When Wormwood Wins

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The devil is out. At least as far as the official liturgy of the Church of England is concerned.

C.S. Lewis writes in the preface to his classic work, Screwtape Letters, “There are two equal and opposite errors which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”  The book is a collection of “letters” Lewis wrote over a period of time for a religious publication entitled The Guardian. The subject of the letters is an individual referred to as “the patient.” The corresponding individuals are two demons, one an Arch-Demon, Screwtape, and his nephew Wormwood, a rookie tempter.

One theme remains throughout the correspondence:  the less the “patient” knows about the demonic forces attempting to derail him, the more successful they become.  Screwtape encourages  Wormwood,  “The fact that ‘devils’ are predominately comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion in your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that . . . he cannot believe in you.”

Three-quarters of a century earlier in Guide to Spiritual Warfare, E.M. Bounds observed: “Many people deny the existence of Satan and his influence in our lives.”

Today, the concern of both Bounds and Lewis has made its way all the way from the letters of demons and the school of higher criticism in to the official liturgy of the Church of England.  Earlier this week, an official change was made in the christening ceremony that once asked if parents and god parents, “reject the devil and all rebellion against God” and “repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour.” The new wording queries whether or not they “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises.” It would seem the overall concern is to make the language of the ceremony relevant and culturally acceptable.  One bishop even commented that the place of the devil in the text was “theologically problematic.” (see article below)

One might understand the concern of the Church to be culturally relevant and more inclusive. One might even consider for a moment that reminding people they are sinners could be mildly offensive. One might further comprehend that the reality of a personal devil is laughable to many. The problem is the Bible.

As Bounds further writes, “The Bible reveals the Devil as a person – not a mere figure, not simply an influence.  He is not only a personification, but also a real person.” Jesus agrees. He squares off with the devil early in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke and warns his followers that the devil has come to steal their joy, chastises the scribes and Pharisees as children of the devil (John 8:44), and speaks of a place prepared for the “devil and his angels.”(Matt. 25:41)

Mentioning both sin and the devil (not in compliance with the new liturgy) the Apostle John reminds early believers why Jesus came:

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (1John 3:8 ESV) (emphasis mine)

James tells his readers:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7 ESV)

Peter paints a grim picture of the Enemy:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1Peter 5:8 ESV)

And Paul charges the Ephesians to suit up for spiritual warfare:

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; (Ephesians 6:16 ESV)

In the words of Lewis, the “devils” are pleased with the error of the Church of England, as well as our own when we fail to heed the words of Scripture.

When we doubt the existence of the Prince of Darkness, we deny the power of the Son of God to defeat him.

When demons become laughable, Wormwood wins.

On the other hand,

When we recognize that the Devil is the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy, then we move much closer to having life abundant. (John 10:10)

And though this world, with devils filled,

should threaten to undo us,

we will not fear, for God hath willed

his truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim,

we tremble not for him;

his rage we can endure,

for lo, his doom is sure;

one little word shall fell him.

 – Martin Luther

Read the referenced article here.

Hear more commentary on today’s The Briefing with Al Mohler.

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