Top 10 Comments on Church

Lewis has a few things to say about church and style and worship. Some of these instances are a bit hidden away in a number of his books and correspondences he had with people. In an effort to bring them to light, here is a rundown, a top 10, if you will of Lewis’s thoughts on church.

“In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.”


From Mere Christianity, always a good place to start. It comes from Chapter 8, “The Great Sin.” Here’s the fuller context: “It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects— military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him. I do not suppose any of us can understand how this will happen as regards the whole universe. We do not know what (if anything) lives in the parts of it that are millions of miles away from this Earth. Even on this Earth we do not know how it applies to things other than men. After all, that is what you would expect. We have been shown the plan only in so far as it concerns ourselves.”



“But though I liked clergymen as I liked bears, I had as little wish to be in the Church as in the zoo.”

 

From Surprised by Joy, as Lewis explains first going to church once he believed generally in a God but not yet a Christian. Here’s the fuller context: “But though I liked clergymen as I liked bears, I had as little wish to be in the Church as in the zoo. It was, to begin with, a kind of collective; a wearisome ‘get-together’ affair. I couldn’t yet see how a concern of that sort should have anything to do with one’s spiritual life. To me, religion ought to have been a matter of good men praying alone and meeting by twos and threes to talk of spiritual matters. And then the fussy, time-wasting botheration of it all! the bells, the crowds, the umbrellas, the notices, the bustle, the perpetual arranging and organising. Hymns were (and are) extremely disagreeable to me. Of all musical instruments I liked (and like) the organ least. I have, too, a sort of spiritual gaucherie which makes me unapt to participate in any rite.”

 



“Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude.”


From Letters to Malcolm. Here’s the fuller context: ”
Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit— habito dell’ arte. It may well be that some variations which seem to me merely matters of taste really involve grave doctrinal differences. But surely not all? For if grave doctrinal differences are really as numerous as variations in practice, then we shall have to conclude that no such thing as the Church of England exists. And anyway, the Liturgical Fidget is not a purely Anglican phenomenon; I have heard Roman Catholics complain of it too.”



“It gets you out of your solitary conceit. It is not for me to lay down laws, as I am only a layman, and I don’t know much.”

 

From God in the Dock from the essay titled “Answers to Questions on Christianity.” Here’s the fuller context:  “My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house. If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, (John vi. 53-54: ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’) and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit. It is not for me to lay down laws, as I am only a layman, and I don’t know much.

 



“The gathering of the Church Triumphant in Heaven is the final cause of the whole historical process and may thus be called the fruit of Time, or of the Spheres.”

 

From Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature in a chapter titled, “Imagery in the Last Eleven Cantos of Dante’s ‘Comedy’”. It’s worth citing in part because Lewis is so influenced by Dante’s vision. Here’s the fuller context: “To describe the saints in glory as the fruit’ of constellation’ would be to attribute to the lower nature’, the created universe, that which is the gift of the miglior natura or Grace, and which even the unfallen Adam could not have achieved in his mere nature. In what sense, then, can the heavenly harvest be attributed to the spheres? I think Dante is here regarding them primarily as the embodiments of Time, and indeed almost identifying them with Time itself, having read in Chalcidius’s version of the Timaeus (38B), tempus vero caelo aeguaevum est ut una oria una dissoluantur. The gathering of the Church Triumphant in Heaven is the final cause of the whole historical process and may thus be called the fruit of Time, or of the Spheres. If so, this image is closely linked with another which I have reserved to the last because it seems to me to combine the grotesque and the sublime more triumphantly than any other poetical image I have met.”

 



“In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

 

From Reflection on the Psalms as Lewis is explaining when he first began to draw near to belief, the troublesome nature of the Psalms, and the idea of heaven. Here’s the fuller context: “It is along these lines that I find it easiest to understand the Christian doctrine that “Heaven” is a state in which angels now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God. This does not mean, as it can so dismally suggest, that it is like “being in Church”. For our “services” both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 per cent failures, sometimes total failures. We are not riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us the falls and bruises, the aching muscles and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we were, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster. To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God—drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

 



“Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”

 

From The Screwtape Letters, a book of letters from one demon to another about how to sway a person away from his growing faith. So remember this is opposite the truth. Here’s the fuller context: “Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood 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 organisation 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 wants him to be a pupil.

 



“The society into which the Christian is called at baptism is not a collective but a Body.”

 

From The Weight of Glory, a collection of essays published in 1949. This particular quote is from the essay titled “Membership.” Here’s the fuller context: “The society into which the Christian is called at baptism is not a collective but a Body. It is in fact that Body of which the family is an image on the natural level. If anyone came to it with the misconception that membership of the Church was membership in a debased modern sense—a massing together of persons as if they were pennies or counters—he would be corrected at the threshold by the discovery that the head of this Body is so unlike the inferior members that they share no predicate with Him save by analogy. We are summoned from the outset to combine as creatures with our Creator, as mortals with immortal, as redeemed sinners with sinless Redeemer. His presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be the over-whelmingly dominant factor in the life we are to lead within the Body, and any conception of Christian fellowship which does not mean primarily fellowship with Him is out of court.

 



“…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.”

 

From Mere Christianity, the most widely read of Lewis’s nonfiction works. This quote is taken from chapter 8. Here’s the fuller context: “…the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose. It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him.

 



“Have you not often felt in Church, if the first lesson is some great passage, that the second lesson is somehow small by comparison – almost, if one might say so, hum-drum?”

 

From God in the Dock, this one from the essay titled “Is Theology Poetry?” Here’s the fuller context: “Have you not often felt in Church, if the first lesson is some great passage, that the second lesson is somehow small by comparison – almost, if one might say so, hum-drum? So it is and so it must be. This is the humiliation of myth into fact, of God into Man: what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual, becomes small, solid – no bigger than a man who can be asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee.

 

There are still more quotes that could be added, and certainly, Lewis has more to say within the context of these top ten we’ve identified. I like it that Lewis never did “give up” on Church as the instrument in the world that both gathers Christians into community and also bears testimony to salvation through Jesus. I also like what I recently learned while visiting The Wade Center, the study center at Wheaton College of all things Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton and others: that Lewis’s Book of Common Prayer is marked clear through by Lewis and one of the most noticeably used books in Lewis’s library.

 

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