(photograph of James L. Neal)
“…The church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28)
INTRO.: A hymn which discusses the church which Christ purchased with His own blood is “The Church.” The text was written by Roland Rudolph “Rue” Porter (1890-1967). An Arkansas born gospel preacher, well known throughout the south-central United States, who spent much of his adult life in Neosho, MO, and edited The Christian Worker, he produced several songs, of which the communion hymn “In Remembrance,” beginning “On this Lord’s day we assemble” with music by Will W. Slater, is perhaps the most famous. The tune for “The Church” was composed by James L. Neal, who was born on Dec. 23, 1893, near Bates, AR. He married Anna Montez Upchurch, and they had two children. After being baptized by Lawrence Neal in Sept. of 1914, he began preaching in 1930 at Bates. Through the years he served not only as a preacher but also as an elder while living at Springdale, AR.
In Oct. of 1936, a report about a debate at the Halcomb Street church of Christ in Springdale between C. B. Head (Christian) and A. M. Baker (Mormon) was made by James L. Neal of Springdale. According to the website of the Winslow, AR, Church of Christ, in Oct. of 1940, Harbert Hooker came to Winslow to conduct a two-week gospel meeting, as a result of which, the Winslow congregation was established, and James L. Neal, one of the Springdale elders, also did some of the preaching for the new church. Then in the September 18, 1958, issue of the Gospel Guardian, James L. Denison of Boling, TX, reported that “James L. Neal, an elder of the church at Springdale, Arkansas, recently held our meeting.” Neal also published a journal called The Gospel Age for a number of years from Springdale. In addition, Neal was a song leader, vocal music teacher, and hymn writer, having attended normal schools and studied under S. J. Oslin, R. H. Brooks, Arthur Reed, and L. O. Sanderson.
Favorite Songs of the Church No. 2 was published in 1948 by the Church Music Company, compiled by Frank Grammer, Rue Porter, James L. Neal, and Albert Lovelady. “The Church” was copyrighted in 1950 by Porter and Neal. Neal had a special relationship with Will W. Slater. Songs We Love No. 2 (1950), Spiritual Melody Songs (1951). and Joyful Praise (1952) were all jointly published by Will W. Slater and James L. Neal. Then in 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion, which contained the hymn, was compiled and edited by Will W. Slater of Fort Worth, TX, assisted by James L. Neal and Graden Slater. The song later appeared in the 1955 Youth Melodies and Action Songs edited by Palmer Wheeler and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. My friend Tommy McClure said that he had attended singing schools conducted by such men as Frank Grammar, Thomas J. Farris, James L. Neal, Tommy Nicks, and R. J. Stevens. In 1974, Neal provided music for a song “My Spirit Is Free” with words by Peggy McCormack. And in 1982, Neal’s entry in Our Garden of Song edited by Gene C. Finley was “I Have Anchored My Life.” Neal died on November 16, 1990.
“The Church” emphasizes several important facts about the church belonging to Jesus Christ.
I. Stanza 1 calls it a habitation for God
The church was bought with Jesus’ blood,
A habitation for our God;
It is a city built four square,
And all the saints of God dwell there.
- Just as the Old Testament temple was a symbol of God’s presence among the people of Israel, so the church is like a temple built together for a dwelling place of God: Eph. 2:21-22
- Also like the eternal home in heaven, the church as God’s earthly habitation is a city built four square, implying that there is room for all who would come to it: Rev. 21:16
- And not only is it a habitation of God, but all the saints dwell there: 1 Cor. 14:33
II. Stanza 2 refers to it as the body of which Christ is Head
The church has Jesus for its head;
Its members by His Word are led.
They follow Him in righteousness,
For all His ways are paths of peace.
- Jesus Christ is head over all things to the church which is His body: Eph. 1:22-23
- Therefore, the members must be led by His word because they will be judged by it: Jn. 12:48
- Citizens of the kingdom of God, which on earth is the church, must follow righteousness and peace: Rom. 14:17
III. Stanza 3 identifies it as the object of Christ’s love
The church was built upon the Rock;
It can’t be moved by tempest shock.
The gates of hell cannot remove
This sacred object of His love.
1. Jesus promised to build the church on the rock of His deity: Matt. 16:18
2. Thus, it is a kingdom that cannot be moved or shaken: Heb. 12:25-28
3. As such, the church is the sacred object of His love: Eph. 5:25-27
CONCL.: The chorus reminds us of these important aspects of the New Testament church.
There is no other king or head
By whom the church is ruled or led.
Christ Jesus is its only Lord;
His church is guided by His Word.
One of Neal’s two children may have been the James L. Neal who, around 1945 moved to Redlands, CA, from Arkansas and was introduced by a friend, Marie Messer, to her sister Aline Ball, who had come there from her home in Spur, TX, to try her luck in California. The two dated, but Aline became homesick and returned to Spur. Jim must have followed her to Spur, because while she was working there as a bookkeeper at Red Front Drug Store, Jim Neal came back into her life, and they were married on November 6, 1948, in Spur. They headed for California where Jim went to work at Norton Air Base. They had three children. In 1966, Jim transferred to Tinker Air Base, OK, and they settled in Norsman. Four years later, Jim transferred to Altus. They bought a farm near Navajo Community where they lived until Jim’s retirement in 1974. Upon retirement, they bought land from Jim’s grandparents near Waldron, AR, where they cut timber and built a home. Then they returned to Spur in 1988, moving from Arkansas, and Aline died there on Saturday, December 20, 1997, with her funeral at the Highway 70 Church of Christ in Spur. Whether the two are related or not, James L. Neal provided good music for Rue Porter’s excellent words about “The Church.” (Note: This song is not to be confused with song number one in Sacred Selections for the Church by the editor Ellis J. Crum, originally titled “The Church of Christ” but later retitled just “The Church.”)