The Ecclesiology of a Pilgrim

Posted on November 25, 2008

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Talking with a student about Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress reminded me of the old canard about the basic problem of the book being its lack of ecclesiology. For all Bunyan’s brilliance, he paints a picture, the complaint goes, of a solitary Christian, working out his own salvation, with no mention of the church at all.

This is a gross misrepresentation.

There are images of the local congregation in the text: House Beautiful, for one. But the centrality of ecclesiology to the book is not found there. Throughout the text, Christian hardly walks a step of his way alone. His pilgrimmage is constantly shared with, and guided by, other pilgrims, notably Hopeful and Faithful, but also Evangelist, The Interpreter, Watchful, the Shepherds, the House Beautiful maidens, &c., &c.

It would be fair to say that there is little sacramental theology in Pilgrim’s Progress, although Bunyan goes some way to correcting that in the second part, when Christiana and her children go through the garden bath in House Beautiful. For Bunyan, however, the essence of ecclesiology is not sacrament or ministry, but Christian fellowship, believers walking together and aiding each other as they walk in the way. It might not be your doctrine of the church, but please don’t pretend it isn’t a doctrine of the church, and a strong one at that.

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