Dialogue on “Mere Christianity” and “THE Church”


Dave Scott is a “low church” / evangelical / non-denominational Protestant, who is a good friend. We had this casual and enjoyable chat today on my Facebook page. His words will be in blue.


We’re saying that grace and faith save and that works are intrinsically part of that faith.

I wouldn’t disagree with that Dave … there is undoubtedly a dynamic between faith and works which self-justifiers on either ‘side’ try to split and then gainsay.

I’ve always taken the Protestant emphasis to be on whether we can earn salvation not whether we are entrusted to maintain, in whatever measure we are able, salvation.

I think a true Protestant view, on that matter, should be expressed in the utmost humility – because of what it is trying to express … and not wielded arrogantly or aggressively.

Someone asked me yesterday about Luther adding “alone” to “faith” in his Bible. I said it’s an overblown issue that I don’t spend time arguing about, so that I didn’t have a paper about it. And I have papers about everything!

Both sides believe that we’re saved by grace alone and that good works are an essential, required part of the Christian life.

Amen to that!

On that basis, there could be these big agreements on justification.

So, despite our differences, why don’t we just go and produce ‘good fruit’?

That would be nice. I’m all for that.

Build each other up etc., advance the Kingdom …
Mostly, Protestants don’t want to work with us. We’re glad to work with them on common causes and beliefs. I still defend Catholic views, of course, but I do both things.
The usual ‘stuff’ . . .Brothers and sisters have lots of disagreements, but they still love each other, don’t they? It’s the denial that one or the other is a brother that causes the biggest problem.

I hope so, truly … unnecessary division gives the Enemy a field day.Sure, but isn’t it easier to self-justify by gainsaying the other … maybe it could be called Cheap Righteousness in deference to Bonhoeffer …. but maybe it’s already covered by the term ‘yeast of the Pharisees’.

We must grant good faith and sincerity and honestly, truthfully analyze what we feel are errors in the other view (without straw men), without trashing people who hold the errors. Honest disagreements . . . You are my brother in Christ and my friend. We disagree on several points of theology.
So say you and I went out and did street evangelism. I think we would say basically the same thing at first: the basic gospel message. Then the guy accepts that and asks, “where do I go to church on Sunday?”Now we have a difference.

When I did outreach, mostly at New Age fairs, my rule was guide the person to where they (as an individual) could find Christ. I think the LORD works despite our shortcomings (as individuals and denomination). So if that person found Christ in RC setting then that’s where I’d encourage them to re-root themselves. If they couldn’t return to RC or was averse to it then to some other fellowship – independent evangelical, Anglican or whatever.
What is important, for me, is that the person found Christ and Him using whatever denomination as a means of His Grace.

Yes; I consider this a pretty good, thoughtful Protestant ecumenical outlook. Basically the “mere Christianity” approach . . .

My son Matthew, e.g., has some great Protestant friends in a family. The father is a Baptist pastor and a Muslim convert got baptized in his church and Matthew went to the service. We rejoice in that. A Muslim became a regenerated Christian. Of course, we believe that happened, whereas the pastor thinks it was just mere symbolism.

For him, it was abstract faith only. We believe (following what we believe Scripture teaches) in faith + sacraments, which convey grace. And so this is what we would have to explain to a New Ager who wanted to become a Christian: “this church here believes in seven sacraments that give grace; many others believe in two, and some believe in none.”
Sure, we can have a discourse about water baptism … what matters is whether the person is saved by Christ. Again, sacramental distinctions but if the person is rooted in God giving Grace then I’d be happy with their first steps. Not something I’d insist they understood when they first sought Christ.
What matters is Christ … and remaining in relationship with Him with the Spirit and through Him to the Father. If you’re a minimalist or a ceremonialist or a covenanter … He’s big enough to cope with our particularities … but salvation is only through Christ as a gift from the Father.
But if one believes that baptism is literally the entrance to the Body of Christ and regeneration and salvation, then it comes pretty early in the process!
We have some common ground there, but no one can not exercise their own particular beliefs. So the new Christian convert would have to choose, if he truly understood the competing theological views.
So no-one accepted by/in Christ before water baptism?

They could be in some sense, but for the vast majority of Christians, baptism must come very soon; ASAP, in fact. This is but one example of the issues that immediately come up in a theoretical joint street witnessing scenario. You can just do “mere Christianity”: but we can’t honestly do that, if it goes into a certain depth. We can’t simply ignore sacraments and saints and transubstantiation, etc.

We can do the initial witnessing together, but then it’ll split eventually. It can be friendly but there are still differences to be grappled with.

When I first turned to Christ as my Saviour I only wanted Him, not denominationalism – which I saw as divisive.
Denominationalism is divisive; one true Church (if in fact it exists) is not.
Yip, I agree.
Then one must define “church.”
I would hold Abraham to be ekklesia ….
So the new convert asks, “what is the Church?” and you say “Abraham”?
No … unless he/she is Jewish. [I meant] the response to the call.
What do you tell them? “It’s all those who are saved and have committed their lives to Jesus?” And they ask again, “Where do I go to church this Sunday?”
Isn’t asking ‘what is Church?’ a bit like saying ‘what is truth?’ … not saying that it’s not a valid question. Church has many metaphors (Biblical ones) but God’s people are those who follow and obey Him and who sometimes disobey Him and need His faithfulness to pull/shepherd them though.Once one answers “Who is Church?” I think each person can answer where they could go thereafter. I am interested in the sown seed staying planted, that is my first concern. I am Church, you are Church, we are Church if we trust and follow Christ.

That’s how you see it: almost as a mere abstraction. We see it as apostolic, institutional, and historically continuous. So that makes it identifiable as a concrete place that one can actually find and locate: like asking, “where is the NFL game played today?”I sow the seed right along with ya. And I answer his question about what “church” means and where he should worship on Sunday. I have to answer that in a Catholic way; just as you have answered it in a very “low church / non-denom” way (that used to be largely my own view, too).

Even in Mere Christianity (the book), C. S. Lewis said that the “mere” part was the common hall in the building; then the people went to their individual rooms with their theological distinctives.

But even that is a fundamentally Protestant perspective. A Catholic or Orthodox can never simply disregard sacred tradition and ecclesology, the way Lewis — the good Protestant — did in his book. They are fundamental to us, as part of the rule of faith.
***Photo credit: Photograph by “drewplaysdrums” (8-20-06) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons]

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