Church of the Red Pill

red pill and blue pill from the matrix

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back. You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” — Morpheus

“I know what you’re thinking, ’cause right now I’m thinking the same thing. Actually, I’ve been thinking it ever since I got here: Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?” — Cypher

I was having coffee this morning with my discipleship partner, Dave, and we were talking about church. He told me about a church plant that he was involved in when it started almost 20 years ago.

It was, he said, for the time, radically different. In an era when people still wore their Sunday church clothes to Sunday church, people went to this church dressed in their everyday clothes. At the beginning of the service, you could tell the visitors because they didn’t believe it when they were told they didn’t have to wear a tie to church. When hymns were still de rigueur, the church focused on worship music that was more accessible to the congregation. Everything about the church was designed to be more user-friendly. Today, a lot of those things are pretty common, but, again, at the time, they were very much the exception.

The church was different in one other major way, too — a big part of its focus was on breaking people out of a spectator mentality when it came to church. Rather than church being something you got up on Sunday morning and watched for an hour or two, it was something you were involved in, and not necessarily just inside the confines of the church building. It was about making church a lifestyle.

And that’s where some people ran into problems. They enjoyed the different atmosphere of the church, were more comfortable in the different atmosphere. But they just couldn’t break free of the spectator mindset. They didn’t want to. They could go so far in embracing the church, but no further. And because of that, many of them gradually became uncomfortable and left.

The problem was, they also didn’t want to go back. They couldn’t go forward to fully embrace the new church, but after experiencing the atmosphere there, they also couldn’t be happy at their old churches. Dave said the pastor once commented to him that it would have been better for a lot of people if they’d never come to his church. Rather than moving them forward in their spiritual walk, it essentially broke them. After a taste of that, anything else becomes unappealing.

In a lot of ways, Dave and I are broken also. We didn’t reach a point where we personally couldn’t go forward; in our cases, what we had been doing fell apart from underneath us. A major change at the last church he was at changed the entire atmosphere and flavor of it. The house church I was involved in stopped meeting. Neither of us could stay where we were, and we’re beginning to find that it’s hard to go back.

When you’re part of a community that is open to exploring God without agenda, it’s harder to be in conversations where you’re expected to not deviate from the “proper answers.” To me, it’s like a child walking past the most incredible playground he’s ever seen, but not being allowed to leave the sidewalk. God’s too big and too awesome to let somebody else decide what you can think about Him. And He’s more than good enough to withstand the scrutiny, ya know?

When you’re part of a community that rejoices in sharing each other’s walk, in being there for each other spiritually and emotionally, in supporting each other, in learning from each other, it’s harder to go back to having the people in your church just be the people you set next to you while you’re instructed. Church shouldn’t feel like a second-grade classroom, but without the fun.

When you’re part of a group that realizes that God is awesomely huge and mind-blowingly complex, it’s harder to go back to being part of a church that wants to boil him down to right answers. Is God divinely sovereign or lovingly allowing of freedom? Is He a God to whom no sin is too big to overlook, or for whom no sin is too small to condemn? Is He defined by His own glory of His love for His creations? To all of those things, yes.

When you’re part of a group that samples and explores the diversity of conflicting viewpoints on God and evaluates each for its merits, it harder to go back to being part of a church that only drinks one flavor of Kool-Aid.

The problem becomes that the latter types of churches are the most common. The flavor of Kool-Aid may be different, the small view of God may be different, the decorations in the second-grade classroom may be different, but the result is the same. Too often an invitation to “rethink church” is really an offer to replace one church’s thoughts about church with another’s. Actual rethinking is OK, as long as it’s what the church thinks. You don’t get to be free of an agenda, you only get to pick the agenda you want, and how serious the church is about it.

And for most people, that’s fine. Because they’ve never taken the red pill. They don’t even know that it exists. They don’t understand that there’s an alternative. They don’t know what it is to go to church and not be told what they should think. They don’t know what it is to go to a church without an agenda. And so they’re content.

And, yes, sometimes I envy them. But I’m not sure how I can go back.

“You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” — Morpheus

“I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world … without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries; a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.” — Neo