When C. S. Lewis put pen to paper (that was more than a metaphor back then), you could typically expect something profound. As one of his most influential books, Mere Christianity has a lot of profound things to say about many important subjects. I would guess that most of the people who read Mere Christianity are already committed Christians, but Lewis actually wrote it to orient people to the faith.
Mere Christianity was designed to explain “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” In this particular book, Lewis intentionally avoided subjects that were debated between denominations. Those beliefs that more or less form the undisputed core of Christianity Lewis referred to as “mere” Christianity (though we must acknowledge that even deciding which elements make up this core is a huge topic of debate).
So what does this have to do with picking a church? In the Preface, Lewis uses a great illustration about a hall that opens into several rooms. The hall itself is this “mere” Christianity, the core of Christian beliefs that all denominations hold in common. So Mere Christianity is meant to bring people into the hall. As essential as it is to enter the hall, Lewis urged his readers not to stop in there.
The hall is lined with several doors, each of which opens onto a room. The rooms each represent a different denomination. For our purposes, I think it’s appropriate to think of the rooms as individual churches. Every church has its own unique feel, style, and emphases. And let’s make it a touch more personal: the hall opens onto several rooms, each of which represents a local church in your area.
Lewis urges you to pick a church, any church:
“It is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is 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.”
In our individualistic society, we may be tempted to stick with an individualized form of Christianity. No church in my area has everything exactly right, so I’ll just go it alone. I’ll believe what I want and not be constricted by the beliefs of any one church.
The hallway is important, but we can’t stop there. Enter a room and learn how that particular group of people is fleshing out the core elements of the historic Christian faith. Each has its own feel; each is attempting to faithfully live out “mere” Christianity in its unique context.
Lewis adds a few more gems to his illustration. You may need to wait a bit before you are convinced of which room is the best one for you to enter, but he insists that you must think of it as waiting, not as camping. Then he adds, “even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house.” So don’t put your Christian life on hold until you find the perfect church.
And here is Lewis’ strongest exhortation:
“Above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. 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 door-keeper?’”
It’s not about which church best fits your tastes, it’s about which church is the right church. Lewis is acknowledging that we will come to differing conclusions on which one that is, but he encourages us to make that decision based on convictions, not preferences.
Finally, Lewis adds an important warning for those who have picked a church:
“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.”