My Mother Is A Whore, But My Father Loves Her Anyway

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mom-is-a-whore-250x200Now that I have your attention I want to give a major disclaimer, which is that this blog post is not about my biological parents. My mom is not a whore, but my dad does love her. The mother I am referring to is the church and of course that would mean that the Father that I am referencing would be my Heavenly one. Why these harsh words? I am going to get to my point, but please bear with me as I give some background information first.

In the past 5-10 years there have been a slew of books published that talk about what is wrong with the church. We have Dan Kimball’s book They Like Jesus But Not The Church, to a series of books published from Barna’s organization by their president David Kinnaman (such examples include titles like unChristian and You Lost Me). The focus of these tomes tends to be upon those in the Millennial generation who either were at one time church goers and currently are not (“dechurched”) or those who are labeled as being “unchurched”. According to these books the diagnosis of the church, in the eyes of this generation, looks grim.

While I think it is important for us to be cognizant of this data and wrestle through the implications of it all, what bothers me about all this is that we seem to have a skewed view of church—one in which church should be a somewhat utopian community on earth. A place where Christians are genuine, honest, authentic—all good qualities—but that these virtues are couched in a community that is always welcoming, always loving, always has their act together, etc., etc., etc.

During my parish ministry days in Burbank I encountered many young singles that seem to be shopping for that perfect ecclesiastical community. They would bounce from church to church, regardless of the denominational and theological differences, trying to find a place that they could land the plane and call home. Some folks that I encountered decided that their idealized community could not be found (a healthy recognition!), but decided that rather than choosing one church in which to plant their feet and be a part of, they would instead get “fed” by various communities.

Back then and today you hear people mourning the fact that the modern church doesn’t look more like the picture of the church in Acts 4:32—“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” But this seemingly utopian environment takes a dark turn when we get to Acts 5. Here we read the story of Ananias and Sapphira who sold all they had, kept back a portion of the proceeds, and then lied to the church when giving it their money, making it sound like all the proceeds were being donated.[1] We read God’s response to this action, of lying to Him (and maybe this is also an echo of idolatry), with Ananias and Sapphira being killed on the spot.

We then turn to Acts 6 where we read how the Jewish-Christian widows are receiving more food, in a daily distribution, than the Gentile-Christian widows. There seems to be either a mismanagement issue, a racism problem, both, or something else entirely going on here. Whatever it is, it generates grumbling from one group in the church toward another.

Here is why we need to be careful with taking a verse out of context. It is easy to read Acts 4:32 and become idyllic about some sort of utopian community on earth and ignore the furthering contexts of chapters 5 and 6. The reason why the “good vibe” of Acts 4:32 denigrates to lying, cheating, grumbling, etc. is because of sin. It is also the reason why Paul writes not one letter, but two to the church at Corinth. Problems abound when we bring our “Old Adams” to church with us.

All of this, of course, cycles us back to the beginning of this blog. For starters understand the image of church as mother is Scriptural. We see this echoed in places like Revelation 12. Yet the image of the church as mother goes hand-in-hand with the church as bride, an image found in both testaments. As the bride the people of God are not always described in glowing terms like we do with modern brides (eg. “blushing bride”). When we crack open books like Hosea we get a humbling object lesson on the bride as a prostitute. Hosea married the unfaithful Gomer who continued to cheat on him and he continued to love her, a powerful narrative way to get across God’s faithful love toward his unfaithful whoring, slutty, idolatrous bride.

When we read of the bride in glowing terms it is always in relationship to Christ’s work done on her behalf. Note Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25-27: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” It is a wonder to think that God in Christ took on our whoring nature in order to make us clean, pure, holy, and without blemish.

The cross is where we see our horrendous nature embodied in Jesus and nailed on a tree. It is the place where God shows the climax of his unfailing faithful love to a rebellious, broken, beaten, and faithless people.

Yet while we live in the times between the first and second advents of Christ we also live in a time in which we wrestle as the church militant, a church that is embattled by the forces from without as well as within. A church that at times might glow like the church in Acts 4:32, but will also reflect the ugliness of the church in Acts 5 & 6.

Here the words of Paul in Romans 7 come alive for us as we see the UFC battle that wages internally between the Old and New Adams in the individual believers and how that expresses itself externally with other sinners who also face that same internal struggle.

But the “blushing” bride on account of Christ is also the “glowing” new mother as the church is the place were new believers are birthed in the womb waters of the baptismal font. So while we indeed have ugliness there is also beauty present. By God’s grace he uses us dirty, dysfunctional, whorish people to share that same grace with others, and to see that grace literally poured out upon the heads of young and old alike. Here new life bursts forth with the promise of forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So it is not surprising to me to read in books like They Like Jesus But Not The Church and unChristian that the church acts hypocritical, judgmental, arrogant, etc. We are unfortunately going to see that ugly part of the church. It is always going to be here until Christ comes again to bring his bride home.

Are these sinful actions that the church needs to act on and seek to change? Absolutely! I need to repent of these things and by the grace of God seek to act out of love toward my neighbor whether he sits in the pew next to me or walks on the streets outside my sanctuary. But let’s stop kidding ourselves. Let’s stop pretending that we can make Acts 4:32 a permanent reality this side of eternity.

We will always struggle with our sinful side until the coming of Christ, which is why we constantly need to be reminded of the love that our Heavenly Father has for us, and to receive that love in tangible ways—such as the words of forgiveness placed into our ears, and that same forgiveness placed upon our tongues. By receiving the promises of Christ in tangible form we are reminded, too, that one day will come when we will see Christ with our eyes and it is on that day that the church will no longer be the church militant, but will fully become the church triumphant.

[1] I have had some folks get incredulous toward this text when they read of God killing off Ananias and Sapphira for lying. They ask, “It was their property and their money so what was the big deal?” They misunderstand and believe that God is killing them for holding back money, as opposed to the real issue which was lying. God didn’t kill them for holding back money. We read nothing in the text that stated that the people had to sell their property and give the proceeds to the church. Nor do we read that even if they did sell their property that they had to give all of it. Ananias and Sapphira intentionally mislead the church, which ultimately was lying to God. The issue ultimately is one of the heart and not the pocketbook.