The Matrix Reloaded

Why The Black Church Looks Nothing Like Christ

To know Christ, to truly know Him, is to be home­less. You may have a house, but it is a pale imitation of the good things God has in store for us; an investment in a substitute reality.

To know Christ, to truly know Him, is to be

homeless. You may own a house, but that building is not your home. It is, at best, a distraction: an illusion and a pale imitation of the good things God has in store for us. Yet we invest more time and energy and money in that house than we do in our actual home—our eternal home with God. If you bought more house than you can afford, that, by definition, is bondage. It is an investment in a substitute reality wherein we govern ourselves the way the world does and we model our behavior after the accepted norms of this world, a condition we can rightfully compare to The Matrix.

The Matrix, for the three people who have not seen the blockbuster film trilogy, posits the notion that reality as we know it is actually a carefully constructed illusion designed to entertain our minds while artificial intelligence machines use our bodies as living batteries to power themselves. The Matrix Church, by syllogistic argument, likewise creates a blasphemous, artificial environment which claims to be a Christian organism while embodying almost none of the qualities of Christ. The Matrix Church, much like the Matrix in the movie, exists to leech money off its membership. It exists mainly to congratulate itself on existing. Let's take a look at some of our common practices and place them within biblical context in order to see how far the rabbit hole goes.

Church Bylaws Are The Matrix

Church bylaws routinely invoke complex rules and obligations and secret handshakes—none of which were modeled anywhere in scripture. Worse, they tend to amplify or, worse, augment scripture, for which the bible details dire penalties [Rev 22:19]. There’s nothing wrong with setting forth reasonable organizational and procedural guidelines for your church, but do so with humility, always deferring to the bible as our standard and being cautious of the lure of legalism.

Church Membership is The Matrix

Church membership, as we commonly practice it, is not biblical. The biblical model for church membership was love. People became part of the Body of Christ because of Christ’s love and showed that love (i.e. sacrifice) to non-believers and to each other. All that legalism the paperwork and oaths we require of new members, the endless, weeks-on classes—there simply is no biblical model for it. People served where they were needed and moved on as God led them.

The reason we do all that paperwork and secret handshakes is money. Every set of buttocks on a pew means money to the church, both in tithes and offerings and in headcount, which has applications in terms of grants and faith-based initiatives. It is mostly about cash and bragging rights.

By changing the church membership experience from a simple act of love, a selfless and spontaneous move of community, to a legalistic obligation, we place people into bondage. We create a mindset where we demand our members’ loyalty to the political institution—church—rather than to Jesus Christ. We make the exit process much more like a divorce. Leaving a church becomes a gut-wrenching, emotional tearing that devastates your membership. Why? We should go where we are sent.

Church Contracts Are The Matrix

Churches drawing up detailed, complex legal documents hiring pastors, musicians, etc., are acting contrary to scripture [James 5:12]. They are especially stupid because, for the church to function within the will of God, such legal documents are not enforceable. We are not supposed to be suing one another anyway [I Corinthians 6:1-8], so what’s the point of a contract? There’s nothing wrong with drawing up a simpler deal memo, outlining what we have agreed to do, but it should be more in the vein of a religious obligation, a covenant document, than a binding contract. As a rule, I do not sign contracts with churches, though I have drawn up simple covenant forms.

Titles Are The Matrix

Titles are bondage. Titles focus attention on self and distract us with pointless ambition to gain even greater titles. All this nonsense pecking order about pastors and bishops and apostles is not biblical. A bishop does not “outrank” a pastor. A Pastor does not outrank a reverend. And this new nonsense of ordained ministers “outranking” licensed ministers—this is foolishness. It is The Matrix.

It is important to note that, for the most part, biblical characters did not refer to themselves by their titles. Jeremiah did not call himself a prophet, people called Jeremiah a prophet because Jeremiah prophesied. The term “prophet,” therefore, was not a title so much s a description of the work this man did.

In our Matrix tradition, we have things all backward, where some guy wakes up one morning and decides “pastor” isn’t a big enough title for him. He decides to call himself “bishop” or “apostle” or “prophet” or some combination thereof. He has business cards made up. This is The Matrix. It is dead, dead wrong. If God grants you the gift of prophecy—go prophesy. Don’t have stationery printed up. Your calling is for an appointed place and an appointed time [I Cor 13:8]. Don’t start running around calling YOURSELF “prophet.” Just do what God told you to do, and people will call you according to the evidence before them.

