The Church is Christ’s Bride, Not His Baby Mama.

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In case you are not up to speed on the last decade’s slang, a baby mama is someone with whom you made a baby, but have no commitment to and little contact with.  In other words, someone objectified, used, abandoned, and now mocked for being dumb enough to think the guy would actually be faithful to her.[1]

If you are a Christian does that remind you of anything?

I hear similar attitudes towards the church expressed in Starbucks every week. People waxing eloquent about how into ‘Jesus’ and ‘spirituality’ they are, but not so much ‘religion’ or the ‘Church.’ It is why 24 million people watched Jefferson Bethke’s spoken word video “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” last year.

I am most amazed when I see Christian leaders encouraging people to use the church as their ‘baby mama’ –  for their own desires and preferences, and when she no longer ‘does it for me’ to ditch her for a younger, sexier model. What I am whining about exactly? Here are a few examples:

  • Checking to see if the “good preacher” is on before going.
  • Having one church for worship, one for small groups, and one for preaching.
  • Changing churches because you just aren’t “feeling it” anymore.
  • Driving so far across town for a church you like that your unchurched friends would never think of coming with you.
  • Picking your church, not on beliefs, but simply because your friends all go there.
  • Criticizing the church you didn’t go to from Starbucks on Sunday morning.

For the love, have we lost our ability to pick something and stick with it!

The church has played right into our preference driven world by featuring ever-hotter, better packaged versions of itself.[2] And, as with a baby mama, after we have used her, we stand back and mock that she is hurting from our lack of commitment and fidelity. It is the height of fashion to stand close enough to the church to criticize it…sort of like standing close enough to a fire to urinate on it. …and just like people who have had too much beer on a camping trip, everyone laughs and no one asks the obvious question, “Helping or hurting?”

I get that the church has earned its negative reputation. We have often behaved badly. I get that the church has been irrelevant, unloving, unhelpful and invested more in carpet than cast-offs. Surely the church has often behaved as Hosea’s harlot wife, but even so, she is still Christ’s bride and the mother of believers. To quote Tony Campolo’s misquote, “The church may be a whore, but she’s my mother.”[3] Even gangsters have their mother’s backs. It is why “mama” jokes don’t play in the ‘hood. But the church isn’t a baby mama, even with her all her problems she is the spotless bride of Christ.

Bridal imagery, by the way, is all over the New Testament.[4] The church as Christ’s bride was a common image in the early church and remains such to groups with higher ecclesiologies (like Catholics, Orthodox and Anglican). The other feminine image of the church, the church as our mother, is largely from the early Christians, although it too has  roots in Scripture.[5]

What we have done, perhaps as an unintended consequence to the Reformation meets American pragmatism and individualism, is created a religion of me, by me, and for me. Our most holy Trinity of me, myself and I.

The historic vision of the church universal (catholic) is the Church as agent of salvation (proclaiming the Gospel), mediator of salvation (baptizing us into new birth in our spiritual mother, the Church), and means of sanctification (Word, Sacrament and service). It is also this bride for which Christ will some day return.[6] As Cyprian said, “If one is to have God for Father, he must first have the Church for mother”[7]

The motherhood of the Church, showing her as a birthing and nurturing institution, bearing fruit in many “sons of God,”[8] and the bride-hood of the Church, portraying a union with her bridegroom, are not just nice metaphors.  They are necessary to understanding our right place in the cosmos as God’s children.

The Reformers may have removed the direct mediation of the church from salvation, but they still had a very high view of the church. John Calvin, for example, wrote, “The Church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith.”[9]

The church needs us. It needs us to repent of our philandering and commit to her. It needs us as insiders, not as onlookers; As her children, rather than a cheap and unfaithful lover ever looking to move on to his next conquest.


[1] There is a name for people with the most baby mama’s: Big Poppa’s. Here is a website devoted to the professional athletes with the most children by the most women: http://www.complex.com/sports/2012/06/big-poppa-the-athletes-with-the-most-children-by-the-most-women/ Enjoy watching New York Jets, Antonio Cromartie try to remember all of his kids names.

[2] A friend, Dave Wright blogged about this recently at fusionmusing.blogspot.com The posts are under “Youthministry and church” 3 posts about a field trip to an exceedingly cool church sporting 1970’s psychedelic secular rock and very funny preaching.

[3] Wrongly attributed to Augustine by Tony Campolo in Letters to a Young Evangelical.

[4] See, for example: 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:21-33; Rev 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17.

[5] Passages such as Galatians 4:26, 2 John 1,4 and 5 and Revelation 12

[6] Rev. 21:22

[7] Cyprian, Letter 74.7.2, in Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation

[8] Gal 3:26

[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vols. 20-21

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