One of the great Christian classics is John Run-yan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Written in 1678 during Bunyan's second imprisonment for "holding unlawful assemblies and not conforming to the national worship of the Church of England," the book depicts in allegorical language Bunyan's dream about the journey of Christian from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Along the way, Christian and other traveling companions experience both the hardships and joys that are part of the Christian life: forgiveness, temptation, doubt, persecution, and spiritual battles.
In the fall of 1997, our worship committee decided to plan a series of evening services revolving around some of the key events in Christian's life as he traveled to the Celestial City. Each worship service contained a five- to ten-minute drama that I wrote with another member of the congregation. The sermon and songs were coordinated with the themes of the drama.
Church members were urged to order and then read the book during the weeks of this series. They were informed in advance which section of the book would be covered in the following Sunday's worship service. The versions of the book that the committee selected and recommended were
• Pictorial Pilgrim's Progress (Moody Press). This book is filled with illustrations, making it especially suitable for little children.
• The Pilgrim's Progress, retold by Gary Schmidt (Eerdmans). A vivid retelling of the story accompanied by wonderful illustrations. Especially suitable for families with children.
• The Pilgrim's Progress in Today's English, James H. Thomas (Moody Press). The original story told in contemporary language. Suitable for adults.
• Pilgrim's Progress is also available in a popular forty-minute video (Bridgestone Group).
Ordinarily Sunday night attendance is not high, but for these six weeks the sanctuary was packed. The most striking thing was how all ages were drawn in. Both older and younger members of the congregation appreciated the services. Many adult members said that they had never read the book or that they hadn't read it for years. Children, not surprisingly, enjoyed the short dramatic presentations. And for all members and visitors, the services provided a basic overview of the Christian life—a sort of Christianity 101.
The short dramas can be performed in separate worship services (as we did). They are also appropriate for other settings, such as church school. Or it's possible to combine them into one presentation that would last approximately an hour and fifteen minutes, though that would involve rather frequent changes of sets (p. 18).
Altogether about thirty-five people were involved (not counting those who worked on sets); we used a variety of people in some roles, but "Christian" was played by the same person in all six dramas; his was the most challenging role. The dramas were placed early in the service, right after the call to worship, greeting, and opening hymn. The dramas were followed by 5cripture and sermon. The response to the Word included affirmations of faith based on Our World Belongs to God, a contemporary testimony of the Christian Reformed Church found in the 1987 worship edition of the Psalter Hymnal.
CHRISTIAN LEAVES THE CITY OF DESTRUCTION
Call to Worship: Nehemiah 9:5-6
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-2; 7:13-14
Sermon: "The Road Less Traveled"
Affirmation of Faith: Our World Belongs to God stanzas 1-3
"I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" SFL 226, TWC 376
Narrator: Many years ago—in fact more than three hundred years ago—a man was born in England. His name was John Bunyan. During his childhood and youth he did not live a very godly life. But when he reached adulthood, his godly wife and church-going neighbors gradually nudged him toward change.
At the age of twenty-three, John Bunyan accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He later became a preacher. It wasn't easy to be a preacher in those days, especially if you preached the true gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus outside the rules of the Church of England—that is without a preaching license from the church. John Bunyan was put in prison for doing so—for twelve years. Three years after his release he was put in prison again—for one more year. During that year, 1678, he wrote the book The Pilgrim's Progress, based on an imaginary dream.
In his dream he saw a man wearing tattered clothes with a heavy burden on his back and a book in his hand. The man's name was Christian, and he lived in the City of Destruction.
Christian: [Talks slowly, bent over by his heavy burden. Holds a book—the Bible—in his hand, turning the pages slowly, deep in thought. As he reads, he is clearly distressed. He trembles and weeps, then breaks out in a cr)> ofdespair.]'What shall I do?
Narrator: In his plight, Christian went home. He did not want his wife and children to notice his distress, but he could not be silent.
