OK, one more thing from the preface to C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
You know how we love to classify things as “salvation issues?” Don’t act like you don’t. I know you do. We call things that we believe are hugely important, non-debatable matters “salvation issues.” The implication is that if you mess with these things, if you don’t follow these rules, if you omit any of these teachings or traditions, you will not be granted salvation from God. On the flip side, the things we deem less important, the things we consider to be peripheral matters, we call “disputable” or “opinions.”
The problem occurs — and we’ve all been there — when two Christian disciples disagree about what’s a “salvation issue” and what’s not.
One of the things Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long before one asks whether such-and-such a point ‘really matters’ and the other replies, ‘Matter? Why, it’s absolutely essential.’
(I would have said “When two Christians start arguing…” and left out “of different denominations.” I mean, we have these kinds of discussions within our own faith traditions all the time.)
Lewis goes on to explain why he left specific “church issues” out of his book. Like Hicks explains at the end of A Gathered People, Lewis believes a discussion of church issues is secondary to the basic point. Directing attention to controversial questions tends to polarize instead of pointing in the direction of fellowship and unity.
So, let me tackle it. I’m not writing a book or anything.
I believe Scripture teaches us that EVERYTHING is a salvation issue.
Everything matters. Everything’s important. Everything’s critical. Everything we do and say and teach and practice. Every way we act and worship and work and serve. Everywhere we go, everyone we go with, every when we go. It’s all a salvation issue. Everything.
See, when we start labeling things as salvation issues, we always bring up baptism, proper communion observance, and other corporate worship practices about which we feel very strongly. Very strongly. We’ll debate and argue, cuss and discuss, “die on this hill” and as-surely-as-the-Lord-lives some of these things ’til the cows come home. But in all of our red-faced, hard-nosed, do-or-die demonstrations, nobody ever brings up the way we treat the service representative behind the counter at the post office. Nobody ever wants to talk about feeding the poor. Nobody ever puts defending the alien or encouraging one another in the same list as all these “salvation issues.”
Why? You ever thought about that?
What does it matter if you’re baptized by complete immersion in a holy hot tub in a Church of Christ sanctuary “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” if you treat service people in your neighborhood with contempt. What does it matter if you worship God by singing holy hymns, accompanied only by a pitch-pipe to get you going, if you completely ignore the homeless guy under the bridge at 183 and Precinct Line? What does it matter if you partake of the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day in the Lord’s prescribed manner if you forward racist jokes by email to everybody in your office?
Aren’t these the “weightier matters?”
Why is it that Jesus can call these kinds of things “salvation issues” but we don’t?
They are all salvation issues. There is no ascending or descending scale of importance when it comes to living like Christ in newness of eternal life. It’s all or nothing. Heart, soul, mind, and body.
But how do we tell who’s a Christian and who’s not? How do we know with whom to fellowship? How do we know who’s in our group and does things our way and those who don’t. How do we know who’s in the Church?
“If by ‘the Church’ you mean the mystical Church (which is partly in Heaven), then of course, no man can identify her. But if you mean the visible Church, then we all know her. She is a ‘sensibly known company’ of all those throughout the world who profess one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”