By Doris Davis
[Note by the author's daughter: The following article was written by my mother Doris Nesbitt Davis in 1963, during the height of the institutional issues that divided churches of Christ. Doris Nesbitt grew up in Atlanta, the oldest of four children of Rudolph and Lily Nesbitt, early converts and members of the West End church. Doris Nesbitt married Hugh Davis, and after converting him, supported his preaching of the gospel for 50 years until her death in 1999. My mother devoted her life to serving her Lord and left a legacy that my sisters and I treasure. Sandra Winegar, 2004.]
At the turn of this century, the religious people of Atlanta were wholly given over to denominationalism. Simple, New Testament Christianity was unknown to this budding, southern metropolis. It was into such a scene that O.D. Bearden and his good wife moved from Tennessee a little more than 50 years ago [this would have been around 1910, sw].
Finding no other Christians in Atlanta, brother and sister Bearden set an example that might well be followed by other Christians today as they move into areas barren of the Truth. Brother and sister Bearden refused to compromise with error about them and began to hold regular worship services in their own home, endeavoring to teach the Truth to their new neighbors and friends. And thus was the humble beginning of the Lord's work in Atlanta.
Soon, they were able to persuade S.H. Hall and his wife to join them in their labors in Atlanta. For seven years, brother Hall preached the first principles of the gospel to the people of Atlanta. With little financial reward, he labored diligently. Years later, he often recalled the long years that his wife wore "that same old hat," the "old hat" becoming a symbol of many deprivations of the family during those lean years.
Brother Hall preached the gospel anywhere and everywhere that he could get anyone to listen. Almost every night of the year found him holding a "cottage prayer meeting" in someone's home. These homes that were opened to him were not homes of members of the church, mind you, for there were no Christians, other than the Beardens and the Halls.
Brother Hall affirmed that he could give book, chapter and verse for everything that he believed and taught. He urged his listeners to bring their Bibles, to read with him, to invite him into their homes for further study. He told them time and time again, "We speak where the Bible speaks. We are silent where the bible is silent."
To back up this claim, brother Hall preached night after night on the subjects of repentance, baptism by immersion in contrast to the unscriptural practice of sprinkling or pouring. He taught respect for the silence of the scriptures as he urged his hearers to give up their pianos and organs and worship by song as commanded in the Bible. He condemned pie suppers, ice cream parties, and other such unscriptural means of financing the Lord's work.
Many people came to hear brother Hall preach. He didn't have large numbers at his "cottage prayer meetings" but he held so many of these small meetings that he was able to reach a large number of Atlantans with the gospel message.
Slowly, the word began to produce fruits. The church soon began to meet in a small white frame building on West End Avenue in the West End section of the city. To the "cottage prayer meetings" was now added a new ingredient: tent meetings.
One of these tent meetings continued in East Point for six weeks and saw the baptism of about 200 souls. [Doris Davis' parents and her maternal grandmother were among the number baptized. sw] Some of these formed the nucleus of the East Point church, while some worshipped with the West End church. A third congregation for Atlanta was the Pryor Street church.
While progress was being made in preaching the gospel in Atlanta, this progress seemed very slow in those early years. Mention the "church of Christ" in those days and more than likely you would be greeted with a puzzled shake of the head and a short reply, "Never heard of it!"
In those early days of the church in Atlanta, there was one outstanding characteristic of those babes in Christ, a trait that often seems to be missing from the lives of present-day converts. Those babes in Christ seemed to marvel at the fact that they had learned the Truth and had been permitted to become members of Christ's church! They accounted it a wondrous thing that this treasure was theirs. With zeal, they set about trying to teach the truth to others. Oftentimes, the zeal that was sparked by the knowledge of the treasure which was theirs in the Way of Truth was misunderstood by the world about them and soon it was being told that "members of the church of Christ think that they're the only ones who're going to be saved."
In spite of the opposition that was encountered, however, those early Christians in Atlanta began to make a name for themselves for their knowledge of the scriptures. Even the children were reading their Bibles and memorizing large portions of it. On Sunday mornings, when a count was made of the number present for Bible study, there was another count made. Everyone present told how many chapters in the Bible he, or she, had read during the past week. Those who had read less than a chapter a day, hung their heads in shame and resolved to do better the next week.
An oft repeated statement from the pulpit in those days was, "We give book, chapter, and verse for everything that we believe and practice." Often, this statement was followed by the suggestion that we would gladly give up anything that we were doing if anyone could point out that the scriptures forbade it or we would begin to do anything that the scriptures authorized and we were not doing it.
