The Kingdom You Wouldn’t Like

“All the same the New Testament, without going into details, gives us a pretty clear hint of what a fully Christian society would be like. Perhaps it gives us more that we can take. it tells us that there are to be no passengers or parasites: if man does not work, he ought not to eat. Everyone is to work with his own hands, and what is more, every one’s work is to produce something good: there will be no manufacture of silly luxuries and then of sillier advertisements to persuade us to buy them. And there is to be no “swank” or “side”, no putting on airs… On the other hand, it is always insisting on obedience-obedience (and outward marks of respect) from all of us to properly appointed magistrates, from children to parents, and (I am afraid this is going to be very unpopular) from wives to husbands. Thirdly, it is to be a cheerful society: full of singing and rejoicing, and regarding worry or anxiety as wrong. Courtesy is one of the Christian virtues; and the New Testament hates what it calls “busybodies.”

If there were such a society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and in that sense, “advanced,” but that its family life and its code of manners were rather old-fashioned-perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what you would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from that total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself. You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: Everyone is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can say they are fighting for Christianity.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I remember reading these words as a young believer and being quite puzzled by them. How could we come into the Kingdom (to tweak Lewis’ words into a kind of premillennialism) and not thoroughly enjoy it all?

As I have grown and become responsible, to some degree, for the spiritual health of others, it has become a lot plainer to me. I have learned that loving what God loves does not come all at once at the moment of regeneration. I have learned that the process of sanctification is largely one of learning to unlove, or put off, what belongs to the old man, gain the mind of Christ (love what He loves in the degrees and ways He loves), and actively pursue what He loves.

I have also learned that even post-conversion, the things we need the most are often the things we like the least. That’s what the Bible means when it describes the human heart with adjectives like perverse, corrupt, and depraved. We naturally love what is poisonous and corrosive. We kick against what is healthy and life-giving. Our natures orient us towards evil and away from what is good.

Lewis is stating this fact: were a culture that perfectly reflects God’s loves to be imposed upon us today, there is much in us that would dislike it. That’s surprising to us, since we tend to think that we would love every part of God’s kingdom. No, that’s why unredeemed flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. We must see Him as He is, be transformed to be like Him in every way, and then we will finally love what He loves without a trace of sin.

Lewis probably didn’t intend as much, but his words give a good deal of explanation for the worship wars. Here are “people who are fighting for quite opposite things [who] say they are fighting for Christianity”. And here are people eclectically choosing the music they like, and dismissing what they don’t like. Here are people who cannot imagine that Christian worship should ever feel foreign or slightly uncomfortable, while others admit that worshiping a God infinitely beyond our imaginations ought to include some measure of awkwardness.

In fact, it was this quote that vaguely nagged at the back of my mind for years, and partly pushed me towards conservatism. When I encountered music which I did not enjoy, but which had been treasured by better Christians than I, this quote nudged me. When I read of a discipline and a piety in past Christians that seemed repressive and grievous to me, this quote tapped me on the shoulder. When I found some of my own musical idols under fire, this quote seemed to be a Nathan the prophet. When sober worship seemed gloomy, and I longed again for levity, this quote seemed a thorn.

All the time it said to me, “Why would you think that what you like and don’t like should be the final bar of judgement for what to offer God? Should not the better things of Christianity be somewhat above your reach? If something doesn’t ‘fit’ with you, is it possible that it is you who needs to change?  Shouldn’t you try to understand something before you dismiss it, merely because it is unappealing to you? If you believe in spiritual growth, should you not expect to be dwarfed by the hymns, prayers, music and writings of your betters?

“Should you, a very rudimentary Christian, have perfect appreciation for what is true, lovely, noble, just, virtuous, and praiseworthy? Isn’t some confusion of face and bewilderment to be expected when a philistine is confronted with what is beautiful and noble? Are you not arrogant for making comfort, ease, familiarity and accessibility the pillars of your walk with God? Are you not idolatrous when you do so?”

And so I began of journey of learning to love what I ought to love.

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8 Responses to “The Kingdom You Wouldn’t Like”

  1. Chris Says:

    Hi David

    Thank you for your timely reflection on aspects of spirituality. We were discussing it this morning how we as leaders of congreagtions are often caught in the middle of these “wars”.

    Would you give your permission for me to translate this article into Afrikaans to be used on my website?

  2. David Says:

    That’s fine, Chris.

  3. Simon Says:

    Learning to love what we ought to love…I like that. It is hard though to change your inner nature. Corrupt as it is. I dont think form a human point of view it is even possible. Zech 4:6 says, “its not by might nor by power but by the Spirit of the Lord” So for me to change a complete change of heart is needed. Nothing short of a mircale from God. When I tried to change myself all I go was religious and proud. Is this not the fault with professing christians alike, if indeed they be christian. This has been my struggle. To find out what it is that makes a true christian and pursue that. AS far as I can see it comes down to this. God makes Christians, God empowers to be Christ-like. Are those engaged in the spirtual conflict you speak off not merely unregenarate. In the words of Spurgeon, we need to feed the sheep, not amuse the goats. Your thoughts?

  4. David Says:

    Well, I wish it were automatic, but I’m afraid it isn’t. We’re told to ‘test all things and cleave to what is good’ (I Thes 5:21); we’re told that discernment comes ‘by reason of use’ (Heb 5:12), and we’re told to deliberately focus our thoughts on what is true, good, just, pure, lovely etc. (Phil 4:8). In other words, like everything, these things come as a gifts of God, but the means God uses to grant these gifts is our obedience and diligence.
    Without a new nature, there is no chance of loving what God loves. But with that new nature, there now needs to be the effort of using all means available to learn to approve what is excellent (Phil 1:9-10) – that is, to love what God loves.

  5. Mark Penrith Says:

    Hey Chris,

    What is your website address?

  6. David Says:

    I think it’s http://mrf.za.net/

  7. Web Pulse – January 15, 2011 | Religious Affections Ministries Says:

    […] conservativechristianity.wordpress.com – The Kingdom You Wouldnt Like- Sometimes you have to work to enjoy what is truly good. […]

  8. Ryan Peter Says:

    Great post, David. Really enjoyed it. Good quote, too!

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