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, having been matured by many dangers, toils, and snares.
As Christian followed the lady through the crowded halls, he engaged her in conversation.
Christian: Why do you refer to yourself as a pastor?
Miss Tolerance: That’s what God has called me to do.
Christian: Teaching in the church is a primary responsibility of pastors (1 Tim 4:13); they must be “apt to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). Regarding how the church should be ordered, the Apostle directs, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim 2:12). The church fathers, nearly all protestant confessions, and even the Roman Catholic Church recognize only men as qualified to serve as leaders in the church.
Miss Tolerance: I know those verses, and you’re quoting Paul. Jesus never said anything like that!
Christian: Paul tells the Corinthians, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37). Peter confirms Paul’s writings are “Scripture” in 2 Peter 3:16. Furthermore, all the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels were written by Apostles or their close associates—You have the teachings of Jesus because of the Apostles.
Miss Tolerance: But the first people to announce the resurrection were women—you see—women preachers!
Christian: Yes, women played an important role in Jesus’s ministry. These accounts, however, have nothing to do with pastoral ministry—they occurred before there were any pastors in churches. Furthermore, they’re clearly contradicted by 1 Tim 2:11–15, a text written for the purpose of instructing the church about the responsibilities of her leaders (see 1 Tim 3:14–15). Jesus commissioned twelve Apostles who went about preaching and teaching—all were male. No instance of a female pastor can be found in the pages of the New Testament.
Miss Tolerance: A big-time super-pastor in California taught us about the distinction between the office of pastor and the gifting of pastor.
Christian: What Scripture teaches such a distinction?
Miss Tolerance: I know God has called me to be a pastor—He put this on my heart.
Christian: Our following of Jesus must be based on obedience to his Word, not on personal feelings. His word provides clear direction for our life and his church. Experiences and inclinations must be understood in light of the unchanging Word of God. God would not call you to do something contrary to his word.
Miss Tolerance: Thankfully I live in America-land where we celebrate freedom, tolerance, and inclusion. Here’s the office of our Senior Pastor for Ted Talking.
The Senior Pastor greeted Christian with a large smile and warm demeanor. He then sat behind a clean desk, and pointed Christian to a comfortable, high-backed chair.
Senior Pastor: I love to meet Quest guests! I’m happy to answer any questions—we want to holistically care for you.
Christian: One of the best ways to care for people is to clearly proclaim, teach, and reinforce the gospel. What is the gospel?
The Senior Pastor leaned back in his chair and began looking up at the ceiling. He seemed lost in deep contemplation for several seconds before answering.
Senior Pastor: The gospel is Jesus loves me this I know.
Christian: Would you agree that Paul the Apostle was a great preacher of the gospel?
Senior Pastor: Yes, of course.
Christian: Paul concisely defines the gospel by writing, ”For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3–4). The gospel necessarily contains the sacrificial atoning death of Jesus for sins, and his victorious resurrection from the dead. Repentance and faith are required responses to the gospel message.
Why don’t you clearly preach the gospel?
Senior Pastor: I can tell you’re from a different place. Our people love creative means of expression and the use of props during my talks. These keep them engaged.
Christian: Regardless of where I’m from, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom 1:16). The accounts of the Bible are engaging—God and his wonderful works thrill the heart of His people. David states, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:3–4).
Senior Pastor: We’re trying to reach new people—and they need exciting stories to keep them interested. They love movies—therefore we use movies in our worship services. That’s why they come.
Christian: Why do you believe that?
Senior Pastor: We’ve studied psychology and sociology to discover what people want, and how to keep them coming to church. We take surveys to find out what people seek, and we give it to them.
Christian: You should read, study, and consider the Scripture to learn about “reaching people.” Begin with 1 Corinthians 1:19–25. God does not operate according to the wisdom of this world. Paul explains, “the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:21). The Apostle explains, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Cor 1:22–23). Regardless of what the people want or seek, Christ crucified is our message. Even though it causes people to stumble, and others think it’s foolishness, we still preach Christ. We don’t alter our message to satisfy what people seek. Pastors should preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2). People don’t know what they need (that’s why they are described as blind).
