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C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance


A friend's blog written yesterday (http://wesroberts.typepad.com/) got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:

It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.

Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"

His answer was as follows: "That's a question which I cannot answer. 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, 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." God in the Dock, pp. 61-62.

Comments

Lisa B. said…
I think it's a matter of seasons, for some people. In her book, "Leaving Church," Barbara Brown Taylor addresses the issue of how, after leaving parish ministry (from which she was quite burned out), she was in need of finding alternate ways of worshiping, and sometimes that amounted to sitting on her front porch with a cup of tea and being alone with God in his creation. There is clearly a place for worshiping with other believers, but for me, personally, that is not always the most effective place of worship. When you can't worship corporately for all of the extraneousities that get in the way, my porch, with tea (or coffee!), alone with God and his creation is, I know, the better place for me to be, regardless of what anyone else might try and tell me.
WILL VAUS said…
Obviously there are other places, other than church, where people worship God as individuals. And some people choose, either for a day, a season, or as a regular way of life, to worship God alone, rather than with a group of people.

But the question which Lewis was asked is, I think, an important one. "Is it necessary for the Christian to worship God in church?" While Lewis's answer was based upon his own experience, the answer of the Scripture is, I think, clear: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:25

One of the most powerful witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ has been the gathered body of believers meeting to worship our resurrected Savior Sunday by Sunday, in season and out, from the day of Christ's resurrection some 2000 years ago, until now. And we each have the incredible, joyous opportunity to be a part of that worship and witness. For my part, I hate to miss it on any Sunday. It is a blessing I do not like to forego.
L Edwards said…
It's the wrong question. Christians are not called to GO TO church, but to BE the church. It seems that in the OT God was trying to form a people who would be faithful -- a community. In the NT Jesus called people to be with him for apparently the same purpose. How can you say 'I want to be a Christian,' and 'I won't be part of the community God is calling together?' Seems like an oxymoron to me.
Will Vaus said…
Dear L Edwards,

I think you are absolutely correct and that Lewis would agree with you: we are called to be the Church of Jesus Christ. And part of that being is worshipping with other believers.

Blessings,
Will

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