The Hall of ‘Mere’ Christianity

“When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies: ‘Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential'”–The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (7).

I have been in the midst of this debate between sides. For my part, I have taken more to one side than the other. Side B, as many call it, believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and any sexual relations should be contained within that marriage. Side A on the other hand,* believe that marriage can be extended to those in same-sex relationship and that Scripture allows for it (either by not fully addressing the particular relationship or by promoting marriage if celibacy cannot be attained).

Both sides have something to gain, and something to lose. To those on Side B (and who are gay) they have the support of church tradition and 2,000 years of a particular view sexual ethics, but they lose the option of fulfilling their sexual desires, and must walk through life without the joy of having a spouse. Side A may feel free to pursue those sexual desires within the context of marriage to the same sex, and may find fulfillment in this relationship, yet they may always wonder if they are in the wrong, and subject themselves to the scrutiny of the Church as a whole—some may even be outcast which brings its own pain and suffering.

Of course, I do believe that Scripture does justify same-sex relationships—just in a different (and perhaps more ancient) way. A relationship does not have to contain any elements of sexual expression. This is evident by the examples of a father-son relationship or a sister-sister bond. Friendships are perhaps the most common example of this type of relationship. A man can have friendships with the same sex or gender, and this type of love and bond is evident and celebrated in the Bible. In fact, it is commanded! Paul in Romans says that we should “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (12:10). Therefore the category of same-sex relationships is broader than some may think, even though it does hold particulars. Same-sex sexual relationships in the context of marriage is one such particular.

Now this goes to my point. I, admittedly, have often struggled with trying to decide if whether those who take an opposite side than my view (Side B) are really Christians or not. I suspect that I am not the only one who has had this thought, and many times I feel embarrassed and ashamed of myself for thinking it. I do not mean to say that I don’t think them unloving, or not caring, or not having gone through pain and struggle and all the joys I have. I mean that I don’t know if they are what I am as I define being a Christian. In my mind, I question whether someone who does not think that the body is so designed that only sexual relations between a man and woman fully utilizes this design, is really a follower of Christ, the One who made all. Is this thought justified?

Currently, I am (again) reading C.S. Lewis’s Complete Signature Classics—a work that contains Lewis’s theological depth and richness and an endeavor I encourage everyone pursue. The first book in this collection is Lewis’s signature work, Mere Christianity. In it, he explains that there are different opinions and many disagreements about what a Christian should believe. He describes Christianity as a house that contains many rooms, and different rooms have different takes on what Christianity is. But he then states that there are certain things, certain doctrines, that all Christians must agree on. This, he calls ‘mere’ Christianity, and portrays it as the hallway that connects the separate rooms. Everyone who is a follower of Christ must agree upon these basic doctrines and abide by the house rules. Whether you go into one room or another is your choice, and sometimes a person may wait a considerable time before choosing a room. But the hallway is the part the house where everyone must travel through. So the question then becomes, “What essential doctrines must one believe to be under the house of Christianity?”

There is no question that such things that are in the Nicene Creed: The doctrine of God, Creation, Man, Sin, Christ (His life, death, and resurrection), Salvation, Resurrection, the Trinity, ect., are all essential. One may go further and even say that some of these essential doctrines are more necessary than others. Paul states in Romans 10:9 that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This, I think, is the core to Christianity, and what constitutes someone as a Christian. This then may answer my main question.

But are the other doctrines then not “essential”? Perhaps. One can know nothing about the Trinity, or that their trust in Christ is called ‘salvation’. They might not have a full working understanding of sin, and creation, or any of these essentials. Are they then not Christians? This, I think, is not up to the judgment of man, but of God. I do believe a person has to know at least who Christ was and what He did in order to put their trust in Him, but beyond that, it may not be as crucial that the other things are in place. However, I do think if one is to grow as a follower of Christ, and be a decent one, they must begin to learn about who He is and His attributes, and how we relate to Him. This is where the other doctrines come in. And it is specifically to the doctrine of Creation I go to.

All who are under the roof of Christianity must believe that God is the maker of the heavens and earth, that He created all things. This part of Creation doctrine is undisputedly essential. It is another part that is in question. This other part says that God created things a certain way for a certain purpose. This point, I think, is not questioned (by Christians) until it comes to the point of what we should do with our bodies. Our bodies have been created, and they have design and purpose, but how should we then use them? Sexual ethics naturally falls into this category. Is the belief that our bodies should be used in a certain way essential to core Christianity? Is it essential to believe that a man and woman are created and designed for each other in a unique way? Is this view part of the hallway, baring the inscriptions of ‘mere’, or is it its own room, adjacent to another room that says our bodies can function in multiple ways and expressions? If the former is true, then Side A (which mostly promotes the latter) would be in a room outside of the house. But if the latter is true, then both sides can be in comfortable disagreement with each other and still share a cup of tea in the main living area (not to say we can’t do the same with those outside of the house, indeed, we should invite them in and enjoy each others’ fellowship while arguing which house is more real). Which is the correct answer?

