Tom took his reading glasses off and stuck the temple piece in his mouth and looked out the window. Everyone sat quietly not knowing what was coming next. The stranger looked serious, so serious that “distraught” might be a better adjective. Finally the stranger spoke. He put his glasses back on and pointing at Mike he said, “So you, pastor Monroe, do you agree with David here that the fundamental starting place for the selected is a written, organizational charter and a doctrinal statement?”
Mike thought for just a moment then started to nod, “Sure.”
Turning counter clockwise Tom then looked at Father Randy, “How about you father?”
The priest nodded as well, “I think I could agree with Mike on that.”
“Debra?” Tom asked.
She responded, “Sure. I think this is one point where we might all agree.” Then she looked to her right, “But I don’t want to speak for Greg.”
Greg smiled, “No, I think you’re right. Even David and I are on the same page here. I did once plant a Methodist church down in Petoskey and the very first thing I had to do, with the area Bishop’s supervision, was to write an organizational charter and doctrinal statement. The character dealt with not only the business structure, but the exact roles of deacons, even who could use the copy machine and who couldn’t. It gave guidelines for the hymnals that we were to use and the translation of the Bible.”
Tom’s distraught look melted back over his thin, dark face. He took his glasses off again and rubbed his eyes and looked back at the group . . . his eyes following the circle back counter clockwise. When he got back to Greg, he spoke, “I’m afraid this is going to be much more complicated that I had anticipated. First of all, if you did a detailed search of scriptures you would find absolutely no mention of a written charter or a doctrinal statement . . . even if you studied the original languages and used your imagination.” Looking to his right, “David, those passages you shared have absolutely nothing to do with charters and statements.”
A look of skepticism moved around the group like "The Wave" at a football stadium.
Tom continued, “For you to read those verses and conclude that we must start at that point would be the same if you said we were sitting in Paris, France right now. You would say, ‘There's a river down the road, Paris is on a river. There're trees in the forest, Paris has trees. There're buildings around here, and there are buildings in Paris. There’re people sitting here . . . and Paris has people. There are even towns with French names around here, like Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie, so there's no other explanation but that we are in Paris.’”
David was shaking his head. “That isn’t at all like what we were saying. We take true Biblical principles, which are expressed in those verses, and we use logic to reach the conclusion that the starting point of a church must be those two items.”
Tom smiled, “I’m sorry to lecture you Earth dwellers again, because I know I rub you the wrong way, or I guess the other phrase is ‘pisses you off,’ although I’ve understood what that means. But please bear with me.
Imagine that you were one of the Spanish conquerors of the Aztecs. You arrive and observe that they do human sacrifices of their children in order to produce better crops of maze. You see the great sadness of the families, which are giving up their children. You scream, ‘Stop! Killing your babies has nothing to do with the weather and rain. It is a total waste of human life.’ Well, that is the seat I’m in. I don’t mean to offend you, but the Earth Dwellers logic is just as flawed and you can’t see it because it has become so much of your culture.”
Greg didn’t seem offended but actually interested. “Mr. Hans, I’m all ears. I'would find your perspective fascinating.”
That statement gave Tom a bit more consent to continue talking. “As I’ve said many times, you Earth Dwellers reason emotionally, not from logic. You see, God has given us the sense of logic in order to find truth. It isn’t perfect anymore so we are never intellectually satisfied with absolute certainty. We are given emotions, however, for our personal enjoyment and enrichment.”
Tom grabbed Greg’s half-eaten omelet. “I’ve noticed that Greg here splatters this red, Cajun sauce all over his omelet each week. I tasted it on the tip of my finger. While the rich tomato taste is wonderful, the hot pepper burn is not appealing to me or anyone from where I’m from. But I understand that Greg has developed a taste for it. Now the eggs’ protein gives Greg the nourishment he needs for the day, it is the sauce, the butter and the salt that makes it palatable . . . even enjoyable. So it is with finding truth. It is the protein, meaning logic, that leads us to truth and the spice of it, the thing that makes it enjoyable, are the emotions.”
Debra looked puzzled, “But not all emotions are enjoyable. Sadness, depression and fear are some that aren't.”
