Aggravate Schism or Heal It?

My study of C. S. Lewis’s correspondence has been primarily his letters to Americans. While one of my delightful projects for the future is to read all of his letters, I’ve only grazed the surface of those outside his American connections.

I have noted, though, some of his correspondence with his Catholic friend, Don Giovanni Calabria. The Anglican-Protestant Lewis kept up a lively and friendly interchange with that friend. Some of those letters deal with the divisions in the church universal. Lewis’s commentary on that is thought-provoking.

Is it sin that makes Christians divide into different denominations? Lewis offers this opinion:

That the whole cause of schism lies in sin I do not hold to be certain. I grant that no schism is without sin but the one proposition does not necessarily follow the other.

He then notes that both Catholics and Protestants deplore what some on their respective sides have done, using the friar Tetzel (who sparked Luther’s 95 Theses) and England’s Henry VIII (a Protestant only because he wanted a divorce) as prime examples.

But some don’t fit that characterization. Two martyrs—Thomas More and William Tyndale—both lost their lives under that same Henry VIII, but for different reasons. What of them?

But what would I think of your Thomas More or of our William Tyndale? All the writings of the one and all the writings of the other I have lately read right through. Both of them seem to me most saintly men and to have loved God with their whole heart: I am not worthy to undo the shoes of either of them.

Nevertheless they disagree and (what racks and astounds me) their disagreement seems to me to spring not from their vices nor from their ignorance but rather from their virtues and the depths of their faith, so that the more they were at their best the more they were at variance.

Lewis, of course, knew all about the Catholic-Protestant schism, having grown up in Northern Ireland. In another letter to Calabria, he tells of a coming holiday in his homeland, leading to more thoughts on the issue:

Tomorrow I am crossing over . . . to Ireland: my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperate climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

How does Lewis view this type of “dissent”?

There indeed both yours and ours “know not by what Spirit they are led.” They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics. For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power.

Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which “covers a multitude of sins.”

As someone who has been actively involved in teaching students about government and politics for nearly three decades, I have to admit I don’t like Lewis’s conclusion that this realm of human activity is a special haven for Satan’s devices. I want Christians to know that government is established by God and that it has godly purposes.

However, I have to acknowledge that the Devil certainly knows how to use politics for his goals. Currently, the divide in politics is not between Catholic and Protestant, but between differences of opinion among Christians as to whom we should support in the political arena.

That divide is now beyond the simple liberal vs. conservative stances. Conservatives, after this last presidential election, are more divided than ever over how much, and in what ways, to support the winner.

We should be free to share our views, but in that sharing, we should never lose our charity toward fellow believers.

I like, especially, this caution from Lewis:

Disputations do more to aggravate schism than to heal it: united action, prayer, fortitude and (should God so will) united deaths for Christ—these will make us one.

We must never forget that, regardless of our views on the current state of politics, we are one in God’s kingdom. Lewis’s comment may be prophetic: we may have to suffer together unto death, and that will ultimately show us how petty the differences are compared to what we have in common.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a sobering reminder that we should be focused on the eternal above all else.

The Christian Witness to the World

Presidennt, Pope, Prime MinisterThe arrival of Pope Francis in America takes me back in my thoughts to an earlier era when a pope who grew up under communism and understood the horrors of socialist practices worked with an American president who was a Protestant (with a Catholic father) and a British prime minister who was tutored all her early years by her Methodist shopkeeper father (and who later said that C. S. Lewis was one of her spiritual mentors) to overthrow the Soviet empire.

There’s an excellent book on that subject that I can highly recommend, appropriately titled The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World. It details how Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II worked together, both behind the scenes and in public pronouncements, to bring an end to one of history’s most brutal and atheistic regimes.

John Paul, because he grew up in Poland and saw Soviet socialism firsthand, recognized the evil in the system and sought to free his people. Reagan spoke often and eloquently on behalf of the Polish people and his partnership with Thatcher helped undermine the Soviet economy, leading to change.

It was a wonderful example of working together for the good of all, and each of the three leaders did so from their common Christian faith.

Pope FrancisThere are things about Pope Francis that I admire: his strong defense of the unborn and his obvious compassion for the poor top that list. Other things he says are more bothersome: his lack of understanding of how the free market and business works; his insistence that climate change is an undoubted fact; his misunderstanding of the Biblical roots of the death penalty for serious crimes.

Much of what he believes, I’m sure, is the result of his Argentinian background and the type of theology he imbibed there—the incursion of some Liberation Theology that, in fact, liberates no one from sin. Yet I don’t doubt the sincerity of his Christian faith, no matter my disagreement with how he thinks it manifests itself in society.

I am not Catholic and never will be. My Biblical beliefs lead me in a different direction. But I do maintain a great desire to work with all true believers.

William PennThe Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, wrote something that has always appealed to me. Penn had been persecuted in England and even thrown in prison at times, yet he seemed to harbor no resentment toward that Protestant Anglican establishment. Here’s what he said that I think is worth repeating:

He that suffers his difference with his neighbor about the other world, to carry him beyond the line of moderation in this, is the worse for his opinion, even though it be true. . . .

Since all of the parties profess to believe in God, Christ, the Spirit, and Scripture, that the soul is immortal, that there are eternal rewards and punishments, and that the virtuous shall receive the one, and the wicked suffer the other: I say, since this is the common faith of Christendom, let us all resolve in the strength of God to live up to what we agree in, before we fall out so miserably about the rest in which we differ.

Christians, especially in these perilous times, need to pull together and concentrate on our common faith and work to see it influence all of society. Catholics need to set aside any sense of being the only true Christian church and recognize other genuine believers. Protestants must not hold grudges toward the Catholic church for grievances, both real or imagined. We must love one another and seek to find the common ground that will protect us all from an ever-more-intrusive government. We must be public examples of the love of Christ, first toward one another, and then to the world.

Jesus said the world would know we are His followers by seeing the love we show to one another. It’s time to put that into practice now, more than ever.