Christian Visits a Church in America-Land

Chris King

cars on road during night time

John Bunyan demonstrates a sanctifying use of imagination in his classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve often wondered how Bunyan’s character Christian would respond if he visited a modern seeker-driven church. This story takes place later in Christian’s pilgrimage, after being matured by many dangers, toils, and snares.  

Christian awoke and knew he had been translated to a different place. He recently passed through the Enchanted Ground on his journey to the Celestial City. Now he found himself sitting on a bench in front of a large, paved lane. Fast moving carriages roared past him making honking noises. He thought it strange that no horses pulled them. The pilgrim slowly arose, staring these strange chariots. A yellow one slowed down, and a man inside said, “Hey buddy, do you need a ride?” Christian replied, “Yea.” He stopped and opened a hatch on the side of the carriage. The burly man said, “Hop in.”

Christian tentatively entered and asked, “What is this place?” Recognizing him as a foreigner, the driver responded, “You’re in America-land. Will this be cash or charge?”  Confused, the pilgrim raised an eye-brow.

Driver: How are you going to pay?

Christian: Will this suffice? (Handing him 5 golden shillings).

Driver: Sure! These are cool, where do you want to go?

Christian: I need to remain on the strait and narrow path. Do you know where I may find it?

Driver: Well, it’s Sunday, so I could take you to a sports bar to catch a game. When I visit a new place, I like to check out the local pubs.

Christian: It’s the Lord’s Day? Then take me to a church!

Driver: Giving Christian an odd look he replied, “You got it.”

Traversing the large city, the driver pointed out many church buildings. Christian was astounded by all the varieties of churches the driver showed him. He saw many names on church signs he didn’t recognize. Christian was astounded by such freedom to worship without government intervention. Pulling up to a massive building, the driver shot him a look of satisfaction.        

Driver: My sister goes to this church—and it’s one of the biggest in the city! You should check it out.

Getting out of the taxi, Christian thanked the driver and gazed at the edifice before him. It was a massive building made up of various geometric shapes. A bright multi-colored sign read, “The Quest.” Hundreds of people streamed through the doors in the front. Christian joined them, noticing immediately most of them were not dressed like him. Not knowing what to expect, but being a seasoned Pilgrim, he gripped his sword and joined the crowd.

The inside was dazzling. He was immediately met by a young maiden who introduced herself as Mrs. Chipper. Gliding toward Christian she spoke with bubbly giddiness.   

Mrs. Chipper: Welcome to The Quest! Can I help you find your place?

Christian: I’m here to worship the Lord with His people and learn from His Word. I’m on my way to the Celestial City and am always looking for companions who fear the Lord (Psalm 119:63).

Mrs. Chipper: Well you’re here just in time for our Super-Relevant Small Group Sharing Time. Follow me! Would you like a latte, mocha, espresso, or frappe-happy drink?

Christian: Thank you, but I have food to eat that you don’t know about (John 4:32). 

The young lady led him through numerous winding corridors and past rooms containing odd things to Christian’s eyes (ping-pong tables, gym equipment, basketball courts, mini-golf courses, etc.). They finally arrived at a small room containing about 20 people sitting in a circle. Most engaged in what appeared to be joyful conversations.

Mrs. Chipper: This is Mr. Smiley, the Conversation Initiator.

Flashing a wide grin, the man (Mr. Smiley) pointed me to an empty chair and said with elation, “Join the conversation!” The people around Christian talked of all manner of things including the weather, sports, games, food, making money, and warranty plans you can buy for your carriage. Christian was befuddled because they did not speak the Language of Zion he had heard in his conversations at The Palace Beautiful.1In The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Palace Beautiful represented the Local Church. This made him long for that place where he might again converse with the likes of Piety, Prudence, Discretion, and Charity. He was roused from his contemplations by a man tapping his shoulder.

Mr. Me-Centered: Hey, would you like to go to the Cosplayer Creative Class? Since you’re wearing that strange armor, you would probably fit in with the role-players and drama team. My wife loves it!

Christian: Well, this is where the young lady led me—I’ll take it as God’s providence I should be here.

Mr. Me-Centered: What is God’s providence?

Christian: It’s the doctrine that God rules over all things directing them to fulfill His will.

