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

Published 6:37 pm Friday, September 21, 2018

This is the second part of a column on a new church in Troup County.

When the Four Oaks Church of Christ opened its doors last week, we could not help rejoicing both at its new beginning and its rich past.

The Murphy Avenue church started in the 1930s as it split from the church of Christ on Park Avenue over the issue of Sunday School, and the division widened with the coming of the individual loaves and cups in the Lord’s Supper.

My grandparents E.H. and Zona Belle Miller were charter members of the group that settled at Murphy Avenue. Preacher Miller also was a powerful voice not only in LaGrange but across the country, as he opposed the innovations in the churches of Christ that were raging in the early part of the twentieth century.

The Murphy Avenue church gave Preacher Miller the freedom to travel the country to hold revivals and debate church issues as they arose. With Murphy Avenue’s backing, he traveled thousands of miles, from the late 1930s all the way in to the 70s, before his death in 1979.

Despite his fiery nature and powerful faith, the Murphy Avenue preacher always maintained a good sense of humor and could even laugh at himself, even on the Lord’s Supper issue. He often would tell the story of when he was debating in Oklahoma City. His opponent wheeled in a 55-gallon drum trying to demonstrate how big the cup in Jerusalem would have to be to serve 3000. You could have heard Preacher Miller laughing above the crowd on that one. But, undaunted, he would get up behind his opponent as enthusiastically as before and show, among other things, that the Bible never teaches that the early Christians in Jerusalem all met in one congregational assembly. But, still, he appreciated the humor.

The division in the 1930s did not affect just the churches: it affected families, too — including our own. While my grandparents and others left Park Avenue, Grandma’s sister Florence Morgan — one of the sweetest ladies I ever knew  — and her daughter Emily Allen stayed behind. Still, despite standing on the issues differently, we always remained close to Emily and Aunt Florence. My cousin Emily still lays claim to having raised me, and — being the family historian — she provided me much of the history we are sharing here.

Emily reminded me that those few Christians who left met for a while on the Whitesville Road at the Browning home, where “King and Son’s” now sits.

After a while, they rented an old store building on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Murphy.

That old building lived up to that description. It had holes in the roof, and, as Grandma would often tell me, “you could look up at night and see the stars.” Then she would add,“But in all the time we were in that old store building, it never rained during services. It would rain before, and it would rain after, but never during.”

That generation of Christians — far more than today — leaned heavily on God’s providential care. They had to lean on something bigger, because they lived through some of the toughest times in our country’s history. But God’s grace carried them through those poor, hard years, and — I am glad to say — it has carried them home.

That band of believers stayed in that location about 80 years, until the brethren sold the building a couple of years ago and met — until last week — in a rented building on Vernon Road.

Now, by the Lord’s great providence, they are now meeting in a new location.

Oh, most of those old soldiers have long been gone — Woody and Ilene Fling; Coca-Cola Mike’s uncle Angus and aunt Eunice Shelnutt, as well as his dad Ivy Thompson (but his mom maw maw is 96 and still coming to church regularly); Beulah, and Willie Mae Anderson; beautiful Faye Rowe and her angel-voiced cousin Alice Ann Thompson; my one-of-a-kind uncle Raymond Miller; my auburn-headed uncle Alton and aunt Florence Bailey, as well as my mom Louise and a good man they called Dut; and, of course, Preacher Miller and grandma — along with many more good Christian people.

They are gone — but their memories, and the results of what they stood for, are not. We are glad that their descendants now carry on the work of the church at a beautiful location on the Roanoke Road, beneath four tall oak trees.

There’s one more thing you should know about that small band of Christians who left their friends at Park Avenue. When they left, they went to worship at the Browning’s house, but they didn’t worship inside. They met out in the front yard and worshipped together there, underneath two tall oak trees that still stand.