Senior Pastor: But we want to reach people with the gospel. We just want to disguise it and alter it to fit with modern sensibilities.
Christian: Your motive of reaching people is good, but your methodology is bankrupt. In Scripture, God not only discloses the necessary motives, but also faithful methods. God’s uses His Word to bring about salvation (or “reach people”), not movies or props. If God uses preaching to save those who believe, why would you ever replace preaching with movies? In your worthy desire to “reach people,” you’ve altered or replaced the only means of their salvation—the Gospel.
Senior Pastor: You were in our worship service—you saw how happy and excited people are to be here.
Christian: But why are they happy and excited to be here? Are they seeking to glorify God? Does the mission of the church motivate them? Or are they excited about the worldly music, movies, and your skills at keeping them entertained? True Christian joy comes through repentance of sin—begging God to restore to us the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12). Joy in heaven and in the church comes when people repent of their sins (Luke 15:7). God’s people rejoice over his word (Psalm 119:162).
Senior Pastor: People are hurting, life is hard, and we want to encourage them.
Christian: Again, you have noble motives but flawed methods. What you provide these people through your “worship service” will not bring true and lasting spiritual encouragement. Motivational speeches, flashy presentations, and songs devoid of truth will not provide the spiritual nourishment the soul needs. Peter wrote to hurting and suffering Christians about their need to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Such knowledge is found in God’s word and delivered through preaching and teaching. You may be giving the people what their flesh wants, but you’re not giving them what their souls need.
There was a time in my life when I was a captive in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. My thoughts were dark, and my hope was turned to despair. Psychology, sociology, and worldly entertainment could not rescue me from the darkness of my depression. I had God’s word hidden in my heart and the truth set me free. The Scripture provides the light, direction, and hope hurting people need.
Another man suddenly walked in and stood behind the Senior Pastor’s desk. He whispered something into his ear and placed some papers in front of him. The Senior Pastor began to smile and said,
Senior Pastor: Let me introduce you to one of my closest advisors—Mr. Wordly Wiseman. I’m confident he can help you understand the wisdom in our methodologies.
Christian: Does he believe that all people are dead in their trespasses and sins and must be saved by grace?
Worldly Wiseman replied with a sneer,
Worldly Wiseman: We don’t use the “s” word. It’s highly offensive to call people sinners. We replace the word “sin” with the word “mistake.”
Christian: But Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord.”
Worldly Wiseman: People don’t like the word “death” either—it’s distasteful. At Quest we want to be positive.
Senior Pastor: This man thinks we should clearly proclaim the gospel and God’s Word.
Worldly Wiseman: Before a person can understand the gospel, they need to understand critical race theory. They must realize how they are shaped by racist structures before they can understand anything in the Bible. They must be awakened or “woke” to the reality that they are oppressors.
Christian: No, that is contrary to the gospel. Paul explains in Ephesians 2:14–16 how salvation through Christ breaks down all racial divisions. The inspired Apostle writes, “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity…to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”
Worldly Wiseman: Even some of the Baptists agree that critical race theory is a helpful analytical tool to help us address the social dynamics of our world.
Christian: Then these Baptists should be warned, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8).
Both men wore large smiles as they studied the papers on the pastor’s desk.
Christian: What so brightens your countenance?
Worldly Wiseman: Here’s some real good news! Another successful Sunday—our numbers were up.
Christian: Remember in John 6 how multitudes followed Jesus until he taught them, “a hard saying” (John 6:60). The massive crowd then began murmuring and “walked no more with him” (John 6:66). If increasing numbers measure success—then Jesus was a failed teacher.
Worldly Wiseman: But our mentor—Purpose Driven Rick boasts about his church, “we baptized 56,631 new believers and as a Southern Baptist Church, sent 26,869 members overseas to 197 nations … we now have 9173 home Bible studies in homes in 162 southern California cities. Because Southern Baptist taught me the value of church planting … we planted ninety In Orange County alone, and literally 1000s around the world.”1This quotation is taken from a speech given by Rick Warren on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Anaheim in 2022.
