In the “Screwtape Letters” by CS Lewis, the senior demon advises his apprentice, Wormwood, not to worry when his ‘patient’ begins to attend church services. Screwtape assures him that the patient will be so distracted by the terribly flawed members of the congregation that he will soon be missing the ‘enemy’s’ (that is, God’s) point, once again.
In the five years I have been going to church I would have to agree with Screwtape’s prognosis. We are so easily ensnared by the petty trivialities that crop up whenever our egos take center stage. But once we are aware of this trap, it can be avoided with just a little applied effort. Especially if the church is focused more on humility, worship and service, rather than on the instruction of others. Thankfully, these types of churches are becoming easier to find every day.
But Satan is a wily opponent and never tires of inventing new ways to distract us from God. Just as we expect today’s churches to take advantage of 21st century technology, it’s reasonable to expect the same of Old Scratch. Sitting in church today, I again was presented with evidence of his efforts.
Over the past five years or so I’ve had the privilege of visiting a variety of churches. Some have been conservative, others more liberal, some inward focused, others involved in outreach, some were full of tradition, with others more austere. I’ve enjoyed spirit filled charismatic services and been moved by thoughtful, quiet and contemplative ones. Whether I felt connected to these churches or left feeling chilly, all of them have been victims of what (I think) is the latest offensive campaign of the spiritual war.
Satan has figured out a way to demoniacally possess the audio visual systems! Almost without fail, every religious service I’ve attended has been plagued with a peppering of annoying pops, buzzes, hisses, clicks, feedback squeals, whines, hums and drop-outs. It doesn’t matter how big or small the church, how hip or how homely, how rich or how poor; their soundboards, speakers and projectors seem to be working against them.
Yesterday we attended a traditional wedding. The congregation sang the processional hymn, the pastor waiting patiently on the altar. On the second stanza he decided to join us in song, but apparently no one had checked the volume of his wireless mike. I quickly looked to the ceiling, his voice thundering from the eaves, so loud that it hurt. Stunned at first, I thought that God was paying us a special visit, but soon realized that if it were Him then He would’ve been in key.
A familiar occurrence at contemporary services; in the middle of an uplifting song suddenly the words on the screen don’t match what the lead guitarist is singing. We stumble and fall over the lyrics and each other as we scramble to present this awesome God with a song that will be at least mediocre enough to deserve a place on his hit list. I can almost see the great cosmic hook waiting in the wings.
Almost weekly my train of thought is jerked suddenly off track when, in mid-sermon, (often at a climactic teaching point) the preacher’s voice vanishes for a long three-count. Happily unaware, he carries on with his message, oblivious to those of us looking around for any clue to what he just said. “What?” I worry about those who may have been led off of the narrow path of righteousness because they never heard the entire message.
“Oh, I thought watching “Pimp My Ride” was a spiritual discipline.”
“What a waste of time. I couldn’t find God anywhere in Vegas!”
“OK, here’s my two cents. Just like that widow in the Bible.”
“Ouch! Sorry about that. Maybe we should try throwing Nerf balls instead of stones.”
Reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount scene from the “Life of Brian”, where some folks on the crowd’s far off fringe had difficulty hearing Jesus’ words. “What did he say? Blessed are the cheese makers!?”
Before you think that I am being unsympathetic, I was once an amateur sound tech, manning the console at the back of church. I was quite adept at hitting the ‘SUCK’ button myself. But in all seriousness, consistently poor (or inconsistently good) audio visual programs have become so commonplace that I think it has become accepted as the price of doing business. But we are about doing God’s business, right? Maybe if we can’t get it right we should consider some alternatives.