Thursday, 10 January 2013

Implications of Mere Christianity


I regard myself as a Mere Christian - and have been trying to understand the implications; which are somewhat more complex than I had at first recognized.

To be a Mere Christian is to believe:

1. That salvation may be attained through several Christian denominations.

2. That the riches of Christ are spread across several Christian denominations.

3. That any specific and valid Christian denomination tends to certain faults - biases and incompletenesses.

4. That Mere Christianity is not a viable church; therefore that specific denominations are both desirable, and indeed necessary for there to be a viable institutional church of Christ.


Therefore, the Mere Christian nearly always has trouble in choosing (and sticking with) a Christian denomination - whether as a new convert or as a practising Christian in a world where most denominations are mostly apostate (and the situation continues to worsen).

Because, on the one hand, the Mere Christian has an ultimate indifference to denominations - such that I personally could be (and the list is not exhaustive) a conservative evangelical Anglican, an Anglo Catholic, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, Eastern Orthodox, a Roman Catholic (of the SSPX type, or Anglican Ordinariate), or a Mormon. I would not be equally happy with all of these, but certainly I could and would join and worship at any of these denominations if circumstances made it optimal.

But, on the other hand, all these denominations demand assent to more than I regard essential - and may indeed demand assent to the idea that what I regard as non-essential is essential.


So the Mere Christian could in one sense join a wide range of denominations; but in another sense, any valid denomination will almost certainly demand a wider assent than any Mere Christian could truly give.

It is a bit of a double-bind, you will agree!

Which is probably why, so far, I have stayed with my baptismal church (of England) - since more specific assent to a wider range of propositions is demanded of new converts to a denomination than cradle members of a denomination.



Bruce B. said...

Here in America, the general movement is towards a generic Evangleism that has minimal creeds, confessions, etc. I’m not referring to liberal Christianity. The generic Evangelism is more or less Baptist in theology. It has had influence over some non-Baptist protestants. For example, some Lutherans start sounding a lot like Baptists. I suppose that is one reaction to the problem you pose.

Onc question. Is your definition the same as tht of CS Lewis? From memory, it seemed to me like he (implicitly through his definition developed in his book) excluded non-sacramental Protestants. My memory could be faulty. I’d imagine he’d exclude Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness’.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I regard (conservative) evangelical Christianity as a legitimate and effective response to the problems of this post-modern world where there is near-zero knowledge of Christianity, many false ideas about Christianity and such a profound confusion and inversion of ideas that Chrstianity must often be built up not just from 'ground zero' but from some kind of sub-zero level.

I speak from experience of being one of these sub-zeros, since I had read a lot of extreme-liberal 'Christianity' religous studies and comparative mythology - which had left me in a considerably worse state vis a vis Christianity, then the most "ignorant savage" ever could have been!

But it doesn't suit everyone, and some people will need or want to move on.

CS Lewis was very important in my conversion, but what I say here is not the same as he said, but my own development of it in a very different world. I have a very 'mere' version of Mere Christianity - in which I would certainly include non-sacramental Protestants such as the Salvation Army; and also Mormons - about which I know quite a lot.

But I don't know anything about Jehovah's Witnesses. From my experience with Mormonism, I feel that it is necessary to empathically identify with a religion from the inside (to understand the lived-experience of believers) to know if it is truly and essentially Christian - it is not remotely adequate to look up a summary in Wikipedia! (or the equivalent).

From this perspective I regard Mormons as among the truest and most devout of Christians alive today in the West; but I guess this is obvious enough from the frequent coverage of this blog...

(I do find it strange and repellant that real Christians are more tolerant indeed respectful of the mass of mainstream 'Liberal' Christians who are in fact the most dangerous of anti-Christians, than they are of Mormons, who are regarded as a stupid, sinister or crazy cult. Yet serious Mormons (about one third of the total), in their dialy Christ-centred lives, put to shame all but a handful of the most devout mainstream Christians.

In my estimation, modern Mormons are - in general - operating at an *qualitatively higher level* than mainstream Christian denominations, and deserve our admiration and awe rather than sniggering disdain and cold hostility.

Dale James Nelson said...

Dr. Charlton, you wrote, "the Mere Christian nearly always has trouble in choosing (and sticking with) a Christian denomination - whether as a new convert or as a practising Christian."

