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Preface: This document was "nailed" to the Richland Hills door on October 31, 2002. This is a copy as it appeared in its final form after receiving input from the 19 whose names are affixed and from many others in agreement who for various reasons preferred that their names not appear. Two editors of Christian journals have asked permission to publish all or parts of it. There are other items not specified in these 25 theses that have been troublesome such as hand raising during songs, women standing in leadership with the "praise team," sponsorship of many separate benevolent and missionary organizations, problems with repayment of church bonds, etc.. -- Editor


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TWENTY   FIVE   THESES

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CONCERNING DIVISIVE MATTERS

IN THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST

and particularly at

RICHLAND HILLS CHURCH

[Being The Largest Congregation Among Us]

October 31, 2002

In the desire and with the purpose of elucidating the truth, we set forth these propositions for open discussion after the order used four hundred eighty-five years ago by Dr. Martin Luther of Wittenburg, when in 1517 on this date of October 31st, he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to his church door. His action was a major milestone in history and in manís attempt to free himself from the shackles of false religion. Lutherís diligent study of the Scriptures revealed a sharp contrast with what he observed in the church of his day.

As members of the body of Christ, we have either been affected indirectly, if not suffering personally by having felt compelled to leave the church where we had long held membership. This has been in consequence of her eldersí and ministerís unbiblical doctrines and practices, accompanied in some cases with threats of withdrawing names from the membership roles of any who might raise Biblical questions, speak or write against the changes they have brought in.

The following Twenty Five Theses are based upon the foundation which calls upon us to "test the spirits", for "it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends" (I John 4:1-6; 2 Corinthians 10:18). The truth we speak is in love for truth, for lost souls and for the church of the Lord.
    1.      Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, "Repent," intended that there be a change of heart with respect to all unrighteousness. This includes those of us within the church as well as those without. Any who dares to change doctrine, worship and practice of Christís holy church needs to repent, including elders and preachers. Christ has bestowed on no man or group of men the right to change one item of His will for His church.

    2.      This does not refer only to inward change, but also involves a resolve to change those outward acts performed in life, as well as in doctrine, corporate worship and praise under the oversight of the shepherds of the flock.

    3.      Elders are to set proper examples and are to teach the flock under their care (I Peter 5:1-4). We call on the shepherds who oversee the flock to exercise their duty under the Chief Shepherd, to protect the flock from wolves or other intruders who would destroy, harm or divide the flock. They are entrusted by the Owner to be faithful to the instructions given to them. They are courageous and bold whenever their duties are challenged, and are not at liberty to change the stipulations laid down by the One who entrusted them with the sheep. They are not to account as unimportant, unnecessary, peripheral or trivial any part of their commission, and are not to allow a stranger to come in with new and different ways.

    4.      The elders must be careful students and teachers of the Word and able to discern who those wolves are who are scattering and dividing their flock: "Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them" (Romans 16:17). Such divisive men may be eloquent speakers, nevertheless "by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naÔve people" (verse 18).

    5.      We call on you to repent of changing the charter written in 1967 by the original founding elders. You removed, among other things, without the knowledge and consent of the congregation, this concise restrictive clause: "No mechanical instrument of any kind whatsoever shall ever be used in connection with the song service or worship or work to be carried on or conducted by said congregation or religious body". You have dishonored those righteous men and women who made every effort within their power to safeguard future generations from this specific departure from the Bible pattern for New Testament worship. They were aware of the divisive nature of this particular innovation and therefore made specific mention of it in their founding document.

    6.      We call on you to repent of your unbiblical and inconsistent decision to allow the use of mechanical instruments of music in any and all functions of the church, excepting only the public assembly on Sundays and Wednesdays.

