On September 10th of 1939, just as Great Britain was declaring war on Hitler’s Germany, C.S. Lewis got into an argument with his local vicar. The polite disagreement centered on an extra petition that had been added to the church’s morning prayer.
“Prosper, O Lord, our righteous cause.”
As Lewis put it in a letter to his brother, Warnie:
“I ventured to protest against the audacity of informing God that our cause was righteous—a point on which He may have His own view.”
In place of the line about “our righteous cause,” Lewis suggested a petition composed by Thomas Cranmer while England was at war with Scotland in 1548. This prayer asked for the ability “not to hate our enemies” and for “a speedy wearisomeness of war … that we and [they] may … praise thy most holy name.”
To many, Lewis’s objection may seem strange.
After all, his small island nation was literally on the verge of being overrun by Nazis! So how could stopping Hitler not be “just”!?
Some rather obvious motivations for the’ complaint can be ruled out immediately. Lewis was no pacifist; he had been a badly wounded war hero from WW1; and he would later affirm his support for the Allied war against the Nazis.
But in explaining to his brother why he had taken exception to the vicar’s prayer, he added this:
I see no hope for the Church of England if it allows itself to become just an echo of the press.
JUST AN ECHO OF THE PRESS
Eighty years later, Lewis never could have imagined the advent of Cable News, social media, Russian troll farms, fake news, and Twitter bots. Or perhaps he could have; read volume three of his Space Trilogy (That Hideous Strength).
He could not have fathomed the extent to which different factions of the church, either liberal or conservative, Right or Left, would become mere ciphers for the different factions of “the press” and the political Machine. Or perhaps he could have; read The Abolition of Man.
For Lewis, the takeaway was this: Even the most “just” of national causes can pose a threat to Christian faithfulness and mission because it causes us to give unqualified allegiance to something or someone other than Christ.
And by all accounts, the sin of nationalism—and it is always a sin—is rising around the world.
We must not allow our prayers and posts and sermons to be outsourced to siloed and self-serving merchants wearing “press” badges. For when we flip the media “credentials” over, the epigraph is almost always the same:
“Prosper, O church, our righteous cause.”
I see no future for the “church”
of England that becomes just an echo of the press.
Credit for this correspondence from Lewis goes to Alan Jacobs’ book: The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.
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