In 1942, during World War Two, the BBC (the British Broadcasting Company) invited C.S. Lewis to give a series of wartime broadcasts about what the Christian faith is and what it is that Christians believe. During that difficult time in history, England was being bombed by four hundred planes each night in the air raid “blitz” that turned many British cities into rubble. The British people were struggling, terrified and demoralized, barely hanging on and determined not to surrender. Each day the radio brought more news of death and destruction. All through those dark days of the early 1940’s bad news was all the news the British people heard.
But then this new program came on the air in England. It featured a man talking in an intelligent, good-humored way about fair play and the importance of knowing right from wrong. And explaining why the doctrines of Christianity are true. The Brits loved what they heard. The radio talks strengthened their Christian faith and gave them renewed hope in God.
Since the radio talks were such a success, after the war Mr. Lewis gathered these speeches into the book we know today as “Mere Christianity.” And the book has been even more successful than the radio talks were. Over the decades “Mere Christianity” has continued to be a best seller and a beloved classic on Christian beliefs. Because the book, “Mere Christianity” has been a blessing to so many, I would like to cover some of the high points of the book in this and the next few blogs to come, hoping that it will be a blessing for you too. Or you might want to skip my blogs and just read the book yourself.
C.S. Lewis was a professor at Oxford University. He had been an atheist for many years and had finally become a Christian and joined the Anglican Church after much thought and soul searching. When he gave his radio talks and wrote his book he did not want to put forward as common Christianity anything that was peculiar to the Anglican Church. Too many Christian denominations had argued over their minor differences. He only wanted to explain the basic Christian doctrines that all Christians hold in common.
C. S. Lewis sent his original script of what is now the book, to four clergymen (Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic) for their criticism. All four agreed that his book succeeded in presenting the central, basic doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and the three different Protestant denominations. Over the years Professor Lewis got many reviews of his book and he found that Christians from every Protestant denomination and the Roman Catholic Church, are all united in the basic Christian doctrines. At the center of each there is something, or Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same Voice. Scripture says that: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greeks, slave or free, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
Hostility against his book came from the people who were rebelling against the doctrines of Christianity. People who refused to believe that Jesus Christ is Son of God and Savior. These people did not like the word “Christian” to mean people who believe the basic Christian doctrines.
Those hostile to Christian doctrine wrote C.S.Lewis and criticized his use of the word “Christian”. They wanted-to change the definition of the word “Christian” and use the word to define anyone they thought was “good”. So, the word “Christian” soon becomes a useless word if it means whatever people want it to mean. And cult groups or Protestant denominations that hate the Christian creed that all Christians have held for 2,000 years, now call themselves “Christian”. Wolves in sheep’s clothing!
C.S. Lewis said that the definition of the word “Christian” was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. It means a “believer” of the basic teachings or doctrines. He said that it is only a question of using words so that we can understand what is being said. When a person accepts the Christian doctrine and then lives unworthily of it, it is clearer to say he or she is a bad Christian than to say he or she is not a Christian at all.
C.S. Lewis starts his book, “Mere Christianity” by talking about his idea of the “Law of Right and Wrong” or the “Law of Human Nature”. The two points he wants to make are (1) Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious belief that they ought to behave in a certain way, and they cannot really get rid of that belief. And (2) Humans do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature: but they break it. Why is this important? C. S. Lewis explains why this fact helps us believe that God is behind His creation.
He explains this by saying that he believes we can learn something very important from listening to people arguing or quarreling. People quarreling say things like this: ‘That was my seat, I was there first’ – ‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’ – ‘Why should you shove in line ahead of us?’ – ‘Come on, you promised.’ When we argue we are not just saying that the other person’s behavior doesn’t please us, we are appealing to some kind of Standard of behavior which we expect the other person to automatically know about.
And the other person nearly always tries to say that what he is doing does not really go against the Standard, or if it does there is some special excuse. There is some special reason why the person who took the seat first should not keep it. Both parties arguing seem to have in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or morality! Quarreling means trying to show that the other person is wrong. And there would be no sense trying to do that unless you both had an idea as to what Right and Wrong are.
The Bible speaks of a “conscience” that each person is given. Romans 2:14-15 talks about the “law written in their hearts”. Who wrote it? Years ago, the idea of right and wrong was called “The Law of Nature” because people thought that everyone knew it by nature and that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to everyone. When we compare the moral teaching of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what is really surprising is how alike they are to each other and to our own moral teachings. Not to say that these civilizations lived up to their moral teachings! Most did not! Individuals and societies can have “sear” their conscience!
Moral laws, ideas of right and wrong, are not mere fancy, for we cannot get rid of them. It is not simply a statement of how we should like others to behave for our own convenience: for the behavior we call bad or unfair is not exactly the same as the behavior we find inconvenient. So, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or whatever you call it, must somehow be a real thing – a thing that is really there! Not made up by ourselves. It begins to appear that there is something or Someone above and beyond the ordinary facts of human behavior, and yet quite definitely real – a real law, which none of us humans made, but which we find pressing in on us. Where did it come from?