web analytics

Beware of the Dogma


He preached about the Trinity and how the world began;
Explained the Incarnation and the Destiny of Man.
He carefully expounded every detail of the Creeds,
And tried to show their relevance to modern human needs;
He brilliantly upheld the Christian heritage of Truth,
And sought to make it lucid and acceptable to youth.
They listened with correctitude, but everybody said,
‘He’s far too theological, and quite above our head.’

He gave an exposition of the Church’s means of Grace,
Revealing how the Sacraments revive a fallen race;
Of self-examination and the ways of Mental Prayer,
And why we need Communion, and how, and when, and where.
He spoke of Bible-reading, and to make it all complete,
Gave practical instruction on the value of Retreat.
And everyone agreed that it was logical enough,
But only suitable for those who like that kind of stuff.

He chose the Ten Commandments as the basis of a Course,
He amplified their meaning and emphasized their force;
He took the eight Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount,
And spoke of Christian stewardship and rendering account.
He did his best to penetrate beneath their toughened skins
With pointed expositions of the Seven Deadly Sins.
They felt a little slighted to be led across this ground,
For morals in suburbia are basically sound.

One day, in disillusionment, believing no one cared,
He flung at them a homily completely unprepared,
Endeavouring his customary quarter-hour to fill,
With sentimental platitudes that meant precisely NIL;
Returning to the vestry in the grip of horrid fears
That people would consider it insulting to their ears.
But no, they were enraptured and devoured every word:
‘Oh, Vicar, it was lovely! Quite the best we’ve ever heard !’

by the Rev. S. J. Forrest from his 1955 collection “What’s the Use?”

image source

Similar Posts:

4 thoughts on “Beware of the Dogma”

  1. I read this quite differently. It seems to be a prophecy concerning the self-satisfied, well-fed, merely cultural Christians who occupy so many pews.

    It is so difficult to preach to people who say the words but do not hear the meanings. To have one’s continued employment dependent on the satisfaction of such shallow Christians is tragic.

    How can we change the system? How can we preach prophetically, saying how entire societies have strayed, how mammon is worshipped in the form of economic theories with no consideration for the poor? How can we change the focus from the sports teams to reversing climate change as part of our commission of stewardship of the earth?

    Yes, it is clever verse to point out how the efforts of the preacher can be made to look as failures when it is the felt needs of the congregation which are so low.

    1. I think you’ve read it correctly, Tom. The give-away line is the one about the congregation’s smug assumption that “morals in suburbia are basically sound”, and their consequent disinterest in being told about sin. The “felt needs of the congregation” can be pretty low.

      I don’t know that it necessarily follows that preachers ought to focus on economics and climate change. My experience is that preachers (at least here in Canada) are already enthusiastic in their denunciation of the sins of those not sitting in their own pews (free-market capitalists and industrial polluters).

      In the face of globalization, I cannot help but see direct stewardship of economic models and of the earth as the calling of relatively few (though their power depends on our votes and our consumption dollars). But the virtues of poverty (in the sense of contentment with what we have and care not to waste it) and generosity (sharing what we have without thought of return) are fruitfully available to every one of us. Every time our priest rattles on about economic and environmental justice, I am screaming out in my head: “Could you please translate this into a sin or a virtue that I can combat or cultivate in my own actions?”

      1. I wonder if there is a parallel in the cutesy pew sheets with images of kittens and balls of wool, and cheesy activities in a service – and these are the things reinforced by people’s appreciation? Blessings.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.