We have been learning that the Adversary of our soul desires to destroy us through the slow fade of indifference. A spiritual fall most often occurs methodically and imperceptibly. As C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters,
The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
How sobering and terrifying.
But how does the Adversary do this in everyday living? This is the question we want to address in this post and the next several. We want to look at how the Adversary uses the gradual gradients of life to kill the passion of the Kingdom in our lives. If your passion seems petered out in your Christian walk, if you seem lulled into hand-folded spiritual contentment, if you seem to lack a desire for intimacy with the Lover of your soul, then you may want to keep reading. Perhaps, gradually you have slid down the path of spiritual indifference. Remember that Satan wants you fat, content, and docile spiritually, just like slaughterhouses want their cattle. Because of this you and I need to be awakened to desire more desiring for He who wants us to want Him.
Our guide in all this will be the masterful C.S. Lewis and his equally masterful work The Screwtape Letters. As I told you this is a book written as a collection of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape teaching the young devil Wormwood how to effectively tempt and destroy the life of his assigned patient, who is a Christian. Such a narrative is prophetic in revealing how Satan works “his magic” to progressively slay our hearts.
Let us look at one way the Adversary tries to kill our soul: through the Church.
One way that the Adversary works to abort our spiritual walk is by detaching us from each other. It is a truism that there is almost no more effective way of destroying a people than by inculcating in them the indifference to be “A People.” Abraham Lincoln said long ago of the United States,
As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
If this statement is true of secular nations, how much more is it of the Royal Nation (1 Peter 2) called the Church? Satan has done everything he can to undermine the work of God’s Kingdom expressed through the work of Christ’s community. While he works through all the obvious methods (church splits, sex scandals, money laundering…etc) his chief skill comes through melting our perceptions of the Church. Put more precisely: He kills our heart's desire to desire spiritual community. Consider the advice Screwtape gives to the young tempter Wormwood regarding shaping his “patients” (the Christian’s) perceptions of the church:
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately, it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside [and] he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew…. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of "Christians" in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial…. Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman…. [This disappointment] occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life, it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing…. [If] the patient knows that the woman [in the church] with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”
Want to destroy Christians? Then one way you do this is by destroying their appetite for the Church. Make them cease fighting for it. Make them cease caring about it. Make them justify, through coddled hurts and self-righteousness and spiritual complacency, why they do not need to commit to it in any flesh and blood way.
SEEING THE CHURCH AS AN ABSTRACTION
You want to make Christians lose faith in The Church, then one way you do this is by making the Church an abstraction. Keep it nebulous. Make it something one is a part of but only in a conceptual sense. Why? Because it is always easier to claim to be part of “THE CHURCH” (i.e. Body of Christ) when it doesn’t require sacrifice, time, energy, money, or service; or when it doesn’t require obedience, submission, or correction. Such a mentality has crafted Christians into a disjointed confederacy of independent islands who desire no accountability or commitment in the context of sacred community. Online services in the new COVID Era have done a fantastic job of exacerbating this phenomenon by the way. But I digress.
This abstract view of the church has been helped greatly by the “Me-and-Jesus Syndrome” that plagues many modern Christians. Today we enlightened moderns look at our Faith as something just between us and God with no practical relevance to our relations in the spiritual community. Faith is JUST personal; it is not communal. Faith is just about spirituality; it is not sacramental. And we see all this as somehow more “intimate” or more “spiritual.” The problem is it is a lot more American and a lot less biblical than we think (more in a moment). The result of this is we become stunted spiritually by the self-made echo-chambers that tell us all is well, and we need no correction or prodding in our spiritual walk.
SEEING ONLY THE WARTS ON THE PEW
Want to kill the desire for community in a Christian’s life? Make the Christian see only the messiness of his fellow pew-mates. It is easy to not want to come into a spiritual community when you concentrate on “the absurd hats” and “squeaky boots” and noticeable sins of those annoying people that inhabit the church house. Why not be with a church? Simple: because it’s full of hypocrites, Pharisaical judgers, irritating parishioners, and bad music. Right? We look at the people around us in the pews and can pinpoint every cork and annoyance that grits our teeth and makes us squirm. We see these same people in Walmart and even work with some of them, so we know how they “really are.”
