Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Screwtape – II

Wormwood’s “patient” has become a Christian, but all is not lost. Uncle Wormwood begins sharing advice on recapturing the patient. In Wormwood’s second letter to Screwtape he focuses on steering the patient into disappointment with Christians.

“When he [the patient] goes inside [the church building], he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours…At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial,” page 6, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, 1942, Harper Collins.

What is Lewis saying about forms of worship which are indecipherable to the average person? A “liturgy which neither of them understands” challenges us to think about what we do and why we do it when we gather as Christians. If what we do isn’t readily understandable to the visitor we should ask ourselves whether it can quickly be made understandable, we should ask ourselves if we understand it – understand where it came from, what it means, what place it plays in the life of the church, and whether it need always be the same expression and same form week after week. We ought to be at least asking the questions.

All churches have liturgies, all churches have certain ways of doing things; just because a church does not have a Book of Common Prayer doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a liturgy – if you know what to expect in terms of sequence of events in worship then you have a liturgy. I’ve been in “home groups” that have liturgies. Liturgies can be helpful, they can encourage worship and hearing God, and they can become barriers to communion with God. What we do and how we do it should always be submitted to our Lord Jesus along with mutual submission to one another.

Wormwood writes concerning people in the church, “Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous,” page 6. If Lewis knows what he is talking about then Lewis knows what it is to work through the problem of the superficial – and I think he does. Most of us are cursed with a preoccupation with outward appearance, ever since the “Fall” when our “eyes were opened” we have been oriented to the visible world – a world of shadows, a world of deception, a world where what you see is not always what you get…and yet a world driven by the deception of thinking that what you see is what is real.

 As Yahweh said to the prophet Samuel, “Man looks on the outward, but God looks on the heart.” In much of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus turns our attention from the outward life to the inward life, from the external to the internal; yet the outward pull of life is so strong that it takes a deliberate focus for most of us to flee outward superficial judgments of others and to focus on others as men and women made in the image of God. Perhaps the fact that most of our churches contain people from the same background and social strata should challenge us to seek a more realized expression of the Kingdom of God in which peoples from all ethnic and social groups are found in unity and communion.

As Lewis points out via Wormwood, it is the mundane and trivial which can play havoc with our minds and attitudes; dress, singing off key, double chins, the list goes on and on. But why should we expect anything else than “people” when we gather with the saints? Why do we expect that we should be the only imperfect people in the church? I can excuse my difficulties but I cannot excuse the difficulties of others. I judge others by their actions and myself by my intentions. I look at the outward behavior and appearance of others and make my evaluations, I look at my inner self and make allowances and expect people to make allowances toward me that I will not make toward them.

Why should we expect to find anything other than normal people when we gather with the church? We are all imperfect people in relationship with a perfect God who desires to draw us all closer to Himself and to each other in the perfect love of His Son Jesus Christ.

P.S. It is only once we get over the externalities of relationships that we can get down to the nitty-gritty of koinonia, when we can really know and be known – that’s when the serious struggles we all have arise so that we can bear one another’s burdens – but this can only occur in the safety of committed love and grace in Jesus Christ; it can only occur when it no longer matters to me whether you prefer white sauce or red sauce, or part your hair on the right or left or middle or don’t part it at all. 

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