I heard it with my own ears.
It was the fall of 1987, and I don’t claim to remember every word, every inflection, but I do remember 80% of it—and part of it verbatim—along with the the general tenor of the expression.
Now, I had heard that some people in my “fellowship”¹ thought this way, but I, thankfully, had not been raised with such concepts. This kind of explicit rhetoric, this kind of sentiment was so wholly embarrassing that I’m not sure I really believed it was ever spoken or heard.
But hear it I did.
And it went like this:
“People want to know what church the apostle Paul would choose if he visited [name of city] today. Well, I know he would choose our church. He would know it was the right church. He would know it because he would drive right down [name of avenue], and he would see the sign “Church of Christ” right out front!!!”
And, even at my tender age, in a church I was only visiting, I came infinitely close that night to standing up and calling out that horrificly audacious, ludicrous claim in public, in a crowd of several hundred. I was closer to causing cause a holy, real-time ruckus than I’ve ever come since. Suffice it to say this: I never returned to that building.
[Extendatis lector (yeah, I made up that Latin): I was only beginning, then, thanks largely to Rubel Shelly’s book I Just Want To Be a Christian, to understand God’s church from a less sectarian, more universal vantage point. It is quite possible that the experience captioned above fueled my travel down a road that has “No U-turn” signs all along the way. In other words, I have not reversed my path; I still think the same way about sectarian exclusivity, although my position on the somewhat more neutral idea of “denominating” is more informed now.]
Fast forward 28 years.
I still receive the national, “brotherhood”¹ newspaper. I skimmed a positive portrayal, in the August issue, of this same church. The church is now known (at least in the paper) for being a church of love and service.
In 1987: if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears, I wouldn’t have believed anyone would actually say it (the indented paragraph above).
In 2015: since I did hear it with my own ears in 1987, it was difficult to believe the glowing report of this same church’s caring stance toward people in trauma.
But some churches (and some individuals) can change.
Vive la repentance.
¹ “Fellowship” and “brotherhood” are used in-house as euphemisms for that which is called “denomination” in most other circles. In my view, “denomination” is a more apt, and certainly less disingenuous, term, although the Church of Christ certainly doesn’t have all the trappings of a full-blown denomination.