Pastors, etc: your title should not be a title or honorarium. It should be a DESCRIPTION of WHAT YOU DO. Too many “pastors” display no evidence of actually being pastors. And far, far too many so-called “bishops” do nothing at all. It’s all vanity, which is antichrist. Matrix. It simply amazes me how many “pastors” I know who never call people in their own flock. Who don’t know any of the families living on the street their church is located on. But these clowns have a TITLE.

In our culture, we call these guys “pastor” based on no other evidence than that a handful of people think this guy’s farts don’t stink. Some pulpit committee—usually over-stocked with the least spiritual people in the church—nominated this guy and some fraction of the church showed up and raised their hands. Now we call this man “pastor.”

In Christ, we’re all the same, which is to say, we’re all nothing without Jesus. All this ranking is not in the bible—it’s stuff we made up because our leaders are so insecure and need bigger and more important titles to puff themselves up with. People so fixated on this ridiculous and unbiblical ranking system are lost in The Matrix. They don’t read their bible, where Peter (who often behaved like Church Folk) argued with James and John about which one of them would be greater in the kingdom of Heaven [Matt 17:1-4, 18:1-3].

Brothers: stop insisting that people call you “pastor,” or, even sillier, “apostle,” etc. Do the work of a pastor and that’s what they’ll call you.

Academic Degrees Are The Matrix

Churches tend to include requirements for advanced degrees in their pulpit selection process. This has no biblical model, as Jesus pulled grungy blue-collar day workers from obscurity to be His disciples, appointing a fisherman as the rock upon which His church would be built. Letters of academia are the invention of man and they, like everything else of this Matrix world, will be burned away. They have absolutely no meaning to God, who judges our motives--not our words or even our actions. I Samuel 16 lays out the model for pastoral selection, a model that is routinely ignored by most every church on the planet as they lay out strict requirements for academic achievement, credit score (of all things), and years of experience.

Jesus had no formal education and absolutely no ministerial experience when He began His ministry. He had the anointing and blessing of God Almighty. That is the evidence a church should be looking for, and it is rarely found in the candidate's paperwork. David was a boy of no accomplishment whatsoever, thought unworthy to even be brought before God's prophet. He was absolutely the last guy anyone would have even considered as a candidate. The people would have laughed him out of the room. More notably: David didn't seek the job. He didn't campaign for it, he didn't push Saul out of the way for it. He had opportunities to kill Saul, certainly to talk about Saul behind his back. David did none of those things, sparing Saul's life even as Saul continually tried to kill him. King Saul initially considered David a joke, a child to be exploited for his gifts and his battlefield valor. This is the bible. This is the book we claim to live our lives by. Yet, The Matrix Church routinely runs its selection progress like a corporate headhunter, routinely missing God's Man, God's choice, as they interview these clowns in an unbiblical manner based on unbiblical criteria.

The unbiblical selection process most of our churches use to hire a pastor is the main reason for the overall decline of the church itself. I know far too many men with advanced degrees who are both ignorant and stupid and, worse, without love. Which, by biblical definition, means without Christ. And you folks keep flying these jackasses in and hiring them as pastors so they can boss you around, spend your money, and keep your church running in circles. Find the man God has ordained to your church. Worry about the paper hanging on the wall later.

The bigger problem is the pulpit search is usually relegated to the least spiritual among you. The biblical model shows us, when the people choose the king—a guy who seems eminently qualified—he turns out to be a disaster. But then God sends His man, Samuel, who looks with God’s eyes. When you look for a pastor, look with God’s eyes. Stop living in The Matrix, applying the world’s standards. God is not in their advanced degrees or even in their preaching performance. The proof of a pastor is a pastor’s heart—God’s love being evidenced and manifested—something few pulpit committees ever look for.

You might find a gas station attendant better qualified to be pastor, if he has a pastor’s heart and God’s love. You can always send him to school and make him the academic you want him to be, but academics alone should not be the focus of your search criteria, because it tends to exclude the very people God can use most.

A note to would-be pastors: there's nothing wrong with sending out your resume or making phone calls or networking or whatever it is you do to land a pastor gig. But, the truth of the matter is, the ministry that God has for you will recognize you when they see you. They will know, right away, that you are the one God sent. This ministry will likely not look anything at all like the church you imagined you'd pastor, or the work you imagined you'd be doing. Just as churches must open their hearts to God's choice, so must you open your heart to God's purpose. Be prayerful, be vigilant. Look with God's eyes, not yours. Your work, your ministry or church, will recognize your gifts, will know your voice. You don't have to run after folk begging them to read your resume. Read I Samuel 16: they will approach you. Your ministry will find you. A ministry too blind to acknowledge the anointing on your life is lost in The Matrix. Forcing your way into that ministry is not the biblical model. Just keep being who God made you and keep doing the work God has placed in your hands. Your ministry will come to you.

