As I understand it Bonhoeffer was not a church-goer, and I read that C.S. Lewis kept to himself as well. On the other hand, I also understand that God wants us to be in community (Genesis 2:18). I wish to be in community too. What does God say about what I should do regarding ritual and congregational practices? Does God say that I am to attend an organized church?
I appreciate your desire to be in community. I think that is important. In Hebrews we’re given guidance: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25. I personally see attendance at church as a privilege. I do not believe it is a sin to miss church. But when we are there we do get the opportunities to live our faith out loving on people and encouraging them as well as renewing our minds regularly together. God-bless your quest and journey.
@Jmworks9113 I agree with @Keldon_Scott that the constant expectation of Scripture is that we gather as believers to worship and learn the Word of God. There may be seasons of life when we are struggling to find a Church home or where circumstances make formal organization difficult, but we are exhorted to pursue community with fellow believers in Christ - to make that a priority in our lives.
Colossians 3:16 - Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Ephesians 4:11-13 - So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Acts 2:42 - They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
C. S. Lewis and Church Attendance
Lewis regularly mentions attending Church if you read his letters and, as evinced by the quote from the following website, considered Church importance important.
Lewis attended Holy Trinity Church in Headington, Oxford, an Anglican church. For all we know, he regularly attended. Both he and his brother Warren, who died after him, are buried in the graveyard outside the village church. If you’ve been to Lewis’ home, the Kilns, you’ll know the church is only a block or two away, a delightful little neighborhood walk.
In letter written in 1950 to Mrs. Arnold, he provides a few points on church life. In an era where individuality is king, it’s helpful to realize that even Lewis, who is huge personality, recognizes necessity of church. First, Holy Communion is the “only rite” Jesus instituted himself, Lewis says. (Arguably Jesus also instituted baptism as well). And Communion cannot be done alone. “The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion,” he says, ” some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted in the Epistles. So we must be regular practising members of the Church.”
Intellectuals and Church
I did read in Lewis’ letters that occasionally he found the music or the message to be unmoving, but he still attended. I have read other intellectual types who struggled to find a Church where the level of teaching or the community met their felt needs. Being intellectual provides a great temptation - to think that common people have nothing to offer or that Church community is beneath ones’ self.
Lewis himself - to his great credit - in spite of being very very intelligent - saw great value in sharing life with the most ordinary of people and saw God’s handiwork in even the simplest saint. I think that is to his great credit. And the apostle Paul himself was one of the greatest minds to have ever lived and he daily dealt with the struggles of both the simple and and the intellectual - he was never above loving another - even runaway slaves like Philemon.
I think being an intellectual could make it difficult to find sermons that are as edifying as one may want or society that can discuss things at that level. But from Paul to Lewis, the truly great men recognize that the most important thing is the love of Christ - weak or strong, wise or simple, we are all one body in Christ.
I Cor 12:21-16 - The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
May Christians stay home and pray for people all day?
That was so good. Thank you @SeanO. I had not read in detail Lewis’s church attendance information. This is why I love connect. We all learn and chisel our understanding.
Does the Bible make a distinction between a small home group-type church versus a more recognized and organized church? My book on Systematic Theology identifies a “church” as a body that routinely practices baptism and communion. What does the Bible have to say regarding the organized church?
@Keldon_Scott Indeed - when I read his letters collected by Walter Hooper he mentioned Church a fair bit, so it stood to reason he attended. He also gave a massive portion of his income to the poor and needy. Very humble man.
@Jmworks9113 That is a good question. I am not an expert on ecclesiology, but it sounds like your Sys Theo book is saying that the Church is any place where the two sacraments instituted by Jesus and practiced by the apostles - baptism and communion - take place. That could be a small home Church or a Church with a more formal structure.
My personal opinion is that when true believers gather the Lord is there among them:
Matthew 18:19-20 - Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
But that a fellowship of believers that meets together as a Church, as your Sys Theo book suggested, should practice baptism and the Lord’s supper because Christ and the apostles set an example for us in that way.
What are your thoughts on this topic?
FYI - I made my comment on Lewis’s churchgoing based on an essay by James Houston (one of Lewis’s personal friends). The essay was presented on the podcast Discipleship As You Go - September 9, 2008, entitled The Prayer Life of C.S. Lewis. It was a solitary reference, but I thought it had merritt because it came from a personal friend of his.
@Jmworks9113 It was surprising to me, since everything I’ve read indicated he did attend the Anglican Church quite faithfully, though I’m not sure if he did so every week… His letters indicated he sometimes found the sermons boring or music uninspiring. In ‘The Screwtape Letters’ he talks about the temptation to judge everyone else sitting in Church instead of focusing on Christ, so it stands to reason he had learned that from experience. And here is an excerpt from ‘God in the Dock’:
Lewis was once asked, “Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?”
“That’s a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house. If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” God in the Dock , pp. 61-62.
So it appears Lewis was not the most social Church goer and he did not like all aspects of Church, but he grew to understand the value of it.
I wonder if you listen to the podcast again if they simply meant that Lewis was not particularly social as a Church goer? Or maybe they misinterpreted the letter??? Or maybe it referred to a particular time in his life? It sounds like at first he did not go as much, but as he grew in maturity he went more.
I agree. I feel like the Bible is clearly directing us to gather together and worship together, just as it says in Acts 2:42.
I think you are correct…he went, but wasn’t the most social churchgoer…
I appreciate all of the insight…very helpful. Thank you!
To add a small anecdote about Lewis and his church attendance, I had the opportunity to visit the church he attended, and they have a small memorial set aside to him honor him. Also, there was a small story of how Lewis and his brother always sat in the same pew, which happened to be on the far side of the church from the entrance, just outside one of the large columns in the church, such that they were able to view the entirety of the front of the church, but would be effectively hidden from the people entering the church, all in an effort to too much socializing. I don’t remember who told the story, and so I’m not able to track down the veracity of the story, but it does seem to fit in with the pieces that you have mentioned, Sean and Jeff.
I believe both Bonhoeffer and Lewis regularly attended church. Bonhoeffer actually taught Sunday School in the African American church he attended in Harlem. And he wrote Life Together.
Here, I think you raise a crucial issue. The New Testament speaks of the Mega-church in Jerusalem as well as churches meeting in households. Antioch may have been somewhere in between. Of course, a house church could have been fairly large. But some would not have been large.
Not looking for the minimum requirements for a church, the New Testament sets out purposes which go beyond Baptism and Communion. Still, I would say a gathering of believers committed to one another and to our Lord is a church. I would even limit this to fundamental doctrine, believing in God, and a few other things.
I was unaware that Bonhoeffer spent any time in the US much less taught SS in Harlem so I hit google and found this article. Its an opinion piece on a book by Reggie Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus.I thought that it would be of interest to some of the contributors to the thread. I learned something, thanks @Daveswatch.
This is a great article! Thanks, Jimmy.