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Mere Christianity: Who Goes Home?

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JONAL ENTRY 1219 | January 19 2012

C.S. Lewis originally titled his novel, The Great Divorce, which I discussed in some detail last time, "Who Goes Home." As mentioned before, it's the story of a busload of residents of "the grey city" who get a daytrip to heaven and an invitation to stay, only one of whom chooses heaven over the afterlife they've created for themselves in a dismal place. His original title, though lacking the literary panache of the one the publisher gave it (an allusion to poet William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell), has a winsome ambivalence. Heaven is the home God has created for us all, so that must have been the home Lewis had in mind, but then hell is the home many prefer, in Lewis's perspective, so undoubtedly he also had in mind the grey city as the home for the majority who chose to return to it.

Who goes home is a question most of us probably consider now and again as we journey through life and wonder if we're among the heaven bound or more likely to get our just desserts. Religionists—preachers, theologians, radio and TV revivalists—vary widely in their opinions on the matter. Many of the most strongly fundamentalist speakers on the subject seem almost as stingy as the Jehovah's Witnesses (who, I gather, limit the population of heaven to 144,000) in their estimation of how many mansions the Lord is prepared to parcel out in His kingdom which to us is yet to come.

The question mentioned before but not yet discussed is, are we to think that all or almost everyone who wants to go "home" now—or later—gets to go, or is it the teaching of the Bible and church that only those who've been saved in the right way in their mortal lifetimes get in? Is going home limited to those who spend most of their lives imitating Christ (don't forget "the thief on the cross" [Luke 23:30-43] and the parable of the vineyard workers hired late in the day [Matthew 20]). Does it matter whether your Jesus is the one some intricate theology defines instead of the one you heard about and "accepted" when you where kneehigh to your mom and dad? I suspect that many believe that "I used to believe that and have never really denied it, so I'm getting in." Woe to those who don't keep up their fire insurance premiums.

C.S. Lewis addressed this in Mere Christianity and says "because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are 'good,' it does not matter [if you are] a fool. But that is a misunderstanding.... as St. Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only 'as harmless as doves,' but also 'as wise as serpents.' He want's a child's heart, but a grown-up's head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert ... and in first class fighting trim. ...If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all." He also adds that those who want to be Christians find that God is sharpening their minds, which helps.

Some evangelicals are probably impatient with me if they have read this far, because I haven't said "being born again" is all that matters. But being born again—adding the birth of your spirit to the birth of your physical person—is so rudimentary that it's often misrepresented as all that's required when in fact it's only the first step of a race which, if you fail to complete, you do not win. The theologians have been forever debating what constitutes a "true" second or spiritual birth; some insist that if it is "true" it can never be lost while others believe otherwise, but everyone would agree that no one less than divine has any way of knowing whether anyone else has "truly" been born again, and if they are still sinning now and anon, they can't "truly" know themselves whether they're in or not, either. The race goes to those who finish it, and many never do.

Even the Calvinist (in whose company I spent most of my adult life) who says, "once saved always saved" keeps hammering on the theme that you have to constantly examine your performance to be sure you are truly in the race. And if the Calvinist finds a dearth of spiritual fruits, his theological out is, "well, of course in that case this one was never 'truly' saved." Which leaves him no farther along than the "Arminian" who says, "it's presumptuous to say, 'oh yes, I know I'm saved.'" And to them both, we Orthodox reply, "I have been saved, I am being saved, and, Lord willing, when I leave this mortal life, I will be saved."

The Calvinists, and many other evangelicals, encourage their flocks to be constantly making their salvation sure by re-examining their souls and seeing if there's any deception in them. The apostolic churches also teach that, but add that once you examine them, you should confess each and every deception, every mis-step, in the hearing of a representative of the church tasked with hearing confessions, bearing those burdens to the throne of Grace, and praying for their stumbling sheep still in the race. After that, avail yourself of the Eucharist, the body and blood that also "saves" in a way comparable to how St. Paul said (in 1 Corinthians 9:22 as recounted here) he saves some. My Orthodox Church, which has always defined theologians as people who pray and people who pray as theologians, enjoins us to pray each morning and evening: "...You [Lord] did become man and deigned to endure crucifixion and death for the salvation of all who rightly believe in you" (emphasis mine).

"If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation," Romans 10:9-10.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy