Mormon Observations on “Mere Christianity” – Preface 4

This is a post continuing my analysis of Mere Christianity from an LDS perspective. See my table of contents here.

The Parable of the Hall and the Rooms

At the very end of his preface, Lewis gives an analogy, a parable if you will. He says,

“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. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.”

I talked about this idea briefly in Part 1. I laid out briefly my personal stance, which is echoed by the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We unequivocally and unapologetically claim to be the one true church on the earth today, the one door that offers the fullness of salvation. The Lord himself told Joseph Smith that this Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30). Yet Latter-day Saints do not believe that they have a monopoly on truth. They believe that the Lord has given to all nations the portion of truth that he sees fit that they should have (Alma 29: 8; see also 2 Nephi 29:10-13).

In 1978, the First Presidency of the Church (at the time, Spencer W. KimballN. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney, all pictured above) released an official statement which summarizes this position. In reads, in part:

“The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals… Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all people sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.

We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to his Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.”

Thus, even though there is one true church, that does not make all other churches wrong. It just makes them not enough. Some Christians may have a problem with a statement such as this, but isn’t this essentially what they are saying to everyone else? “There may be some truth in your religion, but to be saved it is not enough. You must come to Christ.” That is, of course, the truth. And to their statement we only add, “And you must come to the true Christ, and the Church wherein you can find the fullness of his gospel, his priesthood power, and his chosen leaders.”

The contradictions that are set up if one believes in a plurality of truth will not be covered in depth here; perhaps I will write on that later. Suffice it to say that God will contradict himself if he allows multiple churches, who all teach different things, to be true. This is not the God I believe in. The God I believe in teaches, instead, of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5, emphasis added).

For those who share beliefs similar to this, in the biblical position of one true church, it seems that Lewis may not go quite far enough. While many of the rooms may contain, as Lewis puts it, a “hint of truth,” there is only one room that provides eternal life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. That room is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Waiting in the Hall

Lewis gives some profound advice about choosing a door near the conclusion of his analogy. He says,

“You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?'”

It is true that I have grown up in the Mormon Church, and so I have very little experience of “hallway” time. I gained a testimony for myself that I was where I wanted to be, and I have learned much of other churches and religions, but I admit that I have spent little time in the hallway.

I have, though, served as a full-time missionary for two years (you can see me to the left at a baptismal service). Many of you have probably met someone much like me. We come in pairs, knocking on doors, clean cut and in white shirts and ties. Though we are young, we go by the title of “Elder.” We probably tried to talk to you about eternal familiesmodern day prophets, or the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And unfortunately, few of you have probably spent time with us in places other than on your doorstep for a few brief moments.

I did have the opportunity, though, of teaching quite a few people over the course of those two years, people that spent time in the hall deciding whether or not to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I can tell you from personal experience that there were many things they considered that were not important. They were worried about what their friends or family might think, or about how hard it might be, or about a “pet sin” they would have to give up. Concerns about things like these kept them from entering into the door.

Being Kind to Others

Lewis concludes his metaphor with an admonition. He says,

“When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still In the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.”

How to we balance kindness with the need to share the gospel?

This is a very difficult question to answer, but it is absolutely essential to answer it. The difficulty is in finding balance between two seemingly conflicting gospel ideas. The first idea is the need to be Christlike to those around us, even (and perhaps especially) our enemies. In following his example, we would expect to use kind words, to be generous and accommodating, and to have all the other qualities the Savior exemplified perfectly during his life here on earth. The second idea is the need to be a witness for the gospel, and to testify fearlessly to our friends and neighbors of the truth we hold so dear. We believe these are eternally significant principles, so why wouldn’t we want to share them?

The reason these ideas conflict for so many is that we naturally prioritize our missionary duties above our Christlike-living duties. We think, “Certainly our neighbors should forgive us for being bold, when in the long run they can learn to qualify for eternal life!” Many do not know where to draw the line, and boldness quickly crosses over to overbearance. I talked about how being a Latter-day Saint made me especially sensitive to the issue of defining what it means to be Christian. It is the same with this issue of being kind to those of different denominations. Other Christians often loose sight of the line between boldness and overbearance, and end up saying very hurtful things about me in the name of saving my soul.

How can we avoid this kind of behavior, which is certainly disappointing to our Savior? I believe the key is in something said by Rex Lee, a BYU law school dean. He said,

“It’s not enough to do the right thing. We have to do the right thing in the right way” (see here, page 4).

I think there is great wisdom in this statement, but I would go one step further. We need to do the right thing, in the right way, and for the right reasons. If we remember that the ends do not justify the means, and always have as our motive the love of God and for our fellow man, it will be difficult to go astray.  Chip Ingram suggests that we “add more light, not heat.”  We want to illuminate a subject, and discover truth, but heated contention will prevent that and often cause more harm than good (see 3 Nephi 11:29).

If all else fails, it never hurts to make the issue a matter of prayer.

Study Questions from this Section

The Parable of the Hall and the Rooms

  • Is this analogy valid?
  • How does being in a “room” differ from being in the “hall”?
  • Is it right to believe in one true church? Or are there a plurality of true Christian religions or true world religions? What implications does this have on who we believe God is?
  • If there is one true church, does that make all the other churches completely wrong?

Waiting in the Hall

  • What should we do and consider when looking for a “door”?
  • What should we not do or consider when looking for a “door”?

Being Kind to Others

  • What does it mean to be kind? What does it mean to be unkind?
  • How might this relate to Alma 38:12?
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