Roots go deep for the ‘Four Oaks’ Church of Christ

Published 6:41 pm Monday, September 17, 2018

An era has passed, and a new one is here. This past weekend what was long the Murphy Avenue Church of Christ began a new era in their just-completed building on the Roanoke Road. The new name is the “Four Oaks” Church of Christ, named such because of four tall oak trees that stand in the yard. Coca-Cola Mike, who oversaw much of the building process, credits his brother, Larry, for coming up with the name.

Ronny Wade — a well-known preacher across the country — helped open the building in a five-day revival last week. That was an appropriate touch because Ronny labored with the church in the latter years of the Murphy Avenue era. Plus, Ronny is of such a caliber that he can stand unapologetically where Preacher E.H. Miller and my uncle, Alton Bailey, stood for more than half a century.

The history of this congregation is long and rich. It began back in the 1930s after a split from the Park Avenue Church of Christ. My grandparents, Preacher E.H. and Zona Belle Miller, and a number of others, left Park Avenue — in the words of my cousin and family historian, Emily Allen — “over the Sunday School issue that was raging.”

Soon thereafter, another issue widened the gap between the LaGrange churches and churches of Christ across the country — the issue of individual cups and loaves in the Lord’s Supper. At first Preacher Miller believed it was all right to use multiple cups. 

In fact, he was a self-proclaimed “two-cup” man. But one day he ran across a man who believed in using only one cup, so he wrote an older preacher from Texas asking him how to handle that one-cup argument. The preacher didn’t mince his words:

“Preacher Miller,” he wrote, “don’t mess with those folks. They’re crazy.”

Through the years, my grandad would tell that story and offer a hearty laugh, then add in his powerful raspy voice, “Well, I couldn’t answer him with that, so I had to study it out.” 

He would write a poem some years later that began, “Once I was a two-cup man, but found my house was built on sand; Found I had no place to stand, and could not meet the one-cup man.”

Preacher Miller’s poem demonstrates the battle the churches of Christ were enduring during the first half of the twentieth century, one that found its way to LaGrange. Preacher Miller —and, by extension, the church of Christ on Murphy Avenue — stood by the conservative principle that Jesus absolutely meant it when he took one loaf and one cup in the instituting of the Lord’s Supper. They held that when a G.C. Brewer first introduced the individual cups in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1915, that he introduced a man-made change, not a God-sanctioned one. So, Preacher Miller and the LaGrange church resisted that innovation on the same grounds almost all churches of Christ have resist the use of instruments of music.

So convicted were the charter members of the Murphy Avenue church, they included a clause in the deed that prohibited individual cups and loaves — as well as Sunday School — ever being used on that property. Coca-Cola Mike and the current leaders had to have that clause revoked a couple of years ago so they could sell the building. Since then, the battle has calmed — even though the division remains — so no such clause was needed for the new building. Still, the new Four Oaks Church of Christ and hundreds of congregations across the country and world still hold to the same principles as the original Murphy Avenue Church of Christ.

When the church split at Park Avenue, my grandma’s sister Florence Morgan and her daughter — my historian — Emily Allen stayed behind at Park Avenue. Ironically, if they had left, Murphy Avenue never would have happened, because the vote on who would stay and who would go was decided by just three votes.