Monday, April 10, 2006

ECUMENISM OFFERS A DIVIDED HOUSE

The following is copied from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity (Preface). The analogy is of Christ being Master over a divided house.

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A PROBLEMATIC ANALOGY
This analogy of a hallway leading to different rooms of the house is used by some to justify the modern view that denominations are different paths to the same destination: heaven. As I understand Lewis' analogy, he wasn't suggesting that each room was the right path, as much as he was describing the attitude that each person in the house is to have toward those who entered other rooms. Not intending to judge the rightness of each room, he saw his book as defending the core beliefs (like understanding the nature of man, the nature of God, universal morals, etc.) that are associated to the "hallway" of the Master's house, and which are essential to actually practicing the faith which, according to Lewis, happens in the rooms. The many rooms being described are indicative of the various religious beliefs. In the illustration, Lewis warns against entering a room because it has what you like, but rather one should seek the true door with a right spirit without being judgmental of those who entered other rooms of the house. This analogy of the hallway and the rooms has become a justification for the existence of denominations as being many paths to the same destination. It then becomes a justification for division. The analogy justifies Ecumenicism if: 1] All that matters for salvation is that we have the "core beliefs." Who gets to decide what is a "core belief" and what is non-essential? This does not work without severly limiting what Jesus meant by unity. 2] Living in different rooms (denominations), which Lewis says they "must" do, because you cannot stay in the hallway, can still be characterized as unity. This kind of unity amounts to little more than lipservice. 3] The Master who gave the "common hall" (core beliefs) is not concerned with the beleifs that make living in separate rooms necessary. It seems that people are all too willing suggest that God's word is not clear enough to bring about real unity. Instead, they ought to admit that the different beliefs are best explained by men putting themselves first. 4] "Sharing one leader" doesn't mean following all that He says or agreeing on all that He says. This is not a real, workable unity where people pick and choose what they will believe from Jesus. The best that can be said is that these people are partial followers of Jesus. If these four things are true, and the Lewis analogy is accurate, then Jesus is Master over a divided house.

WHAT IS ECUMENISM?
Ecumenism is a doctrine that seeks to promote cooperation and understanding between religious faiths, and thereby create christian unity. This doctrine requires that a few beliefs be adopted by all, but the particulars that denominations are divided over, are less important. This doctrine being promoted by man is making man the arbiter of what is important or unimportant.

C.S. Lewis sees the good in all denominatios and religions. But in the illustration, he did not intend to answer whether there is salvation all of the rooms. Lewis sees his mission as that of bringing people to the hallway of the house. He does indicate that Christ is over the house, which seems to be saying that all of the rooms are also under his control. If he is not saying this, then why not say that Jesus is also Master of everything outside of the house as well. But because he says Jesus is Master over the house, it seems to distinguish between the reign of Christ over all things and His rule over the church. Lewis says that where the person in the hallway goes after that, is up to them. He says, "the hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose, the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable." Maybe being in any one of those rooms is preferable to living with overt hatred for God and everything that is good, but living in any that does not follow Christ is not preferable to entering the "one body" and "one faith" that you read about in the New Testament.

MY ANALOGY
Maybe a better analogy would be to say that there are two houses, one over which Christ seems to be the Master and one over which Christ is the Master. One is a counterfeit, an imitation of the other, being very divided, and having no fruit that last. And the other house over which Christ truly is Master does have many rooms, but the doors are open and all of the members are working together in unity. This house is not a divided house which must tolerate what is happening in the other rooms. Lewis writes a good book with many interesting, even valuable, things to say. But his book only brings people to stand outside of the two houses. To enter the Master's house, one must accept the unifying teachings and practices that are in it. The person is in the wrong room who believes the "core beliefs" as defined by men while minimizing the necessity of observing "all that He commanded."

