Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Did the Apostles Advocate the use of the Instrument in Acts 15 Without Even Knowing It?

In December, 2006, bro. Rick Atchley of the Richland Hills church of Christ asserted in his first “Both / And” sermon that we can and should add the instrument to worship today since the Apostles did not make circumcision a requirement for salvation in Acts 15. Rick’s assertion, argument and premise is that the apostles and elders did not meet at in Jerusalem to preserve and defend the gospel, they met to “make it easier” for Gentiles to become Christians. In other words, it is his contention that the only meeting EVER recorded in Scripture with the apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem congregation was to, in effect, conduct an “outreach and methodology seminar.” One can almost see the rows of “church growth” vendors inside the convention hall, as it were. Acts 15 becomes his primary, central and foundational “proof text” for adding the instrument to worship. In true circular fashion, bro. Atchley takes a secondary and byproduct (1) point from 15:19 and elevates it to core, central and dominant status in his “interpretation” of the passage. In Rick Atchley’s world, the theological tail wags the theological dog.

This choice of “proof texts” relates to us more than “surprise,” it conveys outright astonishment, amazement and incredulity. Such is the case “IF” Acts 15 turns out NOT to be about answering the question; “What must I do to be saved?” NOT about “adding to nor taking away” or NOT about the preaching of “another gospel.” In fact, “IF” Acts 15 is about adding the instrument to worship our only response would of necessity have to be one of stunned amazement. The adoption of Acts 15 as a “proof text” for the instrument would create such centrifugal force from radical circular reasoning as to leave one suspended in mid air with no where to go.

Even as I type these words, the whole idea of discussing this passage in such a light seems so bizarre as to defy all logic and reason. Unfortunately, as my mind returns to rationality, I sadly begin to understand what Paul spoke of so passionately to Timothy just before he died the martyr’s death:
For the time will come, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts will they multiply to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they will turn away their ears from the truth, and will be turned to fables. (2)
To read into (3) Acts 15 a “proof text” for the use of the instrument in worship is indeed… a fable. Gill says that these “fables” are “…everything that is vain, empty, and senseless.” (4) Thayer says that a fable is, “…a story…a fiction… an invention, a falsehood.” (5) How, then, could bro. Atchley possibly see the instrument in this passage? In order for one to “see” the instrument in this passage one must first adopt:

• Origen’s theory that Scripture has “hidden and multiple meanings,” all equally valid. (6)
• Origen’s theory that individuals can understand Scripture via “allegorical” (fictional) stories.
• Thomas Aquinas’ theory that truth is primarily revealed through the “senses” and not revelation. (7)
• Thomas Aquinas’ theory that one of man’s “senses” is the “sense” of “imagination,” i.e. if one can imagine something as true, it becomes true for that person – think John Lennon, “imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you can, no hell below us, above us only sky…” (8)
• Circular Theology that theorizes that one best understands Scripture when seen through the light of “one’s life experiences” and that nobility is found not in the finding of truth but the SEARCH for it. In other words, one ends where one begins… with questions and no answers. (9)
• “Emerging” or evolutionary theology that theorizes that truth evolves over time like Darwinian evolution. Each generation, like rings on a tree, grows stronger and more sophisticated than the generation before it. Therefore, today’s “truth” is superior to yesterday’s “truth” and tomorrow’s “truth” will be superior to today’s… and so on. Darwin incorrectly assumed that the “simple” evolved into the more “complex.” We now know that even the smallest of cellular organisms are far more complicated than we can even begin to understand, even with today’s advanced technology. Upon this same foolish notion, the “emerging” church assumes that 1st century Christianity was “simple” and today’s is far more complex and sophisticated. (10)
• Sensus Plenior (“fuller sense”) biblical interpretation theory that assumes that men today, with all the accumulated “wisdom” of the ages, can actually better understand the Scriptures than those who lived before, even the writers of the Bible!

When one blends all these murky and erroneous ingredients into a lens mold, a pair of “rose colored glasses” is the sad result. Through these glasses one can then stare through and “see” the use of the instrument in worship supported in Acts 15. In our next installment we will hear what Acts 15 has to say about Acts 15. By the way, we continue our study on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on this subject at the Archdale church of Christ in Charlotte, NC. You are more than welcome!


(1) A byproduct is not the essence. Resulting effects are not possible without the essence of a thing being first delivered. When the Holy Spirit inspired truth of the gospel was defended and defined at Jerusalem, one effect was that no additional roadblocks were put in the way of Gentile believers, they came to Christ the same way as the Jew.
(2) II Timothy 4:3-4 – 1833 Webster Bible via
(3) To read “into” a passage something that is not there is called “eisegesis.”
(4) John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible via
(5) Thayer’s Greek Definitions via
(6) Origen lived and taught in the early 2nd century, primarily from Alexandria and Palestine
(7) Thomas Aquinas lived in the 13th century
(8) Lyrics via:
(9) Here’s a technical definition of Circular Theology: “Bible interpretation (hermeneutics) is therefore the circular process of understanding sacred Biblical literature, namely interpreting the component parts of the sacred text in the light of the whole and the whole of the light of its parts. It is the ongoing dialogue between one’s initial understanding of the sacred text and the impressions of the Holy Spirit gathered from subsequent readings and reflections on it. It’s the dialogue between one’s own frame of reference (one’s own sphere of existence) and the context of the text.” - Ferdinand Deist, A Concise Dictionary of Theological and Related Terms (Pretoria, South Africa: Van Schaik, 1990, 1992)
(10) For more detail, see: Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (El Cajon, CA, Youth Specialties Books / Zondervan, 2004) pg. 286-280.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Did the Holy Spirit Speak to a Man in 1994 (Or There-Abouts)? Perhaps 1996?

