“Oh, for God’s Sake, Don’t Argue!”

This posting is a reflection on a portion of C. S. Lewis’ first Screwtape letter.  (The John Cleese reading of this letter is at the end of the post)


I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naiveIt sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.(emphasis my own)

When someone says we should not argue, be wary, the devil is lurking.  Remembering the Bible begins with a dialogue, “Did God say…?”  Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. The serpent introduced new theological jargon into the ‘spiritual’ dialogue ‘for’ Eve:  “being-like-God” and who would not like to be like God?  Except, they were already made in Image of God!  The serpent tells Eve that this ‘Godness’ will be the result of eating,  and so knowing good and evil and the serpent theologically concludes this is the attribute of the LORD;  except in Genesis 2:17, there is not a hint of this. In fact, is knowledge of good and evil the ultimate attribute of God?  From the Scripture we know of one ultimate attribute of the Lord and it is agape, that is His steadfast love and mercy by which He makes faith in our hearts through Jesus Christ. Serpents today will tell us all sorts of attributes for the Lord are paramount under the misuse of Scripture. The serpent did not want trust in the Lord and His hesed and so introduces theological jargon:  “knowing good and evil”. This has Eve looking away from the Lord, keeping her away from Him and  His Church and toward herself…alone and eventually very alone.   This terrible reality of evil is precisely rendered in this woodcut by the Reformation artist, Lucas Cranach the elder:  note the serpent has transformed itself into a woman but not any woman, but Eve!  She liked what she saw: the image, and not the source of the image:  the Lord.  She bought the jargon and bit the fruit. No arguments about that.

I have noticed that in political and theological debates the last thing we are supposed to do is “argue”.  Argument is bad but “discussion” and “dialogue” is good. “Can’t we all just get along?”, comes the plaintive plea.  Lewis had it “spot on”:  it used to be argument was good because philosophy, science, and theology were about truth or falsehood.  The constant engagement with the entertaining media massages the brain to think in categories other than truth or falsehood;  after all, the media is in thralldom to the sacred self and with the self, relativism, as it was not so long ago called.  It is in the lingo:  “it’s cutting edge”, “it’s speaking truth to power”, “it’s about reconciled diversity”, “avant-garde”, “the way of the future”.  So when it comes to Biblical and theological “dialogue” it’s about jargon, not truth or falsehood,  because someone does not want the faithful layman (and pastor!) to know that step by careful step the truth of God’s Word is being whittled away. The frog is being boiled. And finally, with jargon alone, not Word alone, doctrine and saving truth is the casualty.

After years of discussion on sexuality issues, the jargon has become a doctrine in the ELCA :  “bound conscience”.  The URL for this short description has these words in it:  “what we believe, the basics”.  ‘Bound conscience’ is then for them basic doctrine.  In the link to the brief description:  there are two bound consciences.  The first one is the classical Lutheran teaching:  bound to the Word of God (but it is Gospel reductionist).  The second one is the ‘new’ teaching:  bound to the conscience of my neighbor  in service to him.  This is based upon the two theme statements in Luther’s Freedom of a Christian.The consciences are equal and yet not.  If my conscience is bound to my neighbor, and his understanding of Scriptures regarding,say, inclusive language, though non-Biblical, it does not matter: then I must respect him and his conscience.  No argument.  Bound Conscience II trumps Bound Conscience I, the Word of God.  Note there is no arbiter between the two “consciences”, except political correctness or who is wielding power and in control.  Two consciences is the classic schizoid mentality, split mind, certainly not the mind of Christ and His sound doctrine.  The arbiter of Scripture alone is denied and so a liberal Protestant church body can no longer say, “We believe, teach and confess…”, as did the blessed Reformers.

We are to argue but without hatred and derision and to do so without  ad hominem argumentation. It is clear from Scripture that our fight is not against, “…flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evilin the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God…” (Ephesians 6) Humanly speaking, in an argument this is most difficult to do, in fact impossible without the whole armor of God. It is not the person but whether what is taught, preached and said is true or false. We must argue for the sake of His Word so that you may know it is true and frees you from Screwtape! So that others may know and love Jesus Christ!

Triune God, be Thou our Stay,
Oh, let us perish never.
Cleanse us from our sins, we pray,
And grant us life forever.
Keep us from the Evil One;
Uphold our faith most holy,
Grant us to trust Thee solely
With humble hearts and lowly.
Let us put God’s armor on:
With all true Christians running
Our heavenly race and shunning
The devil’s wiles and cunning.
Amen, Amen, this be done,
O Lord, have mercy upon us.


