By Herschel E. Patton
On March 30. 1997, at 3:00 p.m., the last service in the old Downtown church building was held. The saints moved into their new building near the Lawrenceburg campus of Columbia State College, to be henceforth known as College Place church of Christ. They met in the new building for the first time on April 2, 1997.
The old Downtown building and property was sold to North’s Funeral Home and was immediately demolished to begin the construction of a funeral chapel.
The late Charlie Jones, long time elder in the Downtown church, and an avid record keeper, a few years ago wrote a history of the church in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. He gave a few of us who had been closely associated with the work there a copy of his records.
According to his records, the church began meeting about 1895. Preachers in those days included such men as C.E. Holt and T.B. Larimore. The brethren erected a building in 1906, in which they worshiped until 1930. In this year they built and moved into the Downtown building, which they used for 67 years. The Downtown church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee has had an illustrious history of contending for New Testament Christianity across the years.
When the elders were planning the last service in the Downtown building, they decided to use the oldest, living and able, former preacher to deliver the last sermon. That turned out to be me. They invited Johnnie Felker, a former preacher, to lead the singing.
Following is the sermon I delivered on that occasion.
Downtown Church of Christ
I hope no one fails to realize the real purpose of this gathering this afternoon — to worship, praise, and glorify God. Special circumstances could eclipse this purpose, but should not and must not. I suppose it is in order, as we conduct this last service in this antique building, to have an antique preacher, who has knowledge of what has gone on here, to deliver the last sermon in it.
I appreciate the invitation extended to me to be here and speak on this occasion. I am happy to be here and to see so many of you gathered here.
As I look out over this audience, I see many who are the children, grandchildren, and relatives of many who used to be a part of the Downtown church, but have now passed on. I am reminded of such names as Striblin, Coffman, Dugger, Lock, Hickman, Downey, Pollock, O’Neal, Gaither, Crowder, Ayers, and others.
My emotions this afternoon are of a dual and different nature — both happy and sad. But, how can one be both happy and sorrowful at the same time? There are times in life when such is the case. Do you remember the time you took your child to school for his first day, knowing that he would no longer be with you during the days to follow? Were you not happy for the child’s growth and progress, yet shed a few tears? Or, when the child graduated from high school and went off to college, perhaps far from home? When our oldest son, Gary, graduated from high school, he went into the Air Force for a few months, then went to college, attending Reserve meetings all the while. When he left for the Air Force after graduation, it was a happy time, but also a time for shedding tears. When Steve graduated from high school here in Lawrenceburg, we took him to Tampa, Florida to enter Florida College. After getting him set up in his dormitory we hit the road back to Lawrenceburg. We had no sooner left when Reba burst into tears. Charles, who a couple of years before had graduated from Lawrenceburg High School and went to Florida College, but now was in MTSU, was with us on this joyful trip. When his mother started sobbing, he said “Mother, what’s the matter.” I said to him, “Charles, your mother did this same thing when we left you down here. She did the same thing when Gary left for the Air Force.
Maybe someday day you will understand.”
It is this kind of joy and sadness we feel today as we have this last service in this building.
The Building is Not the Church
I think most of you gathered here today realize that this large yellow brick, imposing building, situated here in downtown Lawrenceburg, is not now, and never has been the Downtown church of Christ. It is only its meeting place.
The church that is of Christ is people — a special kind of people, not brick, mortar, wood, plaster, etc. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His special people, that you may proclaim the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
The church of Christ is the same thing that is said to be the body of Christ. “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head of all things to the church, which is His body” (Eph. 1:22-23).
For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church: And He is the savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:23-26).
It is the same thing as the family of God. “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house (family) of God, which is the church of the living God, the Pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim.3:15).
It is the same thing as the kingdom of Christ. In Matthew 16:16-19, Christ used the terms “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably, and Colossians 1:13 tells us that the saved have been translated out of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love.”