In December of 2006 bro. Rick Atchley of the Richland Hills church of Christ in Ft. Worth, Texas, preached a series of three sermons. These sermons were all entitled, "Both / And." The purpose of these lessons was to "justify" the addition of the instrument to their worship and to add the taking of the Lord’s Supper on days un-authorized in the New Testament. Since that time many congregations have followed the erroneous path blazed by Richland Hills. Many more, sadly, may be contemplating the embrace of such error as well.

The opening…and most aggressive argument…set forth in these lessons to justify such radical changes to the New Testament pattern (YES… there IS a pattern! See II Timothy 1:13’s statement regarding the “pattern of sound words”) is the assertion that the Holy Spirit instituted them by way of a "special knowledge" communication directly and exclusively to Rick Atchley. Here is the exact quote:
Right there in that spot about 1994 in the middle of my sermon, the Holy Spirit said to me (emphasis mine RM): “And that’s what you and all the preachers like you are doing who haven’t for years believed that the worship to God with instruments is wrong but you continue by your silence to let people think it’s wrong to allow the body to be disrupted and you do so under the plea, “Well, we’re maintaining peace,” but that’s not peace, that’s cowardice.” I knew then the day would come I’d have to teach this lesson.(1)
In the very first lesson, and at the very beginning of that lesson, bro. Atchley asserts that the Holy Spirit told him (“about” 1994) during the middle of a sermon that he would "have" to teach these lessons. Is this possible? Did the Holy Spirit actually "speak" to Rick Atchley? Why weren’t these “new truths” preached in 1994? Why did bro. Atchley have to wait until 2006? How did he know when to preach them? Did the Holy Spirit speak to him again and give him the time table? Why did elsewhere in the sermon did bro. Atchley say this “statement” from the “Holy Spirit” took place ten years prior? [That would have made the conversation in 1996, not 1994!] Which year was it? "IF" the Holy Spirit actually "speaks" to a man, would not that very date and time become tatooed on his brain? Did the Holy Spirit change His mind on the instrument? Let’s see what the Scripture says:

o Special knowledge was a spiritual gift given in the 1st century to "confirm the word" before it had been written down – Mark 16:17-20
o Special knowledge was to "cease" when the Word was completed – I Corinthians 13:8-10
o Today God speaks to us ONLY through His Son – Hebrews 1:1
o Jesus Christ is the Word and the Word is Jesus Christ – John 1
o ALL Scripture is profitable for doctrine – II Timothy 3:16
o ALL things "pertaining to life and Godliness" have been (past tense) given to us – II Peter 1:3
o The faith has been (past tense) "delivered to the saints" – Jude 3
o God is not a "respecter of persons" – Acts 10:34-35

Summarizing, "IF" the Holy Spirit did "speak" to Rick Atchley, the following would have to then be true:

• Special knowledge is still a gift and the Word of God is not complete and is still being written today – Mark was in error
• God speaks through men in addition to His Son Jesus Christ – the Hebrew writer was in error.
• Words other than Scripture are profitable for doctrine – Paul was in error.
• God has not, in fact, given us all things pertaining to life and Godliness – Peter was in error.
• The faith has not been delivered to the saints – Jude was in error.
• God is, after all, a respecter of person – Peter, again, was in error
• Since Mark, the Hebrew writer, Paul, Peter, and Jude were in error, Rick Atchley is the only one with the truth.
• By logical extension of bro. Atchley’s contentions, HE has more revelation from God than the very writers of the New Testament! “IF” such is the case, these men will have to seek bro. Atchley out in heaven one day to sit at his feet and hear his discourse on these matters!

These conclusions are, of course,absurd! The Word of God is complete, special knowledge has been done away with, God speaks exclusively through His Word Jesus Christ, all scripture is profitable for doctrine, all things pertaining to life and Godliness have been given to us, the faith has been delivered to the saints and God is not a respecter of persons.

One other “small” matter… “IF” the Holy Spirit” did speak to bro. Atchley, he MUST produce tangible evidence [Mark 16:17-20] that he is telling the truth, i. e. heal the sick, raise the dead, speak in languages he did not study, drink deadly poison, pick up deadly snakes, etc. You know what I mean… the whole “goose and gander” thing….

