You don’t have to be a pastor long to realize the front door is something of a swinging door. People come and go for various reasons. For some longtime attendees, a time may come to move on to something different. Visitors attend churches knowing what they want and need: something for the children, something for their marriage, someone to marry. And there is always the permanent resident in any church, “Mr. Offended.” He’s caused more churched people to look for a new church than anyone.
But something that may be slightly more heartbreaking than the cause of leaving the old church is the criteria used for attending the new church. Without wanting to get bogged down in doctrinal distinctions, suffice it to say there are distinctions! I know people, many people, who subscribed to a certain doctrine for most of their life. They believe it was clearly taught in the Bible, they taught it to their children, and they even had friendly debates with those who disagreed. This truth was an integral part of their faith. But when they left their church they started attending another church that taught the very opposite of this doctrine! When asked what happened, the answer is usually something to do with needing something for the children, something for their marriage, someone to marry.
C. S. Lewis wrote a letter to the Anglican newspaper, The Church Times, that was published in the May 20, 1949 issue. His reaction to a Dr. Mascall touches on this precise issue. But in Lewis’ day the congregant evidently was more on the ball than the clergy. Lewis writes,
“I would ask of the clergy to believe that we are more interested in orthodoxy and less interested in liturgiology as such than they can easily imagine. Dr Mascall rightly says that variations are permissible when they do not alter doctrine. But after that he goes on almost casually to mention ‘devotions to the Mother of God and to the hosts of heaven’ as a possible liturgical variant. That the introduction of such devotions into any parish not accustomed to them would divide the congregation into two camps, Dr Mascall well knows. But if he thinks that the issue between those camps would be a liturgical issue, I submit that he is mistaken. It would be a doctrinal issue. Not one layman would be asking whether these devotions marred or amended the beauty of the rite; everyone would be asking whether they were lawful or damnable. It is no part of my object to discuss that question here, but merely to point out that it is the question.1
While hesitant to be nostalgic and long for the “good old days” (Ecclesiastes 7:10), I confess to wanting to live in a day when the average church attendee is more interested in orthodoxy and less interested in liturgiology.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:63.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 1588-1589.