Wednesday, October 10, 2012

C. S. Lewis: "An Entreaty for Permanence and Uniformity" in Worship

“It looks as if they [innovative clergy] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain — many give up churchgoing altogether — merely endure.

“Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value.And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best — if you like, it ‘works’ best — when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

“But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ ‘‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.’

“A still worse thing may happen. 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 questions ‘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. …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.”

h/t to the Internet Monk


The Underground Pewster said...

I take it that Lewis would not have gone for a Clown Eucharist.

Bryan Owen said...

LOL, Underground Pewster!

George William Pursley said...

Thanks for the reminder. The older I get, the more it helps me to have one or two things in my life that are constant.

Robert F said...

I understand Lewis' statement and prefer "traditional" worship myself, but even what we call "traditional" now is very different from what he would have called "traditional." And the way the Anglican church worshipped in his time was not the same as in other eras and places. In addition, in contemporary Asia, Africa and Latin America, where Christian faith is spreading like wildfire, it is not the older, traditional forms of worship that are spreading. Even as Christian practice in the Euro-West (especially the traditional churches) is in decline and becoming moribund, the newer, evangelical styles of worship are flourishing.

Anonymous said...

When did Christians actually start worshiping in churches?

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody.

Those are good points, Robert F. One wonders how Lewis would respond to the global situation you describe.

And George, in response to your question, I came across an article entitled "Why and when did Christians start constructing special buildings for worship?" that may be helpful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Brian it was interesting. I guess in some ways I understand the concept of building these massive edifices (in some cases) to the 'glory of God' but I guess a part of me thinks that the bigger and grander they became the more they themselves became the object of desire rather than He.

I look at the arguments taking place here in NZ over the decision not to rebuild the Cathedral in Christchurch (taken by the Anglican church) after the earthquake, and wonder how much of that is because people identify their faith with the building itself that somehow it represents who they are, rather than the creator Himself. (I accept that is maybe harsh). I guess I have a weakness for the somewhat romanticized I know concept of the early Celtic church that there is no better place to feel closer to God than under the open sky surrounded by the surest sign of His majesty the wonders of nature.

Jon in the Nati said...

"concept of the early Celtic church that there is no better place to feel closer to God than under the open sky..."

Did the early 'Celtic church' (a deeply anachronistic and problematic term, we should note) not build church buildings? Doubtful, when we consider that the remains of churches dating from the early 300s have been found in Britain.

The celebration of the Eucharist in a church building (i.e., a temple) has been the norm ever since Christians were allowed to practice their religion in public (and not, say, in the catacombs and sewers of Rome). When people ask why we don't follow the example of the early church, gathering in people's houses, or outdoors, or in the catacombs, the answer is a simple one: we no longer have to.

Robert F said...

Jon in the Nati,
Good points. Certainly Christians in China often have to practice their faith in house churches because of persecution. But in Latin America and Africa, the older church institutions are often identified by evangelical/charismatic Christians with oppressive social systems and church hierarchies that more-or-less systematically smothered simple evangelical faith in Jesus Christ, especially among the non-elite classes, and the liturgies and church buildings rightly or wrongly associated with that smothering have come to symbolize a top-heavy human religion of self-glorification rather than true worship. If we look at the middle-ages when so many grand church edifices were constructed and so many glorious liturgies devised and practiced, it seems to me that we have to acknowledge that this was only possible because the church was hand-in-glove with the state, and that the expensive churches, and liturgies (yes, liturgies could be and still are sometimes very expensive), were built on the backs of generations of peasants who lived a hand-to-mouth existence. The buildings themselves were often built for the glorification of some aristocratic dynasty or other and embodied human vainglory rather than devotion to God.

Jon in the Nati said...

"and the liturgies and church buildings rightly or wrongly associated with that smothering have come to symbolize a top-heavy human religion of self-glorification rather than true worship."

I believe "wrongly" would be the correct choice here.