Tom smiled, “But they are! They make us human. I’m so glad that I get, as you say, ‘damned depressed’ at times. I would rather feel these uncomfortable feelings and know that I’m alive and I’m not a flesh-based robot which is pre-programmed to act. Just like the red sauce hurts Greg’s mouth . . . and I’m sure of that, some emotions sting badly. But this is a tangent that’s going to take us too far from discovering what the church really is. So, back to my omelet metaphor, you Earth Dwellers sit and eat bowls of the red sauce with just a sprinkle of protein on it. You reason from your emotions, and attempt to find pleasure from your logic! Don’t you get it?”
Father Randy spoke up, “Tom, with all due respect, I would have to speak for myself that I’m not sure how what you are saying is related to the simple response that David made about the essence of the Church. I, personally, am lost in this."
David added, “Without due respect Tom, as I’ve said before, I am offended that you keep harping about us being emotional. We are not emotional! We are very logical, probably more so than you or your kind, whoever they are.”
Tom took off his glasses and looked David in the eye, “My friend, and I say this out of empathy and not arrogance, at least I think so. As I said weeks ago, on my planet there hasn't been a war in two thousand years. It isn’t because we are good people. It is because we learned to reason with logic rather than emotions. War makes no sense. Those who go to war are all insane! Everyone looses in all wars. No one gains. All wars were started with emotionally reasoning, not logic. Logic would never lead to war. It is the most illogical thing and the most anti-God. God is the God of creation. War’s main mission is destruction.”
David was shaking his head even harder, “You are wrong. There're just wars and unjust wars. I am proud to be an American, and we only go to war when we have to. There's real evil in this world, which we must fight. In scriptures, especially the Old Testament, God honored the warrior and the hero. He used wars for His purpose.”
Tom added in a quick response, “You just don’t get it. God allowed wars because He knew the people He created were very stupid and reasoned from emotions. So, He let their actions play out in the cruelty that their emotions begot.”
Greg had a happy look on his face and was nodding rapidly. “Tom, I think I’m starting to see exactly what you are saying. I’ve never looked at it from that direction, but it makes perfect sense. But to wrap this up (pausing to look at the time on his cell phone) please relate this back to how this applies to the character and the doctrinal statement.”
“Good idea, so I will. So, here’s my point. The reason that all of you agree with David’s statement, that a church must begin with a charter and a doctrinal statement, is because you are reasoning from emotions. The emotional part is the fact that you, each, are deeply invested in your churches’ culture. Your paychecks come from them. Your identity comes from your church positions. It would be huge problem if anyone of you chooses to differ from your own church’s dogma . . . with maybe Greg being the only exception. So your culture, your church’s dogma is that you must have a charter and a doctrinal statement to form a church. I bet if you studied church planting, this would be in the very first course taught.”
Mike spoke up, “But why would our churches teach us that if it wasn’t true?”
Tom set back in his chair and gave a sigh. “I really wanted to keep this simple but I see us entering more and more complexities of human nature. Realize that where I come from, I am what you would consider an anthropologist. I’ve spent my life studying humans, the way we think and behave. That is why I was chosen for this mission. So let me try to explain in a way that I hope won’t offend you.”
Tom finished off his coffee and he noticed, for maybe the first time, his little audience was spell-bound, each and everyone, so he continued, “The essence of all human behavior is rooted the deep-seated desire to be of value. There are no exceptions to this. Your philosophers have danced around this truth for millennium, because it is so simple. This disruption in our sense of significance came with the fall of Adam. This was actually part of God’s complex strategy, but that’s another story. But you see, this is the beauty of the Gospel. This is why we have come one and half light years to get here . . . and maybe to discover tomatoes (then he smiled). But the Gospel is God’s simple statement that due to Christ’s work, we are extremely forgiven and our infinite value has been completely, I should add COMPLETELY, restored. But you Earth Dwellers, because you reason emotionally, don’t feel valuable so you don’t get it. Instead, all of your behavior has one goal, to seek value here in this life and on your terms. That is the exact reason that all of you became pastors . . . because of the craving for value.
Now, I’m not saying that the Hansians are perfect in this. But we have moved much further along this path. So as we got the scriptures and started to reintroduce them to our people, they immediately fell in love with the Gospel because they understood how it applied to the central problem of value or meaning. But here, on Earth, you have wrapped the Gospel in so many layers of complexity that it is not palatable to anyone anymore. That's why you, the bearers of the Gospel, are not loved like the lone doctor in the slum, but you are hated as the taskmasters of the slaves. Your Gospel, so it seems, is a yoke. It is a mustard seed wrapped in the hull of a coconut.”
