Preacher Miller could ‘take care of his self’

Published 6:58 pm Friday, September 20, 2019

You’d never know that a humble Georgia preacher who lived most of his life down on modest Truitt Avenue in LaGrange could be one of our country’s most powerful debaters.

You might not have seen him in that light if you ever saw him making his way up to the hospital every day, dressed in a vintage dark suit, white shirt, and dark tie. Visiting the hospital was his daily routine, and he made his way cheerfully from room to room with a prayer, a unique card, a Bible verse or a friendly joke. The best preachers know how to serve a person face to face as well as face up to a crowd in a debate. Preacher Miller could do both.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve heard stories about “Brother Miller” all over the country. He preached one time or another in well over half the states in the country, carrying with him notable sermons such as “Why the River of Jordan is Crooked,” “Five Peas in a Pod” and “The Great Speckled Bird.”

And debating was almost as much of his work as preaching was. It was a different era back in the 1940s and 1950s. The religious climate was changing and had been doing so for at least a century. The first half of the 1900s was the “Golden Age” of the gospel. 

The Church of Christ grew with leaps and bounds during that time, as did churches of all denominations. Preacher Miller, I am told, was instrumental in helping establish as many as a hundred churches of Christ across the country. Folks from every church knew their Bibles well back then. Men weren’t generally educated school-wise, but they were educated with the Bible.

Such an era made for some good, friendly Bible discussions, both private and public. Preacher Miller had upward of nearly a hundred public Bible discussions in his day. He debated issues involving the Lord’s Supper, Sunday School, miracles, baptism and a woman’s long hair, along with a good many other topics. 

Those subjects were important back then, even though most people today know much less about them. We live today in more of an age where people believe the spirit of our faith matters more than religious practices and doctrines. Preacher Miller believed in both, teaching his whole life about spiritual matters — including the indwelling of the spirit, although he did not hold to modern miracles. He held firmly as best he could both to “spirit and truth.”

He felt that the “spirit” of a debate should be right, too. Through the years, many people have recounted to me how that — at the end of a public debate when the dismissal prayer had been given – he’d stand up and holler out in his unmistakable loud voice, “Everybody shake hands and be friendly!” 

His raspy voice echoing through the building served to cut through whatever tension was left over from a spirited debate. He may not have agreed with you, but he believed we should all treat each other with respect. I don’t think I ever heard him talk down to anybody once in my life.  

Several years ago — when I was visiting the church up in Washington, Oklahoma — old brother Raymond Lindsey, who has since gone on, told me a story about Preacher Miller from back in his debating days. Mr. Lindsey was there back in the 1950s when the Georgia preacher debated a man named Joe Crumbly up in Oklahoma City on the number of drinking vessels that should be used in the communion. Preacher Miller started out as a young preacher believing in two cups or more at the Lord’s Supper, but he came over to the one-cup belief some years later and defended that practice by the Bible until the day he died.

Mr. Lindsey and a friend named Bob Cargill sat near the front during the debate that first night. Mr. Crumbly gave the first speech, and Lindsey said that it was clear from the start that he was both a man of education and an eloquent speaker. About halfway through his speech, Cargill elbowed Lindsey, and said,

“Preacher Miller’s got his work cut out for him tonight.” Lindsey shook his head in agreement.

Mr. Crumbly finished up, and headed to his seat; but before he could sit down, Preacher Miller was hurrying up to the podium with his Bible in hand, not wanting to lose even one moment. Lindsey said Preacher Miller hit that pulpit preaching and never slowed down, sweat dripping from his face the whole time. 

He took one of Crumbly’s arguments and turned to the Bible for an answer — then another, and another. One by one he went down the line answering arguments, pausing only a time or two to catch a breath.

About halfway through Preacher Miller’s presentation, Cargill smiled, elbowed Lindsey again, and said,

“I believe Preacher Miller can take care of his self.”