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Dr. David Ryser was teaching at a school of ministry in the US. He quoted Sam Pascoe, ‘Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.’ He mentioned that ‘enterprise’ can also be rendered ‘business.’ Martha raised a hand, ‘A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ She continued, ‘But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?’ The room went dead silent and God’s presence fell on them. Dr. Ryser adds that the American Church in our time has become heavily populated by people who don’t know God, much less love him! [1]

Of spiritual prostitution there are plenty contemporary examples from around the world:

  • I live in Africa. Weekly I visit with friends in one of the poorest parts of our city. We run an organic garden supplying two soup kitchens feeding hungry children. These folk are plagued by American-style ‘prophets,’ ‘bishops’ and ‘apostles’ who take advantage of the poorest of the poor – bear in mind that in my country the bottom 10% of citizens bring home less than US $23 per month! These prostitute-churches have baskets for offertory plates, peddle ‘holy water’ and other paraphernalia all at a price. In our Gauteng Province there is one mega-church ‘pastor’ owning private planes and multiple luxury vehicles – he recently gave his very young daughter an Italian Maserati limo for her birthday. His ‘church’ can hardly cope with the thousands of devotees who worship him as ‘Daddy’ and ‘Major 1.’ [2]
  • Right now in my country top political figures who have been implicated by the Zondo Commission investigating ‘state capture’ are visiting various ‘churches’ for prayer, the clergy almost falling over their own feet to ‘bless’ them. [3]
  • A few days ago The New York Times high-lighted ‘the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious, and they are legion… Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cord-wood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.’ President Trump tweets of himself as ‘the second coming of God.’ Brennan Manning wrote years ago that one of the greatest causes of atheism today ‘are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.’ ‘Lord, please keep me from being among that number!’ [4]
  • More subtly, Dr. Ryser suggests that many of us came to Jesus because of what we were told he could do for us, viz. bless us in this life and then take us to heaven. And so some married Jesus for his money, and they don’t care if he lives or dies as long as they can get his stuff. Many have made his kingdom into a business, merchandising his anointing.¬† All this while the Church is supposed to be Christ’s bride and we God’s lovers! That’s pretty intimate stuff. How can we love someone we don’t even know? Prostitutes (male/female) and those using them pretend¬†to love. Hyser concludes, ‘Take it from a recovering prostitute when I say there is no substitute for an unconditional, intimate relationship with God… there is no palatable substitute available to us… we must choose.’

Is the above a little ‘over the top??’

  • Yahweh commanded the 8th century BC (?) prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to illustrate Ephraim and Israel’s spiritual condition: “‘I know you, Ephraim, inside and out. Yes, Israel, I see right through you! … Ephraim, you’ve played your sex-and-religion games long enough. All Israel is thoroughly polluted… Every breath they take is a whore’s breath, They wouldn’t recognize GOD if they saw me.” (Hos. 1:2ff; 5:3ff/MSG)
  • The prophet Jeremiah prophesied much later against his beloved Judah’s adultery with idols: “A long time ago you broke out of the harness. You shook off all restraints. You said, ‘I will not serve!’ and off you went, visiting every sex-and-religion shrine on the way, like a common whore. You were a select vine when I planted you… And look how you’ve turned out…” (2:20ff/MSG; cf. 3:1ff) (Jn. 15).
  • Following on Jeremiah, Ezekiel issued the same rebuke (Ezek.16:26ff; 23:1ff; 23:27).
  • By contrast, the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church, holding up the beautiful Bridegroom-and-Bride theme of the Bible before all husbands: ”He (Christ) gave up his life for her (i.e. his Bride), to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without blemish…’ (Eph. 5:25-27)
  • In his Apocalypse John addressed the Church in Sardis: “‘Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy'” (Rev. 3:4-6). And again, “I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband… ‘Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb…’¬†(21:2,9/MSG).

So how do we as individuals and assemblies [5], transition from spiritual prostitution to lovers of God?? Ultimately there can only be one answer, by encountering afresh the agape of God (nothing sentimental here, nothing superficial, no easy-going love on the part of Christ). Only the Spirit can realize this in our hearts. That’s why Paul prayed for the Ephesian Church to experience ‘the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God!’ (Eph. 3:16-19/NLT). When I need re-assurance of God’s love for me, I often turn to Brennan Manning [6]. He described God’s love in terms of an intense, ‘furious longing’ for us. That love is totally unconditional: God loves us as we are, not as we should be, because nobody is as they should be!’ ‘My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.’ Where do we start? ‘We must go out into a desert of some kind (your backyard will do) and come into a personal experience of the awesome love of God’ (Manning). Why don’t you and I do just that at first opportunity and trust God for the outcome?!

At the end of the day a choice lies before us and all communities of faith, the Lord enabling us: to live the life of religious prostitutes or authentic lovers of God. What will I choose? What will you? Today is the day…

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[My Jesus I Love Thee by Go Fish]



[1] Down-sizing my library several times, I regret giving away Francis Schaeffer’s out of print The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.’ It included a special section on the apostasy and adultery of the Western Church.

[2] ‘Mixing Christianity with party politics is like mixing cyanide with grape juice… you cannot be wrapped up and consumed with today’s political system and be useful in the kingdom of God. You cannot embrace nationalism and embrace God’s kingdom.’ Frank Viola’s Insurgence, p. 390.

[3] Malawian ‘Pastor’ Bushiri and his wife are currently appearing in a South African court on various commercial charges. Our South African ‘Public Protector,’ whose competency and political motives are questioned by many across the land, is also doing the church-round.

[4] I attended a missions conference recently where the plenary speaker, David Broodryk, quoted research by Christian Schwarz to the effect that the longer people (in the West?) are Christians, the weaker their spirituality.

[5] I have pastored traditional churches for 38 years and facilitated organic house churches for 13 years. I can tell you that spiritual ‘prostitutes’ expose themselves and heal more rapidly in small, simple ekklesiae. One can comfortably hide for a lifetime in ‘Church-As-We-Know It.’

[6] Brennan Manning (1934-2013) was an American author, laicized priest and public speaker. His best-known work was The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning confessed to a life-long struggle with alcoholism, his ‘shadow side’ (don’t we all have our ‘shadows?’) – his vulnerability seemingly added to his credibility.