Screwtape Letter #16 – Discussion Guide

Letter #16

Things may be getting even worse for Wormwood.

(in spite of or because of Screwtape’s help?)



My dear Wormwood,

You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it. … Do you realise that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing? Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. … So pray bestir yourself and send this fool the round of the neighbouring churches as soon as possible. Your record up to date has not given us much satisfaction.

16.1) In between getting in shots at Wormwood, Screwtape has some most uncomplimentary things to say about churches. Do you think he’s right?

Screwtape also has some warnings about possible attitudes the patient may have – especially during sermons. What does the “attitude” of the church body have to do with the “attitude” of an individual person in that church?





What is a church supposed to be, and what things prevent that?

The two churches nearest to him, I have looked up in the office. Both have certain claims. … But perhaps your patient is not quite silly enough for this church—or not yet.

16.2) We learn a little about church #1.

This one little paragraph is full of praise (from Screwtape) – for the Vicar, for the people that attend the church – and for the patient who will (now or later) be ready for it. What issues does each of them have as far as spiritual growth?





The Vicar - praise from the wrong side
The people - 'safe', but from what?
The patient - where is he in all of this?

At the other church we have Fr Spike. The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions— …But I must warn you that he has one fatal defect: he really believes. And this may yet mar all.

16.3) And now we hear Srewtape’s opinion of the second church.

The Vicar at the first church meant to make things easy – to the point where he got complacent.

At the second one, we find someone who – because of his “Hatred” – seems to have strayed from the true message. They seem to be summed up by Proverbs 1:32 –

Pr 1:32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

While Father Spike seems to be driven by “simple” Hatred, what is it that can really mess things up (from Screwtape’s) point of view and why? (hint – check out the rest of that Proverb)





Can the same verses really apply to different people?

But there is one good point which both these churches have in common … And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities. … Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,

Your affectionate uncle


16.4) And now back to attacking “the church” again.

What’s the difference between the doctrinal issues and the other things that Screwtape brings up?

How has Screwtape twisted the meaning of Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians?

1Co 9:22 … I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

1Co 9:23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.





What does Jesus think about a lukewarm church?
Check out Paul - and the rights of an Apostle


In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.

Parochial – of or pertaining to a parish or parishes.

The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.

Congregational – pertaining or adhering to a form of Protestant church government in which each local church acts as an independent, self-governing body, while maintaining fellowship with like congregations.
Coterie – an exclusive group; clique.

At the first of these the Vicar is a man who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for a supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief, not vice versa.

Incredulous – indicating or showing unbelief.

In order to spare the laity all ‘difficulties’ he has deserted both the lectionary and the appointed psalms and now, without noticing it, revolves endlessly round the little treadmill of his fifteen favourite psalms and twenty favourite lessons.

Lectionary – a book or a list of sacred writing for reading in a divine service.

A sermon which such people could accept would be to him as insipid as a poem which they could scan.

Insipid – without distinctive, interesting, or stimulating qualities.

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