C.S. Lewis wrote an essay on church membership that’s largely forgotten today. Fortunately, Patricia Klein’s daily devotional book, A Year with C.S. Lewis (HarperOne: 2009) serves up several nourishing morsels from it. In the essay, Lewis emphasizes the enduring life of the community of faith in contrast to the vacuous, transitory nature of individualistic Christianity.

It’s difficult for contemporary American Christians to see this because we’re steeped in a culture of individualism. Our fiercely independent forebears passed that character trait to us. They came to the New World because they chafed at the conformity of religious life in the Old World; in fact, some of  our earliest American colonists were proud to be called Non-Conformists. We inherited their love of non-conformity and elevated it to a high art.

So when C.S. Lewis writes about the church, we may assume he’s using the term in a British idiom because he describes something quite unlike what we Americans understand the church to be. However, Lewis bases his understanding of the church on what the New Testament says it is. That’s why it seems foreign to us.

We customarily think of the church as a voluntary association of believers; yet  scripture says there’s nothing voluntary about it: The Spirit of Christ places us in his Body as he sees fit.

We see the life of faith as our individual relationship with God, of which church involvement is one aspect; yet scripture says we have no spiritual life apart from the Body.

We suppose that eternal life results from our personal decision to trust in Christ and our daily recommitment to that decision; yet even the greatest heroes of faith did not gain eternal life by virtue of their individual decisions. They live because God made them citizens of his eternal City, the church (Heb 11:39-40).

“We shall share in the victory by being in the Victor,” Lewis writes. “A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life…As organs in the Body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple, we…shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale” (A Year with C.S. Lewis, April 26).