And just to be clear this prideful spiritual cynicism expresses itself in equal measures among the skinny-jeaned tattooed Millennials as it does with floral-dressed, blue-permed Boomers. For one there are too many hymns, walkers, and perfumes, and for the others too many lights, skinny-jeans, and piercings. Both concentrate more on the seemingly irreconcilable differences rather than fighting for love and unity. Again, I digress.
As a result of such a development the “I’m-not-feeling-it Syndrome” seeps in a spiritual of self-justifying begins. Why am I not “feeling it” in the church? Simple: it’s those people in the pews or on the stage. Right? It can’t possibly be me. It can never be me. It’s not tied at all to my lack of prayer, fasting, meditating, or Bible reading. It’s tied to the fact that those around me just aren’t “as spiritual” as I am. The problem with this attitude is that it fails to take account of one’s own warts (re-read the question Lewis asks in the quote above).
We are not called to measure ourselves or our commitment to the Body of Christ to the spiritual levels of our neighbors. To do so is to follow people. We are called to align our view of our own lives and commitments to the character and person of Christ. His life, His work, His way, His teachings are our litmus test.
FIGHTING FOR SACRED COMMUNITY
This method of leisurely killing our joy for the sacred community is one of the gentle slopes the Adversary uses to choke out our spiritual vitality. But we must fight it and we must awaken to its cunning processes. Be reminded that THE CHURCH is made up of many a cracked pot. Be reminded that the Church is not a place of moral perfection but beggars who desire the Bread of Life. Be reminded that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a living and breathing organism of failures seeking faith. The Church is the Whore who became a Bride (Hosea). It is the Prodigal given an Eternal Inheritance (Luke 15). It the Cosmic Rebel made into a Celestial Saint (Romans 1-2; 1 Corinthians 6). Is a sanctified hot-mess of interconnected gifts and personalities that unite to learn, grow, fellowship, worship, get correction, and get edification (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:22-25).
The Church is messy.
It is through this messy and diverse Body of broken saints that Christ's truth is to shine into all areas of human life through the diverse gifts, traditions, and passions of its members.
We are not made to worship, learn, or grow in a spiritual vacuum. While it is all the above it is even more.
The Church is a Body (Romans 12:4-5), it is a Household (1 Timothy 3:15), it is a Temple (Ephesians 2:20-21), and it’s a Nation (1 Peter 2:4-9). In all these metaphors there is the essential understanding that we are made for community. We need each other because we are made in the image of God, who Himself is a Trinitarian indwelling of inter-personal and intra-personal communion. He is unity and diversity, we as a Body are unity and diversity. He was incarnated to display in flesh and blood that Trinitarian reality, we as the Church are to incarnate that same reality through our individual and social lives. It is through sacramental communal relations found in church that we come to demonstrate how the power of the Gospel not only changes our personhood but our societies, our cultures, and our communities.
To lose this sense of communal spirituality is to lose a part of who we are meant to be. To put it another way, our completeness in Christ is only found in the context of our relations within Christ’s community.
This is why Satan hates the Church and he hates Christians who want to want it and find joy in it (even in its messiness and annoyances). This is why all the more we as believers must fight to keep that joy alive.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 220
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 188-189
 The data shows that since COVID only 1 in 3 Christians attend church and sadly the data shows they may not be coming back https://www.barna.com/research/new-sunday-morning-part-2/ and https://www.barna.com/research/watching-online-church/
 Consider these verses about us imitating Christ: Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6, Ephesians 5:1-2,
 There are plenty of scriptures on this that I encourage you to read: Proverbs 18:1, Proverbs 27:17, Matthew 18:20, Acts 9:31-32, Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 4:11-13, Hebrews 10:24-25,
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.