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This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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In The News: North Richland Hills church of Christ to Begin Using Instruments in Worship

inthenewsOn Saturday, February 10, 2007, the Richland Hills church of Christ will begin holding a weekly Saturday evening worship service that will include the use of musical instruments in worship, and an observance of the Lord’s Supper. Jon Jones, (the former “pulpit minister” and one of the elders), said that the elders “fully and completely” endorsed the decision. At an adult Bible study, he said, “There is unity in our eldership, and we are so thankful for that.”

However, two of the 17 elders serving resigned when the decision was made. Though there seems to be some “politicking” going on, and the two remain members of the congregation, Roger Dean, one of the remaining 15 elders acknowledged that the decision had prompted the two elders to resign.

Rick Atchley is the current “pulpit minister”, and has long been an advocate of improved relations with the Christian church (a denomination that orginiated out of the Restoration movement, and uses musical instruments in worship).

Analysis:

It is not surprising that the Richland Hills church has reached this point. The liberalism present in that congregation has long been documented, and this further step is only a small increment of a full blown apostasy. It is interesting to note the language and reasoning of the leadership of the church, as well as the reaction of the congregation. Following are some of the statements made by the elders and preacher, recorded in the Christian Chronicle newspaper, with analysis from scripture:

“Frankly, we did not know what to expect,” [Roger] Dean said. “We felt like it was going to be pretty difficult, but it has not been. … People are truly supporting the leadership and the eldership.”

It should not surprise us that the members of the congregation are accepting of the change. The apostasy has been ongoing for many years. The congregation consists of individuals (including the leadership) that have a very sectarian view of the church, and a liberal attitude toward Bible authority. The Apostle Paul warned of such when he wrote Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

“We didn’t make this decision on a Tuesday and announce it on a Sunday,” Atchley said in the adult Bible study, citing much study, prayer and fasting by the elders. “This has been part of about a three-year journey that the leadership has been on.”

While it is commendable that the elders prayed and fasted, the decision to go ahead with this practice was done despite the fact that there is no scriptural authority for it. No amount of prayer or fasting will validate vain worship. Notice our Lord’s statement in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

No amount of Bible study will reveal any positive authority for either the use of musical instruments in Christian worship, or the observance of the Lord’s Supper in Christian assembly on a Saturday. To do either is to engage in will worship, and to displease God.

In the Dec. 3 Bible study, Atchley told Richland Hills members that “there has never been a moment’s discussion of changing the name of this church or our affiliation with Churches of Christ.”

But he said Richland Hills must put the kingdom of God and Christ’s mission above concerns that the change might hurt the congregation’s standing or influence among Churches of Christ.

At the same time, he suggested to members that Richland Hills’ decision might “inspire many other Churches of Christ to be courageous in their kingdom efforts, and it could help stem the tide of gifted young leaders who are leaving.”

The sectarian mindset of the Richland Hills leadership is seen in this quote. Notice he refers to “our affiliation with Churches of Christ.” The quote indicates that Atchley considers the church a denomination. In fact, a local congregation remains affiliated with the churches of Christ only so long as it remains faithful to the calling of our Lord. Men do not determine whether they will remain affiliated with “Churches of Christ”, the Lord determines whether a congregation will retain its candlestick. As the Lord warned the church of Christ at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).

Further, the reasons stated for the change do not hold up to the standard of scripture. Atchley stated that the change is a “kingdom effort.” In other words, by such a compromise, the church could appeal to more in the world, and thus have a positive influence upon them. However, the gospel message has never been one of accomodation. Rather than conforming to worldly conventions, the gospel calls for the worldly to conform to the conventions of righteousness. Rather than saying, come to our church, we have the music you like, the Scripture says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth,” (John 4:24), and, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

The idea that this action might stem the tide of “gifted young leaders who are leaving” is likewise flawed. It is teaching that keeps the young, not compromise. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to admonish the young men to be “sober minded”, and in doctrine to show “integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that can not be condemned” (cf. Titus 2:6-8). There will always be churches more willing to push the envelope. Trying to stop the exodus by a Saturday night assembly, when the denomination down the street has Rock and Roll on Sunday morning is a useless strategy. Teach the young people to respect the will of God, and those who stay, at the least, will be able to worship God in spirit and in truth.

“My e-mail is flooded with messages from elders and preachers across the country encouraging this church and praising us for the decisions we’ve made,” Atchley told the church. “I know this: If our fellowship stays on the course we’re on, our future looks bleak. Someone has got to be a leader.”

This is perhaps the most insulting of the statements made by the leadership of this digressive congregation. The idea that the way Christians have worshipped God since the inception of the church will now lead to the demise of the Lord’s church is preposterous. The strength of God’s people is their distinctiveness. “Therefore, ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. 18 I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters’, Says the LORD Almighty.” We are told not to be conformed to the world, but rather transformed, (cf. Romans 12:1-2).

Atchley acknowledged that Richland Hills could lose some members to other churches as a result of allowing instrumental worship.

But he said, “We’ve already lost too many over a question that’s way too unimportant.”

In this quote the true attitude of the Richland Hills leadership is clearly stated. Following the Biblical pattern of worship (a capella music, and the first day of the week observance of the Lord’s Supper) is unimportant. The fight fought by faithful Christians in the late 1800’s was over a matter of no consequence. Of course, the texts mentioned before, (cf. Matthew 7:21-23; John 4:24), show otherwise. Remember this final admonition from the pen of the apostle John, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). It seems that it is important to God!