That's been my experience, but not so much since I became conscious of a few "non-negotiables." By that term, I mean that, at least unless things become dire indeed, the church I attend must line up with these three considerations:

1.The 66 books of the Bible are understood to have unique authority, as a norm that norms all doctrinal statements, preaching, teaching, etc.

2.Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar are understood as means of grace, indeed means of salvation. Understandings of them that see them as, in essence, testimonies of one's faith, object lessons about God, etc. are manifestly inadequate given the Scriptural evidence. It was in the latter type of church that I was raised, but I couldn't go back unless there simply was no other church available. Even then I would have to think about "house-churching" instead, although wanting to have some contact.

3.Salvation is God's work for us. We may refuse it. But we do not save ourselves.

I recognize that some mere Christians' non-negotiables will be different. I don't even mention the holiness of life of the denominational members, where that would seem to be your highest criterion.

Bruce B. said...

Regarding Mormons I have a bit of experience here. My wife was baptized into the Mormon Church in 2001. I was not. I attended their Sunday service (not the temple) many times and made many Mormon friends (including many elders/missionaries straight from Utah and Idaho). We have maintained frequent contact with many of them including the first elders that visited us, one from Texas and one from California (they have grown from mature 19-year olds into devout husbands and fathers in the 10+ years). My wife still gets mail from her Mormon “home teacher” even though we were baptized by a Continuuing Anglican Church in 2007. I very much like the Mormons and think that they make wonderful neighbors and are natural allies in the culture wars.

That said, I think they are not within mere Christianity for the following reason. Essential parts of their religion are based on a lie (I do not mean that individual Mormons are dishonest). I do not believe Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the scriptures that are unique to Mormonism are true. I do believe that the Gospels are true. Of all the denominations that I consider Christian, I’d say that Baptists and Pentecostals are the farthest from my beliefs. However, their beliefs are not based exclusively on the Gospels which are true. I believe they (low church Evangelicals) have a stripped down and minimalist version of the faith but what they believe is obtained from truth (the Gospels).

I, of course, agree with you about liberal Christians and greatly prefer the company of Mormons. I do not consider liberal Christians to be real Christians.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - Thanks for the comment.

I find that one of the paradoxes of being Mere Christian is that it does involve an inevitable arrogance in judging other Christian denominations - so that there are significant things about all denominations that I regard as untrue - the most important of which is each one's claim of exclusivism, the claim to be the true church - but also other specific claims for the necessities of salvation.

I don't see the Mormon church as being qualitatively different in that respect - I believe it is *essentially* true in its fundamental *nature*; although some aspects and details of it I don't believe to be true.

But I feel it would be seem invidious for me to go through the and list the aspects of Mormonism I believe and disbelieve, agree and disagree with, unless I was to do the same for all the other denominations of which I have knowledge - and in fact I worry that such and exercise would be bad for me (and probably bad for anyone who read it!).

If a denomination is judged to be a valid path to salvation - I think that should be enough. How can that be known? I think we have to evaluate it from the members of that church, as best we can - and making, in particular, the judgment about whether individuals may be saved *despite* the denomination (as with Liberal Christianity) or whether the denomination is salvific in its essential nature (as are those I listed, in my judgment).

The Continental Op said...

There are limits to orthodox Christianity (just read Revelation 2-3, there were churches close to the limit even then), and LDS is outside those limits, and all of Christianity has known it since 1820. You and the LDS say they aren't. I think you're subverting Christianity on this point.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CO You mean 1830; but that is a point I would like to emphasize. What was a reasonable evaluation in 1830 has become increasingly absurd 180 years later.

Especially considering that over the course of so many generations 1. Mormonism has shown no signs of which would suggest it was based on fundamental falsehoods or delusions (I mean, the kind of thing we see with Leftism); 2, no signs of being covertly evil - not like communism which seemed good but always reveals its evil within a few years of gaining power; and 3. having uniquely (among integrated religions) held firm against apostasy and the sexual revolution.

After 180 years maybe it is time for mainstream Christians to be humble enough to admit they may have been wrong, and re-evaluate Mormonism!

Bruce B. said...

