John Bunyan (1628–1688) is a Christian who added rich fragrance to the history of Christ’s church. His Pilgrim’s Progress, written during a troubling and isolated time of his life, presents a vivid picture of the challenges, failures and victories that Christians will encounter. As you journey on your own walk as a Christian you too will – definitely – encounter such trials. The Christian walk is no picnic. However, as Christian himself discovers, to attempt this journey alone is more than foolish. Beware the temptation to walk alone.
The Pilgrim’s Progress – A Quick Overview
As he sets out on his journey to the Celestial City, Christian, which is the name of the main character in Pilgrim’s Progress, is met with great resistance from his neighbours. Mr Obstinate and Mr Pliable catch up with him with the intention of discouraging him from sticking with his decision to go. But Christian invites them to join him on the road, leading away from the City of Destruction. They do, but Christian’s joy in his companions is only temporary. For he thought he had companions that would persevere through the paths of trials, pain and temptations to the glorious City. But Obstinate and Pliable were not ready to face their own Slough of Despondence. They wrongly thought the journey would be effortless. This foolhardy presumption meant they would later run back to towards their destruction.
They wrongly thought the journey would be effortless. This foolhardy presumption meant they would later run back to towards their destruction
All through the Valley of Humiliation and Death, Christian stood lonely, cold and discouraged. He fought hard, strived forward and walked weakly through the bitter attacks of the demon Apollyon. He did this without any companions. Though he was steadfast in his solo journey, companions would have benefitted him immensely. Then appeared Faithful.
Meet Faithful – A Good Companion
Christian said to him, “My honoured and well-beloved brother Faithful, I am glad that I have overtaken you, and that God has so tempered our spirits that we can walk as companions in this so pleasant a path.” Faithful replied, “I had thought, my dear friend, to have had your company quite from our town, but you did get the start of me; wherefore I was forced to come thus much of the way alone.”
With Faithful by his side, the mood is different. Conversations turn toward and centre on Christ. Suffering, doubt, complacency and temptations are tempered by encouragement, rebukes, corrections and repentance. For Christian walking alone was exhausting. But journeying together with Faithful refreshed him. His newfound community was blissful. And it was powerful in the fight to persevere.
His newfound community was blissful. And it was powerful in the fight to persevere
Beware the Temptation to Walk Alone
There is this temptation for believers to want to journey to Celestial City alone. It is the drive to stay isolated and “grow” apart from other Christians. But this has hurt countless Christians and left many to walk through tough, tedious and sometimes defeating spiritual battles alone, devoid of encouragement, counsel, prayers and admonitions. We enjoy isolation from our spiritual community to our own detriment.
Do not be quick to abandon the church community or Christian companions because of minor theological differences and disagreements. Unity must undergird our debates, rebukes, correction and admonishment. We must seek to reconcile immediately with those whom we may have hurt with our words, actions or inaction. Finally let the desire to see others persevere drive us forward. We cannot swap this out with the desire to be right.
We Need to Bear with One Another in Love
In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul wrote, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over and through all and in all.”
We enjoy isolation from our spiritual community to our own detriment
Three Perils of the Isolated Christian Walk
With this passage and Pilgrim’s Progress in mind, let us consider three perils of the isolated Christian walk.
1. The Golden Calf of Self-Commendation
It is easy to assume we are spiritual giants, towering in grand solitude over others and their minor challenges. But God provides many warnings against the proud. For example, James 4:6 suggests that where personal pride reigns God’s grace recedes. Self-centredness erects a golden calf of self-commendation in our hearts. We bow to it every time we meditate on how ‘well’ we have grown in the Lord, apart from his gracious gift of other believers.
Isolation is therefore both foolish and proud. Furthermore, it scoffs at one of God’s greatest gifts: Christian community
Some even look at the fellowship of believers with disdain, considering unity to be hypocritical. They think, “I cannot afford to be like them. We are just different, an isolated fire for the Lord.” Such a fire will struggle to burn bright and long. Isolation is therefore both foolish and proud. Furthermore, it scoffs at one of God’s greatest gifts: Christian community.
2. Succumbing to False Teaching
False teachers are never far away. They watch carefully for those who have been hurt by their spiritual community. For at this vulnerable moment, when we are yearning for a community, we are easily enticed by smooth talkers. This is not in any way saying that you should commit yourself to an abusive but “true” Christian community. But when we only isolate ourselves because of minor theological issues or non-essentials, we need to check our hearts. Remember Christian and Hopeful. They walked in community. This solidarity and support helped them avoid the false counsel of Ignorance and Talkative. Belong to a church where you are accountable. Make yourself open to exhortation and correction. For the alternatives are grim.
Belong to a church where you are accountable. Make yourself open to exhortation and correction. For the alternatives are grim
3. Unrepentant Sin and the Death of Conscience
When we remove ourselves from the Christian community that shares God’s concerns we also rid ourselves of admonishment, loving correction and Christian family who readily and regularly point us to Christ. This path is almost always the lone walk of sinfulness. Persistent sin makes the conscience callous. In this state we easily condone sinful behaviour, which is precisely why we need brothers and sisters who will rebuke and challenge us. A calloused conscience bears similarities to being buried alive. Only a true companion will be willing to risk everything, even the relationship, to awaken us and pull us up from the grave. Jesus’ half brother exhorted the early church to, “save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 23).
When we remove ourselves from the Christian community that shares God’s concerns we also rid ourselves of admonishment, loving correction and Christian family who readily and regularly point us to Christ. This path is almost always the lone walk of sinfulness
We Find Safety in a Christian Community
So, in conclusion, we need others to whom we are accountable throughout our Christian walk. Hiding our secret sins will slowly kill us, sapping our spiritual vitality and poisoning our heart. We desperately need people to encourage and pray with us all through our dark spiritual moments. Now is the time to give up our pride. Find a community of Christians committed and submissive to God in Scripture. Fight hard in your faith to persevere and lean on others along the way. Until the return of our Master we remain sheep in danger of being devoured (1 Peter 5:8). Do not forsake the safety of a flock, and shepherds who genuinely love you (1 Peter 5:1-4). Don’t pursue the Christian walk alone.