The First Lady: Not a biblical office, not Queen of The Church.
And the pronoun "First" completely contradicts Jesus.

The Title "First Lady" is The Matrix

The title “First Lady” is antichrist in the sense it is completely against the teachings and personal example of Jesus Christ [Mark 20:16], who left his own mother and brothers waiting outside while He ministered [Matt 12:46-48]. It is an at best legalistic title, the church making a political distinction where none should exist. “First” lady is not a biblical office. She is the pastor’s wife, not ordained to any office, not voted in, not a de facto church leader. All the power—both enumerated and presumed—we afford this person simply demonstrates our biblical illiteracy and spiritual morbidity. It is Matrix thinking, among the top ten stupid things the black church does. If you are a pastor’s wife, stop allowing people to call you this. It offends God. It is ignorant and wrong.

Building Funds Are The Matrix

Building funds are bondage. Bondage is The Matrix. Jesus never told us to go out and get a building, enslave ourselves to the mortgage. He'd never invest even a moment of His time, not one dime, in a building the homeless could not sleep in. This foolishness of church members selling their cars to build some joint that's closed down by one o'clock Sunday afternoon. What madness is that? Which bible are you people reading?

The church is not that building you’re struggling to hold onto; the church is the people. The people are usually lost in the desperation to hang onto the infrastructure, which is more evidence of how lost your pastor is, that his is not the mind of Christ but the mind of some middle manager worrying about his own paycheck. Pastors seeking to grow the church merely to increase revenue are lost in The Matrix: they have totally missed the point of what the church is about. Jesus had no doors to keep open. Jesus never commanded us to get into debt, to make fundraising the focus of our efforts. In most cities, there are a great many struggling black churches that could combine into efficient, effective ministries but refuse to do so mostly out of vanity. This nonsense about retaining “our unique identity” is just The Matrix talking. Our unique identity is that we are Christians.

Have church in the park. In your back yard. In a school [Philemon 1:2]. Stop oppressing your people over money. Your struggle to hang onto that building is only about vanity and pride. Get out of bondage to the huge overhead expenses. Where we sit is not nearly as important as who we are.

White Opera Gloves Are The Matrix

Ushers fulfill a traditional role, but they’re mostly about pageantry. What you need is a functional, well-trained Greeter’s Ministry, folks who are trained to engage visitors and members as they arrive. Greeters can assist with usher functions, but their primary function is to direct people to Christ. Movie theaters are a lot bigger and hold a lot more people than most of our churches, and they got rid of ushers long ago.

White opera gloves—routinely worn in our tradition by ushers and ministers during communion—are Matrix. This foolishness of only ordained ministers being allowed to serve communion is Matrix—there is no scriptural foundation for that nonsense, and it shows how ignorant we are that we do not understand what ordination is.

Ordination is not a badge of rank. It has nothing to do with rank. For example, in the New York Police Department you have patrolmen and detectives. Detectives do not outrank patrolmen (although many TV shows get that wrong)—they’re all the same rank. A detective merely has a different job. A minister should be ordained to a specific work. Many of our ministers seek ordination for no other reason than to be able to say they’re ordained—to brag about it. It’s an ego thing. It’s Matrix. His motives offend and blaspheme the very God he portends to serve.

Ordination should be a consequence of commitment. In other words, a minister becomes ordained once he commits to a specific work. He is then ordained to that work, a work which should be specified in his ordination papers—ordained to thus-and-so. Associate ministers who become ordained just to keep warming the bench as associate ministers are simply clowns lost in The Matrix.

Organ Music is The Matrix

How many of listen to organ music outside of church? Play music in church that relates to the way music is played outside of it. The traditional Hammond organ sound, while comforting, only serves to divide us, to push young people farther away from God and enforce how utterly lost in space the church is. It is, at best, counterintuitive to the actual purpose and goal of a church: to draw people nearer to God. At worse, it simply exemplifies how completely out of touch with reality the pastor is. This is not a cultural issue, this is old folk pleasing themselves at the expense of the church’s actual mission. It is utterly stupid. They took Hammond organs out of roller rinks decades ago. Nobody listens to organs anymore except Church Folk.

