LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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Chapter 21

 

 

CHURCH OF CHRIST

 

 

In 1893 E. H. Sheeks and wife, Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, attended a revival meeting at Bells, Tenn., conducted by Rev. Robert L. Harris, who was at that time a Methodist preacher. They were both reclaimed and sanctified, and accompanied him to his next meeting at Friendship, Tenn. Rev. Mr. Harris was in poor health, and at the close of this meeting Brother Sheeks invited Brother Harris to share their home with them in Memphis, which was accepted, and that fall they went to Memphis, and remained there until the next April.

Rev. Mr. Harrisí health having failed, and seeing the necessity of getting this glorious doctrine of holiness to the world, after much prayer over the matter, he decided to start a paper, which was called The Trumpet, and a servantís house on the premises was converted into a printing office, with Rev. H. L. Harris, editor, and Mrs. Mary Harris and Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, typesetters.

In April, 1894, H. H. Sheeks formed a partnership with R. B. Mitchum in a store at Milan, Tenn., and immediately moved there. Rev. Mr. Harris and wife accompanied them, but being unable to secure a house large enough for all, Brother Harris and wife were offered a home with R. B. Mitchum, and here again a servantís house was changed into a printing office, and The Trumpet was printed in Milan.

Soon after moving to Milan, Rev. Mr. Harris began a series of sermons on the government and doctrines of the New Testament church, using the parlors of Brother Mitchumís home for a chapel. In June he began a tent meeting, which closed July 9, 1894, in the organization of the New Testament Church of Christ, with thirteen charter members: Rev. R. L. Harris, Mrs. H. L. Harris, H. B. Mitchum, Mrs. Donie, E. H. Sheeks, Mrs. H. J. Sheeks, Miss Emma Woodcock, Miss Susie Sherman, Miss Grace George, H. Y. Moore, F. A. Hite, W. M. Mann, Dr. Harris. Rev. R. L. Harris was called as pastor, and filled that office until his death.

In less than three years this church had four missionaries in foreign fields, and was supporting a Hindu boy in India (Bacher Maghjee), who is at this writing in school in Peniel, Texas. Brother and Sister Sheeks also were supporting a missionary and a girl in India.

At the death of Rev. H. L. Harris the mantle of his great work fell on his faithful wife and Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, who carried forward this new work until it spread through Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and as far west as Arizona. Mrs. Sheeks did the work in the East, while Mrs. Harris (now Mrs. Mary Lee Cagle) pushed her work in the West. Although women preachers, they have shown to the world their call and qualifications for planting holiness churches and maintaining them. Out of this work came a host of preachers and workers who are still pushing the work for God.

Soon after the death of Rev. Mr. Harris, Mrs. Harris and Mrs. Sheeks became co-laborers in gospel work, and the tests and trials came thick and fast. Women preachers were not popular, and all hell tried to stop them, but they went forward with a determination to win, and God mightily blessed their labors. Brother Sheeks bought them a big gospel tent. This made them independent of churches, which so often refused them their houses. The work spread rapidly in Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas, and scores were brought into the blessing of holiness.

R. B. Mitchum, and wife took charge of the church in Milan when they were away, and continued in charge until 1905, when they moved to Nashville, and the church was disbanded.

In August, 1897, Mrs. Harris sent an urgent call for Mrs. Sheeks to assist her in a meeting in Alabama, but after much prayer, Mrs. Sheeks wrote her that she was not led to go, but that God had something else for her in Tennessee. The same day, after she had mailed the letter, she got a letter from Hillville, asking her to come there for a revival, and she and Mrs. Mitchum went, and God blessed them in a most wonderful way. The tent would not hold the people, and many of the leading people of the town were saved and sanctified, one of whom is now teaching in Asbury College. The country for several miles was stirred over the revival and the women preachers. People threw away their tobacco (something new in religion then), lodges and worldliness in all forms were abandoned, old feuds were settled, and more than one hundred prayed through in this meeting, and a Church of Christ was organized to foster the flock. Mrs. Sheeks became their pastor and continued in that capacity for nine consecutive years. Soon a nice large church was erected and furnished in good style. The work of this church still abides.

