"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you to the truth."
"That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind."
So states Morpheus in a famous scene from The Matrix. After opening a small silver box and pulling two pills from it, Morpheus continues.
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
and Neo takes the red pill.
But before the pills decision, Neo faced another choice. Kidnapped, Neo is offered the chance to leave, but Trinity asks him to trust. Neo asks why he should. Looking down a street being pounded by rain, Trinity says "Because you have been down there, Neo. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that's not where you want to be".
slowly Neo gets back in the car.
Looking down the road of conventional church in America, you are looking down a soggy street. How compelling is it, really? More vision statements, shows called worship, building and capital fund raisers. Is this really what Jesus died for?
You read the New Testament, the account of Acts especially, and wonder why the conventional church pales so in comparison. You hear stories of the church in China, India, and underground in Muslim nations, and wonder at the power. Why not here, where you are?
to adapt what Morpheus says at one point in the movie "Let me tell you why you are here. You are here because you know something. What you know you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. There is something wrong with the church. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind"
Lately, I’ve thought on how I can relate to those who accuse me of being “wounded” when I discuss with them the many ideas I’ve expressed in this blog. They are quick to dismiss those who take these stances. I thought the way to do it is to tell my story, to tell how the splinter rose in my mind, while at the same time, refuting this “wounded” talk.
In the beginning
Ok, a bit pretentious, but to start …
My family was the “Sunday” only church types only. Typically went, but only for “service” on Sunday AM. My dad had been raised among the Southern Baptists, my mom with “church of Christ”. Around 1977, shortly after moving to a small town in Florida, that switched. We were befriended by a church of Christ minister, who doubled as a Red Cross water instructor, as well as volunteering as a Boy Scout Scoutmaster. In short order, we were the “every time the doors were open” types.
For those not familiar with coC, it is one of the most heavily “bible study” bible only types of churches you will find. I remember in college at Florida State going to a leadership luncheon for denominational college outreach ministries, and our table of coCers had all but one raise their hand when asked “who’s read the entire Bible?”. The only other hands up in the place belonged to the “professionals” and one other. And the bible may be a two edged sword, but in the hands of the coC, it can be a club as well. And I wielded that club myself at times.
The coC would pound you with biblical reasons for everything it does. But thanks to a coC preacher who was a bit more open minded taught me to challenge the “party line” to verify it. The more I read (I’ve read the bible cover to cover probably more than 25 times in a dozen translations, and the NT more than 40 times), the “splinters” arose. This is the roots of much of my challenging you’ve read in this blog. I am in part a creation of the form of corporate church referred to as the “church of Christ”. At first this lead to a more ecumenical approach to spiritual life. Other than some questions about the whole “Sunday service” thing, it was all challenging of the coC. But I did stay with the CoC, just less judgmental and with more grace.
“Model” citizen of the corporate church
In a lot of ways, I was the model corporate disciple. Once a settled married man with a permanent job, I threw myself in being a good “Christian”, in that corporate sense. Substitute Sunday school teach for adults (did it for high schoolers for the summer while in college), benevolence committee, small group leader, on my way to being a deacon. That church suffered one of those “grow our church” v. “grow the kingdom” “splits”, and we left to be a part of a church start. I was soon on the leadership board of that church (this time a non-affiliated church).
Northeast was a great church (may still be, but since I can't testify first hand of the current state …). The attitude was in growing disciples, including freeing them to serve as God made them. My role there was very much as a coach. I had oversight in benevolence, and if someone wanted to do something in those areas, I had the role of equipping and encouraging. We saw tremendous growth in disciples by freeing them to be who God called them to be, rather than being cogs in the machinery of another’s vision.
A job change led to a move, and in North Carolina, ended up with a non-denom church type of place, about a year and half old place meeting in a movie theatre. Attitude on serving was everyone was to serve in the way God gave them vision for first, but also in a way that helped corporately (no one is envisioned with the mission of “sweeping” – but it has got to be done). I was given the room to gather some men and cast a vision for men’s ministry. Great attitude by the pastors in the whole thing. It was really the first sort of large ministry not started by the pastors, so it was a learning curve for the church as we lived out the value of letting people serve as God led, not as pastors envision.
Little did I know that this was a pair of rare experiences. Unemployment led to a move to where jobs were (Maryland). Tried a large non-denom with three services first. Seemed promising, but there were a lot of growing pains being experienced by that church, and other issues, so after six months we tried again elsewhere. Stayed at the second church for three years. It seemed open at first to those with their own visions, but that turned out to be in words. We saw that church grow more and more bureaucratic, more and more ministry controlled by the staff instead of freeing the people to live out how God plants vision in the lives of his people.
For reasons other than churches, we decided not to stay in MD long term. Just wasn’t “us” to be there. But while we left for Colorado, we would have left that church anyway. Partly I had bucked hard against the shackles for long enough, partly all our closest friends there were “deserting ship” as a new pastor came in and cast a new “vision” for the church. Kind of sad, as the church had an incredible mix of slightly conservative (politically and in “faith” values/beliefs) to quite liberal; this allowed for quite invigorating discussions in a “safe” manner. But in the “new vision” process, there was quite the shift toward liberal, and the openness kind of died. It became more of a toe the line sort of place. Despite the lack of freedom to serve, it was a time of growth.
The start in Colorado
So we ended up in Colorado. And we were checking out churches again. Must have visited a dozen or more. Talked to others about theirs. It seemed each one I visited the entire conversation with anyone was about a marketing survey. You know, ‘is this your first time?’ and then when you answered yes, it was ‘how did you hear about us?’ (that is, what of our advertising/marketing worked). That’s if anyone talked to you.
Then there was the church that had you doing the typical staring at the back of heads, with the irony of the sermon being on how we are a family. Understand, this was a church of about 25 people, in a room with folding chairs. We could have turned this into a circle easily, but got to have those rows of chairs. Finally gave up looking at corporate churches, aka institutional churches.
Part of the reason for giving up was a growing of one of those initial splinters of the mind. I alluded to before in mentioning the whole "Sunday service" thing. In "verifying" what the coC was trying to teach, I looked hard at what New Testament church worship services looked like. And couldn't validate it from scripture. You have to look Old Testament to find anything resembling it. The first century seemed to gather to "encourage and spur one another to love and good deeds". The gatherings, other than when a (visiting) apostle was in town, seemed more like a family gathering. Yet modern churches center around a scripted praise service. As Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost observed, it seems centered around making Jesus admirers, not Jesus followers. And another aspect is this feeding of a corporate (aka pastor) vision rather than the equipping of the saints for the work they find.
In part two (assuming only two parts), I’ll talk of the “detox” from the church culture, the false alternative of many “organic” churches (not all – there is much good there), discussions with those of like mind and experiences, detail some of the most disturbing "splinters", etc.
Originally posted at http://restoringheart.blogspot.com/2010/07/out-of-matrix-part-i.html