Friday, September 16, 2011

Prostitution and Ministry: the awkward balance between what the church is and Who the Church is called to be

Some evangelical, fundamentalist, Calvinist Christians have traditionally tried to attach the Roman Catholic Church to the "whore of Babylon" and portray the pope as the "antichrist" in their feeble attempts to a) interpret and explain difficult scripture passages they cannot comprehend in an appropriate context, b) scare weak-minded people into their churches, or c) dismiss and slander what they clearly do not want to understand. They are not unlike the many Christians today who have completely lost their grasp of the GOSPEL (aka, the "Good News") by turning only toward finding fault with, say, Islam or anyone for that matter who does not share their peculiar ideology. It goes with the pop adage that suggests the general public knows more about Christianity not according to what Christians believe but rather according to what Christians don't like; what Christians are against rather than what Christians are for; what Christians do rather than what they say.

It is a fair criticism especially in our contemporary society as churches become increasingly more politically active and consumer driven, and serve more as lobbyists and market analysts than as ministers and missionaries. It is an unfair characterization, however, when we fail to realize that social justice, public policy, and knowledge of demographics has everything to do with the Gospel of the Lord and the Church's mission. Our society is filled to overflowing with weak, oppressed, and marginalized human beings who - for any number of reasons - cannot stand and speak for themselves. If the Church does not stand for these "least among us", who will? If the Church does not seek them out, who will?

It boils down to expectations and how the Church universal understands and interprets these expectations. Digging deeper still, who has even a right to expect or demand anything from the Church apart from the Lord who literally bled for His Bride? Yet the Protestant church has busied itself in the past few years trying to remake itself into a more "inclusive" public image pleasing to the marketing masses, desperately trying to be relevant by trying to be all things to all people. In this, then, the many churches who so engage in such a PR campaign actually soft-pedal the Holy Scripture, tone down or dismiss altogether those passages of Scripture that are unapologetically "exclusive", deny that repentance is perhaps "the" key term to the spiritual journey, and thus cheat the unsuspecting into a "relationship" that has little meaning beyond what the world would expect or demand from, say, the Optimist Club; that is, according to social or clubhouse - rather than doctrinal - standards.

Since becoming a church pastor, it has become more and more clear that trying to be all things to all people - even those people who claim to be members - just does not work and only opens the church to all kinds of abuse by allowing the standard to be established and maintained only according to whoever screams the loudest and/or has the most money. Those quiet souls who are willing to support the Body as a whole rather than merely defend their own territory or comfort zone generally get pushed aside - OR - pulled in several different directions at the same time by competing forces within the church who each believe they are "right" and have "rights" and will in effect see the church burned to the ground or closed before they will concede this certain spiritual reality: the Church is the Body of Christ, the bride to the Bridegroom; not a "whore" to be used only toward a particular, if exclusive or personal, end.

The Church by its very nature is incredibly "inclusive" because Christ Himself is open to all who seek Him, but the Church is also "exclusive" in that there is a condition to membership: submission to the will of the Lord. Period. If there are those - and there are - who insist the Church must submit to them and their particular, if peculiar, needs; the Church is reduced to a church building, and the building is rented to the highest bidder, and "whore" comes to mind - and in the strictest biblical sense (read the book of Hosea; it is remarkably relevant to contemporary Christianity).

The Church is not a clubhouse, the pastor is not the emcee or a game show host nor even a chair of the board who answers to a board of directors; and the Lord is not for sale or rent. The Lord "does not change" for anyone (it is we who are called to be transformed), and Holy Scripture cannot be rewritten or modified ("do not turn to the left or to the right"). Yet it is the Holy Lord Himself who proclaims: "Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." How does humanity or society or even a culture come to believe it can somehow improve upon this reality? By trying to make the Church into something it is not: a whore that is willing to be "used" to serve a specific purpose at a specific time for the highest bid and bidder.

With all respect due to female clergy, pastors as shepherds and defenders of the flock are going to have to "grow a pair" and start standing firm. Be fair, as many say, but be firm. Be prepared to lose many in order to gain the faithful few. Let the Lord be the Church's "one foundation", and let the Holy Scripture be the steps that lead us to that Foundation. Stop trying to please everyone, and stop allowing the "wolves" into the sheep's pasture. Stop trying to entertain the masses, and start enlightening the faithful. Stop insisting upon your own authority, and realize you have none apart from what is divinely imparted. Stop demanding, but stand your ground. Stop trying to redefine "love" according to cultural demands, and start explaining what "charity" and "sacrifice" and "loving the Lord God with all you have and all you are" really means - and insist upon it. Be open-minded to certain cultural realities, but be resolute to stand firm in the face of illegitimate challenges. And for the sake of Heaven itself, stop trying to make the Body of Christ into a "one-size-fits-all" moo-moo that requires no effort to get into. Stop trying to repackage "sanctification" into a fad diet that only needs our interim attention until we reach our personal goals.

The Bridegroom will return one day, and He will come to claim His true Bride the Holy Church. He will not be looking for a Saturday night one-night-stand that will run to the next "john" for the next dollar. He will be looking for His Bride who waited patiently for Him ... and was loyal to Him in His absence. The many will indeed be called, but only the faithful will be chosen. Let the Church - the True Church - be found waiting ... and faithful ... and not for sale.

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