This spiritual system, prophesied and typified in the Old Testament, found fulfillment in the advent of Christ, his death on the cross, resurrection, and the establishment of his church, kingdom, family, body.
The divine format of Christianity existed in the first century under the guidance of inspired apostles, teachers, and prophets. We often refer to it as New Testament Christianity. Obviously, what existed then was exactly what God intended it to be, and according to his Word, was to be perpetually relevant — age lasting (Dan. 2:44).
A Set Pattern
The Bible teaches that when God establishes a system of religion, everything revealed must remain precisely intact for as long as they are designed to last. One would presume to change the divine arrangement to his own destruction.
An Old Testament example is Jeroboam I (1 Kings 13). He changed (1) the object of worship from God to golden calves, (2) the place of worship from Jerusalem to Bethel and Dan, (3) the priests from Levi to other tribes, and (4) the Feast of Tabernacles — a new feast was inaugurated.
God’s attitude? “Jeroboam caused Israel to sin” (1 Kings 4:16).
The early church was according to a God-given pattern. Acts 2:42 says, “They continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine” and 4:32 says “They were of one heart and soul,” suggesting unity of practice.
Romans 6:17-18 says they were “free from sin” by “obeying a form (pattern) of doctrine.” They were told to “mark them that cause division and offence contrary to the doctrine.” How could they do this if no pattern of New Testament doctrine existed? They were not to go beyond things written (1 Cor. 4:6). We conclude — all spiritual activity must be Scriptural.
The faith (a body of doctrine) can be departed from (1 Tim. 4:1), fall away from (2 Thess. 2:3), turned from (2 Tim. 4:1-4). “The Faith” is the same as “The Truth,” “The Gospel.”
This is what existed in New Testament times. It was New Testament Christianity. It was to be age-lasting.
History of Apostasy
Apostasy was foretold in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-7. This apostasy involved corruption in the organization of the church with men usurping authority that was not theirs. The result was the Roman Catholic Hierarchy and the Dark Ages. Corruption of the New Testament order and evil was so great that opposition could be expected.
Protests introduced, what is known in history as “The Reformation.” Out of this came “Denominationalism.” Divided Christendom was as great an evil as the original apostasy.
Numerous men began to speak against the divided state in the religious world, and to plead for a return to the old Bible order of things; to a respect for the authority of God and his Word. They wanted to restore in the hearts of men what was divinely revealed and existed in New Testament days. History refers to this as “The Restoration movement.” The plea was:
- A plea for Christ.
- A plea for the authority of Christ.
- A plea for the church of Christ (body, family, kingdom).
- A plea to be biblical — to walk in the old paths.
- A plea for people to be what God wants us to be ,as revealed in his word (pattern).
- A plea for the restoration of New Testament Christianity in this present age.
The results of such preaching were electrifying. Congregations of “The Faith” sprung up all across the land. New Testament Christianity was again popular.
In the years that followed, other apostasies occurred, thinning the ranks of the faithful. Yet, in the midst of these departures from the faith, there has always been that spiritual body of Christ (the church of Christ) with its message of truth.
When this building was erected in 1930, the body of Christ was just getting over another apostasy. Many brethren lost their respect for the need of Bible authority, for the divine pattern, and changed local church autonomy (each church doing the work of God, under Christ the head [king] to all churches functioning through an organization (Missionary Society) humanly created, and introduced instruments of music in worship. These unscriptural ef- forts resulted in the First Christian Church (denomination). Many souls and church buildings were lost to this apostasy. The church of Christ — family of God, kingdom of Christ suffered great loss.
Brethren here in Lawrenceburg, who erected this building, continued to preach and practice “The Faith” and to walk in the old paths. New Testament Christianity was being maintained and practiced in this place, even popular.
Someone gave me copies of advertisements for a couple of meetings held in this building in 1944 (53 years ago). The Spring meeting involved numerous preachers (April 24-May 5 — an eleven day meeting).