Mike interrupted him, “But Tom, I’m sorry but I feel that your little sermonette has taken us far off the topic and I frankly don’t see how we will ever discuss what the essence of the Church.”
Tom smiled and shook his head, “But it is related and in closing I will, as you say ‘connect the dots’ to these points.”
Tom had a moment to collect his thoughts has Sharon showed up and wrote out their checks for breakfast. In a kind gesture, Father Randy quickly grabbed them all, saying, “This morning is on me.” There was a brief, friendly protest but they succumbed to the inevitable.
“Okay, so you see,” lifting up his worn copy of the scriptures, “here is your charter and your doctrinal statement. However, throughout your history, your forefathers said this was too vague. It really was too vague to them because God is not the master manipulator we want Him to be. As Hebrews points out, the Levitical law in the Old Testament wasn’t given to be taken seriously as law. It was satirical, to show how ridiculous it is to try and manipulate behavior on a, as you say, ‘micro-manager’ level. But you people don’t get this. You, reason emotionally, from that pit in your souls where you feel worthless, you have this insatiable desire to manipulate others to make yourselves feel more worthy. When you manipulate others, you push up your own emotional position from part of the worthless herd, to a master level, the one who controls others. So, in that spirit, you create layers and layers of regulations and micro-managing of others. From what I’ve studied, more than 90% of the Church’s efforts in history have been towards this useless cause. Now, to come back to our original point, to control people you set up a charter and doctrinal statements. It goes like this, ‘We will meet at this palace at this time, use these hymnals, the person of this position can use the copier but this person can't.’ Then we move on to doctrines, ‘you must believe this precise doctrine and not that one, because if you do . . . or don’t . . . you are not a real Christian, I need the power to determine if you are a good Christian or not . . . or maybe not a Christian at all . . . because that power makes me feel a little better about myself and helps to plug that back hole in the center of my soul, the hole of feeling worthless.'”
Michael was shaking his head. “It sounds to me like a receipt for disaster. If we have no rules to live by, Christianity becomes anarchical and we are no different from the non-Christians. We need to live a godly live to demonstrate who we are. We need rules and order.”
Tom seemed a bit sad, “Michael, my dear friend Michael, you see, our people have only had the Gospel for months and we have already figured it out far better than you who has had it for two thousand years. ‘Rules,’ as you describe them, are tools of manipulation. The true Gospel is healing and doesn’t yield to chaos or anarchy. You see, virtually all sin is the result of humans trying to fill that bottomless pit. We want money, because money—and all that comes with it, nice cars, nice houses and nice clothes—all represent our attempts to feel valuable. So, if we don’t need to fill valuable, we stop stealing and we stop walking on people to get advancements in our careers. Lying is 100% tied up in this process of trying to give ourselves value. Even sexual sins are tide to it.” Tom did the strangest thing and reached over and grabbed David’s hand and looked at him. “Even downloading pornography on your church's computer late at night is tied up on this longing.”
David’s face turned a bright red and he avoided eye contact with anyone . . . but he didn’t speak a word.
Tom continued, “So you see, if you really, really understand the Gospel and that the bottomless pit has found a bottom . . . and a lid . . . and a complete filling, the need for sin goes away. If your really grasped the fact that we are extremely forgiven, that we have an absurd value and that we now please God with unquenchable pleasure . . . the need for sin becomes extraneous. You guys have it all wrong. You see it as God having set up a bunch of rules. To obey them, in your eyes, you are godly. To not do them, it is sin. But what I’m trying to tell you, sin is simply God’s name for our attempts for revaluing ourselves on our own. He says ‘stop it! I’ve done it for you. That's why I hate sin.’”
“Hoooooooly Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” Came the whisper from Greg’s mouth. His eyes were watery with tears.
No one noticed that David had quietly gotten up and put on his jacket and was at the cash register paying.
Father Randy spoke up, “So, you believe that all our rich history and Church traditions are a bad thing?”
Tom smiled, “Oh no! I don’t mean it that way. It’s your culture. You can wallow in it all you want. Culture is amoral by itself. But my point is, I have no desire to import your culture to my planet. We want the simple and pure meaning of the Church. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
Tom stood and smiled, “Okay folks, thanks so much for your time. Think about it some more and I’ll see you in a week.”
They were left with these puzzling and disturbing things. It became their krytonite, each feeling weaker as the days shortened towards winter's solstice.