On this episode we’re asking a very important question: what is the church? And rather than try to squeeze our answer into 5 minutes, I thought we would make this a two-part series so that we can answer this question, “What is the church?”
Now, to begin to answer this question I want to look at a book with you. The book is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. This of course is the beloved classic; an allegory of Christian and how he came to Christ, and how he lived the Christian life, and how he eventually made his way to the celestial city. The episode in the book that I want to look at with you is the episode we call “The House Built by the Lord of the Hill.” Now in this scene we learn a lot about what John Bunyan thinks of the nature of the church. In fact, I think we learn a great deal about what the Puritans had to say about “what is the church?” This can be a very instructive portion of the book, and I want to spend a little bit of time going over it with you.
Now, at this point, Christian has already been to the cross. His sins have been forgiven and he’s making his way though his Christian journey. It has not necessarily been a rosy path for Christian. He’s had his challenges; he’s had his ups and downs. It seems like as we find ourselves at this moment in the book, you can picture the sun is sort of setting, the evening chill is setting in, and all of a sudden Christian sees a house up on the hill. And he comes upon the porter at the gate and he says to the porter, “What house is this, and may I lodge here tonight?” And the porter says to him, “This house was built by the Lord of the hill, and he built it for the relief and security of Pilgrims. There in a nutshell is the definition of the church. The church was built by the Lord of the hill, and its purpose is for the relief and security of Pilgrims.
Well, of course Christian wants to stay there, and the porter says, “Well, before I can let you in, we need to bring out the ladies of the house.” And so he brings out Discretion, and then comes Piety, and Prudence, and Charity. And they begin quizzing Christian. And what this is, what this represents is church membership. In the Puritan world, they spoke of a “credible profession of faith” before one could be admitted into a church for church membership. And that’s what we see here. And so they’re asking him to recall his journey and how he came into the Christian life, and recall his testimony of standing before the cross, and recall his testimony of what he’s been learning as he’s been living the Christian life.
And so, Christian answers all their questions and they let him into the home. Then they sort of gather around for a time of fellowship and again they start asking each other what they’ve learned about the Christian life and what they’ve learned as they’ve been traveling. And at one point Prudence says to him, “Can you remember by what means you find your annoyances at times as if they were vanquished?” And the context there is the annoyances are those things that just sort of keep Christian from…almost want to lead him astray, and keep him from progressing in the Christian life.
How do you find those annoyances vanquished? Here’s what Christian says is the answer: “Yes. I can remember. When I think what I saw at the cross, that will do it. And when I look upon my broidered coat, that will do it. Also, when I look into the role that I carry in my bosom, that will do it. And when my thoughts wax warm about whither I am going, that will do it.” Do you see what he’s talking about there? He’s trying to get perspective on his life in the present by looking back at his salvation, looking at the cross, and by looking forward to his glorification by being in heaven.
So they have this wonderful time of fellowship. But you know the point of the church is not the time of fellowship. In fact, the point of the church is what’s going to come next. And what comes next is the supper, the feast, and it’s quite a King’s feast that is laid out. Bunyan speaks of it as the table being “furnished with fat things and with wine that was well-refined.” And this was the purpose. This was what everything was leading up to—to sit at the table to eat. And we’ll have to pick up the story next week on what happens when they sit down for dinner.