Christian [Facing his wife and children] My dear wife and children, I am in great trouble because of the heavy load on my back. The city in which we live will be burned with fire. It is the City of Destruction. Unless we escape, we will all perish.
Child 1: Oh, Daddy, don't worry. It's OK.
Child 2: You're just tired. You need some sleep.
Child 3: Yeah! You'll feel better in the morning.
Narrator: But Christian remained deeply troubled. He took long walks. One day he walked farther than usual.
Christian: [Walking; he is reading his Bible again and continues to be in great distress. He falls to his knees because of the burden on his back and cries out] What must I do to be saved?
Narrator: Just then, a man met him unexpectedly. His name was Evangelist, which means "Teller of Good News."
Evangelist: What's the matter? Why are you troubled?
Christian: [Bent over by the weight of sin, looks up and says] Sir, this book tells me that because of the great burden of sin on my back, 1 will die. I must get out of this place, but I do not know which way to go.
Evangelist: [Hands Christian a scroll]
Christian: [Unrolls the scroll and reads out loud I Flee from the wrath to come. Flee from the wrath to come. [Turning to Evangelist] But in what direction shall I go?
Evangelist: [Points to a place in the distancef Do you see that gate over there—that narrow gate?
Christian: [Shaining his eyes] No. 1 can't see it.
Evangelist: Do you see a light, a shining light?
Christian: I think so.
Evangelist Keep your eye focused on that light. Walk straight toward it. When you get there, you will see a narrow gate. Knock on it, and you will be told what to do.
Narrator: So Christian began walking toward the light. Before he had gone very far, his wife and children urged him to come back.
Wife: Come back, dear.
Child 1: Don't go, Daddy.
Child 2: Please come back.
Child 3: We want you to stay with us.
Narrator: But Christian put his fingers in both ears and said:
Christian: Life. Eternal life!
Narrator: His neighbors too came out of their homes and saw him leave.
Neighbors: /Laughing] Where does he think he is going? What a fool! [Pleading] Come back. Come back, Christian. [Mocking] Why are you running away? Scared, are you?
Narrator: Two of the neighbors ran after him. Their names were Obstinate and Pliable.
Obstinate: Come back with us to the city.
Pliable: And let's talk about this madness of yours.
Christian: No. Come with me instead.
Obstinate: [Laughing] And leave the comforts of our homes?
Pliable: And our friends?
Christian: Yes. Leave them behind, and you will find joy you never knew before. There is a treasure safely stored away in heaven for us. That's what this book says.
Obstinate: Away with your book! Come, Pliable. Let him be. He's crazy.
Pliable: Don't make fun of him. Christian is a good man. I think I will go with him.
Narrator: So Obstinate returned home. But Christian and Pliable walked on together. Along the way Christian told him about the place where they were going, the heavenly city. "The owner of that place will wipe away every tear from our eyes," Christian told Pliable. "We will live with the shining angels. And our lives wilJ never end. Never!
Subscribers to RW may use the alt throughout this article for bulletin covers. There is art for each of the plans. Below is one way to lay out the art and text.
BURDENS ARE LIFTED AT CALVARY
Call to Worship: Matthew 11:28-30
Scripture: Zechariah 3:1-5
Sermon: "A Change of Clothing"
Affirmation of Faith: Our World Belongs to God stanzas 15, 24,27
"Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary" Great Hymns of the Faith 218
Narrator: Christian and his neighbor Pliable left their hometown, the City of Destruction, and began traveling toward the Narrow Gate that would eventually lead to eternal life.
Soon after they set out, however, they found themselves in the Slough of Despond. Their feet began to sink deeper and deeper into the mud and murky water. Pliable didn't like it at all and decided to go back home. But Christian kept going. Eventually a man called Help pulled him out of the mud and the mire.
Christian kept going all alone until he came to the Narrow Gate. He knocked on the door, and the gatekeeper opened it. "Go the house of the Interpreter," the gatekeeper said. After Christian got there, Interpreter showed him many things that he could expect to meet on his journey to the heavenly palace.