In conclusion, the Holy Spirit did not change His mind on the instrument (or any other point of doctrine) and He did not speak to Rick Atchley while he was delivering a sermon in 1994. Regardless of any other "proof" trotted out by bro. Atchley, his arguments crumble for they are built on a foundational falsehood and a bedrock of shifting sand…the assertion that the Holy Spirit speaks to some men and not others outside and apart from the Scripture today. The truth is plain...the Holy Spirit does not today speak to mortal men outside of the Revelation of Scripture, PERIOD.(2)


(1) Transcribed by the author off of the Richland Hills website ( The sermon is no longer available on the website per se, though it is FOR SALE on CD format on said website.
(2) During the Fall Quarter, we are studying a series of Bible lessons entitled, "Wrong Division - A Study of Proof Texts Used in Support of the Instrument." JOIN US! Every Wednesday at 7 p.m. - Archdale church of Christ, 2525 Archdale Drive in Charlotte. For directions go to:!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Miss Bertha's Revival

On February 20, 1894 in Thorp Spring, TX (1) the world changed forever. In violation of both Scripture and conscience Miss Bertha, as she was called, was asked to “play on.” Play on she did, on the organ, that is. The occasion was a gospel meeting held at Add-Ran College (now known as Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, TX). It appears that the “tail wagged the dog” at this particular place of learning for the inclusion of the instrument was the students idea and not the faculty or the staff. Sadly, the “ghost” of Miss Bertha is stalking churches of Christ even now! She’s somehow been “revived…” Error is progressive and constantly pushes all who will listen to the very edge of the abyss and then drags all present over that very same edge to their destruction. Like so many so-called “progressive”(2) congregations of our day, these students had persuaded their teachers and administrators to allow the use an organ in both their social and devotional events for some time. That night they went for the jugular. When the smoke cleared, the church in Thorp Springs was torn asunder, the Clarke family was openly divided with two sons, (Addison and Randolph) against their faithful father and a once flourishing Christian college began its slow decent into the endless dust of history. The elder bro. Clarke died brokenhearted in 1901. In 1906, it all became “official” when the U. S. Government Census listed “churches of Christ” and “Christian churches” separately. History, sad to say, is repeating itself. In 1906, the instrumental faction focused on taking buildings away from the faithful church of Christ. At least these wayward brethren had the good grace to change their name once they became apostate! Today they are known primarily as “Christian Churches” and “Disciples of Christ.” Were that it would be so today! Were that those bent on bringing in the instrument would be content with simply taking over a building! Beginning in 2006, many self identified progressives have been “celebrating” the legacy of Miss Bertha, not by stealing a building but by attempting to steal the very name – church of Christ. Though the instrumental denomination party among us “has gone out from us,” [I John 2:19] they continue to demand the hijacking of the very name of the Savior’s Body for their own chaotic purposes! How does one “embrace the name of Christ” and yet oppose the very clear teaching of His Word? Some of you may be saying as you read this; “Hold on now Russ!”
• “The Bible doesn’t ever call the use of the instrument a sin!” • “That’s just your opinion!” • “Using the instrument is not a salvation issue!” • “Using the instrument helps attract young people!” • “Why argue over the instrument when we should be out spreading the gospel?” • “Aren’t there instruments in heaven?”(3)
There are these arguments and others as well. Our parent’s generation, and their parents, heard them in their day. “There’s nothing new under the sun” says the wise man. Now these same old, already answered arguments, are now being … as it were… brought down from the attic, dusted off, polished up and set down before us once more. In the coming weeks we will prove… with Scripture alone… that the use of the instrument in New Testament worship is not only UN-authorized by God, it’s presumptive presence among us today is the sad result of the mindset of King Saul in I Samuel 15. The flawed logic and pragmatic mindset of King Saul resulted in the Kingdom of Israel being stripped from him and given to another. Far from being “just an opinion,” the use of the instrument is indicative of having the mind of an apostate. How we interpret the Bible (or MIS-interpret it as the case may be) has either blessed or catastrophic results. May God bless us as we seek the truth that is given in His Word as we commence this study;
Wrong Division – A Study of Proof Texts Used in Support of the Instrument.
Let’s stop listening to a ghost from the past and put Miss Bertha back where she belongs… in the history books.


(1) For a very interesting, yet sad, history of this incident see:
(2) “Progressive” in the sense of the 1964 Glen Ford movie, “Advance to the Rear!”© Those in error often “spin” for themselves new and self congratulating descriptions. They may define themselves with terms quite opposite from reality, i.e. what was once called fornication is now known as “co-habitation” and ones illicit lover is now called a “significant other.”
(3) The arguments raised and the proof texts given are from the very words of one of the instrumental faction’s own spokespersons, bro. Rick Atchley of the sadly misnamed Richland Hills Church of Christ in Ft. Worth, TX. Rick troubled the entire brotherhood regarding these matters in December, 2006 with a series of three lessons on the subject, all entitled: “Both / And.” As no printed transcript of these lessons is available, the author transcribed large portions of the three addresses by hand off of audio from the Richland Hills website.