I don’t know if they held firm against the sexual revolution. They use contraception which was the most important innovation of the sexual revolution. This is true even if they do average 3 children instead of 2 children like everyone else. The only Church that held firm (doctrinally – not referring to the practice of the masses of laymen) was the Catholic Church.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I refer to behaviour not doctrine. The sad state of the RC church shows how utterly disconnected the two can be. Indeed the Church of England still *officially* uses the Book of Common Prayer as its major theological statement - which only goes to show how meaningless such things are under Leftism.

One things we should learn from Mormonism is precisely this point - the very great unimportance of 'official' statements of beliefs/ theology/ philosophy/ creeds etc. as such, in and of themselves. They do not even function as necessary prerequisites.

For example, Vatican II. I am assured that the actual document itself is not evil - but if true all that proves is that it might as well have been; and that documents are no barrier *whatsoever* to apostate liberals.

Likewise, the fact that nearly all Mormons use contraception proves that this is no barrier to above-replacement fertility.

All this stuff is a bit of a surprise - but it is data that needs to be explained, not explained-away.

Intellectuals expend far too much time and effort focused on such matters while neglecting the things needful.

Bruce B. said...

But they practice contraceptive sex (a behavior) which is against what Christians have always believed. Or so I’m told. They just don’t do it so much that they have below replacement fertility. I don’t think that contraception is considered bad by (historic) Christianity because it results in below replacement level reproduction. Or at least that’s not the only bad thing about it.
All modern denominations have, in practice, accepted a lot of sexual deviancy. For example, sodomitic sex (oral and other forms of sex - sodomitic mimicry if you prefer) is now common among Christian couples. I have been told that such behavior would have been unthinkable a few generations ago. I have no idea if this includes Mormons but I see no reason to assume that it doesn’t.
By the way, Jehovah’s Witness’ are a lot like them. They dress and behave conservative. They stress family values, marital fidelity, fertility and abstension from drugs. The main, noticeable difference is that Jehovah’s Witness are much more multi-racial. Not saying that is good or bad. It’s just something that obviously jumps out at you when you observe them.

MC said...

"One things we should learn from Mormonism is precisely this point - the very great unimportance of 'official' statements of beliefs/ theology/ philosophy/ creeds etc. as such, in and of themselves. They do not even function as necessary prerequisites."

Here is another example. Mormons do not believe in Biblical inerrancy, while most Protestant denominations (and Catholics?) nominally do. Based on that fact alone, one would assume that Mormons would be the moral relativists who pay only lip service to the commandments. Yet for nearly every "rubber hits the road" commandment (tithing, sexual morality), something close to the opposite is true.

And then there is an old joke you'll hear among those familiar with Mormons:

“Catholics say that the Pope is infallible, but no one believes it. Mormons say their prophet is fallible, but no one believes it.”

Roger U said...

Bruce B,"The main, noticeable difference is that Jehovah’s Witness are much more multi-racial."

I have never heard of a Jehova's Witness who was not black or a Mormon who was not white. Maybe its a regional thing.

Samson J. said...

I have never heard of a Jehova's Witness who was not black

Roffle! I have never, ever, ever heard of a black JW!

Bruce B. said...

A black lady left our Anglican church to become a JW (right across the street!) because they have more children at their church. Around here they have quite a few Hispanics and some blacks.

I suspect that to some degree Mormon good behavior is a result of a long standing desire to be seen as legitimate Christians and, who knows, maybe to be seen as better than Protestant Christians. They have always been a denomination that is somewhat of a reaction to the Protestants around them.In a sense, Mormonism is a protestant phenomena that is a reaction to protestant division. But I think it’s also a response to the Christological deficiencies inherent in most Protestantism as a result of the doctrine of salvation through faith alone. Like Pietism, Mormonism attempts to correct this deficiency. What they don’t realize is that for Catholics and Orthodox, this was never a problem.

