During World War 2 in the South Pacific, a young man stood on the deck of the USS Appalachian, a disguised flagship, where he watched battleship shells pound island after island shredding their forests into organic debris. Then the marines would land. Eventually the most disgusting smell he had ever experienced would reach his nostrils ─ the burning of human corpses.
The heart of this young man told him that there must be more to life than what we experience. There must be more. Thus the seed was sown for my dad’s journey.
After the war ended, he found himself back in New England where he pursued his quest in earnest. He knew different churches taught competing and even contradictory ideas. Yet, they all agreed on one detail. The Bible was the word of God. This would be his starting point.
As a child his family had attended worship services only a few times each year. They were congregants from a particular high church tradition. As he devoured reading his Bible, he decided to return to these childhood roots. He became a member of his parents’ denomination. His Bible study continued.
As I understand it, it wasn’t long before he saw discrepancies between what they taught and practiced with what he saw in scripture. Being the person that he was, he asked the leadership why their church practices and doctrines differed from what he was reading in the Bible. Unsatisfied with their answer, he decided to move on.
He found another denomination whose teachings aligned with scripture where the first had failed. However, with time and more study once again he noticed divergences. And once again, their explanation for why they were not conforming to scripture left him cold.
This same process repeated a third time. He left a third denomination. His ravenous desire to understand God’s word remained unabated.
This time he discovered a denomination that immersed believers. He recognized this as being one additional step closer to what he read in scripture. After joining this church, his zeal led him to hand out their church flyers on the streets of New York City. If strangers were willing, he would talk to them about God.
Although this church conformed to biblical teachings and practices more than the previous ones, with time he became disillusioned. They too failed to align with what he saw prescribed in scripture. It was during this time that a friend who knew about my dad’s passion for following God’s word, insisted he should talk with a guy called E. J. Summerlin.
He was skeptical. He had been disappointed so many times already. He arrived at the meeting with a prepared list of questions. Those questions revolved around the points of divergence between what the Bible taught and what he had experienced in four denominations.
To every question, E.J. would respond, “Open your Bible to this text. Read it and tell me what it says.” Upon explaining to E.J. what the text taught, E.J. would say, “Well, that’s your answer.” Regardless of the question, E.J.’s response remained the same. Read the text. Explain it. That’s your answer.
Cautious excitement emerged. More meetings with more questions occurred. No longer was he hearing well-intentioned and sophisticated reasoning that conflicted with scripture. Excitement and conviction grew until he finally exclaimed, “I have found the church described in the Bible!”
Whether his own study led him to conclude that God wants us to rely upon Christ with immersion for the purpose of remitting our sins to Christ or whether E. J. asked him to explain texts like Acts 2:38 and 22:16, he chose to be baptized for the remission of his sins. None of the previous churches had taught, practiced or required this for membership.
This story is not about glorifying my father. Hence, I’ve not shared his name. Likewise it is not about running down the four denominations he joined. They too remain nameless. Rather, this is a story about what can happen when people are driven to discover how to serve, live and worship God as God desires.
Dad wanted to anchor his life upon God and Christ. He wanted to worship, serve, congregate and live as God desired. He refused to lean on the good intentions of others or upon human religious authorities. Rather, he turned to scripture to learn how to please God and to rely upon Christ.
And now, for the end of the story. Upon visiting his hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts, he taught, baptized and planted a congregation displaying the shingle The Church of Christ. Although he was employed after the war as a dental technician in Flushing, New York, he now added on weekends the role of a self-educated circuit riding preacher in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.
In Dover, New Jersey he met and married my mom, who was part of an Exodus Movement church plant from Lipscomb University. With time dad became a missionary in Australia as well as a preacher in several states.
My dad died convinced that if someone really wants to worship and serve God as described in the Bible, they will find what they seek. What God desires from us is knowable. It is a matter of what we value most.
Because the values and ideals of the Restoration Movement had spurred the Churches of Christ forward, I am not surprised that my dad did not need to move on to another church fellowship. The worship, practices and teachings he saw in her aligned with what he read in scripture. A question I might ask is, would my dad have stayed where you worship?