Augustine said it.
Every generation is prone to certain superlative assumptions about itself. We are always…
the most enlightened, most advanced, most creative, most civilized…
the most wicked, most degenerate, dumbest, laziest, voted-most-likely-to-usher-in-the-end-of-the-world generation in history.
So naturally it surprises us when we look back and see the same attitude in history. Is it possible that a 5th-century Bishop, prior even to the Dark Ages, could be as jaded against the church as our own breed of postmodern critics?
But yes, Augustine said it. “The Church is a whore, and she is my mother.”
Last night at the Front Porch, I slipped into one of those conversations. Somebody mentioned the alleged $50,000 that a particular church happened to have spent on speakers for the youth center. Not a speaker system… not human speakers, just speaker cabinets. And one of our more idealogical Wednesday night regulars became, shall we say, livid.
“How… hm… HOW MANY LIVES DO YOU THINK COULD BE SAVED BY $50,000!?!”
Whether the statistic was correct or not was beside the point. The fact is that we Christians are famous for finding ways to collect large amounts of money, and spend it on something that many others deem utterly irrelevant.
I wonder what the underground Christians in China or Indonesia or the Sudan might think. These churches seem to be growing spiritually and numerically, under far-less-than-ideal conditions. Of course, it would not be original of me to point out the way Christianity tends to thrive under oppression.
Last night my wife and I were wondering out loud if American Christianity was headed in that direction. “Sometimes, in a very weird way,” I said, “I actually long for that.”
“You do???” She exclaimed.
“Well… sort of. I mean, it’s a hard thing to say. But it’s as if someone is out to destroy us either way. If we’re being oppressed, others are destroying us physically. If we’re being validated by society at large, we inevitably start destroying ourselves spiritually. Only, in the first instance we are drawing closer to God in our adversity, and in the latter, we’re wandering away from him.”
“I never thought of it that way,” She said. “I think that’s true.”
In my other conversation, with the Front Porch idealogue, I seconded many of his concerns about the way we Christians use and abuse the gifts of God. But I also tried to convince him to give even the most suspect church the benefit of the doubt. The fact is, we don’t always (and actually we hardly ever) fully understand the underlying motives, and the heart behind the decisions that are being made in other churches.
“I actually know people in that church who really have an earnest heart after God,” I said.
“But do you know someone in leadership?” the idealogue demanded.
“As a matter of fact, I do.” He gasped. You might think he was being over-dramatic. I might think you’d be right.
“Or was, anyway,” I continued. “He was in leadership. If you’re right about this church, and that it needs change so badly, I believe he would have been one of the people there longing to bring it about. But he’s not there anymore. Maybe he gave up. I haven’t talked to him about it.”
“Well… yes… maybe,” he stammered.
There is so much to hate about what they’ve become. What we’ve become. Reminiscent of Rahab, or Gomer, or Israel at large, we have been unfaithful. We’ve forgotten our first love, and chased after everything else that moves, looking for what we’ve already found, but lost. The Church has become, by definition, a whore. With a long and proud tradition of corruption and, well… pride.
But she is ours. She is us. She is the true body of Christ that stands by his power and grace despite so many stumblings.
She is our mother.