When Christian was ready to leave, Interpreter said, "May the Comforter be with you." And Christian started on his way.
The road was narrow. On either side was a wall called Salvation. On this road Christian traveled with great difficulty because the load on his back was very heavy.
Christian: [Starts walking down the narrow road with his pack on his back, bent over] This bag is so heavy. I wish 1 hadn't done so many bad things. Evangelist told me that in the Bible these things are called sin. [He goes up an incline, then looks up ahead] What is that I see? [He looks at it with amazement and wonder, then says, as he keeps getting closer] A cross! [Suddenly the burden rolls off his back and tumbles down the incline. Christian reaches up to feel behind him. There is nothing there. He reaches up over his shoulders. Nothing.] My burden, my burden, it's gone! I'm not carrying it anymore. Hallelujah!
Narrator: Just then, three Shining Ones appeared.
Christian: [Reacts with surprise and awe]
Angel 1: Peace be with you-
Christian: And with you too.
Angel 1: You have often made Jesus very sad by your sins. But I am here to tell you that the Lord has forgiven you.
Angel 2: No longer will you need to wear those tattered clothes. I will put new clothes on you. [Pro-ceeds tu do so]
Angel 3: [Handing Christian a scroll] You will need this as you continue on your way. Read this scroll and hand it in when you get to the door of the heavenly palace.
Christian: [Opens scroll and reads it softly] For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. [Turning to angels] Oh, thank you, thank you. You have all been so kind.
Narrator: And so Christian went on his way, smiling and singing.
CHRISTIAN IS ARMED FOR SPIRITUAL BATTLE
Call to Worship: Psalm 46:10-11
Scripture; Ephesians 6:10-18
Sermon: "The Armor of God"
Affirmation of Faith: Our World Belongs to God stanza 37
"Christian, Do You Struggle" PsH 575, TWC 660
"Stand Up, Stand Up, for lesus" i'sH559'™57|-Twc<56-<
"The Battle Belongs to the
Lord" TWC 672
"Lead On, O King Eternal" PsH 555, PH 447, RL 423, TH 580, TWC 747
Narrator: The past few weeks we have followed Christian from his departure from the City of Destruction through the Narrow Gate and down the path that leads to the Celestial City. Farly on in his journey Christian was relieved of his tremendous burden at the cross and was given new clothes and a scroll to guide him on the journey.
Along the way Christian met Timorous and Mistrust, who urged him to turn back for fear of the ferocious lions ahead. But Christian could not be swayed. He hurried ahead to the Palace Beautiful in hopes of finding lodging there before nightfall. When he was so close to the palace that he could see the open doors, he suddenly found himself between two lions. They sprang at him with jaws open wide, claws fully extended, and ears laid flat. Christian was terrified and started back.
Suddenly the moonlight filled the night and made the path glow. Christian heard the gatekeeper's voice.
Watchful: Why are you so cowardly? Don't be afraid of the lions. They are chained and placed there to test your faith. Walk in the center of the path, and nothing will harm you.
Narrator: Cautiously Christian approached as the lions roared and sprang at him.
Watchful: [Walks towards Christian and helps him proceed into the palace]
Narrator: Inside, Watchful introduced him to Discretion, a tall, dignified lady who listened intently to his purpose and the events of his journey. Then she introduced him to her three sisters, Prudence, Charity, and Piety. Together they enjoyed a delicious meal and talked long into the night about the Owner of the Palace Beautiful.
Christian: I met him at the cross, and my burdens fell off. It was wonderful. I felt so relieved and at peace! What can you tell me about him?
Discretion: He's a great warrior. He fought the dragon who holds the power of death and defeated him.
Prudence: Yes, but this made the dragon very angry, and he has sent all his forces out to fight those who serve him.
Charity: You, Christian, must be prepared at all times to defend yourself against his forces.
Piety: The road can be very hard sometimes, but it's well worth the walk.
Discretion: Come, it's getting late. Let us rest.
Narrator: That night Christian slept in a chamber called Peace, and he slept more soundly than he had any night since he was a child. Little did he know what lay ahead. The next morning Christian met the sisters in the armory of the palace.
