How the Devil Works to Keep Visitors Out of the Church

I wrote an article this week on “Thinking Carefully About our Approach with Church Visitors.” I would like to follow us with something that C.S. Lewis articulates in the “Screwtape Letters” of Screwtape’s counsel to Wormwood in how to keep his “patient” out of the kingdom of heaven and drag him into hell.

Consider Lewis’ description:

Dear Wormwood,

One of our great allies at present is the church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see here spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle with makes our boldest enemies uneasy. But fortunately, it’s quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.

When he goes inside, 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 the pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided…Provided that any of those neighbors 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.

At his present state, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armor and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real–though of course an unconscious–difficulty to him.

Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell afford.

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.”

Maybe we could paraphrase and adjust this just a bit to our context. Here is my attempt:

Dear Wormwood,

Attending a local church today is one of our greatest tools to keep people out of heaven. I’m so glad that the glory of the invisible church, spread out throughout the world from the beginning to end, is not seen by people considering the kingdom of God. If that were the case, we would lose every battle. We have something great working in our favor. When a newcomer enters the church today, the disappointment soon to follow will give us great success, especially if the church takes seriously their faith and is not built on entertainment.

I confess, that the evangelical mega churches have made our job much easier as they entertain the people to death and provide shallow messages of existential glory now. They have done our work for us. Leave them alone. Our greatest success rates will come in those churches who pass around an old liturgy which, we hope, is poorly understood and explained. Our success comes when they open that ancient text and spend their time preaching from its difficult genres.

Even better is when they sing those ancient texts, especially laments, hopefully they are out of tune and poorly suited for emotionalism. Don’t underestimate what a bad experience of music will accomplish. This is perfect for us, because it’s so radically different from an intoxicated culture that lives by emotionalism.

But the rate of our success will be even stronger when it comes to the oddness of the people who gather every Sunday. This will add pain to injury. Some of the people are crusty, some annoying, some arrogant, some difficult, some socially awkward, some too much of one ethnicity–these idiosyncrasies are a dream come true for you. The newcomer has come into the church only with a pictorial idea of what the church should be.

Once we break all of this down, and that after merely a few weeks of experience, and we provide him with the reality of the church in all of its sin and ugliness, apart from the descriptions of the church in the book Revelation as glorified and triumphant, this will give him the clarity that hell affords. The disappointment and the anticlimax, within just a few weeks after visiting the church, must receive our greatest attention to keep people out of the kingdom of heaven. Then they will leave the church for good in hatred of her people and their imperfections, and head back into isolation.

Dear reader, disillusionment, disappointment, and false expectations in confusing the church on earth with her glorified state in heaven, is one of the devils greatest tools in keeping people out of the kingdom of heaven. In this case, knowledge of the devil’s tactics is important to help the church visitor with realistic expectations of what to expect when joining a local church.