She’s a Bride, not a Strumpet!

By Ross Engel

Strumpet. Now that’s a word one doesn’t hear very often. Shakespeare used it in Othello and Jack Sparrow used it in Pirates of the Caribbean. If you’re not familiar with the word, perhaps you’ve heard “harlot,” “hussy,” or “demimondaine.” All these words share one thing in common: they refer to ladies of the night—someone who sells themselves for pleasure. They are euphemisms for the title “whore.”

One of my favorite professors in seminary often would say, “The church is the bride of Christ, not the culture’s whore.” Recently I found myself recalling the sentiment and considering this juxtaposition.

The church father St. Augustine is often quoted as saying something like, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” Now it is highly doubtful that St. Augustine would ever say such a thing, but sadly, there often is some biting truth to such a harsh statement. All too often, churches can be seen chasing after things just like a strumpet would.

You see, a strumpet is promiscuous. They get around and have a willingness to compromise their principles for personal gain. They’ll happily do whatever it takes to get what they want. Even in the movie Pretty Woman, that particular “lady of the night” broke her “no kissing on the lips” rule for her own personal gain. The strumpet is willing to shift priorities, change or bend the rules, and present herself in whatever way is going to garner the most attention in order to get what they want. There is little care for how they conduct themselves. They are quite willing to dress and adorn themselves in whatever way will get the most response. The only fear they have is the fear of getting caught, though even when caught red handed, they are ready with an explanation to attempt to place the blame elsewhere. The harlot takes what doesn’t belong to her by welcoming cheaters and the unfaithful. She happily breaks up families. But, the strumpet is only useful until the unfaithful finds a better option, then she is cast aside for the next best thing.

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Sadly, there are always some in the church who are willing to encourage her to play the role of strumpet. Tempted with quick success, there can be a willingness to compromise the truth. The preaching no longer delivers the Law and the Gospel. Sinners aren’t called to repentance because it might scare them away, and the Gospel is transmogrified into the Law. Jesus died for you, so go try harder and be a better person! Or as I recently read, “The Resurrection is all about a call to discipleship.”  Um… No! The Sacraments end up being placed into the lips of those who have not been rightly instructed or examined. The church ends up adorned in the gaudy and narcissistic attire of a right here, right now culture. Are you not entertained?! And sadly, seeking better options, people wander from their loving family and end up in the arms of one ever-changing floozy after another. And when the strumpet church is exposed for its actions, the herald of truth is labeled to be “unloving,” “old-fashioned,” or “not missional.”

But the church is the bride of Christ. She’s not called to be a strumpet.

Brides are lovely. They are presented as pure, faithful, and adorned in white. The bride is luxurious, delicate, and adorned for her husband (and only her husband). To the groom, the bride is spotless and blameless. She is perfect. A bride is traditionally adorned in something borrowed and precious that has been handed down to her from generations before her. She treasures this item and is honored to have it. Everyone knows a bride when they see one. A bride and her groom are intently focused on one another to the point that much of the wedding day, outside of their beloved one, is forgotten.

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So also, the church. Made blameless and holy by Jesus, the church has been beautifully adorned. Her call is to be faithful to her Lord. Her existence is one that carries with it the treasures that have been shared and passed along from generation to generation. Everyone knows a church when they see one. The Word and Sacraments that adorn her make her identity obvious.

“I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”  – Rev. 21:2-3

The church is beloved by the Lord. She is His spotless bride. He made her that way with His own precious blood. And until that day when our Lord returns at the End of the Age to dwell with His bride for all eternity, let the church stand fast, and let her stay true to her first love, Jesus Christ, the perfect bridegroom.

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7 thoughts on “She’s a Bride, not a Strumpet!

  1. Excellent, Pastor. Unfortunately, I see to many churches today who are striving to be strumpets. Sadly, even some Lutheran churches.

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  2. Another good atrticle. A lot to think about. Maybe we need to do a better job of holding onto the things our Lord has committed to us.

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  3. It is critical that, when addressing such issues, it be done with respect to substance, not style. We take for granted that the church was permitted to acculturate in many styles and forms up to a certain historical point but often claim it must be frozen in time. Our hymnody is just such an aesthetic statement, the liturgy is another. Both evolved and changed. The Apostolic Constitutions show us a time when worship was less time-bound on a Sunday and when elements the most traditional among us did not exist and the church fathers exhibited a disdain for musical instruments claiming such things as belonging to pagans, heathens, and Judaizers. One of my favorites from Clement of Alexandria:

    “And praise Him on the lyre.’ By the lyre is meant the mouth struck by the Spirit, as it were by a plectrum. ‘Praise with the timbrel and the dance,’ refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the dead in the resounding skin…For man is truly a pacific instrument; while other instruments, if you investigate, you will find to be warlike, inflaming to lusts, or kindling up amours, or rousing wrath.”

    And, from Chrysostom, speaking of the Israelites:

    “Instruments were permitted to them out of regard for the weakness of their spirit, and because they had hardly emerged as yet from the cult of idols. Just as God allowed their sacrifices, so also He allowed their instruments, condescending to their weakness.”

    What would they have said of Bach? “The church ends up adorned in the gaudy and narcissistic attire of a right here, right now culture. Are you not entertained?!?”