From Hillville the tent was moved to Brownsville, the county seat, and here again God gave a great revival, and many people were saved. This meeting did much to break down prejudice in that country, and open the way for still greater work. Again the tent was moved, and a meeting begun at Gadsden, and the third real holiness revival was on, and many found God. In these meetings Mrs. Sheeks was assisted by Mrs. Mitchum, Miss Tena Platt, and Miss Annie Johnson, now Mrs. Annie Fisher, the wife of W. E. Fisher, who had just begun to preach.

After this Mrs. Sheeks was associated with Mrs. E. A. Masterman, who was her gospel singer and traveling companion for nine years, the whole year around, taking no vacation, but enduring hardships like good soldiers of Christ; holding meetings in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas. Mrs. Sheeks preached at the Beebe camp in 1899, which caused her to get a call to hold a meeting at Stony Point, a Methodist church, three miles out from Beebe. This meeting was in October, 1899. The weather being bad, the meeting only continued a few days, but she was called back by the pastor, Rev. E. N. Pitts, and she and Mrs. Masterman returned the following summer for a tent meeting, and the tent was pitched alongside the Methodist church. This meeting ran two weeks, and was the stepping stone to the organization of the first Church of Christ that was organized in Arkansas, which still holds its function as a church, and from it a light has radiated throughout Arkansas. Stony Point was the mother church in Arkansas. Great crowds thronged the services to see the mighty works of God; scores prayed through to victory, old troubles were settled, confessions were made, and many times the altar service ran all night, so deep was the conviction that people were unable to go home, but fell into the straw and cried to God for salvation, which came in abounding grace and shouting victory.

Mrs. Sheeks was called as pastor of this church, and served them for seven consecutive years. The first year they built a nice church, Brother Sheeks donating liberally to its construction. He was no preacher, but he was a cheerful giver, and God prospered him in his business for it.

The next day after the Stony Point meeting they began another revival, moving the tent seven miles to Union Valley, where the Lord blessed the old-time gospel. The workers from Stony Point came and assisted in song, prayer, and praise, and numbers were blessed there also. The pine woods resounded almost continuously with the voice of prayer. Here a man alone in secret was praying at the top of his voice, yonder a group were on their knees out in the pines, when soon there would be the shout of triumph and victory, while at the tent there was little time for preaching, and often the altar would be filled the second time, and sometimes the third time in one service. Most of the people were members of the Baptist Church, and on the first regular church day they turned out twenty-one for professing holiness, most of whom united with the Church of Christ at Stony Point.

The next meeting was at El Paso, Ark., near enough for the young converts from the other two places to attend and render great assistance in the meeting, and a mighty revival was the result.

Thus from place to place these two handmaidens of the Lord went; Mrs. Sheeks preaching, and Mrs. Masterman singing the gospel. When the weather was too cold for the tent to be used they preached in churches and schoolhouses, and in rented halls, that fall opening a mission in the city of Little Rock, which afterward resulted in the organization of another church. Mrs. Sheeks held meetings in Jonesboro, Black Oak, Monett, Beech Grove, Brinkley, Monroe, Madison, Green Brier, Vilonia, Texarkana, Hartford, Kingsland, Mena, Delight, Cabot, Hatfield, Waldron, and many other places, planting churches and conserving the work as she went.

In 1905 she held a meeting in Lafayette Springs, Miss., which resulted in the organization of the church at Thaxton, the first holiness church in that state, from which went out several preachers, and several other churches were organized from their work.

The first annual business meeting of the several churches convened at Milan, Tenn., December 12, 1899, at which H. B. Mitchum was chosen chairman and Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, secretary. These churches were strictly congregational in form of government, and would not accept members who had been immersed, unless they would be baptized by pouring or sprinkling. This caused quite a commotion in some places. Another question that arose was the ordination of women preachers. At this annual meeting three were ordained, two women and one man, Mrs. E. J. Sheeks, Mrs. R. L. Harris (Mrs. Mary Lee Cagle), and Rev. G. M. Hammond.