Even the children began to know what a person should do to become a Christian. One must hear the word, believe, repent of sins, confess Christ and be baptized. These five "steps" put one into Christ. There were also five items of public worship: preaching, singing, praying, the Lord's supper and giving. There were scriptures to be learned to support these teachings. There were many, many lessons to show the necessity for leaving the mechanical instrument out of the worship of God. The denominational people of Atlanta were shocked at the idea of trying to worship without the aid of the instrument. They had never before heard of such an idea. Those early members of the church in Atlanta had to be able to teach friends and neighbors on this subject constantly.
Another teaching that came as a shock to the people of Atlanta was the necessity of faithful observance of the Lord's supper every Lord's day.
As the years passed by, the church made slow, but steady, progress in Atlanta. The Moreland Avenue church began to meet. There was the church on Seminole Avenue, which later moved into a new building and became known as the Druid Hills church. Earlier than this, the church meeting on West End Avenue had outgrown its building twice. The first move to overcome the crowded condition saw the east walls of the meeting house moved out to enlarge the old auditorium. Later, as that, too, filled to capacity, a new meeting house was constructed on Gordon Street and it was not the "West End Avenue church" but the "West End church." Many other congregations sprang up: Kirkwood, Glenwood Hills, Grant Park, Gary Park and then others, too numerous to mention.
But as the heartening numerical growth took place, a second generation in the history of the church in Atlanta had grown up. Whereas the first Christians in the Atlanta church had been characterized by their unbounded joy at finding the Truth of the gospel, their children, who were "brought up in the church," an oft repeated statement which may, in itself, reflect a grave lack of understanding of the scriptures, did not seem to possess this same feeling of awe at being the possessors of the Truth.
Since a fervent love for the Truth and a strong desire to defend it and to proclaim it to others must be the badge of every generation, yea, of EVERY Christian, it soon became apparent that while the church was growing numerically in Atlanta, there was evidence that its spiritual strength might not be keeping pace.
Statements like the above can sometimes be interpreted to mean an indictment of all of God's people in a given locality. Such an interpretation of conditions in Atlanta, or any other place, would not be just to those faithful children of God who have continued to love Him fervently and still hold their conversion to be a marvelous thing: to wonder at the magnitude of possessing the Truth of the gospel in the midst of a religious world torn by so much division. Only God knows how many Christians, of this caliber, are in Atlanta today, but they must be many.
But let us turn our attention to that other class of people who call themselves member of churches of Christ in the Atlanta area and who do not have a deep-seated love for the Truth. There may be many reasons for their being in this condition: perhaps parents have failed to teach their children the proper love and respect for God and for His Word. Maybe preachers have failed to give a strong diet of the meatier things in the Word. Perhaps some elders have not been as watchful for souls as they should have been. Maybe it is the fault of the individual and has just been lazy and slothful in his own study of the Word and its application in his life. Regardless of the cause, there have been many, in recent years who would have the church of our Savior be just like the denominations round about us. They have added banquet halls to the meeting houses and various recreations and ball games to their curriculum.
As the church has proclaimed that it is "on the march" and tried to keep up with churches of men in numbers, popularity and prestige, it has forgotten the old cry of "We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent" and a new cry has gone forth, "We do many things for which we have no Bible authority."
Some have dared to raise their voices in protest against these departures from the old paths. They, like the first Christians who taught in Atlanta, say, "We must give book, chapter, and verse for everything that we believe and practice." They say, "If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God."
To some, this old, familiar plea has lost its appeal. They fight against it by an old dodge - they resort to name calling. They cry "anti" and this name calling seems, to them, to answer every Bible teaching that would condemn their worldly practices.
Just as the religious world of Atlanta sought to hamper the work of the early Christians here by contemptuously saying, "They think they're the only ones who're going to be saved," present day advocates of things not taught in the scriptures seek to divert attention by any means other than giving scriptural arguments.
The newest congregation of the Lord's people to begin meeting in the Atlanta area is known as the Northeast church of Christ. Soon after it began to meet, there were some to inquire, "Are you antis?" Such questions, asked by honest souls who are sincerely trying to serve God, are always welcomed by other children of God. Peter teaches that we are to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us [1 Pet. 3:15]. Any child of God, with the right attitude, will gladly answer such a question, when it is asked in the right spirit.
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