To this I don’t know.

C.S. Lewis understands sexual desire to the same-sex as a perversion, and recognizes the design of a man and woman to be the correct sexual wiring. However, he also states that sexual sin is the least of the vices (although it is still a vice), and that as he says: “All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual… the Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither” (89). Paul also says that sexual sin is of a different type, one that transgresses against the body and not outside it like other sins. Therefore, it may be that the Animal self (as Lewis describes it) is less than the Diabolical self, although within the Animalistic self, homosexual behavior is one of the greatest sins. Again, I don’t know.

Perhaps it is a question of illustration. Is it that Side A and Side B are pieces of the Creation doctrine that can be parceled out and still maintain its shape? Or maybe they are a thread that if unraveled distorts the whole view of Creation? I will make a bold guess. I think that the argument of the sexual ethic that same-sex sexual relationships are not prohibited by Scripture and God ordains it in marriage, is outside of the house of Christianity. However, I think a person holding this view can be safely nestled inside the house and still hold the doctrines of ‘mere’ Christianity. This happens-and has happened- all of the time. Many Christians over time have believed certain points that would not be what Christianity is all about, but will have said it is what it’s absolutely about. Or rather, we have performed certain behaviors that we believe to be right (or wrong) according to our standards and in reality turn out not to be all that Christ-like in the very least. We can believe something that, in actuality, is wrong. We would be gravely mistaken, but we then wouldn’t necessarily be un-Christian.

To then say that a person who believes in a misguided sexual ethic is not a Christian would be unfair. In my time of wondering who I was and for what reason I had these attractions, I could have come to the conclusion that the Bible does not prohibit same-sex sexual relations; that it can be morally ok to be with the one you love and build a life with that significant other. Would I then not be a follower of Christ? Certainly not! I had believed and put my trust in devoted my life and service to Jesus when I was young, and I don’t think my belief and trust were unfounded. They certainly weren’t based on sexual ethics—I didn’t even know of such things.

It is in the beginning of the book, before even the first chapter, that Lewis talks about the house of Christianity and how we will eventually have to choose a door to go through. In the last paragraph, he makes a final statement:

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. 11

There are two points to note here. First, we must always value truth and be ever ready to go where it leads. We must do this even when are fancies-those beautiful sirens-are on the opposite banks and sing to us songs of enchantment and pleasure. To this end, God has given us reason, Scripture, other people, and the Holy Spirit, to resist pure fancy and make the best decision possible towards reality. The second point is this: we must always be kind to those who do not hold our view, who choose a different door. We must love them, because we are of the same house, the same Body, and of the same Spirit. This is a common rule for everyone, and we as Christians would do well to remember it.

Is it true that there may be some who actually are not Christians (though they claim to be), who take Side A, and who argue that Scripture allows for such relationships? Well, it is certainly possible. But the same can be true for those on Side B. However, I cannot say that everyone who takes a certain side is not a Christian, because whether they are or aren’t is not my ultimate decision—it is God’s. Again, only God can see into men’s hearts. Only He can see whether we are in the hall of ‘mere’ Christianity, and whether we have accepted the basic tenets of the faith to be a in the house at all.

I will probably continue to wrestle with these questions for a long time, and I will also continue to argue what I believe to be the truth and try to reason others to have the same viewpoint. But if they don’t share my view, I will continue to love them and care for them as if they were my brother or sister. And I will continue to pray for them, that whatever the requirements are to be in the hall of ‘mere’ Christianity, that they will have met or will seek to meet them–that Christ saves us all.

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*This is a curious expression as indeed the two are hands can be considered on opposite sides, yet they are still part of the same body. They are connected even though they occupy different spaces and perform different task.

Memorial Day

soldier

Happy Memorial Day. To all of the veterans and men and women fighting for our freedoms, I give you thanks. Those in the military often remind me of the sacrifice and  the willingness to die that often is overlooked by those of us who are the ones being protected.  They do it in the company of comrades; and they do it for the sake of their family–brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. We must never forget their service and courage, their steps into the front lines of battle and their commitment to watch over our land. They go into battle, knowing they may not come back, all to save the ones they love and serve the country they love. Again, I say thank you. You are truly fated heroes.

