I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions — as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.
• C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Part of the “post-evangelical wilderness” experience is a deep sense of longing to be at home.
Psalm 63 carries the heading, “A psalm of David, regarding a time when David was in the wilderness of Judah.” Wandering in the desert places left him hungry, thirsty, eager for a renewal of the vital experience of worship and fellowship he had known with his brethren in the Temple.
O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
• Psalm 63:1-2 (NLT)
David longed for home. There’s no place like home.
As wonderful as “a personal relationship with Jesus” sounds to our individualistically-oriented ears, Scripture, tradition, history, and experience teach us that this relationship is most fully realized in the communion of saints.
When the family sits down at table together, the abundance of our Father’s provision becomes most apparent to us. At the table, our identity as family members is confirmed and reinforced. We take our part in the family story. We recall and celebrate unique experiences we’ve shared together. We laugh about our idiosyncracies and foibles. We discuss the broader world from a perspective that looks out from our front door. Here we praise and tease one another, and address family concerns. Here the memories of family members no longer with us are recalled. Here we welcome the newborns, the children, and baptize them into the family’s ways — we teach them the silly kids’ songs, tell them the old jokes and stories, and at some point show them the secret family handshake and codes and let them in on a few of the skeletons in the family closet. Here we welcome guests, translating our strange dialect into words they can understand and, hopefully, appreciate.
You simply can’t know these things in the same way when you’re on the move, sleeping in tents, having to pack up and travel to the next location all the time. There’s a certain charm to sitting around the campfire, but it’s the ephemeral thrill of the open road, the wanderer, the hobo. You feel the exhilaration of freedom for a time, but hauling water and firewood, sleeping on the ground, dealing with the weather, bugs, and strange sounds in the night, and setting up and breaking camp gets old after awhile.
The word the Bible uses to talk about Israel settling down in the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness is instructive — rest. God gave them rest. It just felt downright good to sit a spell and put their feet up for awhile. However, as wonderful as that homecoming was, Hebrews 3-4 tells us they never really found complete rest, even in the good land. A settled home in this present world could never fully satisfy the hunger in their hearts for the city in the age to come. They looked for a city built by God himself, a permanent home of righteousness and peace, the home God creates through Christ for his forever family in a new creation.
Nevertheless, having a “home” here and now is also vital, as essential as it is for desert travelers to find an oasis, or better yet, a destination that provides some kind of long pause from impermanence.
Never was C.S. Lewis’s wisdom more evident than in the opening pages of Mere Christianity, when he spoke to this subject. You can talk about personal belief, a Christianity of essential truths that one embraces, a faith with which one, as an individual, agrees. You can set forth a “mere Christianity” that satisfies a seeker’s heart, mind, soul and spirit, and introduces him into a vital relationship with the true and living God.
“Mere Christianity” brings these believers into a great hallway in God’s magnificent mansion. You mingle there. You converse with others who have entered through the front door. You talk about how great it is that you have been invited and welcomed in. You praise the gracious hospitality of your Host. You are humbled at the generosity of the One who made it possible for you to have a home.
And then you notice that some are making their way into various rooms along the corridor. Peeking into one of these rooms, you see comfortable chairs, a crackling fire in the hearth, and a table spread with a feast. Not sure if you are invited in, you observe, and then go back into the hall.
After awhile, you begin to feel a bit uncomfortable. You’re running out of things to say to the others mingling there. You look around for a place to sit down, but there are no chairs. Your stomach growls, but your eyes spot no food being served. You wonder where you will sleep that night.
You’ve been welcomed in, and you’re thankful to be out of the cold and rain. You sigh; that’s better. A place of respite from the storm. A hallway where you can rest for a little while.
But it’s a hallway. And soon you are restless once more.