I have customarily quoted extensively from Martin Luther in this month of his birth (Nov. 10, 1483), but this month being the 50th anniversary of his death (Nov. 22, 1963—yes, the same day as Kennedy’s assassination), I draw again from C.S. Lewis, my favorite Christian author.
And again I take a page from The Screwtape Letters, a series of advices from ‘senior devil’ Screwtape to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, to aid in the corruption of an ordinary man in 1940s England. In this backhanded way where black is white and up is down, Lewis comments profoundly on the nature of sin, the church, society and the brokenness of the human condition.
One of my favorite passages has to do with the fragmented nature of the Church as it exists in a fallen world. Screwtape and company, of course, revel in its weaknesses, but in exposing these flaws Lewis points toward the Church’s higher calling:
“I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is, the better. And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion” when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker’s doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’ in any form which would hold water for five minutes.
And all the purely indifferent things – candles and clothes and whatnot – are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials – namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.
You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself let the weak conscience of this “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.”
Amid the great diversity in which we live, in the Church and in the world, may the Spirit move us to be a “positive hotbed of charity and humility”, honoring variety, tolerating differences and yearning for that reconciliation that invites people of all backgrounds and perspectives into the unity that exists through the saving grace of Christ.
Yours in Faith, Pastor Jeff Jacobs