Prudence: This breastplate is to protect you against the one who wields death. fShaps it on Christian]
Piety: May you be strong in the battles before you with this helmet and these leg guards. [Puts them on Christian]
Narrator: Charity gave him a broadsword, and Discretion brought a great round shield.
Discretion: [Quietly] To avert the darts of the wicked one.
Narrator: Christian was eager to set out on his journey again, having been refreshed at the Palace. With the armor in place he made his way along the path into the Valley of Humiliation. He had not traveled far when suddenly a terrible creature blocked his path. His name was Apollyon. [Apollyon appears] His body was covered with scales like a fish. He had wings like a dragon and feet like a bear. He breathed fire and smoke.
Christian was terrified and began to back away. But then he remembered the armor he was wearing and advanced to meet the creature.
Christian: Monster, I come from the City of Destruction, and I'm on my way to the Celestial City, Stand back!
Apollyon: 1 own the City of Destruction, so you are my subject. You will serve me!
Christian: I was born into your kingdom and into your hard service, but now I am pledged to Emmanuel. I am his servant and will follow him.
Narrator: These words angered Apollyon. In a rage, he threw fiery darts at Christian's chest, but the shield protected him. Christian quickly drew out the Sword of the Spirit and attacked.
They struggled back and forth for half a day without either gaining ground. Christian's head and feet were wounded, and he could resist no longer. He fell to the ground.
Apollyon flew into the air, and came down with claws outstretched. But at that moment, Christian reached out and caught his sword. He thrust it deep into the monster.
Christian: [BoldlyJ'We are more than conquerors through him who loves us!
Narrator: The monster jolted back and lunged away into the darkness in defeat. Christian used the leaves of the nearby Tree of Life to heal his wounds. He rested there for the night.
The armor that had gleamed so brilliantly at the Palace Beautiful was now dented and stained. But Christian looked bigger, bolder, and more certain. His strides were longer and his head higher as he continued his way along the path. He was a man of intent.
CHRISTIAN ARRIVES AT VANITY FAIR
Call to Worship: Psalm 100:1-2, S
Scripture: 1 John 2:15-17
Sermon: "Do Not Love the World"
Affirmation of Faith: Nicene Creed
"Am I A Soldier of the Cross" TH 573, TWC 668
[A long table or two is set up with all kinds of wares on it. There should be a table and chair for the judge, as well as a jail.
As the drama begins, sellers and buyers (eleven or twelve, who later comprise the jury) gather around the table and talk all through each other animatedly and loudly. Tills goes on for about twenty seconds, when, at the sound of a gavel, the talking stops and the people freeze in their positions.]
Narrator: After having survived the Valley of Humiliation and the combat with Apollyon, Christian continued along the path. Soon he caught up with someone he thought he recognized.
Christian: Faithful, is that you?
Faithful: Christian! Am I ever glad to see you! I've been trying to catch up with you ever since you left, I've stumbled along the way, and I've been quite lonely at times. It will sure feel good to have some company.
Christian: I too have stumbled and been lonely. Say—do you have news of home? I las anyone else left the City of Destruction?
Narrator: And so they shared news of former friends and stories of their journey along the way. So glad were they for each other's company, and so engrossed were they in their stories, that they were surprised to see Evangelist suddenly approach them.
Evangelist: Greetings, pilgrims. /Shakes hands] It is good to see you have safely come this far. But I must warn you of the dangers that lie ahead for you in the town of Vanity Fair. The people there are enemies of the truth and will try hard to put you to death. It is a place of murder, falseness, cruelty, and deceit. Beware—there is no good there.
Narrator: Christian and Faithful traveled on to the town of Vanity Fair. It was just as Evangelist had described. The noise was deafening, the goods cheap, the fruit rotten, and the people benl on deceit. Everything was fake!
[Pickpockets appear: one adult, two kids]
Child 1: [To Christian] Hey Mister, come see what we have here!
