Against Novelty

Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not dancing but only learning to dance. A good show is a show you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were most unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself, and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ “Tis mad idolatry makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question, “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion to waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was “Feed my sheep” not “Try experiments on my rats,” or even, “Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit.

—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, 13


Appetite for God

I want to stress what I think that we (or at least I) need more [than instruction about sacrifice]; the joy and delight in God which meet us in the Psalms, however loosely or closely, in this or that instance, they may be connected with the Temple. This is the living centre of Judaism. These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God.  They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see “the fair beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27,4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst (42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out “in perfect beauty” (50,2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (63,2). They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house (65,4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (84,3).  One day of those “pleasures” is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere (10).

I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—call this the “appetite for God” than the “love of God”. . . . It has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.

—C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 50-51

The Obedience of Worship

Throughout the Bible it is emphasized that true worship is obedient worship. It is not the costliness of the equipment or the majesty of the surroundings or the dignity of the ceremonial or the beauty of the music or the elegance of the language that commends our worship to God, but simply its obedience. 

—C. E. B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958):397



“Religion: a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.” – Stephen Hawking

“Atheism: a fairy tale for people afraid of the light.” – John Lennox


First Things First

In corporate worship, we come to “put in,” not to “get out.”

—Emmett Price


How We Use the English Word “Worship”

We may distinguish three uses of the word “worship”; (i) to denote a particular element of what is generally referred to as worship, namely, adoration; (ii) to denote generally the public worship of the religious community gathered together and also the private religious exercises of the family and the individual; and (iii), in a still wider sense, to denote the whole life of the community or of the individual viewed as service of God.

—C.E.B. Cranfield, “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958), 387


Hearing the Voice of the Lord

The custom in some traditions of the congregation standing during the reading of the sermon-text can be a salutary reminder of the fact that here above all the church expects to hear the voice of its Lord and therefore here above all its full attention is required.

—C.E.B. Cranfield. “Divine and Human Action: The Biblical Concept of Worship,” Interpretation 12:4 (October, 1958), 392