THE POSSIBILITY OF REAL UNITY
The Bible paints a different picture of one body, with the individual parts of the body, functioning and working together: not existing as separate organisms that merely tolerate the existence of the other parts. It is my opinion Lewis' analogy is being used as an apology for schisms and factions made to sound noble. In the analogy, as presented above, Jesus is not master of the house, but only of the hallway. Lewis and others seem satisfied to call this splintered house "one family", but it falls short of the picture given the church in the Bible. It is not possible that all people will agree, but the Bible means what it says.
"If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand." - Mark 3:25

The Bible does not suggest that God intended or designed for there to be many denominatons, each having their own peculiar doctrines. This division is the work of man. Instead of crediting God with the division, men should stop justifying what is nothing more than self-made religion. Let's take to heart what Paul said:
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. - Eph 4:4-6

5 comments:

  1. Who’s text of comments are you presenting as a critique C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”? Why don’t you use C.S. Lewis’ text directly? I have not read “Mere Christianity” myself but I do know that C.S. Lewis, an Anglican, was a great apologist for the Christian Faith.

    Christ’s expressed will for His Church is certainly unity: “That they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). Ecumenism is a positive path to achieve Christ’s expressed will for all Christians.

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  2. I knew better than posting that without a reference. But now I can't find the original source.

    Ecumenicism hasn't done much to bring the churches together, has it? The analogy is cute and sentimental, but it is a bad analogy. God does not create a divided house.

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  3. Pazdziernik,
    I decided to remove the original quotation and paste instead a page from the book I own. The original image implied that Lewis believed the house would be like "plain vanilla" if it didn't have many rooms/denominations. But when reading Lewis' book, I couldn't find the "plain vanilla" comment, at least not in the preface where the "house" and "hallway" analogy come from. But the idea that one church is "plain vanilla" and boring is another example of a poor analogy, just as the divided house with a common hallway is a poor analogy.

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  4. Thanks for the update. "Mere Christianity" was written for those approaching Christianity from the outside. It is an aplogetic on the Christian Faith. Those who approach Christianity surely try to make sense out of the divisions, e.g Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, "bible-only" evangelicals, "faith-alone"-types etc.

    His analogy is a good help it seems. "Which doctrines are true?" not "where do I feel most comfortable?" ( I paraphrase) Lewis does not omit.

    Lewis was an Anglican. I'm not sure about Lewis' personal thought but the Anglicans do have the "branch theory" in which there are three main "branches" of "the Church": Catholic, Orthodox, and Reformation. Of course, Anglicans need this to explain why they were not "on the scene" until 1500 years into the Christian era.

    Surely all those who are saved (Christians and non-Christians) are saved through the merits of Jesus Christ. They are also saved through his Church. Christ founded a Church. Since Christ is God, He surely foresaw those Christians who would split off from His Church and form their own comminities.

    The Bible describes Christ's Church has having four marks: 1. one 2. holy 3. catholic (universal or whole) and 4. apostolic (from the apostles) Some Churches and Christian communities have some of these marks but not all. (Only the Catholic Church has all four marks.) This seems to be the line of thought that Lewis' was nearing. Those who are approaching Christianity for the first time need something like an analogy rather than "four marks"-type arguments. It's a matter of tactics I suppose. Although, I would be interested to see how Lewis approached the "four marks" which he would certainly be familiar with.

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  5. I just wanted to add to your comment: "Ecumenicism hasn't done much to bring the churches together, has it?"

    The Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in the past few years signed a joint declaration on justification. The point of agreement really overwhelm the points of contention. Justification was a major point of dispute during the Reformation. Although the LWF only represents some Lutherans it is good to see that each approached each other on their own terms.

    The Catholic Church also signed a Christological agreement with the Armenian Apostolic Church which broke off from Rome after Chalcedon (475?) over Christological disputes. Very promising indeed. (Promising even more for personal reasons.)

    Today Ecumenism among all Christians) is needed not only for topics like justification or Christology but for basic "moral sense" items, like, abortion, euthansia, divorce and remarriage, contraception, in-vitro fertilization, homosexuality and on and on. It's outrageous and disheartening that the moral sense among Christians (defined here as those who profess a belief in Jesus Christ as Divine Saviour and God as Trinity) is dissolving rapidly.

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