Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Screwtape on Churchgoing

I am reminded of the story (fictional) of a gifted carpenter who had been marooned on a desert island for several years before he was finally rescued. Before leaving the island, he gave his rescuers a tour of what he had built in order to survive. “This is my house,” he told them as he showed them a well-constructed dwelling that he had built using the raw materials available on the island. “And over here,” he continued, showing them a reverently appointed chapel that looked like he had just finished it recently “is my church. I’m a Baptist.” Spying another, similarly sized building through the trees, one of the rescuers asked what it was. “Oh,” replied the castaway. “That’s where I used to go to church.”

Written in the form of letters from an elderly, retired devil (Screwtape) advising his young nephew (Wormwood) who is just learning “the business,” C. S. Lewis’s classic book The Screwtape Letters takes a look at temptation from the side of those who wish to interfere with the work of God in the lives of His creation. Each letter is Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood in ways to keep his “patient’s” faith in Christ from growing as it should. As you read the quote, keep in mind that when “the Enemy” is mentioned, it refers to God.

Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.
The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization [neighborhood church] should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where the Enemy [God] wants him to be a pupil.
—C. S. Lewis. (1898-1963) The Screwtape Letters. New York: Time Incorporated, 1961, p. 52.

NOTE: I am indebted to Chip Stamm, director of the Institute for Christian Worship at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY for the C. S. Lewis quote.

The society we live in is so infused with consumerism that it’s hard to see. And it impacts the way we see everything ... even our church life. It is so easy to forget that church is not entertainment that we purchase but family in whom we invest; and that the investment is ourselves more than our money. That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.


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