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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Christians ... Let's Temper Those Tongues Shall We?

Not long ago I was reading an article by a Christian writer with some interesting points to make. All was going along well and I was picking up some good insights (which is why I read broadly in matters of faith, from liberal to conservative and everybody in between), ... and then the author made an offhand remark, a gross generalization, that just wasn't quite true. Never mind the specifics (I'm rewriting this introduction as the first time I tried it, I realized what I wrote was in some ways divisive ... this is tricky stuff). Since I read broadly, I was able to box that little ditty away and keep the good stuff for further use. However, for many readers such biased remarks poison the well, creating needless divisions among believers. They are the stuff that aggravated Jesus from time to time in dealing with the religious leaders and their entirely human-made divisions and divisive remarks. Jesus wanted people joined together and helping each other out along life's rugged road, not dividing into quibbling groups and factions.

This reminded me of a short quotation from C.S. Lewis' brilliant Screwtape Letters, a fictional record of one more senior demon giving his nephew, a novice tempter, advice on getting his client headed down the road to hell. In this letter, Screwtape is informing his nephew on the "joys" of divided congregations in 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 that 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. 

Apply that across all churches and both sexes please. In James 3:4-10, the author speaks to this sticky situation quite eloquently, using some great visuals, and making the same point as ol' Screwtape:

... look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 

In John 17:11, Jesus prays for his disciples and their unity. We should strive to make this prayer universally true among us that we might better help others and stop quibbling among ourselves. Jesus prayed: "And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." 

So why don't we all work on taming those tongues, remembering those who are weak before we say something that might lead them down dark paths, and stop giving the likes of Screwtape and his demonic ilk a helping hand. We have a whole lot of work given us to do. It will be better done if we work together, don't you think? 

Come to think of it, why don't we just apply this wisdom to humanity entirely. It just might improve things ... and it certainly couldn't hurt.


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