Child 2: [To Faithful] Sir, could you open this box for me? It seems stuck..
[While Faithful is busy opening the box, the adult walks around him to pick his pocket, and then runs away.]
Townsperson 1: [To Christian] What will you buy? [Christian shakes his head]
Townsperson 2: [To Faithful, who has moved past Christian] This document, good Sir, will get you into the Celestial City.
Faithful: [Looks at the scroll in his pocket and shakes his head]
Townsperson 3: [Pulling on Christian's sleeves as he passes] What would you like today, Sir?
Christian: [Shaking off the townsperson] The truth.
Narrator: This response caused such an uproar in the street that all order was lost, and the crowd began to mock and taunt the pilgrims.
Townsperson 3: Are you calling us liars?
Townsperson 2: Who do you think you are?
Townsperson I: Do you think you are better than us?
Extra person: How dare you walk into our town and criticize us!
Narrator: Then they were taken into custody for questioning. [The pilgrims are put in jail] For three days the townspeople of Vanity Fair laughed at them, spit at them, and threw rotten food at them. [Throw food] The pilgrims endured all this patiently, and finally they were brought to the court for trial, the honorable Judge Hate-Good presiding.
Prosecutor: [Takes the pilgrims out of jail, then sets them in the courtroom and handcuffs them] These men are charged as enemies of trade and disturbers of peace. They have made divisions in the town and have spoken against the law of our prince.
Judge Hate-Good: Faithful, is this true?
Faithful: I only oppose those who turn from the law of him who is higher than the highest. Your prince, Satan, is our Lord's enemy, and I defy him.
Judge: Anyone having a complaint against the prisoners should appear and give evidence. [The whole courtroom begins to murmur at the sight of the pilgrims] Order! Order in the courtroom!
Prosecutor: For the record, please state your name and complaint.
Envy: My name is Envy, and I have heard Faithful condemn the religion of our town, saying that Apollyon and his master are hateful.
Narrator: Then Superstition took the stand.
Superstition: These men are troublemakers! Faithful said that our love for Apollyon was unnatural and evil.
Narrator: Faithful was given a chance to respond.
Faithful: I do not deny these statements. The Lord have mercy on my soul.
Narrator: At this the jury offered the verdict, which they had already made up in their minds from the beginning.
Judge: Jury, I will ask each member, How do you find this man? Mr. Blindman, how do you respond?
Mr. Blindman: Guilty!
Judge: Mrs. Reject-Good?
Mrs. Reject-Good: Guilty!
Judge: Your answer, Mrs. Highmind?
Mrs. Highmind: Guilty!
Judge: And you, Mrs. Cruelty?
Mrs. Cruelty: Guilty!
Judge: Mrs. HoId-a-Grudge?
Mrs. Hold-a-Grudge: Guilty!
Judge: Mrs. Love-Lust?
Mrs. Love-Lust: Guilty!
Judge: Mrs. Hate-Light?
Mrs. Hate-Light: Guilty!
Judge: Mr. Enmity?
Mr. Enmity: Guilty!
Judge: Mr. Headstrong? Mr. Headstrong: Guilty!
Judge: Mrs. Malice?
Mrs. Malice: Guilty!
Judge: Mrs. Live-Loose?
Mrs. Live-Loose: Guilty!
Judge: I order that Faithful be taken to the execution grounds to receive the most cruel death allowable under the law.
[Jury members cheer while Faithful is dragged from the courtroom. They then follow Faithful to watch the execution, shouting]
Crowd: Death to the stranger! Death to anyone who mocks our god! May his death be a lesson to others who enter our city!
Narrator: Christian was left standing bound in the courtroom. Christian wept for his friend, but then he saw something that filled him with joy. He saw two horses and a chariot of fire come down from the clouds and carry Faithful to the Celestial City.
Suddenly, the courtroom door opened again, but this time it was only a young man, Hopeful. He rescued Christian, and they escaped Vanity Fair altogether.
[Hopeful resales Christum and the two escape.]