After quickly devouring his fried, green tomatoes, the stranger reached his long, slender arm beneath his chair and pulled a big leather-bound Bible from his briefcase and laid it on the table with a thud. It was much more worn since they last time they had seen it. Bookmarks made from bright yellow and orange aspen leaves jutted from the bottom of the book like the wings of giant locusts being pressed between the pages.
Tom looked around the table at his extra-stellar friends. “Okay, are we ready? Is it time that you explain to me what the Church is?”
David wiped his mouth with his napkin and looked up at him, “I thought you knew everything?” He sat up straight and stared with anticipation to make it clear this was not a joke.
Tom put his hand on David’s shoulder, “I never said I know everything. We know a lot, but there are gaping holes in our knowledge. We have a detailed history of humanity that you don’t have, but we have never had the scriptures to explain the gospel.”
David picked up Tom’s Bible and flipped through the pages until one of the leaves fell out. “Sorry,” he said as he picked it off the floor and stuck it back between the pages. “So now you have the scriptures and you people are so smart—a lot smarter than us emotional-thinkers—what then do you want from us?”
Tom smiled, “But you see, we have no tradition of the scriptures to draw from. We want to learn from you. After all, you’ve had the chance to study the scriptures for over two thousand years. I guess we just don’t want to start from scratch . . . so please teach us.”
Greg was to Tom’s left and scratching his head. His mind was pondering something and the pondering was written all over his face like bold print. “Say, Tom. Before we go down that path, trying to explain the Church . . . well, I’m intrigued. What do you know about us that we don’t? I mean about human history?”
Tom had wished that he had never mentioned that point, because he really came there that morning to learn about the Church. He rubbed his face. “Okay, I will do this. I will indulge in some history but I won't answer any follow up questions . . . at least not until you answer my question about the nature of the Church.”
Tom looked at Greg, who was all ears, and smiled. Then he continued, “Hmm, ok we know that the earth really is very, very old and the earth scientists are not that far off. It is about four and a half billion years old.”
David was shaking his head . . . but remaining quiet. So Tom continued, “The dinosaurs died off because of a pandemic of the bird flu . . . as they were in the bird family after all. The pandemic spread quickly and that’s why you have the piles of dead animals. It wasn’t due to an asteroid hitting the earth. Actually the huge crater, beneath the water off Yucatan, is a huge volcanic caldera. There was no asteroid. It did erupt a few times, creating a couple of the ice ages. Let me see, we also know what happened to the Neanderthals. They were genetically different from humans, but not completely different. Actually, the homo-sapiens didn’t kill them off . . . but they were cursed by beauty. You see, the Neanderthals were in Europe and other areas first. When the homo-sapiens arrived, the Neanderthals dominated them by not only mightier physique but bigger brains. The Neanderthal men had one downfall and that was that they found homo-sapien women irresistible. They were as Venus to them. They left their own kind and bred only with the homo-sapien women. This led, like in the case of the Mule, a sterile off-spring. So, in the meantime the homo-sapien men were continuing to multiply with their natural mates and the Neanderthal linage came to an end.” Tom noticed the totally uninterested looks on everyone’s face but Greg’s. “So that’s that. Now to the topic at hand.”
Tom turned to David and slid his Bible in his direction. David didn’t pick it up but looked at the group. “This is easy. The Church is the Bride of Christ. She is the organization of His people.”
Tom smiled again, “But David, you have to do much better than that. Those are only poetic words. We are serious about this. This information is crucial for an entire planet of people.” Tom slid the Bible even closer to David until it was touching his belly, “So, David, what really is the Church? How would you define it? Are we (pointing to the group around the table) a church?”
David had a little frown, “No, I wouldn’t call this group a church. That would be somewhat of a sacrilege to the true church.”
Tom saw sifting in the seats of Father Randy and Debra out of the corner of his left eye. Then he asked David, “So how is that?”
“Well, for one, we have different beliefs here. I think Greg and I have profoundly different views of what it means to be a Christian and we covered that before. The same is true with the Father here . . . and Debra. So we can’t be part of the same Church.”
“So there is more than one? Christ has two bodies? So He is a polygamist?” asked Tom.
Father Randy seized the opportunity, “That would be one area of historical disagreement. The position of my church is that indeed there is only one Church and hopefully, one day Christ will restore the Church to one body. But for now it is divided.”
Tom looked at David, “So do you agree with that?”
David thought for a moment, “I don’t agree that the Father’s church is the one Church. His church took a powerful detour hundreds of years ago and there are plenty of people in my church that would say that his Church is not real, or they are not even real Christians.”