Speakers were D.D. Woody, Boone Douthitt, Franklin Puckett, Ira North, George DeHoff, Roy Cogdill, C.C. Burns, E.R. Harper, C.M. Pullias, N.B. Hardeman, C.L. Overturf, J.B. Gaither, A.R. Hill, Leon Burns, and J.L. Jackson.
I knew every one of these men personally. Not one of them is alive today. Not many who heard the men preaching in this meeting are alive today.
The Fall meeting, that same year, was preached by H. Leo Boles. He has been dead for a number of years. The young man pictured in this ad, who led the singing, is Robert C. Welch. Brother Welch still lives. He has been a close friend of mine all across these years. I was just a boy preacher, in Moulton, Alabama (less than a hundred miles south of here), and before then, preached at Savannah, Tennessee (about 50 miles west of here). I was in the neighborhood and aware of these meetings here at Downtown in 1944.
All of these preachers, at that time, were pleading for New Testament Christianity and respect for the authority of God’s Word. Unfortunately, during this last half century the body of Christ has suffered the bitter effects of another apostasy — in the ’50s and ’60s. Some of the men that preached in these meetings were caught up in this new apostasy. Others continued preaching chapter and verse for all that is believed and practiced until they died.
This apostasy was over Institutionalism and the Social Gospel. One involved the same principle as the Missionary Society — building societies, organizations, and institutions through which churches did their work (homes for orphans, widows, unwed mothers), and the same kind of thing for evangelizing and schools for training. All these organizations were to be supported out of the treasury of churches. The Social Gospel involved moving the emphasis from saving and nurturing souls to administering to the physical and social needs of man (banqueting, ball teams and fields, gyms, etc.).
The brethren at the Downtown church, who always opposed any departure from the divine pattern, were able to hold this building and continue the practice of New Testament Christianity because when this building was constructed it was written in the deed that if a time came when some wanted to embrace another organization than the local church, the building would belong to those opposing such things, whether in the majority or minority. So, the Downtown church of Christ has continued walking in truth according to the divine pattern revealed in Scripture.
Preachers who have lived here and preached in this building have been committed to the principles of New Testament Christianity, speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent.
I think of B.G. Hope, now deceased, Rufus Clifford, who was buried just a few weeks ago, E.L. Flannery, now deceased. My own tenure here for several years, David Clay- pool, Rufus Meriweather, Johnnie Felker, Julian Snell, Glen Seaton, and now Jim Deason. All of these men love the truth and give chapter and verse for all that is said and done.
The Downtown church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee has experienced change across the years, in personnel and membership, but not in faith and practice.
Just a few of us remain who were around when this place of worship was built, and these are rapidly passing on to their eternal abode. Just this past year we have buried Laura Hermsdorfer, Marie Morrow, Lorena Dowden, Charlie Jones (at 92 — long time elder). Just a few weeks ago we buried Charlie Holt. Standing at his grave side, I noticed on the adjacent lot was the grave marker for Hiram Holtsford and his wife, Cecil, fixtures in the Downtown church for many years.
Those who have passed on, and there are many others, have lost their earthly fellowship with members of this local church, but they have not lost their membership in the body of Christ, the church of Christ, or their citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. If they were faithful, and we now alive remain faithful, we can look forward to meeting them in the sweet by and by.
This building in which the Downtown church of Christ has been meeting for worship, preaching and doing the Lord’s work for all these years is only an expedient. So, for whatever expedient reasons — location, steps too high, elevator difficult to maintain, difficult to heat and cool, parking space too limited, or whatever, go ahead and make these expedient changes that are deemed plausible and wise, even though it may, because of sentiment, be sad. Relocate.
But don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever change the doc- trine, worship, organization, or work of the church from that divine pattern revealed in God’s word. Changes in this realm would result in separation from God, the removal of the candlestick, and loss of the soul.
My time is up and the lesson is yours. Get your song- books and in just a moment we will be singing the song that has been announced.