    7.      We call on your minister, Rick Atchley, to repent of his willful failure to preach against the unbiblical use of mechanical music in Christian worship, and of his bold declaration that he not only has never preached on the subject in all his tenure here, but that neither shall he ever do so in the future. He denied that Nadab and Abihu were stricken dead for offering "strange fire" in his sermon based on Leviticus 10 called "Fire Alarms," concluding that God will never judge a man on the basis of "something the Bible says nothing about".
    [Note: The absurd and false doctrine that there is no significance in the silence of Scripture allows adding anything a person desires in worship so long as there is no "thou shalt not". A booklet was written by a then-member at Richland Hills to refute this doctrine: A Commentary On What The Bible Does NOT Say. Thousands have been circulated in only a short time, showing widespread interest in the subject.]

    8.      Brother Atchley and the elders have fallen into the error that this is a matter of mere personal opinion to be kept to oneís self and is therefore "a non-issue" that is "not open to discussion." Our conviction is that history confirms the introduction of the instrument of music was the major cause of division within the body of Christ over the past 150 years, as well as being a divisive element in major denominational groups even prior to that time. When an elder was asked if they would be willing to discuss these matters with other elders in their city, he replied: "No; we are congregationally autonomous." [Cf. Philippians 1:1, Titus 1:5 and Acts 20:17 where all elders in a city evidently shepherded one church located there when there was no known segregation of congregations within the city.]

    9.      You have announced your intentions to seek closer fellowship with the Christian Church with no intent of reproving their error, obviously intending to continue inviting their ministers into our pulpit and to encourage them in their error through other activities of fellowship. Your advertising in bulletins, etc., for trombones, saxophones and other instruments for future church functions is wholly contrary to the language and practice of first century apostolic Christianity.

    10.      When leadership fails, some "little ones are caused to stumble" (ASV, "offend" KJV, "sin" NIV, Matthew 18:6). Unfaithful leaders in Jeremiahís day "caused people to stumble ... in the ancient paths. They made them walk in by-paths" not established by Jehovah (this is written for our learning, Romans 15:4; Jeremiah 18:11-19:5). You have shielded some Christian family members from those who have removed themselves from your ministerís preaching and your eldersí oversight, and thus have forced by unbiblical and arbitrary decisions, the painful dividing of Christian families who formerly worshipped together with you in peace and harmony according to biblical patterns. Some are stumbling in these ways: (1) New converts, weak and immature, are separated from the soul-winner who brought them to Christ. (2) Some of us who leave the flock in our confusion and disappointment will fail to find another congregation, and finally Satan will lead some back into the world where they will perish. (3) Others who remain will lose their enthusiasm, holding back enthusiastic participation and financial support, resulting in various losses including noticeable declines in Sunday contributions. (4) Still others are diverted from joyful outreach in seeking and saving the lost, while attending unpleasant though necessary tasks (like writing these twenty-five theses) of "contending for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

    11.      You tolerate preachers, teachers and elders to affirm openly their belief that all miraculous spiritual gifts are for the church today. Some among the elders without shame affirm they possess the gift of healing while they have no restraint from fellowshipping with modern day charismatic denominations whom they consider to be in the body of Christ the same as we Ö and whose books and literature they zealously have distributed among members of the church of Christ. For years you have been asked what you and Rick Atchley mean by affirming that "this church (Richland Hills) is NOT A CHARISMATIC CHURCH!"

    12.      In your pulpit you preach that the silence of Scripture is not prohibitive, even denying that Nadab and Abihuís and Mosesí punishments were for acts they performed which God "commanded not". We believe you err by affirming that no act in worship is sin unless it is specifically forbidden in Scripture. You are thus inconsistent by not allowing the members to eat cake and pie in the Lordís Supper if that should happen to be their preference.

