When The Church is a Whore

The other day I had the privilege to get into a conversation with Natalie Trust about the use of the phrase “the Church is a whore,” specifically in conjunction with all the recent conversation about millennials needing to forgive the Church (as an institution). Needless to say, this late-night Twitter conversation with this Protestant-raised-now-Catholic girl got me thinking.

As I was up until 3am that night, for apparently no good reason other than to get into conversations on Twitter, I had a lot of time to think about this (amidst other Twitter conversations, potentially to be blogged about later). I kept coming back to how we use the word Church. Today, the word “church” can mean many things, as Micah Murray points out, but I think for this conversation it’s helpful to look at two uses: Church as the people of God, and Church as the institution of organized religion.

Before I keep going, some of you may still be reeling in shock of the chosen title for the blog. You may be thinking that describing Christ’s Bride as a Whore is shocking, scandalous even. I would agree with that. That’s why I was so flabbergasted when I read this by “chance” earlier that same day.

Jeremiah 3:6-10 ESV
6 The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? 7 And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. 8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. 9 Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. 10 Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD.”

So, here we have God declaring His people, collectively, to be acting like a whore. The whole book of Hosea is based on God’s people being a whore with their affections and God loving them still. The idea here is that when we give into the idols of our hearts it is just as scandalous as a husband or wife cheating on their spouse – and more than that, selling themselves to do so. Yet God pursues us still, throughout the entire Biblical account. From old covenant to new covenant, He pursues us despite our constant wavering affections. I mention this so that we know two things: 1) There is Biblical merit for calling the Church a whore, and 2) There is much, much grace and forgiveness for this in Jesus.

So, as I started thinking about the differences between “church” as God’s people and “church” as the institution I realized something: there is no institution without the people. I think part of how this conversation gets convoluted quickly is that we tend to generalize by brand. I mean, I used to work tech support for several different places (yep, I’m a geek). I was the guy you’d get on the phone when your laptop stopped working, Internet and TV decided to go out in the middle of the super bowl, or you tried to connect to your home WiFi while staying at a motel. Yes, that actually happened. I would hear “I hate [insert brand name here]!” all the time. They came across someone who was new or didn’t know anything and couldn’t fix a problem and all of the sudden they hated the whole company. Then me or one of my coworkers would work an escalation issue and all of the sudden the person loved the company again.

I think that’s a lot of what’s happening with this whole “church” business. People have indeed been burned by “church.” But they haven’t been burned by the institution, they’ve been burned by the people. Specifically, like my tech support experiences, they’ve been burned by a representative of God’s people and of the institution. They may have been burned by the way an entire local church leadership team ran their instance of the manifestation of the Body, but those are still representatives, not the whole.

In part, I understand the idea of applying a person’s actions to a brand. This concept is called federal headship, or corporate solidarity. In Joshua we read that Achan’s whole family was punished because of Achan’s sin. In Romans 5 Paul tells us that all died because of Adam’s sin, because he was our representative. But, then comes Christ, and he is now the representative of those who confess Him as Lord and Savior. And these people find grace and forgiveness and life because of his representation of us on the cross and in the resurrection.

Most often, the problem is that we aren’t looking at the right representative. We’re looking at the tech support guy instead of the president of the company. We’re looking at how a pastor or group of pastors hurt us, maybe even how they gave into the idols of their hearts and responded to issues out of fear instead of with love and grace. Instead, we need to look higher. We need to look to Jesus, our real representative. We need to remind ourselves that, in some way, we all play the whore with our affections, and that Christ loves us still. Yes, we need to fall on grace to reorient our affections so that the times we play the whore decrease, but we’ve also got to fall on grace for strength to extend the grace that has been extended to us and forgive those who have hurt us.

Toward the end of my conversation with Natalie, in a response to some of this, she asked “What about the reformation?” Well, volumes have been written on this, I’m sure. But the only words I have toward that, and toward those who have been hurt by local churches, is this: forgiveness may not always look like reconciliation.

Forgiveness is absorbing the pain someone caused us and not redirecting it back toward them. Reconciliation is coming back together again. Maybe forgiveness looks like placing the past in Christ’s hands and giving “Church” another chance, even if that doesn’t look like being reconciled to the local church which caused pain initially.


Well, this theme turned into a series. You can read part two here.

6 responses to “When The Church is a Whore

  1. Some good thoughts here Don. I like that you have tried to differentiate between institution and people.

    The story of Hosea and Gomer comes to mind too…and that beautiful line from Pedro the Lion…”Come home darlin’, come home quickly, always forgiving so come home quickly.” That and Third Day in the song Gomer’s Theme. “she’s forgotten her first love, he’s forgotten that she ever went away and broke his heart.”

    The beauty is God never forgets, and always forgives.

    We never really leave the church, we just leave the specific institution that hurt us. But we are the Church. Even Natalie herself never really left the Church, just found a new expression of it that is more healing to her in the Catholic tradition.

    I think it’s when we leave God, or religion entirely that we have to reconsider, but even then I have more hope for non-religious than many in the Church do.

    But either way, good thoughts. We can be like adulterers, leaving our first love, hurting those we love in what we do, but we can always have hope of coming home.

    • Hey, Justin. I definitely agree that most often when people leave a local church that they are still part of God’s people. This is usually evidenced by the very pain and frustration that drove them away, showing that they still care and wish things were different, but don’t see how it can be yet.

      It’s when a person just walks away from God’s people and only shows apathy that I get concerned, though there is definitely much hope in Christ’s ability to bring them back home. I guess we could define that as “leaving God or religion” to further nuance things. I guess that’s just how I see that nuance defined, maybe?

  2. Love that our Twitter conversation turned into a blog post. I’ve been sitting with your words here for awhile and I find myself nodding my head and then pausing with hesitation. Again, as with our conversation, I am not completely sure why I’m uncomfortable with the body of Christ being referred to as a “whore”. So for now, as I continue to think about all of this, do you see the NT illustrating the Church as a whore?

    • I think part of the hesitation may be that in the Old Testament we see the Israelites spoken of as “God’s people” where in the New Testament we see the Church spoken of as “Christ’s Bride.” I can see how the language change would make it harder to accept, but the idea of God’s people being in a covenant relationship with Him is still there in both the Old and New Testaments, as is God’s people breaking that covenant.

      It isn’t even with “major” things, either. Jeremiah 2:13 shows us that it’s simply going elsewhere to find fulfillment when we should be finding that fulfillment in God. I feel that’s why the Bible uses the term “whore” or “adulterous people” (James 4:4), because when we break covenant with God and seek fulfillment elsewhere, it really is seen the same as a husband or wife breaking that covenant and seeking fulfillment outside of their spouse and outside of God.

      The thing with James 4 is that the only context we have for James calling his audience adulterous is that they were friends “with the world.” The “world” is uses as “a designation for that system whose values, loves, and deeds are wholly at odds with what pleases our Creator” as in Johanine letters, as Ligonier points out well.

      Here’s another thought I just had: What if this language is supposed to make us stop in our tracks and ask “WHAT?!” What if calling Christ’s Bride a whore, and His People adulterous, is supposed to bring the full weight of sin to bear in our lives so that we press into Christ for strength to pursue holiness all the more?

  3. Pingback: When The Church is a Whore, and Our Reaction is Wrong | TransformingWords

  4. Pingback: The Church is a Whore (words you’ll never hear God say) | Natalie Trust

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