Reconciled

reconciliation 2

I will follow-up what I had previously written. Last week was the time I decided to tell my dad my story, and in that time I would finally try to reconcile with him.  This was a decision brought forth from years of prayer and telling my friends my story. Every time I would tell my friends what struggles and sins I had, and how deeply my dad hurt me, I would curiously begin new feelings. I would slowly begin to heal. The anger and apathy that pulsed between my dad and I slowly began to wane. I began to slowly think of my dad as someone who may have been hurt himself. I began to see him as human.

As soon as I realized this, I thought that I did not want to live this life without trying to mend my relationship with my dad. Life, as scripture repeatedly says, is fleeting. I did not want to have regrets. I also had to move on. Allowing my dad to see deeper in my life would free me to show others my life more fully. Of course, there was always a chance that I might be wounded again, that my dad would hurt me even more – not by physical means, but by having a certain reaction akin to disappointment, anger, or even fear. Yet, I was willing to take the risk for any further chasm between us and reach out my hand to grab his. I asked my brothers and friends to pray for me as I took this step. This is what I wrote to them:

“It is time I do what I have always avoided, but what needs to be done. I have decided to reconcile with my dad and tell him what I have told all of you. I plan to talk to him in the next coming weeks. As many of you know, each time I told someone my story, my hatred and resentment toward my dad has grown less and less, shrinking to a something small and almost laughable. But it is still there. The anger is still there, and the wound still hurts, if only a little, even after all these years. The apathy towards my dad is still there, but I can find no good reason not to share my self with him. The time for him and me is growing shorter by the day, and I don’t wish to live with regrets on what could have been later in my life. I also plan to tell my mom and sister. My sister is probably the one I have hurt the most during this process even though she may not know it. 

Please pray for me and my meeting with my family. I am still scared of getting hurt again (and possibly hurting them), but talking with you all has strengthened me in ways I thought I could never be strengthened. You guys–my brothers–have given me joy to replace the sorrow and despair I once had, and have given me laughter where once there were tears, and for that I am forever grateful. The time has come I step out in boldness and embrace this messy thing called relationship in hopes I find something authentic, beautiful, and real. Something closer to Christ perhaps. Here goes nothing…and everything.”

I spoke to my dad on Thursday. I was scared. But I was also like steel in my resolve. I asked to meet him outside the tennis courts and prepared myself to show my wounds and my heart. He walked up to me and asked what was on my mind. I took a deep breath and began.

I told him everything. How he hurt me, how I had cried out to God for years without relief. How I had considered suicide. How God kept me through the years. I told him of the prayers that were answered, and of the friendships finally formed. I told him my joys and my pains. And I told him I wanted to reconcile. He listened, and he began to cry. My dad also told me some of his story. He told me of how his dad treated him and that this may have carried over in the way he treated me. Not that he was blaming his dad for his mistakes, but he saw that some of the things his dad did to him, he did exactly to me. He cried–something, admittedly, I feel awkward about. But it also tells me he’s human, and he has regrets. He never meant to hurt me, and I always knew that. When he  opened up to me, the weight lifted. It felt good letting go of this burden I had held for so long.

And you know what, I guess the world hasn’t ended yet. We are still father and son. We still act the same around each other. He still tells me to turn the music down, and I still tell him to not eat so much sweets. He still prays for us at night, and I still eat all of the food in their fridge (maybe not all of it, but a pretty good amount). However, there is one difference–I can now, once again, laugh at him for just being dad. That is something I didn’t think I could ever truly do.

May we now walk this journey together, my footsteps gently following his, my smile an imitation of his, and my laugh echoing his laugh. Let us, together, walk all the way to the Celestial City, to the embrace of our Father.

Reconciliation

reconciliation-coventry-statue-closeup

Today I will try to reconcile with my dad. It is time I tell him my story and how he has wounded me. I hope that in the process, I will be freer to move–and even to fly- now that nothing is chaining me. But, I am afraid. Afraid that if I show him my wound, he will wound me deeper.

Still, I must do this.

My God, give me the strength to move closer to those who may hurt me, give me the courage to share what I have endured, and give me the wisdom and love to love another as I would myself. Give me peace, my lord, let me feel the coolness that your gentle waters bring, and help me to know that you are God, and you will never leave me nor forsake me.

It is time I take up my staff and move forward. I see the goal ahead and I must not waver. I shake and I tremble, but I do so in the embrace of One who is ever steadfast and who never fails.

“Be still my beating heart…” be still.