C.S. Lewis was wrong.
I don’t say those words, in that order, very often.
Unless we’re talking about afterlife theories, eschatology, eternal security, or evolution, I put stock in what Lewis said. His work on moral law thinking, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, they’re all spectacular. He has affected my way of thinking and my way of life more than any other writer, except perhaps the Apostle Paul.
Unfortunately, Lewis was very wrong about one particular prediction.
In Mere Christianity Lewis talks about the meaning of the word “Christian.” He talks about how the meaning of the word, in his time, had changed from “a man who believes a certain set of doctrines about who Jesus is” to “a man who is ‘near to the spirit of Christ.’” He talks about how some well-meaning people came along and said, “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?” or “May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?”
He makes the point that “Christian,” when used in this sense, goes from being a word that supplies information about a person to a word that tells you what the speaker thinks about a person.
“It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.”
I’m only giving you all this so you understand the context of the phrase that he got so very wrong. Where he really messed up was not in predicting that the word would lose its true meaning. Where he really messed up was in predicting what the new meaning would be.
“In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man.”
We sped right through the days where a secularist meant the word “Christian” as a compliment.
We are now living in the days where the word “Christian” means, “a bad man.” “Christian” is becoming an insult. In liberal circles, the term “Christian” refers to a man who hates homosexuals, who forces others to live by standards he himself does not, and who is too stupid to know right from wrong.
None of these descriptions are true.
In just the span of 60 years, culture has done a complete 180 on morals. Whether a Christian or not, in the 1940’s everyone agreed that the church could provide the standard by which to judge morality. Everyone knew, even if you didn’t believe in Jesus, that his followers knew the difference between right and wrong. Everyone thought that the church was good for society, even if you weren’t a part of it.
Well, no more.
Somewhere along the way the government usurped the churches duties. The government’s job in morality switched from enforcement to definition, and the church just let it happen.
That’s what Lewis got wrong. He assumed that the popular view of Christians would remain respectful. He assumed that the church would remain the source of truth and morality in culture, but it didn’t. The courts and the culture are now looked to as the source of truth, and the church has been disregarded.
The truth is, mankind is fallen and sinful in his natural state, and without supernatural intervention he stays that way.
Instead of God’s mouthpiece, the church, telling people the truth (that they are sinners, in need of grace, and that grace is available to those who will repent) we have Psychoanalysts telling people lies (that what they naturally do is the right thing to do, regardless of the fact that their conscience is screaming at them that it’s wrong).
And so, we have slowly suppressed the truth of the gospel. We have taken the freeing truth that, “yes, we are sinners, but God loves us anyway and has provided a way of escaping the consequences of that sin (both in this life and the next),” and replaced it with the confining lie that, “no, we aren’t sinners and don’t need to change… no matter how wrong I feel in my sin, it’s what I must cling to for fulfillment, joy, and peace of mind.”
Sin brings only fleeting fulfillment, only passing joy, and only momentary peace of mind. In the end, it brings hopelessness and despair.
There is a better way.
“But wait,” you say. “What is all this talk about sin? Aren’t you proving the liberal’s case? You’re just preaching hatred! After all, Jesus didn’t spend much time at all telling people they were sinners. How can you say it’s the Christian’s responsibility to tell people they are sinners? That’s not what Jesus did!”
First of all, I’m not saying we should only tell people they are sinners. That’s only half the message and people who stop at the “you’re a sinner part” are only halfway there. That’s 50% of the news, and that’s a failing grade in all major institutions.
But second of all, you’re right about one thing: Jesus spent very little time telling people that they were sinners. He spent much more time telling people how to live in the “kingdom of heaven” and about himself being the only way to God.
The reason for that is simple: In Jesus’s time, he didn’t need to tell people they were sinners. They already knew it!
Everyone knew that they were sinners, Jesus only had to tell them about the cure, not the sickness. The people he did have to convince were sinners were the Pharisees because they thought they weren’t sinners to begin with!
Why do we preach the doctrine of sin then?
We live in a different time than Jesus. In general, we don’t have the luxury of sinners already looking for the cure to their sin. In general, we have to tell people both the problem AND the solution. Those few times that a person comes to the church in recognition of their own fallen state are some of the most joyful for the minister to encounter. In those cases, we don’t have to convince the person that they need help; we get to just give the help!
Therefore, I plead with you brothers and sisters, do not neglect the doctrine of sin. Do not make the mistake of assuming that people nowadays know they need a savior. They don’t. They’ve grown up in a world that tells them, “If it feels good do it!” A world that tells them, “If you were born that way, it’s the right way.” A world that tells them, “If you are a sinner, you’re supposed to be a sinner, so love your sin, don’t change it.”
I also plead with you brothers and sisters, do not neglect the doctrine of grace. Do not make the mistake of stopping at sin. Never bring someone to a realization of their own sinfulness without also showing them the solution that God has provided in the person and work of His son, Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus died so that the debt we owed because of our sin might be paid in full. Believing in Jesus brings eternal life, and life abundant. Believing in Jesus, following His teachings and the teachings of His Apostles, will transform your life of sin into a life you would be glad to live for all eternity. He will give you His own Spirit in order to accomplish the task of transformation, through a process called sanctification. All of this is possible and available to anyone who wants it.
C.S. Lewis was wrong about the word “Christian” because he misjudged the culture’s downward trajectory. Let’s not make the same mistake. Let’s shape the culture and bring it back to a place where we recognize God’s moral law, and so recognize our own sinfulness, and so recognize the grace that is extended to humankind in the person and work of Jesus Christ.