Once again with apologies to C.S. Lewis and his Screwtape Letters, here is another letter from Screwtape’s relative Tapescrew, writing to his own nephew Woodworm and speaking to issues facing worship in our churches today.
When human creatures first come into the world, they are notorious for their single-minded focus on their basic needs, and their effectiveness in making those needs known. They make it very clear to everyone around them that they want what they want, and they want it NOW, and they won’t rest until they get it. Delightfully, many of them never seem to advance beyond this stage!
I tell you, we have certainly put that tendency to good use when it comes to their worship services. The “tyranny of taste”, I like to call it, or the “power of preference.” You see, when they first show up for worship, they may enjoy well enough mingling with others, usually chatting idly and mindlessly about things like the weather or last night’s sports scores. But the moment the service starts, “it’s every man for himself,” as they say. Any thought of community is quickly extinguished as each one prefers instead to see it as an opportunity for some “one-on-one” time with the Enemy.
This perspective causes them to evaluate everything which goes on in the service through their own individual grid. Each one comes with a whole set of personal standards, expectations, hopes, needs and desires— and they each see worship as a failure if their own agenda is not accomplished. And so we get a delightful cycle of frustration and disappointment and disillusionment which only serves to turn them even more in on themselves.
And of course, when everyone comes to the service with his or her own agenda, they are on a collision course with each other. What one likes, the other despises, and vice versa. It’s just marvelous to see that kind of dynamic! Rarely is any pleasure is taken in one another’s spiritual journey— and we’re often able to encourage rather a sort of competitive spirit which guarantees a total lack of community.
This whole area of worship has certainly been worth all of the attention and effort we have given it over the past several years. How like our Father in hell to so skillfully corrupt something so central as worship in the hearts and minds of the Enemy’s people! Would you believe it, we can so fill their minds with disapproving thoughts about the songs or the musicians or the decorations or the lighting, that sometimes they can go through an entire service with hardly a thought about the Enemy Himself! And even if they leave with a positive feeling, it’s often because of a satisfying personal experience which has stroked their ego but still largely left God out of the picture. How delicious it is that in all our work of seeking to distract them from a heavenly focus, one of our most effective tools should be the worship service itself!!
And so, my dear Woodworm, don’t fret yourself about all this attention being given to worship these days: the programs in their churches, the books, the seminars and conferences, the recordings and concerts, the sermon series– this new fad just adds to their busy striving, and leaves them wonderfully ignorant that the worship they’re working so hard at, is to be found simply through a restful preoccupation with the Enemy Himself. As long as we keep them from learning that, we’ll be OK.