Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis leads us into a hall within his book, Mere Christianity. There are several doors leading into different rooms. It is our decision to choose which of these rooms we will enter, “for the hallway is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.” Therefore, logically, the hallway is the worst place to be. It is better, or shall I say, more preferable to enter a room, despite what surprises may lie inside.
Each door represents a different denomination within the Christian faith, from Catholicism, to Presbyterianism, to Baptist, to Christian Reformed. Each is separate from the others, which we often exaggerate; however, they all branch from the same hall. Each denomination could be seen as a shoot growing from a larger stump. C. S. Lewis attempts to create a “mere Christianity” in his book. He wants to focus on the beliefs we all hold as a universal church, the fundamentals to the Christian faith.

What I found interesting in C. S. Lewis’s hallway analogy was that we often choose our door because of its paint or paneling. This is quite a mistake on our part. We are simply choosing the most appealing denomination, the church whose service, message, or music makes us feel best. Instead of this superficial and cosmetic approach to choosing a denomination and church, we should be asking “Is there truth here: is holiness here?” We need to leave behind personal preference and pride. The door we choose should be based on where we find the most light, where God is most present and guiding.

A major portion of C. S. Lewis’s first four chapters in Mere Christianity concerned a universal Moral Law. We are all too familiar with Natural Law and readily observe its effects and submit ourselves to its reign. If we did not, there would be dire consequences. The opposite is with Moral Law. In fact, if we were to look at the human race from the outside, you could not observe Moral Law. Man is too inconsistent. The Natural Law is seen, but man chooses whether or not he lives by Moral Law.

So does this Moral Law actually exist? C. S. Lewis addresses this question by appealing to our basic behavior and instincts. If someone steals your place in line, you get mad. If someone offers their seat even when you are late for the show, you are greatly flattered and appreciate the act. If someone does some shameful act, he attempts to hide it. Why do we feel and act this way? We cannot deny a Moral Law? If we did, our behavior betrays us. We make excuses for many of our actions. Are not these excuses proof enough for some Moral Law that we believe we should be living by? Don’t we acknowledge a Moral Law of Right and Wrong when we quarrel with each other? If not, then our quarreling and arguments are meaningless, no one would be right. Instead, we butt heads because one person must seem to have more of the Moral Law.

“This Moral Law tells us what tune to play; our instincts are merely the keys.” C. S. Lewis says that because mankind recognizes a type of decent behavior, we must believe then in some Moral Law. Our instincts are our choices. They are the beats of a song, a song which we often speed up and slow down with our inconsistent counting. I believe that through this acknowledgement of a Moral Law, C. S. Lewis is really in part directing our attention towards the possibility of an Absolute Truth, an Absolute God.

A final piece of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity I’d like to bring out is his concept of a unified church. The church has many differences, thus many denominations. Each denomination has problems with the others; they quarrel over who is right and who is wrong. C. S. Lewis in his preface writes that “Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.” Too often we Christians broadcast our inter-denominational disputes to the entire world, and as a result, we present a divided, quarrelsome picture of the church. We harm our image for the sake of arguing trivialities, often not even reaching end all conclusions. Perhaps, C. S. Lewis writes, we should concern ourselves with highlighting our similarities rather than our differences. Maybe we should live as a “holy Catholic Church,” a universal church living under the same banners. Christ prayed to the Father that we would be one. Let us not get caught on trivial differences and forget our unity and purpose in Christ.

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