In January 2019 someone said to me, “The church is a prostitute, and she worships herself.”
Those words hit me hard and sat heavily on my soul. A place that felt so familiar to me, a place that laid the groundwork for the faith that changed me, was under attack but, as difficult as it the statement was to hear, I knew they were right.
After that conversation, I penned the words below. Usually it takes hours for me to type out my thoughts and rearrange them into something digestible. But not these words: they came quickly and in a style not my own. They poured out of me into my journal which is where they’ve sat for over a year. I re-read them for the first time this week and was stunned at the truth in the last few lines in light of where we find ourself today.
She’s a prideful and pretty prostitute using her charms to lure and to lust. At one time, she was a slave, ugly in appearance and deed. But then, His love shined brightly upon her and she was good, chosen to be the King’s special possession.
He bought her with a price and chose Her to do His work alongside Him: to seek the worn, the weary, the desperate, the diseased. She was the jewel in his crown, the light on a hill, the beacon for hope calling out to those who still lived in darkness, “Come forth into the light.”
But she became dazzled with her own light – not the Light of the One who saved her – and pride stepped forth. She didn’t set out to be a prostitute. No one does, but in her desire to woo, to control, and to earn her keep, she sold herself.
Somehow in an attempt to draw attention to the One who made her brilliant and brave, she brought attention to herself in ways unintended.
Now, she is beautiful on the outside with charms even the most devout cannot resist. She has programs to appease the easiest prey lulling her members into spiritual sleep. She is a glutton in her slumber, drunk on her own entertainment. She serves the god of self.
She thinks herself beautiful as she primps and presses unaware of her grotesqueness to those whom she was called to serve: the sinner, the betrayed, the wounded, the rotten. “They are dirty,” the prostitute whispers in an irony not lost on the King.
On the inside, she is dead shunning the best parts of her, the parts she deems as unworthy, as too wild, too different, or too much. She is a femme fatale shutting out His masculine wisdom she so desperately needs.
The woman He once redeemed has not only become a slave again but has enslaved those within and without. Though the chains look different now, He sees them. He hears them clang and clamor. Yet, He will not leave her alone.
He will strip her bare and remove all her charms.
He will withhold her bread and her wine.
He will break down the walls of her chamber that kept her safe and lead her into the wilderness.
And there, in the barren places, he will redeem her once again.
For almost two months in America churches have sat empty. All its programs and charms have been removed. Corporately, we are unable to take the bread and wine of communion together, and we find ourselves in an unfamiliar wilderness.
The wilderness throughout scripture is a place of testing. It is a place that shows us who we really are and what we really believe. If we let it, it can transform us into who God wants us to become.
As churches begins figuring out a long-term plan post-pandemic, we have a very unique opportunity to change, to evaluate what the church has become, and what Christ really wants her to look like.
Before I go any further, I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t know all the answers. There are holes in my theology just like everyone else’s. I’m an imperfect believer with flaws and vices – a work in progress while on this earth. If I go to church, I sit in the margins and on the fringe. I watch. I observe. These are the things I’ve seen throughout my lifetime within its walls. Things that need to change.
Are all of these things true for each individual church? Probably not, but that doesn’t negate the things that are applicable. Not all of these are meant for the church with walls. They are meant for individuals who say they belong to the God in the Christian Bible.
The American Church focuses on numbers and ministers to the majority. Jesus focused on the marginalized, the weak, the ones who cannot give back. Most Christians do not know how to serve the vast population of people – those that are unwed, those with careers, those without children, the elderly, the abused, and the poor, and those without a church background.
The American Church sells itself as something cool with fun programs to lure people in, but Jesus over-turned the tables in the temple for a reason. He is not something to be sold. He is a person to be loved, and when we love him with our whole hearts, we cannot help but pass on that love to others.
Sermons and lessons focused on self. Jesus taught people about who God is. He modeled His character and His nature. People cannot model what they do not know, so we must quit focusing on how to better ourselves, how to be more engaging and more entertaining. Instead we must focus on teaching people about who God is throughout the Bible.
The American Church overtaxes its people with scheduling. How can people serve outside it’s walls if they feel like they need to be in the church every time the doors open? We need to be able to live outside the building. Teach them how to talk to people who don’t look like themselves or share their same beliefs. How can they minister to neighbors if they don’t know how? If the sole reason you walk in to a church is to be seen, to see your friends, to socialize, to be entertained, or to learn how to be a better person, re-evaluate. That is not what the church was meant to be.
Christian language is weird and out of control. Without a doubt, and for the love of all that is holy, quit with the weird language. It sounds ridiculous and crazy to people who don’t know anything about God. How can they relate to us if they cannot understand the words coming out of our mouths?
The American Church idolized teachers and Christian celebrities. Every single year leaders, teachers, authors, and the like fall from their pedestals or turn away from their faith. Why? Because they are people. They are flawed. They wrestle with demons. We weren’t made to adore those we imperfections. We were made to adore the One who is perfect.
The American Church reads more self-help books than they read the Bible. There is a niche for everything: how to be a Godly woman; how to be a better mom, biblical steps to being successful. I’m not saying there isn’t a time or place for these things, but they should not be your primary knowledge of who God is and what is pleasing to Him.
The American Church doesn’t know the history of God’s people. How do we not repeat history if we don’t know it? Learn about the saints and prophets who have gone before us – both before Christ came to live with us and after. Otherwise, we will become the people who crucified Him.
Generally, the American Church shows grace to the religious and judges the ones outside its walls. Jesus did the opposite. He spoke truth – harshly and bluntly – to religious people but showed grace to those it shunned. We should do the same.
If you are a church leader – I implore you- make some changes. Teach people how to worship and minister outside of the confines of the building. The Church is to be a light in the darkness, a beacon on a hill. It is not meant to be hidden away in a building. It is meant to be different than the world, and if that is not what your church is today, you have a responsibility to change it.
If you aren’t a church leader, you don’t get a pass. You have an obligation to speak up and out against things that don’t make sense. You are responsible for testing teaching against what the Bible says to be true. Think critically. If the masses are going in one direction, it isn’t always a good thing.
For the first time in a many lifetimes, the American church has a very unique ability to build something new. We were bought with a price – individually and corporately. God wants to change us. Will you let him?
This is probably the best, most thought provoking piece you have ever written for this column, in my ever-so humble opinion. It truly struck a cord in me since I am one of those outcasts you mention. We have been “unchurched” (brick and mortar style) for many years because after at least 20-25 years, the “church” let us down, put us down and belittled us for speaking out about what we felt was wrong (two churches, two major events). One was a very large church with all the glitzy programs and one was a small church. Both had the same American church problems. So, we try to continue to conduct “church” in our communities as much as possible. Although we most often feel unqualified, we try to minister to those no one else wants to be near…and by His grace, it is very often effective and very well-received. Maybe those people are grateful that they could attend, etc…