“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Mere" Christianity

A frequent objection to Christianity (and to other religions, for that matter) is the phenomenon of denominations. We have all these groups and sects and organizations and denominations within Christianity, and they often have major disagreements. There is the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and many different groups under these larger headings. Throughout the history of Christianity disagreements between Christians have been many and have sometimes even come to violence and killing. Most likely, any two given Christians would find some theological matter on which they disagreed: Calvinism and Arminianism, covenant theology and dispensationalism, the nature of God’s foreknowledge, all kinds of eschatological issues (premillennialism, amillennialism, etc.), annihilationism or an eternal hell, consubstantiation and transubstantiation, etc.

It would seem that all of this renders Christianity a less probable truth, and in a sense it is a reason for skepticism. Surely if there had never been any disagreements Christianity would be at least a little more probable. But are all these divisions really fatal to Christianity? Do they turn the tide of evidence against Christianity? I don’t think so.

C. S. Lewis coined the term “mere Christianity” to describe those core beliefs that have been held by all Christians throughout history. That is, God exists as a Triune being and has revealed himself decisively in the man Jesus, who is God. Jesus Christ lived on earth, suffered and died for our sins, and rose from death to reign forever. Salvation is available to all who believe – not by works, but by faith, as a free gift from God. This central doctrine was at the core of the early church’s belief from the beginning, it is the main message of the New Testament, and it can be traced back to Jesus himself. I will not attempt to define any strict boundaries between what is essential Christian doctrine and what is not necessarily part of “mere Christianity.” My point is simply that there is such a core set of beliefs that have been held by all Christians throughout the ages. Now, if Christians cannot agree on lesser matters but have always agreed on this, that does not mean that “mere Christianity” is called into question. If witnesses at the scene of a crime present conflicting variations of the same story, one would not conclude from that that the main points are false. Of course, one of the witnesses may well be completely right where the others are wrong. Similarly, one denomination may have nailed it spot on theologically, but even if the other denominations are wrong in some respects, they still have the same central beliefs.

In my opinion, it is very unfortunate that there are so many divisions and denominations in the church. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind.” Obviously the church has failed miserably to live out Paul’s exhortation.

1 comment:

  1. I think you’re right; there are too many divisions in the Christian Church. If people would just get along…

    I mean, we are all basically doing the same thing, believing the same things. ‘Mere Christianity’.

    Perhaps if more people would read into Paul’s message the same thing you do, there really would be fewer denominations. Minor disagreements are not worth splitting a church over.


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