    There is enough of poor substance in many churches, just don’t fall into a trap of thinking that the Church cannot always be expressed in the vernacular, and that includes styles. Otherwise, you call down condemnation from the past on even our Reformation and its failure to cleanse the Church of musical instruments. besides, aesthetics (poor ones, mostly) are the reason so many like contemporary worship. While you’re at considering the gaudy attire of culture, will you do anything special for Mother’s Day, a holiday created by fiat in a Methodist church 100 years ago and commercialized barely a decade afterward? 4th of July? Memorial Day? Thanksgiving Day? Veterans’ Day? National Day of (syncretic) Prayer? There is much non-church that many of the most “orthodox” and proper conservative, confessional, Lutherans bring into their churches, mostly with flags attached (something also not tied to the Church but flanking altars almost everywhere.) I notice that this “strumpet church is” never “exposed for its actions”. Wonder why? What would they label the heralds of truth?

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    1. Your comments have some merit. However, too many of the changes in today’s church are about “me” and not about “Him.”

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    2. Thanks for reading CKRUCH.

      You are absolutely right that it is the substance which must be examined not the style. As Luther remarked about music, it “is the handmaiden of theology and second only to theology.” When style begins to trump substance, that is when we see the church drifting into the realm of strumpet. I’m often reminded of this short quote from a little book titled “Simplified Guide to Worshiping as Lutherans”

      -“It is inappropriate for anyone to insist that if we want the church to grow, a congregation must adopt contemporary forms of worship. This argument is based on the flawed premise that external forms, rather than the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel and the Sacraments, are what makes the church grow.”

      The same can actually be said of any style of worship. It is easy to take something good and turn it into an idol, forgetting that it exists as a servant to the proclamation of the Word. As soon as we start insisting on a given style over the actual substance, we are placing our trust outside of the Holy Spirit working through the Means which God has promised to sustain His church with.

      I can’t recall where it came from first (perhaps Just’s “Heaven on Earth” or Maschke’s “Gathered Guests”?), but on my desk I have a short hand written list of bullet points that I often consider as I look at worship practices and music in my Lutheran congregation..
      1. Doxological – it praises the Triune God
      2. Scriptural – the texts are rooted in God’s Word and not taken out of context
      3. Liturgical – the music and readings fit the service and church year
      4. Proclamational – it must communicate and deliver the Gospel
      5. Participatory – the congregation can actively sing and take part in the service
      6. Pedagogical – The truth of God’s love for us in Christ is taught
      7. Traditional – Built on the best of the past in a way that unites generations of saints
      8. Eclectic – Employs styles and practices that aid in Gospel proclamation
      9. Creative – Explores and utilizes new expressions without sacrificing faithfulness to the Word
      10. Aspires to Excellence – Desires to seek and give God our very best

      You asked about other gaudy cultural things and I can say no to your queries. We do not do the Hallmark Holidays, we stick to the church year calendar. We do not have a flag in our Sanctuary (American flag or Christian flag), the church is God’s embassy on earth, the national ensign present by the altar gives a confusing message. Graham Glover wrote a solid piece on this some time ago if you’re interested in giving it a read:

      https://thejaggedword.com/2014/09/23/take-down-old-glory/

      I have pointed out the “strumpet-ty” (now I’m making up words) actions that you referenced at the end of your comment and I can honestly say that I wasn’t everyone’s favorite herald of truth when I did that or made changes. But truth is truth and speaking that truth in love can win over even the most ardent of opponents.. eventually..

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate those good and often forgotten quotes from Clement and Chrysostom.

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      1. I have read Graham’s piece and I am often standing alone when speaking about civil religion and the Americanization of church. It isn’t that special readings are sought for these holidays but that the sermons and prayers are usually bent toward them. Flags have been ever present in every sanctuary I’ve been in and any objections I have are never well-received. I’ve grown to skipping worship on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the Sundays preceding national holidays because there are things I don’t do, like say the Pledge of Allegiance (I do not believe in a nameless, general concept of god). I’m viewed as hostile for agreeing that “In God We Trust” should come off the money and in thinking that, when we respect such things, we do not show the truth because such things are based on the god we have in our heads, not God as revealed to us.

        Things become incredibly nasty if I’m cornered by veterans. It’s as if I cannot respect them without accepting everything about a merged church and state. So, they are now spared the site of me remaining mute during the pledge on Veteran’d Day, Memorial Day, and July 4th. not too mention I don’t have to sing God Bless America or America the Beautiful, in church, anymore.

        Apart from a few pastors, I don’t have much company. Would love to see synod dig in on this front but they are, forgive me if I offend, for too right-wing and Republican for that. Too worried about whether we should pay for each other’s health care, supporting dissident nuns who don’t want to fill out a form, and Hobby Lobby to see the real threats that worm their way in wrapped in “freedom.”

        Like the worship guidelines. Something I came across, recently, was a person who was an adult convert who never experienced TLH until after LW and even LBW. The person was musically inclined and found the old language and style (minor keys) disconcerting. As one who is not so inclined, I like the simple old stuff and repetition. But, it does say something that Divine Service I (LSB) has a broader appeal among later converts and younger people. We often do a “blended” service with “praise” songs. My biggest beefs with them is that they are one dimensional, not doxological, repetitive, and focused on emoting rather then expressing and proclaiming. Not that there are no exceptions but that they originate in traditions and doctrines that are not ours and there is, perhaps, an opportunity for a present-day Gerhard to rise up.

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