Monday, April 2, 2012

Keeping the Term "Christian" Truly Useful—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This word once meant something much more specific!

Laying more groundwork in the preface to Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis applies his wit and precise use of sarcasm to defend the Christian in Christianity from certain death.  We owe him a measure of thanks that both words are alive and reasonably well nowHow did he manage this?

Observe him go to war with his pen:  "[Deep] objections may be feltand have been expressedagainst my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity.  People ask:  'Who are you to lay down who is and who is not a Christian?' or 'May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?'  Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive.  It has every amiable quality except that of being useful.  We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it.

"The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property.  When you called someone 'a gentleman' you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact.... But then there came people who saidso rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully'Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behavior?...They meant well. [If there is such a thing as high sarcasm, that is it!] To be honorable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms.  But it is not the same thing.... A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes.  As a result, gentleman is now a useless word.

"Once we allow people to start spiritualizing and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word.... It is not for us to say who ... is or is not close to the spirit of Christ.  We do not see into men's hearts.  We cannot judge, and we are indeed forbidden to judge."  Lewis brings up an attitude I have heard several times from others, particularly my friend English John.  We have known each other since my college days.  It has been my delight to share the works of C.S. Lewis and other fine Christian authors with English John, and see him and his wife (who, like Lewis's own wife, grew up in a Jewish household) become faithful Anglicans.

So how shall we use the word Christian?  Lewis says, "We must ... stick to the original, obvious meaning.  The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to 'the disciples,' to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles."  The apostles preached the Gospel, which literally means Good Newsspecifically the good news of Christ's victory over Satan, sin, and death on behalf of His people.

Highlights from the Preface to Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Click here for a clear view of how this Preface relates to the whole book.


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