    13.      Concerning your abolition of the office of deacons in the congregation, you cannot deny that Paul told Timothy that the deacon is to be a "one-woman man" the same as is required of the elders. Obviously the woman special servant, or deaconess, cannot fill this role, and to appoint both men and women without distinction as "special servants" is without Scripture warrant. (cf. Atchleyís sermon, January 23, 2002)

    14.      Fellowshipping with dozens of religious organizations as a co-sponsor of the Dallas/Fort Worth 2002 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Crusade is to give endorsement to many unbiblical practices and arrangements too numerous to mention. Counselors are instructed by the Graham team in preliminary training sessions that they are to convert sinners, using the "Sinnerís Prayer", a practice and doctrine that we know contradicts the Lordís plan of salvation. In a warning to Christians, Paul admonished to not be unequally yoked with those who do not believe solely in Godís word: "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:17). He did not say to get as close as you can to false teachers, and perhaps you can deceive their leaders so that some good can come from it. In another place Scripture warns that we not say: "Let us do evil that good may result" (Romans 3:8).

    15.      In similar fashion, to encourage participation in the multi-million dollar commercial inter-denominational mensí fellowship known as Promise Keepers is to give endorsement to numerous doctrines and practices which are contrary to "the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

    16.      You have invited men to preach in your pulpit who represent untrue organizations, doctrines and practices. Included among these are such men as Tony Evans from a charismatic denomination in Dallas who preached (with no reproof or correction by leaders of the church) that all denominations, including Richland Hills Church of Christ (with their "Pastor Rick Atchley") make up the one church of Jesus Christ.

    17.      Another denominational "Pastor" and his wife who came, both preached at Banquet meetings on two occasions, then took up collections amounting to several thousand dollars each time, for their Victory Temple, a Pentecostal type assembly which sponsors a home for recovering drug addicts. Their many testimonies of salvation by faith alone with no mention of obedience in baptism, followed by distribution of his book, Outcry In The Barrio, was with apparent full endorsement by the Richland Hills church leadership. His name, Freddie Garcia of San Antonio. (cf. II Corinthians 6:16)

    18.      Max Lucado, former college roommate and close friend of Rick Atchley, has been a regular guest preacher at Richland Hills church, despite the common knowledge that his books which circulate in the hundreds of thousands, teach that salvation is by grace alone, and that obedience in baptism is not essential to salvation from sin (cf. Christian Chronicle interview, July, 2002). At Promise Keeper mass meetings he has been a favorite guest speaker because he eloquently tells his applauding crowds that all denominations are united in Christ like passengers occupying separate rooms (with their "insignificant" differing doctrines and opinions) on a great ship of salvation sailing to the eternal shores of heaven. In a recent interview at a Baptist Seminary where he received special honors, he said he happened to have been reared in a Church of Christ family, and that though he now preaches for the Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio where he is allowed to preach whatever he desires, he would probably preach for a Baptist church if he should lose his present. pulpit job (cf. II John 10-11)

    19.      The steady roster of guest speakers who are invited by Rick Atchley happen to be almost without exception men who are known in the brotherhood of churches of Christ by the self-styled term "Change Agents". The articles, books and preaching of such men have earned for them this identity because their common agenda, while denying what they term as "Patternism in Christianity", is to bring about sweeping changes in doctrine, worship styles, teaching on the way of salvation, etc., working to eliminate the remaining vestiges of the now obsolete, legalistic and outdated practices in the churches of Christ. Among these who are regularly invited to occupy the Richland Hills pulpit are such men as Jeff Walling, Rubel Shelley, Mike Cope, Lynn Anderson, Max Lucado, Randy Harris and Milton Jones.

    20.      Verification of the above statement can easily be made by observing the Richland Hills website (http://www.rhchurch.org resources section) where the church styles itself as a Progressive Church of Christ. It further identifies itself by advocating WINESKINS MAGAZINE and other similar resources that are not representative of churches of Christ of the restoration heritage who have fought their way out of the maze of sectarian error by diligently searching the Scriptures through the last two millennia. The New Testament warns about "going onward" or "progressing" and not abiding within the doctrine of Christ (II John 9-10. The Greek term proago means to "go beyond" or "progress", here used to describe false teachers).