Pulling out his scroll, Christian pointed the man to Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (ESV). Christian continued to explain how God, “Covers the heavens with clouds; he prepares rain for the earth; he makes grass grow on the hills” (Psalm 147:8, ESV). 

Christian: You see good sir, The Lord rules over the death of sparrows and He causes the grass to grow. Or as goodman Calvin explains: The Lord, “governs the vast machinery of the whole world.” Therefore, I trust Him to direct me where He purposes.   

Mr. Me-Centered: That’s too deep for me, and what is that scroll you carry with you? We use the Orange-Aid materials here. Orange-Aid is tasty, and that old scroll seems bitter.         

Just then, Mr. Smily spoke up addressing the group.

Mr. Smiley: Welcome! Welcome again to the conversation. I want to encourage you today! Open your Orange-Aid Do-Life Manual to page 47.

Everyone took colorful booklets from under their seats and began turning pages. Christian found one of the manuals under his seat and opened to the appropriate place. A large title read, “God’s Vision for Your Life.” The leader continued in his address to the class.  

Mr. Smiley: What is God’s vision for your life?

Mr. Me-Centered: God wants me to be happy, fulfilled, and discover myself. 

Mr. American-Dream: God’s vision for my life is to be rich. It’s my ambition to make 10 million dollars before I’m 50.

Mr. Smiley: That’s great! Look at our Bible Tidbit for the day: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained” (Prov. 29:18, NASB95). If you want to be happy or rich, you will need vision for your life!

Christian: (Comparing the manual with his scroll) Perhaps you should read the rest of the verse to understand the true path to happiness.

Mr. Smiley: You mean there’s more? I’m just going by what’s in the Orange-Aid Manual.

Mr. Smiley seemed genuinely intrigued. Pulling a smart phone from his pocket, he found the verse on his Bible app and read, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the Law” (NASB95). Wow, there was more to the verse…

Christian to Mr. Me-Centered: You see, the true way to happiness comes through obedience to God’s Word.

Mr. Me-Centered: But that’s not my vision for my life.  

Christian: You must be born again. You must recognize your guilt and condemnation before a Holy God, and trust Jesus alone to save you from God’s wrath upon your sin. You must not trust yourself for salvation, you must have faith in Christ alone. You must repent of your self-love and love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. His Spirit gives understanding and empowers obedience. Do you want true happiness? Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (ESV). The path to lasting satisfaction is through faith in Jesus Christ—the only one who can grant eternal life.  

Mr. Me-Centered: I’ve never read anything like that in our Orange-Aid Manual. These words, “guilt, condemnation, wrath, sin” are not found in our study materials!!!!!

Mr. Smiley: Master Hologram, the author of Orange-Aid doesn’t use words like that. People don’t like them. 

Christian to Mr. American-dream: You wish to be rich, but our Lord says, “What will it matter if you gain the whole world and forfeit your own soul?” (Mark 8:36, ESV). The Scripture also warns, “…those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into may senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9). Is this part of your ambition—ruin and destruction? 

Mr. American-dream: But wealth brings many comforts.  

Christian: To the one seeking relaxation through worldly wealth, Our Lord says, “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21 ESV). Make it your ambition to be rich toward God.

Mr. Me-Centered: But I’ve always been taught to follow my dreams!

Christian: Don’t follow your dreams. You should deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). Use God’s Word to define and reorient your dreams.  

Mr. Smiley seemed shocked and scandalized by this and asked,

Mr. Smiley: “But shouldn’t we follow our hearts?”

Christian: I would suggest you follow the God-breathed wisdom of Solomon. Please look up Proverbs 28:26 on your device and read it for the group.

Mr. Smiley: (uncomfortably squirming) “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26, NASB95).

Mr. Smiley: (Stammering) But the other proverb talks about the need for a vision. Shouldn’t we seek visions for our life from God? What about what God tells me? 

Christian: Perhaps you should read the rest of the Old Testament to understand what the author means by “vision.” You know, the Reformation principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture to understand the meaning of a word or concept. A brief study will reveal how this refers to God speaking to His people through His prophets—giving them His Word. This proverb has nothing to do with a vision for your life. This Orange-aid you’re imbibing is poison.  

