::This is an incomplete article I first wrote two years ago to present at a discussion group I was then participating in. I hope to continue it and finish it as I finish Mere Christianity, Lewis’ seminal work.::
Merely Christian: A simple analysis of the life and teachings of Clive Staples Lewis
Lewis was an example of the equality of all men before God: His self-assessment as “a very ordinary layman of the Church…, not especially ‘high’, nor especially ‘low’, nor especially anything else.” Though he may have personally felt that God called certain people to a ‘higher life’ of religious leadership, he lived his life to its fullest fulfilling Gods highest calling, that of a sanctified life for Him.
Some people decry Lewis’ mantra of “mere Christianity” charging that he believed that Christians must accept and even relish vast differences in major sections of belief so long as the basic tenets were agreed upon. And yet I believe that whatever Lewis’ aim, the idea of a root to which all Christians can cling in unity is important. The Bible entreats us as Christians to “with all of your might, live at peace with all men.” The instruction does not include any qualification allowing for strife among Christians who have legitimate commonality. In fact, Christians are instructed only infrequently to disassociate with those with whom we disagree, and only then when they are in direct disobedience of Biblical mandate, and even then, only in cases where the Ten Commandments have been directly and grossly violated with no admission of wrong and no intent to repent and change. So Lewis’ cry for unity among the brethren is well founded. Lewis seems to echo and provide depth to the American reformer White’s dream of heaven, in which he saw not Catholics, Methodists, Baptists or any other group in Heaven, but Christians. Lovers of God and Christ His Son are who we are first and foremost, all else is secondary.
Lewis holds this view of unity and simplicity of faith with good purpose as well. “Ever since I became a Christian I have though that the best, perhaps the only , service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times. …I think we must admit that the discussion of …disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. Admittedly Lewis actions belie his beliefs in that he holds that the deep issues of Christianity are only of profit to the “real experts” however, he is correct in his belief that us holding to those ideas with such vehemence causes the focus to be on us, and not on Christ and the sinners He’s given us to witness to. If the church is too busy bickering amongst itself, it will not have time to show love to its neighbor.
Lewis also came upon his calling in a simple and effective way from which we may learn. After getting the “impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial (the branching tenets of particular sects and denominations) matters than in the defense of … ‘mere’ Christianity. That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.” Lewis saw a need, and saw that his perception of that need was the same as God calling him to fulfill that need, and to fill that need he willingly went. In the Christian church I see (and I myself do as well) people saying “such and such needs to be done” and “so and so has needs and we should do something about it” little noticing that God has either given them abilities or resources to fill that need or do that thing. An interesting point I read recently had to do with our callings and the idea was that God has given us these ideas as callings and if we refuse to do our callings, God will not necessarily call another to do what we’ve failed to do. If the kingdom of heaven is formed by the souls of those trusting in Christ, saved and sealed. Then our work is made of the ideas and perceptions of the needs immediately surrounding us.
And then there is the singleness of purpose with which Lewis composed Mere Christianity. In explaining briefly why it was that he would not debate certain (as he saw them, secondary) issues or even address them in any way, he takes the example of an extremely divisive issue which is legitimately a major dividing point between protestant and catholic faiths, that of the worship of the virgin Mary. Showing the various perspectives of the adherents of the various faiths, he shows how having taken a stand on that would have made his book a thesis meant for the church, and not for the sinner. Keep in mind that the book was first delivered in the form of radio addresses given during successive years of World War 2 to the people of the British Isles and were strictly evangelical in nature. Lewis’ argument is that “If any topic could be relied upon to wreck a book about ‘mere’ Christianity – if any topic makes utterly unprofitable reading for those who do not yet believe that the Virgin’s son is God – surely this is it.” While we of the protestant Christian faith do take issue with the severity of this issue, and may question the validity of the salvation of many Catholics, we can apply Lewis’ ideas to other issues such eschatology or predestination/predeterminism. These issues are important, but we only sound like fools arguing over such issues before someone who does not even know Christ yet.