Stephen Wiggins

In the January 2007 issue of the Christian Chronicle the churches of Christ were informed that the nation’s largest congregation within our brotherhood, the 6,400 member Richland Hills Church of Christ located in the Fort Worth area, was adding the mechanical instruments of music and the communion to their Saturday night worship service. This was not a unanimous decision on the part of the leadership. Of the seventeen elders that oversee this congregation two of them resigned over the decision.

I know that brother Rick Elms, a son of one my elders and his wife, John and Ann Elms, left the Richland Hills congregation because of the introduction of these unauthorized practices.  Also, another one of my elders and his wife, Doc and Juanice Beard, used to worship at the Richland Hills congregation when they lived in that area in the 1970’s. At that time it was a faithful congregation. They still have friends there and brother Beard has talked with one of the Richland Hills elders by phone since this tragedy transpired. But all efforts of brotherly expressions of concern have gone unheeded. It is a clear case of blind leaders leading the blind. Alas, the entire congregation has stumbled into the ditch.

In a sermon delivered at Richland Hills on December 10, 2006, “senior minister” Rich Atchley told the congregation that in 1994 the Holy Spirit directly spoke to him while he stood in the pulpit revealing that it was wrong to oppose instrumental music in the churchIn unambiguous terms Atchley declared that “right there at that spot about 1994, the Holy Spirit said to me in the middle of my sermon….”

After I learned that brother Atchley was claiming to have received this special revelation from the Holy Spirit I wrote him a letter asking him if it was really true. Did the Holy Spirit really directly tell him such a thing? Brother Atchley wrote back lamenting that he had been slanderously taken out of context and grossly misrepresented in this matter.  He was referring to the exposure brother Alan Highers had given him on this matter in the April 2007 issue of The Spiritual Sword. But the fact is our wayward brother had not been misrepresented at all. As brother Highers had carefully quoted every word Atchley had uttered concerning his alleged revelation. Methinks brother Highers hit the proverbial nail on the head when he replied: “Now, he [Atchley] apparently is embarrassed by the audacity of his own inflated boastfulness.” What a sad and eerie tale of apostasy in Texas.   

We are truly saddened by these events because we sincerely believe these brethren have now forfeited any resolve to practice Christianity as authorized by the New Testament. Like Jeroboam of old brother Atchley has presumptuously incorporated into God’s divine scheme things “of his own choosing.” He has made spiritual Israel to sin in a highhanded manner and apostasy is the final result. Note a couple of things that come to mind.

Atchley’s actions are divisive. It was reported by the Christian Chronicle that when these innovations were introduced two of the elders resigned. In the Chronicle interview Atchley even stated that he anticipated some ofthe members leaving the congregation. I know of some who in fact did depart because they could not in good conscience remain within a congregation that so flagrantly abandoned principles of truth.

One brother who was a member at Richland Hills informed me that he met personally with Atchley before his [Atchley’s] intentions to introduce mechanical music were made public. Within the meeting this brother conveyed strong displeasure with the direction Atchley was taking the congregation. Guess what? It didn’t matter. Atchley ignored the sincere pleas of faithful brethren and proceeded onward with his destructive course. Are these the actions of a man who is sincerely interested in the “unity of the Spirit”?  The Spirit’s direction results in unity among God’s people when we follow the teachings of the Spirit on the pages of the New Testament. When brethren depart from these divine directives division is bound to occur like happened at Richland Hills. It is ludicrous, then, that Atchley tried to palm off this apostasy on a revelation he supposedly got from the Holy Spirit. Only the gullible accepted this pretentious claim. It never fails. The false teacher who repudiates divine direction from God’s word will inevitably seek to justify his actions by proclaiming “the Holy Spirit said to me.” But we know better.  The Richland Hills debacle is utter rebellion to God cloaked in a façade of spirituality.                                  

Not long ago churches of Christ were informed of the decision to introduce mechanical instruments of music into the worship of the 3,000 member Oak Hills congregation where Max Lucado preaches in San Antonio. In an interview with Baptist Press Lucado further stated that they had dropped the name “Oak Hills Church of Christ,” that they no longer teach the essentiality of baptism, and that he now embraces the doctrine of “once saved, always saved.”  It seems these brethren are more aligned doctrinally with the Baptist denomination than the Lord’s church.  Then more recently the 6,400 member Richland Hills congregation in the Fort Worth area likewise decided to add an instrumental service along with offering the Lord’s Supper on Saturday night. The same Christian Chronicle article that informed us of the RichlandHills demise also told of a 1,700 member Church of Christ in Farmers Branch, Texas, that introduced the mechanical instrument along with a Saturday night communion service. Somebody is a copycat. According to this article a “growing but still small number of Churches of Christ nationwide” are following suit. It is a sad day in Texas to reflect on these episodes of apostasy among our own brethren.

But now Oklahoma brethren have occasion to grieve as well. Even more recently than the above events the 950 member Quail Springs Church of Christ in Oklahoma City has decided to introduce the mechanical instrument into their worship as well. They lost 300 members when they carried through with their decision. See how that unity among God’s people is not a major concern with these brethren? It is just like a hundred fifty years ago when churches of Christ were divided brotherhood wide over this same issue. Those introducing the instrument were not concerned about unity and they pressed the issue until our great brotherhood divided. The result was what today is called the Independent Christian Church. They later divided again when the ultra liberal segment left them to form the Disciples of Christ denomination. We are today seeing a repeat of what took place over a century ago. These things happen because leading brethren in many places have no respect for the authority of the Bible. They are then able to lead the biblically illiterate down the road of apostasy. I write these things to inform the brethren. It does absolutely no good to ignore these matters and pretend they don’t exist. Brethren need to know that these current departures are transpiring within our great brotherhood.