Les Sillars: Church identity

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, June 4th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.  

CLEESE: One of our great allies at present is the Church itself.

That’s actor John Cleese reading from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.

CLEESE: I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy…

WORLD Radio’s Les Sillars has been thinking about how Christians sometimes lose track of the Church’s true identity.

LES SILLARS, COMMENTATOR: I recently attended a Christian worldview conference. There activists and politicians thundered that if the Church would just be the Church in America then we could wipe out, well, the issue of the hour. I think it was racism. Maybe poverty. Anyway, cue the large round of applause.

I get it. Christians are botching their witness to a watching world in many ways. Abuse scandals. Troubled, sinful people who sometimes do more harm than good. Shallow sermons and trite worship. It’s enough to make you want to sleep in on Sunday morning.

But if that’s what “church” means to you, my friend, then you have fallen into Screwtape’s trap.

Try, says the senior demon to Wormwood early in The Screwtape Letters, to focus the patient’s attention on the church building’s “sham Gothic” architecture. Or the grocer’s “oily expression.” Or the overweight neighbors in the next pew who sing out of tune. And if the patient knows them to be hypocrites or misers, so much the better.

Do not let the patient realize that any of these people might really be a terrific warrior for the Enemy. Don’t let the patient realize that if he has received grace and forgiveness, then so have others in the Church. Above all, do not let the patient see the Church as she truly is.

For despite its many failures, the Church is by any measure the most successful institution in human history. It certainly has transformed the most lives. Christian teachings are the foundation for more social, cultural, economic, scientific, and spiritual good than anything else, ever. Every day and even in weak churches, Christians minister to each other and a hurting world.

The evils some Christians have done must not blind us to the Church’s true identity: the body of Christ. Not only do we get to be part of it, we are part of it whether we like it or not.

Yet we too often hold the Church in contempt. We bemoan her failures instead of building up the Bride. And we show our contempt when we don’t truly show up.

I don’t mean show up in a legalistic, there-every-time-the-doors-open sort of way. I mean that some of us regard a local congregation as the place where I go to hear preaching, where I worship, where I fellowship, and maybe, if I have time, where I might serve. And if I don’t show up, who suffers? I do. And some of us say, in effect, I can live with that. It’s not hurting anybody but me.

But the Church is not about you or me. So the writer of Hebrews tells us to “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together,” as the King James version puts it.

And if we don’t show up, we are even more vulnerable to pride, as Screwtape rightly observed. In fact, some of us think that we are

CLEESE: Showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these smug, commonplace neighbors at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Les Sillars, along with

CLEESE: Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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