The second annual meeting was held at the same place, December 13, 1900, with the same officers elected. At this meeting it was decided to call the annual meetings. The annual council of the Church of Christ, composed of a delegated body from the several churches. Such councils were held at Jonesboro, Ark., 1901; Hillville, Tenn., 1902; Beech Grove, Ark., 1903; Stony Point, Ark., 1904. About this time it was deemed necessary to have two councils, the eastern, composed of Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas. The western embracing the state of Texas.

 

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST IN TEXAS

 

On December 28, 1897, the first Church of Christ was organized at Swedonia, Texas, by Mrs. Mary Lee Cagle. This was a Scandinavian settlement, and most of the members were Swedes. Among the charter members was Miss Annie May Johnson, now Mrs. William E. Fisher. She was a strong preacher and did a mighty work in the early days in Texas. Many other churches soon followed in the adjacent country, all of which still hold their function as churches to this day, and all these years have prospered. While persecution thick and fast has come their way, God has led them steadily on to victory.

In 1897 a church was organized in Waco, Texas, by Rev. J. A. Murphree. It was at this time that Rev. William E. Fisher united with the church, and has since figured extensively in church work. He was the first District Superintendent of the Abilene District, then of the San Antonio District, and at this writing is pastor of the First Church of the Nazarene, Kansas City. Also at this meeting Rev. J. T. Upchurch, that pioneer rescue worker and founder of the Berachah Rescue Home at Arlington, Texas, united with the church. It was here that Rev. Bert Freeland and Rev. J. W. Manney came into the church. All of these are still members of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.

On December 23, 1899, a gospel mission and training school was started by the Church of Christ, at 115-117 North Eighth street, Waco, Texas, with Rev. J. A. Murphree president of the faculty of six teachers. This school later moved to Buffalo Gap, Texas, and then again still later was removed to Hamlin, Texas, where it became the Central Nazarene University. All this time Rev. W. E. Fisher and Rev. Mrs. Mary Lee Cagle had much to do with shaping the destiny of this school.

In December, 1898, a church paper was launched, called The Evangelist, which was an eight-page monthly paper, and was edited by Rev. J. A. Murphree. This paper was published for several years with very gratifying results, championing the cause of holiness which was at that time exceedingly unpopular, and still more so to stand for a holiness organization, but God blessed the paper and made it a blessing to the thousands of its readers.

As these churches grew and increased in number and power, for God was with them and blessed this despised band of holy people, persecution grew as well, and they saw the necessity of a closer union with each other, for they were strictly congregational in government, and each local church was a sovereign within itself, attending to all church matters as that local church saw things: licensing and ordaining the ministry as the local church deemed prudent. A general church meeting was called to meet in Buffalo Gap, Texas, December 24, 1902, where the first annual western council was organized. Rev. William E. Fisher was elected president, and a Brother Logadon, secretary. Some feared that the clergy would assume control as in many of the old-line churches, and they elected their officers for the ensuing year from the laity. Brother Joe Holly was elected president, Brother Logsdon, vice-president, and Mrs. Fannie Suddarth, secretary; Mrs. Mary Lee Cagle, corresponding secretary.

This meeting was called the annual council of the Church of Christ, and a year book was published, containing the minutes of the meeting, a statement of doctrine, and form of government. At this council there were eleven churches or congregations represented, together with sixteen ministerial, and eight lay delegates.

The second annual council convened at Roby, Texas, November 26, 1903, at which time Rev. William E. Fisher was again elected president, Rev. Samuel Busbee, vice-president, and Mrs. Fannie Suddarth, secretary.

The third annual council convened at Rising Star, Texas, November 22, 1904, at which the delegates from the Independent Holiness Church, the Church of God, and the holiness people at large met in joint session with delegates from the Church of Christ, to plan for a union of all holiness people into one body. Delegates were elected to the general council of Independent Holiness churches, which met at Pilot Point, Texas, the following year.