Tolkien's Plea for Christian Unity

The villain of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most thoroughly evil characters in literature. There is no questioning his malice and no hope of compromise or peace. Sauron, the dark Lord of Mordor, shares many similarities to Satan, the enemy of the Christian story. Like Satan, Sauron also tries many ways to dominate his enemies. He works not by marching powerful armies into the field, but by dividing and corrupting his enemies, the free people of Middle Earth. This is manifested in ways that are similar to the ways Satan works to divide and corrupt Christians.   

Although the power of his armies rightly receives much attention, Sauron’s power to divide his enemies should not be underestimated. One of the more interesting scenes in the first book is the Fellowship’s arrive to the elven haven of Lothlorien. A relic of past times, Lorien is one of the few remaining places of peace and beauty in Middle Earth. However, there is a tense scene as they enter because the elves of Lorien do not fully trust the members of the company. The elves of Lorien are particularly reluctant to allow Gimli the dwarf to enter due to the long-standing animosity between the two races. They resolve the situation by letting the party in but forcing them to wear blindfolds as they enter Lorien.

Both parties in this scene acknowledge the tragedy of the situation. One of the elves of Lothlorien laments that “In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides al those who still oppose himThese words could aptly be used to describe the state of the body of Christ. Like the peoples of Middle Earth, we share a common enemy bent on our utter destruction, one who “Prowls about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour,” and yet we are rarely united in our opposition.  

Tolkien was certainly not saying differences between Christians did not matter. In the disagreements between elves, dwarfs, and men the races are not all equal guilty. Some forgot more of the truths that were essential to the defeat of Sauron. Usually it was the elves who kept the history of Middle Earth and preserved its beauty. Although the elves were not always blameless, they generally had a better idea of the danger of Sauron and the action that needed to be taken. Dwarfs were susceptible to losing sight of this danger in their pursuit of wealth in their mines. Men, meanwhile, such as Denathor of Gondor and Théoden of Rohan (while under the influence of Grima Wormtonge), were often paralyzed by despair. These reactions are not created equal, the despair of men and the avarice of dwarfs are bad, however, the war provides an urgency that forces all races to set aside differences to fight Sauron.

Like the peoples of Middle Earth, Christians are at war. The power of Hell is active and seeks to destroy the Church. Our success in this war depends a large part upon our ability to fight with our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of against them. The devil wants to Church divided and squabbling. Such a Church poses much less of a threat to his work on earth. Tolkien’s friend, C.S. Lewis, also attributed divisions among Christians to the malice of the devil. His character Screwtape, a senior demon advising a young tempter extorts his nephew to incite as much division among Christians as possible “if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it.” Lewis was a serious theologian well educated on the differences between different Christian doctrines but did not think that these were the cause of the most dangerous conflicts, Screwtape clarifies for Wormwood that “I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm his is the better…the real fun is working up hatred between those who say ‘mass’ and those who say ‘holy communion.” These differences might not seem spiritual, but if they divide the Church they limit her ability to carry out her task of shepherding souls to heaven.

In Tolkien’s story, their lack of unity leaves the people of Middle Earth unprepared to face the threat of Sauron. For example, the elves of Lorien and the men of Rohan are natural allies, yet at the beginning of the trilogy they have no relationship with each other and the men of Rohan believe Galadriel to be a sorceress. Thus, the elves of Lorien were unable (and probably disinclined) to provide aid to Rohan when Orcs began raiding. This misconception is endorsed by Grima Wormtonge, the servant of Saruman in the court of Théoden. Similarly, denominational differences between Christians robs us of allies in our war. The task Christ gave His Church is hard and dangerous, we must work to ensure all laboring for the Great Commission are united in our fight.