My Room off the Hallway of Christianity

C.S. Lewis writes in his intro to his world-famous book, Mere Christianity,

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. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. 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 door-keeper?’ (xv–xvi)

I waited years to start this blog, before I felt like I could write without wasting people’s time. I’ve waited almost another decade to write an article defending in a systematic way why I’ve stayed in the room I was born in. Yes, I have a room, a denomination, even though the others in my room don’t like to call it that, and even though our label is commonly associated with other rooms—even other religions. Here is my testimony and defense. I invite your critical engagement.

What Happens in Greenville…

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This post is not for all readers, just for those who have attended Christian universities in Greenville, South Carolina. Of which there are two. And kind of three. And there are seminaries there. All of which helps make my point.

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Greenville, South Carolina, where I spent 18 years, is a good place to be for conservative Christians—but not if they’re supposed to leave. I’m no extremist, I don’t think they should all make the reverse hajj I made last year. I’m glad I stayed there as long as I did, and I believe I did what was right. I also have family there who are staying, and who appear to me to be following the Lord’s plan for their lives. There are many Christian institutions there which need workers, from churches to those universities and seminaries to mission boards and adoption agencies.

But without blaming any individuals—only God knows—I can’t help but think more of my fellow Christian college graduates should leave that beautiful little gem of a city and scatter out to the churches around the country (or the world?) which would so highly value their gifts and training.

A friend recently wrote to me:

When I was asked to teach adult Sunday school at [large Baptist Church in Greenville in the BJU orbit], that was a real tipping point for me. I remember looking out each Sunday and thinking there’s at least two dozen men here in this little class who could do just as good of a job (and probably better) as I could hope to do.

It made me think of those four lepers feasting in the abandoned Aramean camp and squirreling loads of stuff away for themselves while the whole impoverished and dying city languished in their fear of a defeated foe and their ignorance concerning what God had done for them.

Their words are like a burr that gnawed on me as we made plans to leave:

We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.

While we weren’t looking or even thinking that it would take [so long] to find employment again, the Lord has really used this in our lives. God has brought us to a much more open-handed posture before him, and we’ve marveled how certain evangelistic friendships seem to have been crafted right out of the shared experiences of unemployment and the struggles that accompany that experience.

I have a great deal of respect for this guy. He left Greenville for a needy place with a family and no job prospects to speak of (just his good training to help him). He finally got a job after many months, and both before and after getting work he has given himself to help the pastor of a small- to medium-size church. Some of his friends should probably be there with him.

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All the same, if you’re a freshman at a Christian college in Greenville and you somehow stumbled across this blog post, stay where you are. And don’t go help a small church in the area (I’m sorry, but it’s my soapbox and I get to say what I wanna). Go get the best preaching you can find in the church with the most faith, hope, and love. Don’t leave Greenville until you’ve squeezed out of it all the wisdom and experience and teaching and training you can get. You’re there to give, yes, and you should do so, but you’re mainly there to get. God gave Moses 80 years of “training” before putting him into ministry. You can handle four or five more before leaving Mecca. Get as much schooling as you can. I don’t regret a moment I spent in the classroom.

The needs of the world feel so great, and they are great. They may tug you away before your training is complete. Just do a little math: every year of additional training you get should be multiplied by the number of years it will be used.

And then go wring yourself out a little bit for those who haven’t enjoyed your privileges. Our church would probably take you.

What Happens in Greenville, Make it Leave Greenville.™

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Dr Mark Ward Jr on Sermon Audio

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It took me 35 years and a terminal degree, but a sermon of mine finally made it onto SermonAudio.com.

In God’s providence, I simply have not had much opportunity to preach to adult Christians (I’ve preached several hundred evangelistic messages). It was a genuine thrill to herald the Great Commandments to a precious body of believers in Edmonton, Alberta.

(By the way, I did not supply the title to this message, but it’s pretty good.)