About Pastor Mark Schroeder

I am currently the Pastor at Concordia Lutheran Mission, authorized by Good Shepherd Lutheran, Roanoke, Virginia. I have been an AELC then an ELCA pastor since my Ordination April 24, 1983 until leaving the ELCA and being accepted by Colloquy, June 1, 2010. My wife is Natalie and we have three children, Luke, Talitha and Abraham.


“Oh, for God’s Sake, Don’t Argue!” — 28 Comments

  1. Thank you! I haven’t seen this horrid topic addressed since a former member of the ELCA showed me “Bishop” Hanson’s letter in which he told his members on each side of the homosexual vote to respect the bound conscience of those on the other. He effectively elevated the bound conscience above Scripture as a Sola.

    When you wrote, “We are to argue but without hatred and derision and to do so with ad hominem argumentation,” you didn’t mean to say we should argue with ad hominem argumentation, right?

  2. Another issue is – what is the “doctrine” we should argue about?   Does it include clerical collars, childrens sermons, projector screens, etc?  Should all subjects have the same level of arguing?  What is doctrine?  Thanks.

    – Confused Layman 

  3. John Rixe :
    What is doctrine?

    Jesus sent His apostles with the command to teach (Matthew 28:19-20). Doctrine is the teaching (expression of the truth) handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles as found in the Holy Scriptures.

    Hope that helps.

  4. Jim – this helps enormously and will go into my permanent notebook.  Doctrine, then, does not mean going through the BOC line by line trying to find something about projector screens.

  5. John Rixe :
    Jim – this helps enormously and will go into my permanent notebook.  Doctrine, then, does not mean going through the BOC line by line trying to find something about projector screens.

    What if there is something expressed in the BoC which is pertinent to whether or not we should use projector screens? We would want to understand that teaching and we may even present arguments around it. There is nothing wrong with that.

    As far as weighting the importance of doctrine is concerned. All doctrine is important, but Lutherans have given more weight to core teachings—such as the chief article, justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ—than other important teachings, such as “end-times theology” (e.g. amillenialism).

    I’m glad I could help. 🙂

  6. Have to say, I’ve read the Screwtape Letters. Thank you for posting, Cleese’s narration. The father of this world & the enemy of our Trinity, & the children of Christ, ….His enemy, also has plans, dialogue & good grief, chat, with their own agents.

    How they got Cleese, to narrate, is a miracle, of itself. If ya know his leanings. Rather telling, considering how long ago, Lewis penned this.


  7. “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Tim 2:23-25

    “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18 (ESV)

  8. @Carl H #10

    Both of these passages from God’s Word (2 Tim 2:23-25 and Romans 12:18) assume that one contradicting God’s Word and another insisting that we not contradict God’s Word are not “foolish, ignorant controversies.”

    In this context, when one elevates his own corrupt conscience to a level of authority higher than God’s Word, and teaches others to do the same, leaves us in the position where we must correct our brother — gently. If he refuses to listen, it may no longer be possible to live peaceably, but we must try to rescue that one from the jaws of destruction — and rescue the flock from the wolf.

    “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)

  9. @John Rixe #5

    Gosh darn it! It happened to me again! On my way home after a meeting last week I stopped at Lowe’s to pick up some supplies for a project I’m working on and right there as I was pawing through a drawer of nuts and bolts a worker comes up to me to talk about reaching out with the gospel in the inner city. Doesn’t that guy know that by wearing a clerical collar I’m unapproachable, putting on a fake spirituality? Doesn’t he realize I’m just like him, that I don’t have the answers and don’t care about doctrine, that I just want to be myself and love Jesus?…

    …What role does sarcasm play in sharing the gospel?

  10. @Ted Crandall #11
    Quite agree. It is sometimes said that Christians should contend for the faith without being contentious. In other words, there is a difference between presenting an argument and being argumentative.

  11. @Rev. James Schulz #12

    Gosh darn it, there’s nothing worse than a lot of euphemisms  🙂     Actually I think clerical collars are just fine but my friend Jim says it’s not doctrine.

    I think Pr Schroeder is talking about doctrine.

  12. @John Rixe #16

    But practice flows from doctrine and doctrine can be either corrupted or protected by practice. So when we “argue” about things like clerical collars, childrens sermons, projector screens, etc., we’re touching on doctrine. These things are the result and reflection of a belief system, a theology, of doctrine. What do they say about what we believe? Are they teaching correct doctrine or are they fighting against correct doctrine? No church practice is entirely neutral. The ancient Latin phrase for this is lex orandi, lex credendi “the law of prayer is the law of belief.”

