FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Weight lifted for another great LaGrange preacher
My hometown of La-Grange, Georgia has the distinct honor of being the home of three of the most influential preachers of the churches of Christ over the last century. Two of those men have warranted writings in this place for as long as we’ve shared life here on the “front porch.” You know them as my auburn-headed Uncle Alton Bailey and my grandfather Preacher Miller, both of whom preached for what was the Murphy Avenue Church of Christ.
Uncle Alton was Brother Miller’s “Elisha,” serving as a great support for his father-in-law the same way Elisha stood by Elijah’s side for many years. Alton Bailey stood by Preacher Miller for decades, and he “stood in” for him as the elder preacher traveled the country establishing as many as a hundred churches of Christ along the way. LaGrange’s E.H. Miller was a pioneer man, and he humbly took his place among the iconic men who preached the gospel passionately during the 1900s.
But Preacher Miller ended his journey in 1989; and Uncle Alton took the mantle from him, until his own health began to fade in early portion of the 2000s. It was then that the church needed someone to fill both of their shoes. The man who answered that call was Ronny Wade, a Missouri preacher who was as well-known of a preacher as any man among what is known as the “one-cup” churches of Christ.
If you had seen Ronny along the way, you likely would not have known the influence he wielded, because he always had an unassuming, gentle manner. While you may not have seen him in person, many of you have seen him on the “Let The Bible Speak” TV program during his thirty years on that program. That he was a preacher was not that hard to tell. That he was a great preacher may have been less obvious.
Saying that a man is a “great” preacher does not mean that he is superior to any other. It is just that he occupies an important place in the church’s history. In the early years of the 1900s, the church faced many challenges regarding a number of issues, one of the major ones being whether it is scriptural to use multiple loaves and cups in the Lord’s Supper. The 1900s was a “debating” period, and men would gather by the hundreds to listen to a good debate. Brother Miller had upwards of 50 debates in his time, and Ronny Wade was not far behind.
Ronny stood as a champion for the church during his era, especially standing up for the church’s staunch belief that the symbolism of one loaf and one cup of blessing in the communion was nothing with which men could tamper. Regardless of which side a man took on that issue, almost all agreed the subject needed to be discussed.
As a debater, Ronny had a couple of great attributes that served him well. One, he was a highly educated man – going as far as earning a doctorate in education – and he also had a smooth, easy-to-listen-to delivery. Audiences enjoyed his smooth eloquence in debates, gospel meetings, and on TV for well over 50 years.
Despite his education and smooth delivery, his best quality as a debater probably was that mild-mannered, Clark-Kent demeanor. He never got angry or was rude during a debate but always conducted himself as a consummate gentleman. He was a Southerner of sorts. If being born in Fort Worth, Texas doesn’t make you a Southerner, then living in Georgia for nearly a decade will. And, as a Southerner, he was a gentleman, much like the two giant LaGrange preachers who came before him.
Every great man and woman must end their race, as we well know. On Tuesday morning – a week ago now – Ronny ended his at the age of 83, succumbing to a rare bone cancer that had smoldered within his body for five years. Still, he had preached until the very end.
When his race ended, I thought of something Ronny told me years ago regarding my grandfather. He reminded me that sometimes people have a job to do that is bigger than themselves. I believe that’s how he put it. What he meant was that Preacher Miller’s purpose in life went beyond normal family and life responsibilities, that he had a weight to carry that the average man or woman does not have.
Ronny, too, carried such a weight; and he knew it, although he never complained of it.
I know that many blessings await a man who has lived a life for the Lord, but Brother Ronny experienced an added one in the pre-dawn hours of that Tuesday morning. The tremendous weight of a brotherhood was lifted from his shoulders that morning, and – like Elijah of old – he was able to fly away home.
Coach Steven Bowen, a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach, now enjoys his time as a full-time writer and preacher of the gospel. In addition to his evangelistic travels, he works and writes for the Church of Christ of Red Oak at Uhl Road and Ovilla. Their worship times are 10 a.m. Sundays and 7:30 pm. Wednesdays. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 972-824-5197.