TV is The Matrix

Look, I’m not saying we all have to live like Amish folk, but, beloved, you need to un-plug from the world. I’d guess over 90% of what’s on TV is utter garbage if not utter filth, and most of us have our TV’s running day and night, watching 40, 50 hours of TV every week. How much time do we spend in prayer and meditation? The Christian fare on TV is mostly garbage as well, “mega” bishops doing increasingly less preaching while filling air time with patently offensive “offers” evocative of the Temple money changers of Jesus’ day. But, there we sit, ingesting that garbage. Supporting it with our money. Even the hardest right-wing anti-everything conservatives pay their cable bill every month, literally financing the very garbage that is destroying our lives.

You’re a Christian parent with kids, and you have cable or satellite TV in your home? Matrix. Your kids have TV’s in their bedrooms? Matrix. You’re living a lie. Your witness is worthless because you’re claiming one thing while allowing all the filth and corrupt values of the world to abide in your home and take hold in the lives of your children. In fact, you’re paying for it. More on Christians and TV here.

No Family Or Secret Devotions? Matrix.

A Christian who does not read the bible is merely kidding himself. I’ve only known a handful of families who keep Christian devotion as families and private devotions as individuals. Most “Christian” families go to church, and that’s where their spiritual lives are. But, at home, there is no God. No Jesus Christ. Their kids know the lyrics of every rap song but not a single Bible verse. Their kids get online and head straight to MySpace and other places where they typically have at least two profile pages—one they show their parents and at least one or more their parents know nothing about, pages which are usually filled with all manner of shocking depravity. Because both they and their parents live in the Matrix. They’ve bought into the great lie and, most sadly for our kids, the lie has more credibility than the church does because there’s no love at church. God is not real to them because He is not alive in you. For, if Jesus were alive in you, the Holy Spirit would be grieved by the crud these kids watch all day every day. It would bother you enough to do something about it.

Instead, you’re kidding yourself. You are lying. You are perhaps a Christian by confession only, but you are living a lie. You’ve bought into this garbage, this Church Folk nonsense of hollering and falling out on Sunday while writing checks every month to the very evil that is destroying you family. Beloved: get out of the Matrix.

Escape From The Matrix

Far too may of us live without discipline. Without sacrifice. We live exactly the way the world lives. We raise our children exactly the way the world raises theirs. It would be unthinkable for many of us to cancel satellite TV or block our kids from the Internet. All hell would break lose in our homes. Beloved, all hell has already broken lose in your home—you just can’t see it [Matt 10:34-36]. You are lost in The Matrix.

We need to pray. We need to fast. A real fast, not these play-fasts most of our churches sponsor. This skip-lunch fast is a joke. Fasting isn’t about food, it’s about sacrifice. We need to do a Cancel Cable Fast. A Cancel Internet Fast. A Wake The Kids Before We Leave For Work And Pray With Them Fast. A fast that makes a real dent, where we turn our hearts and our minds away from the pastor, away from the church house or the Church Folk or our position or whose title whatever.

To view objectively the mess our lives have become, and how empty our testimonies are. How powerless we have become and how useless we are to the Kingdom of God. If you recall from the film, outside of the Matrix was a dark and evil world which existed entirely by leeching energy off of human hosts. Beloved: this is the world we are living in. Either your church is part of the solution or it is part of the problem. But, when you’re caught up in the mess, it’s really difficult to see how messy it actually is—how un-Christ like entire churches are, how un-Christ like many pastors are. How so many of our churches do nothing, nothing at all, but leech money and run in circles, accomplishing absolutely nothing of measurable value every year.

Now, contrast that vision to the record of Christ’s ministry. He had three years here, and He changed the world. You’ve been in church all your life, and can’t even share Christ with your own children. Something is clearly wrong. But you’ll never see it until you commit to unplug from The Matrix. To move your focus back to God, and to soberly evaluate what you are about, what you are doing, and what you are allowing to be done.

We need to turn our hearts back to God. Then we need to have the courage to follow those convictions, and enforce those convictions on our households [Acts 16:31].

I’m not talking about doing away with proud traditions, I’m talking about not being a slave to them: not using our traditional church experience as a template for everything we do. Throw the template out. Make the personal example of Jesus Christ, of His ministry, our template. Jesus had no band. No choir. He had no fancy clothes, no expensive car. He had no home. No building fund. No ushers. No white opera gloves. He sent out no resumes.

He had love. He just did His job.
And that’s what they called Him.

Christopher J. Priest
18 January 2009

No. 432  |  February 2018   Study   Faith 101   Lost In The Matrix   The Matrix Reloaded   Older, Richer. Whiter Men   My Pagan Valentine   Wave This Flag or Else