    21.      Thousands have studied their way out of sectarianism and human traditionalism by means of honorable public and private disputation, even as Paul disputed daily (Acts 9:29; 17:17) concerning his faith in Christ. He even "withstood Peter to the face" when he was in error. Some are preaching that "the days of debating are over in churches of Christ." Members are told by the Richland Hills leaders now that any controversial subject is "not open for discussion," that "opinions should be held to oneself." Members are but sheep where all decisions are the sole responsibility of the shepherds (elders) who alone bear responsibility for all activities in the congregation. "Unity with diversity" is the appeal, not only in matters of indifference or opinion where the Bible has not given direction, but also in matters of doctrine where the Scriptures have spoken. (cf. I Corinthians 1:10ff where all are to "speak the same things")

    22.      The elders have rejected opportunity to acquaint themselves with the dangers of religious divisions among us in the past, refusing an offer of one of the best books on the cause and cure of religious division, a book entitled A DIVIDED HOUSE, by Arlie Moore. For over four months, enough copies of this excellent book for each elder and minister to have a copy (about 30 copies) were offered and made available to them free of charge, but few if any were accepted by them. Finally they were returned after a minister said, "I would recommend you take them back; I think the elders have discussed this matter (of instrumental music, one of the major causes of division in the brotherhood) all they are going to." While it is true that books of history cannot take the place of the Word of God, nevertheless there is value in reading them to aid in ministry. (cf. Acts 17:28; II Timothy 4:13)

    23.      One verification of such conflicts that exist is that an elder who now serves affirms that he is willing to debate (but not publicly!) in favor of the use of instruments in worship. With such confusion in leadership, members are left pondering whether to go or stay.
    [Lot, a righteous preacher in the Old Testament, was vexed by his unrepentant environment Ö but he "lingered" there. Finally, after the pleadings of a caring relative, God sent an angel who took him by the hand and rescued him before destroying the place (Genesis 18 & 19, II Peter 2:7-8). We do not suggest this church is a place of gross sinfulness like Sodom, but only to say that possibly the many righteous persons there can become comfortable and insensitive to gradual and subtle departures from Godís patterns. Many of us have painfully left despite our admiration of the good works and our love for the people that remain there. Fortunately there are 100 other Churches of Christ in the greater Fort Worth area to choose from as alternate places of work and worship.]

    24.      It has been observed that those who do not learn history have a way of repeating it. Moses E. Lard wrote 135 years ago in October, 1867 (Quarterly, Vol. IV), a prophecy which sadly came to pass in ensuing years among churches of Christ. He wrote, "Our brethren are introducing melodians into their Sunday Schools. This is but the first step to the act, I fear. As soon as the children of these schools go into the church, in goes the instrument with them." And so it happened. It is just a matter of time. Now elders and ministers are allowing mechanical instruments of music in the classrooms and other activities of the church, deceiving themselves while leading others into thinking it will not come into the public worship services. They advise the older brothers and sisters who are offended by this, "If you donít like it, just donít go to those classes and activities." Brethren, please do not stop your ears and turn your backs on the warnings from the history of what happened among our own brethren.

    25.      We conclude with words from the Holy Spirit: "Do your best to present yourself approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (II Timothy 2:15) And from Jesus: "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known."
    (Matthew 10:26)

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We wish to make known that we find the above things of grave concern, and implore in the name of Christ that we be shown that they are in harmony with Godís revealed will or that they be renounced and properly corrected. We do not insist on our own will, but that Godís will be respected.

Harry Gipson L. G. Taylor Buford Pitman Elvin Bobo
Alvin Jennings Avon Malone Weldon McKinney Mel Harbison
Marge Pitman Dyrel Collins Glynda Davis Henry Seidmeyer
Phil Sanders Bryan Kidd Jack Mimms Tim Mason
Ray Peters Frank Briscoe Paul Newcomb

Note: Because former Richland Hills members have gone the last few months to various places, and with time restrictions, only a few of them have been available for inclusion of their names. For downloading, www.concernedmembers.com

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