In 1940 – when the entire British army was pinned down in Dunkirk, and Hitler was taking Europe at will, and the United States was still trying hard to stay out of the conflagration – the South of England braced itself for invasion.
Just about all the children in London (including my mother) had already been sent elsewhere for safety, and the second wave of mass evacuations had started from coastal communities (including my father), concurrent with the expectation that – as Churchill said on June 4, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
It was against such a backdrop of darkness and rapidly eroding hope, and in a cultural milieu where faith was seen as increasingly irrelevant, that the BBC asked a forty-three-year-old Cambridge professor named C.S. Lewis to give a series of radio talks about faith. Begining in 1941, there were twenty-five broadcasts over three years.
Mere Christianity – Defining our Terms:
Later, Lewis transcribed his radio notes into a written collection that ultimately became the perennially best-selling Christian classic, “Mere Christianity.” This week, two of the men’s groups at our church have launched a new study, using Lewis’s seventy-five-year-old words as the jumping off place for a deepening conversation about our own relationship with God in a world no less troubling than the one our grandparents were grappling with in the early 1940’s.
…a deepening conversation about our own relationship with God in a world no less troubling than the one our grandparents were grappling with in the early 1940’s.
Not surprisingly, we didn’t get beyond the preface. Lewis wanted to be clear that we understand the terms we are going to be using. This kind of clarity is critically important if we are to have any kind of a meaningful conversation about faith.
We started with the word “Christian.”
I have written before about how I prefer to call myself a “Jesus-follower” or a “Disciple.” You see, the word Christian has been so poorly illustrated, and preached (especially from the prosperity televangelists and the political evangelicals), and promoted, and lived, that many non-believers reject Christianity out of hand based on information that has nothing to do with following Jesus. “If that’s Christianity, then I want nothing to do with it…”
When I call myself a Jesus-follower I’m typically met with, “Huh?” or “What?” or “What on earth is that?” Then, the question having been raised, I can explain what it means to be a disciple.
I have to be honest; much of what is advertised as Christian is more likely to turn people away from God than invite them in. Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 23, “You hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces…”
To be a Christian, Lewis points out, is to accept the teachings of Jesus and to become a follower of The Way. That’s how the name was first ascribed: the disciples were known as “followers of the way of Jesus” and they were called “Christians” because they reminded people of Christ.
Highest Common Factors:
We may be a group of Jesus-followers who live out our faith in the context of the Presbyterian Church, but the Christian part of the equation is exactly the same as a Baptist, a Methodist, a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, a Pentecostal, an Episcopalian or any number of denominations. What unites us is our choice to follow Jesus, what divides us is unimportant for the purposes of our study of Mere Christianity.
The uncomplicated good news of Jesus is what Lewis calls the HCF, or Highest Common Factor.
So we talked about what it means to love Jesus and to accept his invitation into a relationship with God that is not dependant on the do’s and don’ts of religion. And we talked about how the religious structures of our particular church can help us to follow Jesus with more freedom rather than less.
What unites us is our choice to follow Jesus, what divides us is unimportant
As we set the parameters for the conversation, it occurred to me that we are constantly in danger of substituting our religion for the relationship with God that Jesus came to make possible.
But then, looking around the room at the faithful, inspirational, honest men I love so much, gathered together for the purpose of supporting and encouraging one another in this ongoing walk with Jesus, I realized that this is exactly what church is supposed to be. We are a body of struggling, stumbling, forgiven believers, called into being as The Church by Jesus himself, and charged with the task of holding one another up while we share this good news – this bread of life and living water – with a hungry world.
This is going to be a good study. I’ll try to share a little of what we’re learning as we go. Peace and more – DEREK