Christian: Furthermore, Dr. Owen writes, “Since the finishing of the canon of the Scripture, the church is not…in need of such new extraordinary revelations…new revelations it hath neither need nor use of;–and to suppose them, or a necessity of them, not only overthrows the perfection of the Scripture, but also leaveth us uncertain whether we know all that is to be believed in order unto salvation, or our whole duty.…”2John Owen, Works, vol. 4, 62.

Mr. Smiley: (Shaking his head) Moving on…let’s look at the next section in Orange-aid.  

At this point, most members of the class were looking at Christian with great suspicion. Some sneered at his references to Scripture, others dismissed him as a killjoy. One lady called him a party-pooper. In response to this conversation, however, another member of the class spoke up.

Ms. Distressed: I need help. My husband has left me, my children are in trouble, and I don’t know what to do. I need a new vision from God.  

Mr. Smiley: I’m sure there’s something in our Orange-Aid manual to encourage you.… but it looks like we’re out of time. Enjoy worship and have a super-duper day.

At this, Mr. Smiley began laughing and patting Mr. American-dream on the back. Ms. Distressed continued to sit with her head hung low, thumbing through the Orange-Aid booklet. Christian approached her and sat down.

Christian: Dear lady, you should seek a pastor for counsel. 

Ms. Distressed: I don’t know any of the pastors here and they don’t know me.

Christian: How can this be? What about the members of the church—certainly there are older women in the church who can teach and train you? (Titus 2:3-4). According to the Lord, the body builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:16).

Ms. Distressed: I don’t know anyone like that. I have been born again and am longing for heaven—but I am hurting. It’s like I’m trapped in a labyrinth with no one to give me direction. The people in my class don’t approach me because of my sadness. The Lead Quest Pastor preaches, “If you have enough faith, you will be prosperous in life.” I’m so confused.  

Christian: The Apostle says the opposite to suffering Christians: “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22, ESV). Dear lady, as a follower of the Lord this is what you should do:

Read and meditate on God’s Word.

Pray for help.

Pray the psalms—there you will find other faithful sufferers. You will learn how David brought his complaints to the Sovereign Lord (Psalm 55). The Psalms will remind you of the steadfast love of the LORD despite your trials (Psalm 57:10).

Seek out a church with pastors to counsel you with Scripture and pray for you. Make sure they preach the Word—not worldly philosophies. Find a church where the people know and love one another. Find spiritually mature women to teach and help you.

Christian then uttered a prayer for the hurting woman.  

As he departed the room, Christian tugged on his belt of truth, ensuring it was securely fastened. Checking the edge on his Jerusalem blade he journeyed on. He knew this part of his pilgrimage would require alertness (Acts 20:31).  

Upon entering the maze of hallways, he found Mrs. Chipper waiting for him.

Mrs. Chipper: Follow me to The Quest worship experience!

To be continued…

I don’t intend this story to contain false caricatures of ministries or straw man arguments. Most of Christian’s interactions reflect actual conversations I’ve had with leaders and members of churches. I intend this story to help readers think Biblically about the Church and her ministry. So many people (some of them Christians) attend churches not committed to teaching Scripture. Church leaders commonly employ methodologies not rooted in sound doctrine. I hope this story helps people recognize the problems inherent in these approaches to ministry. The danger posed by Mr. Smiley (and teachers like him) is not his exuberant positive attitude, but rather his mishandling of God’s Word. He represents methods which misapply Scripture to affirm and empower people in their pursuit of worldly lusts. Like so many contemporary resources, his Bible study material (Orange-Aid) fails to utilize basic hermeneutical principles and lacks sound theology. His approach to small group ministry fails to address the real needs of struggling Christians seeking/needing sanctification (See Ms. Distressed). I pray this pilgrimage helps readers consider and evaluate the theology and methodologies utilized in their churches. Grab your sword, you’ll need it—the journey gets more perilous.

References

References
1 In The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Palace Beautiful represented the Local Church.
2 John Owen, Works, vol. 4, 62.
Author cars on road during night time

Chris King

Senior Pastor Bayou View Baptist Church

Chris King serves as the Senior Pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. He taught preaching for Boyce College Online from 2013-2020. Dr. King is a graduate of West Virginia University and earned his Ph. D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.