Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 26 – Thursday after 4th Sunday of Lent
From The Screwtape Letters:
Screwtape, a senior demon, is offering advice to Wormwood his nephew, an apprentice demon. The language he uses is ‘upside down’ referring to God as ‘the Enemy’ and the devil as ‘Our Father Below’.
MY DEAR WORMWOOD
But there is one good point which both these churches have in common – they are both party churches. 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 what not – 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 lest the weak conscience of his ‘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,
Your affectionate uncle
The Church of England: a hotbed of charity and humility!
What a strapline that would make for an advertising campaign, save for the fact that being proud of humility, as we have learnt, destroys it at the same time…
Nowadays St Paul is called a ‘pestilent fellow’ for his somewhat less than egalitarian views on the place of women in the church but he did say some rather good stuff too. His writings on care of the ‘weaker’ pilgrims who had scruples about meat sacrificed to idols and suchlike being a case in point.
After all what does would it cost me to occasionally ‘celebrate the Mass’ instead of ‘preside at the Eucharist’ or ‘share the Lord’s Supper’? Screwtape is correct, the average person-in-the-pew has very little idea of the finer points of the arguments of Hooker and Aquinas but, we seem eager to grow our fellow congregants into people who have to defend our ignorance to the death. Sadly, as the Protestant Martyrs Memorial in Christchurch Park Ipswich reminds me, that death is often the death of fellow members of the Body of Christ.
What a difference it would make if instead of ‘breathing threats against the saints’ who prefer wine over grape juice for communion and those ‘heretics’ who have six candles on the High Altar instead of two candles on the Lord’s Table, we put to death our greed for control and our lust for power? Surely this will cost us little and we, together with our ‘opponents in the faith’ will win much?
As I look back on my own journey into the Church of England (Remember Day 24 – ‘Right, you’ll be going to the big church then’) I have come to realise that most of us are where we are by accident of birth, history or circumstance. If my boarding school was of a different foundation I could have easily belonged to a different denomination and I hope that God would have still been able to find me, woo me, and win my love.
Christians who are prejudiced against other Christians – whose scruples are merely different to their own – are not that far removed from those sincere young men who feel bound to shout the Scriptures at passers-by in the High Streets of towns up and down the land. Earnest in their presumption that all who walk by them are lost and without the light of Christ within them they sound as if they may be a little like Paul’s ‘noisy gongs and clanging cymbals’…
Arrogance has no place in a faith where all our righteousness is described as nothing more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). When did we ever think that destroying and belittling someone else’s devotion, ritual, or way of prayer would help us grow any closer to God? Screwtape and his minions have certainly been hard at work!
How then do we turn our churches into ‘hotbeds of charity and humility’?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary an arrogant person is someone who has an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities. In the faith we follow only one person is important and that is The Christ. If we are to meet Him, as He reminds us in Matthew 25, it is most likely to be amongst the rejected, the strangers, those less healthy than ourselves, and the prisoner. In terms of religious difference does this not mean that we will find our Lord most in the lives of our sisters and brothers upon whom we look down? Even if that person happens to be (for me) the earnest young man shouting the Scriptures at passers-by in Hamilton Road, Felixstowe?
If we learnt that every time our sensibilities were offended by the devotions of another we were being handed an opportunity to meet our Lord, would that irritant not become for us fruitful ground wherein charity blossoms and humility could flourish? Why not give it a try. Who knows maybe others will learn to tolerate our own devotional scruples as well…
If you can, without too much disruption to your own spiritual calm, attend worship in a church completely different to your own.
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 133 – LOVING AND LOVED
Refrain: May we be one in the exchange of love, in the look of the eyes between lover and loved.
At oases on the pilgrim way we rest together,
sharing the stories and meals that refresh us.
We remember we are called to be holy, not good,
to do what God requires, to delight in God’s blessing. Refrain:
Brothers and sisters, friends of God,
how joyful and pleasant a thing it is
– like the gathering of a mountain range
– when we dwell together in unity. Refrain:
It is like a precious and fragrant oil,
like the dew of early morning,
or the scent of summer in the forest
– gifts beyond all expectation. Refrain:
It is like the very beauty of holiness itself,
a sense of Presence in the places of prayer,
the Godward eyes of faithful people,
the times we are surprised by new blessings, Refrain:
So we give you heartfelt thanks, O God,
that we can glimpse the harmony of humanity,
that we can trust all creation will be restored,
that all things will be suffused with the light of your glory. Refrain:
May we hear the gracious invitation, O Triune God, to share the hospitality of your table and the Dance of your Love, and so respond to all that you have created for us to enjoy. AMEN. (Jim Cotter)
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Quotes from The Screwtape Letters are copyright © 1942 C.S. Lewis Pte
Prayers from Psalms for a Pilgrim People are copyright © 1989, 1991, 1993 Jim Cotter
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Resisting the Prowling Lion’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023