Christian: Paul the Apostle knows more about the church than anyone alive today. He didn’t record or boast in numbers, the humble Apostle boasts in his weaknesses (2 Cor 12). What in the Scripture would lead you to believe that large numbers of people indicate faithfulness to God? This is worldly thinking.
Just then, another well-dressed man entered and stood behind the Senior Pastor. He likewise wore a large smile and handed the pastor several sheets of paper.
Senior Pastor: This is Mr. Badman, chairman of our Upwardly Mobile Finance Committee. He gives the most money to our church because he is very, very rich. Therefore, we rewarded him with a privileged position at Quest.
Looking to Mr. Badman and pointing at Christian, the Senior Pastor said,
Senior Pastor: This man thinks we should stop editing the offensive sections of Scripture.
Mr. Badman: (Laughing out loud) What you’re suggesting would diminish our numbers. People won’t come if you preach offensive subjects. If our numbers go down, our finances suffer—it takes money to do ministry. With money we can build bigger buildings and have more impressive presentations.
Christian: Jesus gives this warning to a rich man who made big plans for his wealth, “God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:20). The church should heed Jesus’ warnings about covetousness and wealth. Those who love money, “have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim 6:10).
Mr. Badman: We have a talented and charismatic senior pastor. People come because he’s so gifted.
Christian: Faithful pastors want the flock to be attached to Jesus Christ, not to themselves. They want God’s people to rely on the grace of Christ, not the giftedness of a pastor.
Christian then turned a steely gaze to the Senior Pastor and continued,
Christian: Your advisors’ counsel does not come from God’s Word. You should surround yourself with Godly Pastors who will point you to Scripture for direction and correction.
Senior Pastor: What do you think a pastor should look like?
Christian: On my journey, I learned from the Interpreter (The Holy Spirit). He showed me the portrait of a Godly Pastor: “This man had his eyes directed up toward Heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back; he stood as if he pleaded with men, and a crown of gold hung over his head.”2John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Accurate Revised Text by Barry E. Horner (New York: Reformation Press, 1999), 36-37.
Looking concerned, Mr. Worldly Wiseman put his hand on the Senior Pastor’s shoulder and said,
Worldly Wiseman: It’s time for our church council meeting to begin, let’s go.
The Senior Pastor kindly thanked Christian, invited him back, and directed him out of the office. Christian wandered through the labyrinth of halls until he arrived at the empty foyer. Going outside, Christian saw his driver talking with another young man.
Driver: This guy wants to ride with us to the bench where I picked you up. Is that ok?
Christian: Certainly, I’ll enjoy more conversation!
They all got into the cab. Looking at the young man, Christian asked,
Christian: What is your name?
Turn Away Tom: Tom
Christian: Do you attend Quest regularly?
Turn Away Tom: Yeah. I used to go to A Mighty Fortress Church. That pastor wasn’t very funny and only preached expository sermons. I prefer ted talks.
Christian: Ted talks cannot provide spiritual nourishment—God’s Word will revive your soul (Ps 19:7). Jokes will not help you endure the temptations of the devil—you must live upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). This Quest may cost you your soul and will not contribute to your sanctification. Find a church that teaches God’s Word and relies on the means of grace, not man’s gimmicks.
When the cab stopped, Christian and Tom disembarked. Christian put his hand on Tom’s shoulder and prayed for him. Christian sat down on the bench and began napping. He awakened on the border of the Enchanted Ground and continued his journey to the Celestial City.
I hope this allegory does not make you throw sticks and stones,
But helps you to base your faith and practice on Scripture alone.
I hope this equips us to have winsome conversations,
And not just complain and boil in angry consternations.
In America-land, confusion about the church and her ministry abound,
Let’s lead others on a quest where sound doctrine can be found.