The end of this week is a holiday of sorts for most of my family (I know, not you, SK). You know what I mean if you're a basketball fan. It's the NCAA tournament time!!! Basketball games will be on TV from before morning 'til midnight and that's no joke. It's an endurance race for fans, but Beve, E and J wouldn't miss it, or wouldn't if they didn't have to work for a living. E's actually taking vacation so she can come up here and luxuriate in all our cable channels carrying the tournament. She'll have her brackets filled out, hold the controller in her lap, move back and forth between games and check scores on her smart phone. I know how this works. I've seen it before. Who am I kidding? Apart from filling out the brackets, I'm right here beside them, watching all the games, picking a team usually only when the ball is tipped. I don't have any particular team in the tournament this year; not really. I just like watching the games. I'm a basketball fan, a mere fan of the game.
This got me to thinking this morning about the great work of CS Lewis called, Mere Christianity. Lewis's source for the title came from some obscure (16th c?) poet named Baxter who wanted to be a 'meer Christian, pure and simple.' It's a wonderful, important idea, one that we sometimes forget. When I went to the hospital, for example, I was asked what 'religion' I was, I said I was a Christian. "What denomination?"
Just a Christian, I answered. And today it occurs to me it's like being a mere basketball fan. I don't have a team in the fight just now, so I can write this easily, without bias. In the years since I've been a Christian, I've been a member of the Methodist, Evangelical Free, Four-Square, Presbyterian and a couple of non-denominational churches. And I've worshiped at so many more kinds I can't begin to list them, everything from Roman Catholic to Eastern Orthodox to Baptist to Disciples of Christ to fledgling home churches.
I'm no longer a member of any church. I don't know that I want to be a member again. I love the Church of Jesus Christ, wherever it is found. And it is found in both organized and completely disorganized places. I remember sitting on a cement floor in New Delhi, India, singing worship choruses with a simple group of people who had removed their sandals and were ready to open the word together. That's being a mere Christian, simple and pure. But I've also heard the word of God preached by servants of Christ in ornate cathedrals. One of my all-time favorite Christmas Eve sermons was by a priest in a old brick Catholic church in a tiny town in the snow-covered eastern Washington wheatfields where my sister's husband's family has worshiped for four generations. We didn't know when to kneel, cross ourselves, stand up, sit down or most of anything else, but Christ was there and we worshiped Him that night. I've never forgotten.
Lewis says that the phrase, "mere Christian" is like a hallway in which there are many doors to different rooms. Each of these doors has a different name on it, names of different ways to worship. But make no mistake, the goal is worship. John 4: 23-24 says, "Yet a time is coming and now has come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth."
So this is the truth: that we worship through the Spirit. How we worship can be different. We can have many rituals or few, lots of hymns or none, celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly or only once in a while. From where I stand, these are 'up for grappling' issues. By that I mean, people will always be grappling with them but God doesn't necessarily pay that much attention. He's more interested in whether we're worshiping, whether we do it in His Spirit--in His Holy Spirit--and in truth.
Truth. Are we honest in our worship? Do we mean it? Do we join enter the room through the hallway of being a 'mere Christian'? That is, do we enter whichever church we chose to attend as a real believer, fully His, living each day as His, not just when we're in that room? Then is the worship about the TRUTH. In the Way that is Jesus, in the Truth that is Jesus, in the Light that is Jesus Christ?
If the 'room' you're in isn't about Jesus...well, you better think long and hard about what you're doing there. This just isn't up for grabs.
But we're also called to join together. Not just stand in the hallway.
And here's another of my end of the branch confessions for the year. I've been unwilling (yes, I use that word purposely because it IS a matter of obedience) to join in. Personal circumstance, health, a myriad of reasons have kept me from attending church in the past several years. I hesitate to say how many. Let me just say that it's been a monastic time for me spiritually, a time alone in the wilderness, in a sense. And I've been loathe to return to a church. I've loved being a 'mere Christian.' It's evidence that I know how wrong this is that I haven't been willing to tell many people about it. But today I tell you. I know. I believe God has met me so fully in this place where I've been. And He's done great things. However, He invites me to change. My confessing this is part of that change.
I will always be a mere Christian. Simple and pure. Christ and Christ alone. The church Beve and I attend is Presbyterian, but if yours is a different part of the Body of Christ, I say, we are all one. The wholly, Holy Catholic (as in universal) Church.