The Pilgrim Church

A "pilgrim" is one of the richest biblical pictures of the people of God. Lost in a monastic interpretation during the Middle Ages, it was rediscovered at the time of the Reformation by Anabaptists who found in it their heroic prototype, the wandering, persecuted Christian, loyal to Christ, aloof from the world, and ready at a moment's notice to sacrifice even life itself in obedience to the kingdom. Later, the pilgrim became the single original motif in the theology of seventeenth-century Lutheran theologian Johann Valentin Andreae, appearing as Christianus Cosmoxenus in De Christiani Cosmoxeni Genitura and as Christian Rosencreutz in Andreae's hauntingly beautiful allegory, Die Chymische Hochzeit. Pilgrim, of course, was also the leading character in Pilgrim's Progress, the work of a simple tinker in whom the biblical metaphor dramatically came to light.

Now, after three centuries in which the pilgrim was lost again amidst Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, and wars of "Christian" nations, the church is beginning afresh to see the relevance of the biblical imagery. Lumen gentium, the "dogmatic constitution on the Church" prepared at the second Vatican Council, describes "the eschatological nature of the pilgrim church" in a chapter richly endowed with quotations from the New Testament. Modern sons of the Anabaptists have gone even farther in drawing out the contemporary implications of the pilgrim metaphor. "The people of God are described as pilgrims,' says Art Gish, "not as corporation presidents, bureaucrats, or the bourgeois.... A pilgrim people is the very antithesis to an establishment." Dale Brown, Moderator of the Church of the Brethren, adds that "the posture of the pilgrim is not so much of one who is running away from the world as of one who has a transcendent vision of what the world might become."

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