  13. Pr Schroeder – I’ll let you decide.  Should we argue about clerical collars, childrens sermons, screens, etc?  It’s OK for a discussion, but around here the arguments get kind of strident.  Seems like we have much bigger stuff to worry about.   Thanks.

  14. John Rixe :
    Pr Schroeder – I’ll let you decide.  Should we argue about clerical collars, childrens sermons, screens, etc?  It’s OK for a discussion, but around here the arguments get kind of strident.  Seems like we have much bigger stuff to worry about.   Thanks.

    An interesting thought, Mr. Rixie, is that you arguing over exactly what we should be arguing over. Some might think that we have bigger issues to tackle. Hmm… 🙂

  15. @John Rixe #18
    Clerical collars, childrens sermons, screens, etc. may not seem like much to worry about as compared to other issues that directly contradict clear doctrine (women pastors, same sex marriage, etc.), but it becomes “big stuff” when pastors and congregations by their contradictory opinion and practice imply and/or outright condemn my practice as being deficient or wrong. In any case I would not denigrate an issue as being unworthy of discussion when for some people it is a great concern. Instead of either/or, why not both/and?

  16. “The Lord be with you.
    And also with you.
    Lift up your hearts.
    We lift them to the Lord.
    Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
    It is right to give thanks and praise.”

    What one word is missing from the versicles and responses in the Communion Liturgy above? Answer: The word “him” in the last response. This is the wording in the ELCA’s With One Voice hymnal of a few years back, before ELW. Just one word but it signals something else that can ‘go under the radar’. And even with small things, like wearing clerics or not, powerpoint in the Liturgy, etc., they all still signal something, the proverbial tip of the iceberg…or maybe not. But I wonder. The question must be asked: What is fueling the change? Even though, oh, it’s a small matter, it may not be…oh, just one word in a worship service.

  17. @Pastor Mark Schroeder #21
    “It is right to give thanks and praise.”

    My first thought was about Thanksgiving ceremonies that talk about giving thanks, but never mention thanking God.

    My second thought was that this particular omission (of the word “Him”) was paving the way for “Mother/Creator”…

  18. We are to argue, and, in the process, teach (and learn, ourselves, to be sure!) about what proper arguing is and is not. Good article, good sir!

  19. @John Rixe #5
    Actually, what this means is that we are willing to “argue” *properly* and examine even these “little” things like screens and Kids’ messages, and such. Not with hatred, not ad hominem, but with humility, *true* love for the neighbor, and true love for the Truth.

  20. @Ted Crandall #22
    Actually, With One Voice was published some 15 years ago. It already has paved the way for inclusive language in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The ELCA, at this time, would not go so far as “Mother/Creator”, esp. “Mother” because I suppose that usage would be too great a threat to the offering plate.

  21. @John Rixe #18
    Thank you once again for a good comment John. Just like in a marriage there are things worth arguing with your spouse over and things that are not. Knowing what is important and what isn’t is hard to learn sometimes. For example, not every pastor who wears a suit and tie instead of a clerical is a heretic bound for full blown Baptist CoWo. (Ask those WELS guys, I’m pretty sure I’ve read on here this site that suits and ties are considered proper clergy attire for them. Go figure!)
    Also, when I go to Lowes to pick up hardwear, I have t-shirts and jeans that I wear on my day off. It’s a little snarky by some here to suggest that in doing secular tasks one could or should still be in clergy attire. Would that also extend to mowing my lawn or painting my house? You know, just in case someone came by and wanted to talk theology? Pastors have many different vocations and fortunately when I am acting as a dad or husband I can take my clerical off before going into the store.

  22. @Rev. McCall #26

    Re: “when I go to Lowes to pick up hardwear, I have t-shirts and jeans that I wear on my day off. It’s a little snarky by some here to suggest that in doing secular tasks one could or should still be in clergy attire.”

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my post here: @Rev. James Schulz #12 After an afternoon meeting where I felt it was appropriate to wear a clerical collar I stopped by the Lowe’s on my way home to pick up some nuts and bolts. I was indeed snarky, but it wasn’t to suggest that clergy should wear a clerical collar in every conceivable secular situation. My sarcasm was directed at those who eschew clerical garb in the misguided idea that it erects a barrier between clergy and laypeople. In fact, in secular situations I have found the clerical collar to be an evangelism tool.

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