Tom looked cautiously at him, “Do you believe that yourself?”
There was a minute of awkward silence then Mike spoke up, “You see Tom, before you came here we would never have these type of dividing discussions . . . and that was a good thing. I think you are going to stir up trouble and people are going to get their feelings hurt if you’re not careful.”
Tom shook his head. “But this is insanity! What is the Church is a very serious topic. It should be discussed by a group of people, each with a passion for the truth. But you people of the earth—and don’t forget that we are people of the earth too—only have emotional reasoning. You wrap your discussion in layers of emotional factors and it is because of that, you get easily offended. Where I come from, we have these discussions all day long and no one would ever dream of getting offended because we each are obliged to the truth and not to just maintaining our own personal systems of feeling valuable.”
Mike seemed lost, and then he spoke again, “All I’m trying to say is that Jesus was the Prince of Peace. It is wonderful that four or five people, with very different perspectives, can enjoy each other’s company once a week for breakfast. That is a breakthrough. That is all we really want.”
Tom, still shaking his head, “But the way you people do it is by pretending that all is well. You bury your disagreements because your longing isn’t for truth but for maintaining your own belief system at all cost. This fellowship of breakfast is what you call a farce. The only time you debate a topic, or it seems like the only time, is to try and prove yourself right and the others wrong so you can feel better about yourself. It has nothing to do with finding the truth. I’m really surprise that you are not still in your Dark Ages.”
As soon as the word “farce” had come out of Tom’s mouth, Mike’s mind instantly turned to his daughter Ashley’s tough words the week before, what were they, “fucking charade?” He felt a pain in the pit of his stomach and it wasn’t the Tabasco on his Cowboy Omelet.
There was a tense feeling around the table. Tom looked around the restaurant. It was almost empty with its low point at eleven AM, too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. Sharon was in the corner watching carefully.
Tom, turned back to David, “So where were we? Please be open and honest . . . what is the Church?”
David thumbed through the Bible in front of him. “As I was saying it is the body of Christ. God set up the church for a system of worship, fellowship, the sacraments, accountability and the Great Commission of taking the Gospel to the world.”
Tom shook his head, “You’re being a poet again. Pick up the book and show me! This is very important. I’ve read your scriptures over and over during the past six months and I know it doesn’t use any of those words. Roughly there are about one hundred and ten times that the term, translated to English as ‘church,’ is used in the scriptures. It only refers to the church as a movement, group, congress, collection of people, loose association. I just don’t see this highly structured thing with such clear cut marching orders as you describe.”
Father Randy, looking at his watch and obviously wanting to move things along, spoke up. “God has spoken to us in His scriptures, but sometimes, giving us more details through our traditions and history. It is in those traditions that we have created more of the structure of the Church . . . according to God’s will and good pleasure.”
Tom sat back in his chair and put his chin on his hand. He could see David’s disapproval to his right. He turned and looked at him, “So David, do you have trouble with that?”
“I wouldn’t put traditions and church history on the same level of the Bible. I pastor a Bible-centered church and everything we do is based on the Bible.”
Tom started laughing, “David, I’ve almost pushed the scriptures here into your lap and you’ve never looked at it once, at least not seriously. Your beliefs seem to be totally based on your traditions more so than the Father’s. So, do we put the same value on traditions as scriptures?”
“No,” came Mike’s quick response. “We don’t ignore our church’s traditions, but we don’t base our beliefs on this . . . say like the Catholic Church would.”
Tom said, “I have to disagree. I think you base your knowledge far more on your traditions than even Father Randy, and he admits that he bases his truth on traditions and church history.”
David stood up, “Folks, it is eleven thirty and I have a million things to do.”
Father Randy said, in an accommodating way, “Tom, I think your discussion deserves more time . . . so, next week?” He then looked around the table to several nods.
David spoke up, “I’m not sure. This is my busy season and our church has a fall ministry campaign that I’m in the middle of. I may or may not be back.”
Tom stood up and reached out to shake David’s hand (David was assuming it was a goodbye shake) but then the stranger said to him, “David, this topic seems to be as essential for you as it is for us. So, please be back next week. How can you have a church fall campaign if you are not even sure what the church really is?”
As they walked away, Greg caught up to Tom and said to him, “Hey, could I have a word with you?”
Tom looked at him and gave a positive nod.
“Hey man, I want to hear more about the unknown human history. Are there other people on other planets . . . oh, apart from your people?”