The Love For A Harlot

I have a love/hate relationship with the church.  In fact it has intensified over the past several years.  At times I find myself rejoicing at the gift of God’s church; the gathering of God’s children, the ministry of the Gospel, the outstretching of spiritual care and the like.  At other times I find myself angry and disgusted at the sin of God’s church; ashamed of the hypocrisy, the lack of compassion, the backbiting and perversion of the Gospel.   

It seems as if I bounce back and forth between the two extremes of love and hate.  I love the church too much to abandon it yet I struggle with the church so much that I find myself holding back from being fully submerged in her.  I find myself swinging back and forth between the extremes of love and hate which causes me to act as if I am a spiritual schizophrenic.

The tension over the swinging pendulum was put into perspective for me when I read a quote by St. Augustine.  In commenting on the church he said, “the Church is a whore but she is also my mother.”  The church is a whore?  The church is my mother?  Wow, does this ever capture my relationship with the church.

The church is a whore…  It seems awfully harsh to label the church as a ‘whore’ but in reality this is the case.  In fact in the book of Hosea, God asks the prophet Hosea to take a prostitute as a wife to be a parallel shadow of God’s compassion and faithfulness to the spiritually prostituted people of Israel.  Even after marriage Gomer, Hosea’s wife, returns to her old ways and runs to gratification in more harlotry.  Hosea, is then called to pursue her, purchase her out of harlotry and claim her to himself.  A perfect picture of the church’s whorish unfaithful heart and a beautiful yet bold picture of God’s pursuing love. 

The church is my mother…  At the same time that Augustine calls the church a whore; he also calls the church our mother.  The very church that is unfaithful to God’s calling and Word is also the very institution that has carried the Gospel for the last 2,000 years through the tough and good times.  The unfaithful church is also God’s instrument that baptized me into the family of God, ministered the Gospel to me and established me in the simplicity and centrality of the Gospel of Jesus.  This unfaithful institution is the instrument that God used to deliver His Word and Sacraments to me so that I might be born anew into the family of God.  A perfect picture of the nurturing and caring qualities of God’s church.

In thinking about Augustine’s quote I believe that he portrays the church in a healthy manner.  The very church itself is composed of sinners that will always fail to meet up to the glorious standards of God.  The church is not immune from sin nor a perfect utopia here on earth.  The Christian church will always fail to meet the mark, and always fails in being free from hypocrisy.  However, it is this very broken, whorish, and unfaithful vessel that God in His grace has called and commissioned to bring forth the Gospel (Ephesians 3:20).  Through its unfaithfulness, brokenness and hypocrisy God has used the church, the body of believers, as an instrument to proclaim the life changing message of the Gospel.  Through the lips of sinners God ministers His Word that penetrates hearts, grants faith and imputes assurance.  Through imperfect people and an imperfect institution God’s perfected Gospel has been preserved, ministered and spoken forth to the ends of the earth. 

If anything, Augustine’s quote testifies more about the faithfulness of God and the power of His Gospel working in the midst of broken man rather than commenting on the church itself.  If anything, Augustine’s quote exposes my sin of putting trust into an unfaithful church rather than the unchanging and faithful message of the Gospel.  If anything, Augustine’s quote is yet another example of God’s grace and intense love towards sinful mankind.  

Thank you Jesus, that you will present the church to yourself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle and without blemish due to your atoning sacrifice on the cross.   Thank you that you are faithful to me, an unfaithful member of the body!  Thank you that you have chosen me to be a witness and testimony of your surpassing richness in Christ. 

The church is a whore but I love this whore, for she is my mother….