Recent events at the Richland Hills church in Fort Worth, Texas (said to be the largest church of Christ in the country) have focused attention on the question as to how congregations can protect themselves from digression. This congregation, which has been aligned with the institutional movement, has recently begun serving the Lord’s supper on Saturday night and using mechanical instruments of music in some of their services. Rich Atchley, the “senior minister,” has defended these changes and claimed that ten years earlier he received a revelation from the Holy Spirit that this should be done. His arguments in defense of mechanical instruments of music are the same ones which gospel preachers have refuted again and again for many years. They may appear new to a younger generation of preachers. The April issue of The Spiritual Sword has a thorough expose of this whole episode with a complete refutation of the arguments made in defense of mechanical instruments of music.
Alan E. Highers, editor of The Spiritual Sword, detailed the change from the restrictive clauses in the deed in 1967 to an amended deed in l994 which still prohibited the use of any mechanical instruments of music on the premises, to the most recent change on November 16, 2006 when another amendment was filed which deleted the prohibition against mechanical instruments of music. Within three days of this new amendment, it was announced that there would be a service with the Lord’s supper and mechanical instruments of music on Saturday nights.
For many years, congregations have sought to protect themselves from innovations by restrictive clauses in the deeds of the property. This came in the wake of the divisions which occurred in the early part of the twentieth century along with lawsuits over the property and who should maintain possession of the property. It was natural to try to prevent such from happening again. But when the will of the majority changes on various issues, then deeds can be rewritten, as this case in Fort Worth shows.
WHAT IS THE BEST DEFENSE?: — The answer is simple, but the application requires firmness, diligence, and persistence. No congregation can ever be any more secure than the quality of the teaching it receives. “They shall all be taught of God” (Jno. 6:45). “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we shold live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Ti. 2:11,12). Titus was charged, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Ti. 2:15). Timothy was instructed, “These things teach and exhort” and he was warned against those who “teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:2,3). Paul said to Timothy, “the things that thou has heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). “Preach the word...for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of they ministry” (2 Tim. 4:2-5). Paul practiced what he preached. At Ephesus, he was evangelistic for “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). But he also taught them publicly and from house to house, keeping back nothing that was profitable, and did not shun to “declare unto them all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:20,27).
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?: — Elders are charged to feed and guard the flock (1 Pet. 2:2,3; Heb. 13:17). They must keep a close watch on what is being taught, not only in the pulpit but in the Bible classes as well. They need to keep themselves informed as to currents of thought and practices among brethren. If they do not study and keep up, then they will be blindsided and trouble will follow. Some elders have their heads in the sand. They do not know what is going on and do not seem to care. Sometimes they try to fence in preachers to keep them from dealing with issues which churches need to know about. What is being studied in Bible classes? Do the young people know the difference between the New Testament church and denominations? Do they know why mechanical instruments of music are not used in the worship? Do they understand why the church does not provide entertainment and recreation? Are they really studying the Bible or watered down pablum? If elders do not watch, then don’t be surprised if a generation arises which do not know the Lord.
Preachers have a large role to play in this matter. Pretty little sermonettes filled with snappy one-liners, stories, stories sharply illustrated in living color with our Power Point displays, may get and hold attention, but where are the expository studies of books of the Bible? Where is the refutation of the religious error which is all around us and which some members are absorbing like sponges from the religious channels on cable TV? Where are sermons on the need for Bible authority and how to establish it? Where are the sermons on the nature, work, and organization of the church? Where is the exposure of false teaching on the plan of salvation? Too many churches are suffering from spiritual malnutrition because of pitifully weak preaching being heard from week to week. When you “speak things that become sound doctrine” (Ti. 2:1), some in the pews will squirm and complain and some elders may get up and try to smooth it over. Worldly minded folks are not comfortable hearing sin plainly identified exposed, and condemned. Yes, we have to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), but we must be sure to speak the truth. All of it.
Faithful Christians all bear responsibility in protecting the church against error. Informed Christians should insist that pulpits and classrooms echo with the sound of the old Jerusalem gospel. They should appoint men as elders who are unquestionably sound in the faith and committed to defend it. They should demand that the truth be taught, and then commend it and uphold it when it is done. Unless elders, preachers, and all Christians are committed to the truth, then all the restrictive clauses in deeds will not protect congregations from the shifting opinions of untaught and uncommitted members.