Prof Charlton, here is how I understand mere Christianity as a Catholic. I agree with you that there are possible paths to salvation through various denominations. Baptists are probably furthest from my denomination. Here’s my “canned” example that I use. Michelle Duggar (the American Baptist woman famous for having 20 children) believed in the Gospel and was probably baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. She probably reads the Bible a lot, prays a lot, listens to a good Baptist sermon each weak and spends almost all of her time raising twenty Christian children. She may never commit an mortal sin and may very well be saved in the end. But most people (me definitely!) need more than that. We need the sacraments that the Catholic Church gives us. And I believe that the Catholic Church provides the surest path to salvation. So yes, there are paths that can lead to salvation in denominations that are formally outside of Catholicism and there are non-Catholics that will be saved. I don’t know that I can say that about Mormons in general because they do not receive a Christian Baptism. Jesus Christ told us that a necessary condition of salvation is Faith & Baptism.

JRRT Reader said...

Interesting discusion here, all!

@ MC, I could be wrong, but I *think* that the official RC position is that the Bible is literally true on matters relating to salvation, but that other parts might be meant as having an allegorical or symbolic meaning. My apologies if I am mistaken on this point, and anyone who might correct me in that event, please do.

I have known black Jehovah's Witnesses, though I have lived for nearly a decade in locales with relatively high black populations. Some members of the Jackson music family have been JWs at points in the past, as is, to the best of my knowledge, the performer Prince.

Imnobody said...

About Mormonism, is it not possible that something is good but not fully Christian? They way paganism is a step towards the truth, Mormonism could have a big share of the truth but not the whole truth, hence it would not be Christian.

It's very hard to me to accept Mormonism as another Christian denomination. I am not very interested about doctrine and theology but I think you must meet some basic points and Mormonism does not meet them. But I could be wrong.

Steve Setzer said...

Bruce, given your definition of Mere Christianity, here's one reason to choose a specific church: to fortify one's unique spirit. We should all be like angels, inspired by the Logos alone. But we're not; we need human-level comfort and reassurance from time to time.

Some of us are fortified by time-hallowed rituals or heart-piercing stained glass images. Others need fiery charismatic preaching or the comfort of seeing the same friends every week. Still others need to be constantly working and serving.

I'm not pushing relativism or like claptrap. There are churches where I dare say attendance would harm anyone. But for you, perhaps your current congregation really is the right place, for these kinds of reasons.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

1. That salvation may be attained through several Christian denominations.

2. That the riches of Christ are spread across several Christian denominations.

Not directly. Christ founded one Church and all his sacramental grace comes through it. The other churches can channel it only inasmuch as their faith and teaching and sacraments are in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church. Otherwise, grace is bestowed individually (but always through the mystery of the One Church and Body of Christ) so that every man of good will can be saved.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - What you are articulating is, I think, the official Roman Catholic view - but I am trying to tease-out what is different about the view of Mere Christianity.

Bruce B. said...

I think for a Roman Catholic, the view that SDR puts forth is the only view of mere Christianity that is possible ( I have to confess that my thoughts on rapidly converging on this understanding.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - These are, of course, matters of fact - not opinion. But I think that in reality very few real Christians are exclusivist nowadays - for example Pope JP II read CS Lewis (an Anglican) avidly, and asked to meet his executor (Walter Hooper, an Anglican Priest - who later became RC when the CofE allowed priestesses).

The Question is whether JP II read Lewis as a real Christian, or as a heretic or a philosopher etc - I would say it almost certain that he was reading CSL as a real Christian. So even a Holy Catholic Pope is a Mere Christian in practice, if not in theory.

But, if some kind of Mere Christian cooperation cannot transpire, then Christianity is finished; because the leadership of all of the major Christian denominations are net corrupt (Not Benedict XVI - he is a great and Holy Christian - but it seems most of the senior RC clergy/ magisterium who work tirelessly to undermine and negate him).

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

@BGC - Roman Catholics believe this view is the truth -- and it follows obviously enough from revelation. In this case, any other church or denomination or mere Christianity can only be wanting where their beliefs are different from the Catholic faith. They are only a transitional state for the saved, as these will be incorporated to the Body of Christ in the end, if only at the moment of death. Also, it is risky to linger in a transitional state when the way and the door are said to be so narrow.

Bruce B. said...

I think the RC Church refers to Protestants as existing in “faith communities” and not Churches as they believe there is only one Church and it is a visible ecclesial body. Acknowledging them as faith communities acknowledges them as Christians since their faith is in the same Jesus Christ that the RC Church places its faith in.

Interestingly enough, many Evangelical Churches here in America no longer refer to themselves as churches but as Christian “communities”, “centers”, etc.