Is Your Church A Crack Whore?

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Church Under RepairA wise man once told me, “The church is a crack whore for cheap labor.” I know that he scandalized another pastor by talking this way. “How can you call the bride of Christ a whore?” the man asked, horrified. Funny thing is, when you read the Scriptures carefully, there was no creativity at all required to draw that analogy. Scripture uses it often. The book of Hosea is an extended treatment of that theme. The prophet is to marry a whore, who later forsakes him. God’s people are to know that they are like that whore. But we don’t find this only in the Old Testament. Where the Book of Revelation accuses those in the church of sexual immorality1 (e.g. Revelation 2:20), it is probably the spiritual adultery of the Old Testament, where the people went whoring after other gods.

The problem is, the call for cheap labor sounds so high-minded.

“We need to be out there saving the world!” we are told.

We who have been saved understand the plight of the lost and need to draw them to Jesus. This probably involves drawing them to church. So we need to make church look attractive. We know that if we do the things described in Scripture, we might not be attractive. To continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread and in prayers is not enough. The outsiders can’t see the value of those things. So we need to do those things they think are valuable. So we start guessing what those things are. And we guess badly. The bitter result is that the “core constituency” goes away because we aren’t being the church described in Scripture. And the outsiders stay away because whatever we offer they can get better elsewhere.

Saving isn’t something we can do to the world. We have forgotten how deeply we ourselves need saving. Even now. We’re a bit like patients in a mental ward who have gotten our first treatment and imagine we have been made doctors. We try to share our meds with others, but when we run low, we become deluded again, imagining our own bottles must supply everyone. And it isn’t even as good as the five loaves and two fishes story. When we run low, we put M&M’s into the bottle to be more appealing. When others receive them from us, we think we’ve helped them.

This side of glory, the church will always be a crack whore, often for the most noble of reasons, at least in the beginning. If you see the futility of this, don’t despair. You can despair of the church, as she will never finally get over her deluded thinking. You might be fortunate enough to see her on another good day. And on her good days, she can actually be of use to the world. But she is usually most confident on her bad days. When she is confident, it’s a good time to duck. She’ll be hatching some new scheme to make M&M’s with materials at hand, as she’s somehow managed to run out of those, too. You ask her for the meds you were promised and she says, “Don’t be so selfish! Think of the others!”

But fear not. Your good doctor has taken all of this into account. He will still manage to save you.

1When I was in a class on the Book of Revelation, this idea was introduced. At first I imagined some liberal had invented it so that there would be fewer verses against adultery. Then I saw the connection between the Old Testament prophets and this book, and also read a lot of Greek literature where this one word, PORNEIA, was translated as “whoring” by the English translator in literature outside the Bible. PORNEIA is not two words. There is no general word used for “immorality.” The word does not so much denote the violation of a larger code of ethics, but being the unfaithful spouse.