set forth the central doctrines of the faith. Here are two selections from the Preface in which he indicates the place of orthodox belief in all Christian denominations and then how we should decide from which of them to practice our faith:
It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.[....]

I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: "Do I like that kind of service?" but "Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?"

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.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Scribner, 1952, pp. viii, xi-xii

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