- <font size=5>TOGETHER AGAIN (A Review)</font>
<font color=black size=3 face=times new roman>This book written by Rick Atchley and Bob Russell is a call for "Restoring Unity in Christ after a Century of Separation." It also is designed as a manual for achieving their goal. Atchley is minister of the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Ft. Worth and Russell is minister of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY. It is jointly published by Standard Pub. and Leafwood, a subsidiary of ACU Press.
- Both Churches of Christ and Christian Churches have their roots in the American Restoration Movement of the 19th century. For a century they have been divided by issues that arose in the last half of the 18th century. Chief among those divisive issues were: 1). Missionary societies and other human organizations designed to manage and do the work of the church. 2). The use of musical instruments, choirs and soloists in worship; 3). Skepticism regarding the integrity of the Bible and 4). Ecumenicism. Today all of these issues remain save that of higher biblical criticism.
- The authors' thesis is, "Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches have been divided far too long over far too little." (Lynn Anderson, Forward). This in itself reveals volumes about Rick Atchley and those promoters of change whom he represents. It declares that he is not bothered by those who corrupt the worship of the church and reason that their human organizations are better able to do God's work than the church which Christ built! They relate how over a game of golf "the Lord birthed in them a desire to see the division between the two fellowships come to an end" (p. 24-25). While we share their desire that our division come to an end, we question that "the Lord birthed" in them their solution for the problem.
- Atchley told those at the 2003 North American Christian Convention, "God put something on my heart." "God wants me to devote myself for the rest of my life to seeking reconciliation among the a cappella Churches of Christ and Christian Churches..." (p. 31). "Over a hundred years ago we split. I don't know what that was all about (Emp. Mine jhw)" (p. 31). "...speaking for the a cappella side, it seems to me that we need to do most of the repenting and ask for most of the forgiving." (p. 31-32). "The church where I preach has partnered with some Christian Churches to send a mission team to Uganda..." (p. 32).
"We cannot allow a vocal minority to deter us from seeing this dream come true" (p. 33). "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life intimidated by people who lost the vision our fathers and grandfathers gave their lives for..." (p. 33). "We pray that Christ will compel and empower each of us that we might usher in a fresh anointing of God's Spirit and a revival of God's people" (p. 34).
It is a common practice for false teachers to claim God laid their message on their heart. Their simple-minded sheep dare not question what "God has laid on their heart." As to repenting and asking for forgiveness, Atchley is either unaware or unwilling to admit that the division occurred because past leaders of the Christian Churches tried to commandeer our congregations and force the matter of societies and instruments on them. He is like a man who abuses his wife and then insists that she apologize and ask his forgiveness. He suggests that only a "vocal minority" objects to his grand scheme. There are more than 10,000 congregations of the church in America. Some 200 have embraced his change agenda. The grandfathers Atchley mentioned would not have tolerated him in their pulpits because of his eagerness to comprise the faith of Christ with error. But as he said, "I don't know what that was all about" (p. 31).
- They say, "How arrogant of us to believe that we alone have a handle on the right doctrine..." (p. 37). These words are borrowed straight from the talking points of denominational apologists. Jesus said that we can know the truth (John 8:32). We can know the doctrine of Christ sufficiently well to abide within it (II John 9:10). How can these two authors know that they are advocating "the right doctrine" in their book. Oh yes, They have prayed for "a fresh anointing of God's Spirit!"
- They tell us, "Both fellowship affirm that we are not the only Christians" (p. 39). To rightly understand this oft used phrase, Churches of Christ have used this phrase to acknowledge that individuals, unknown to us, by their own study and obedience to God's Word can be born again and be Christians. As used by Atchley and Christian Churches it means that we are but one denomination among many, all of which are pleasing to God! That, we reject as contrary to God's word.
- They appeal to the example of Thomas Campbell who opened his Declaration and Address, "Dearly Beloved Brethren" thus "addressing those in the denominational world as his brothers" (p. 39). They conveniently overlook the fact that at the time he wrote his document Campbell was still a Presbyterian minister. He was trying to express in writing the dreams he had. When the Presbyterians refused his overture, he then turned to the Baptists and spent some time in the Redstone Baptist Association. Eventually he severed his ties with denominationalism. It is also important to note that the word "brother" can be used in an accommodative sense. Many of our old Black preachers used to call denominational preachers "Brother" as a matter of courtesy, not of fellowship.
- They write, "We don't intend to belittle the importance of our disagreements" (p. 39). Yet this is exactly the methodology Atchley uses. Remember "We've been separated far too long over far too little? (p. 34). He belittles the points of disagreement and those of his brethren who do not buy his agenda.
- "Let be content to be some of God's people without thinking we are the sum of God's people" (p. 41) This is good old-fashioned denominationalism.
- They write, Paul points out that some of those causing division were saying, 'I follow Christ.' They were calling themselves Christians only (Emp. mine, jhw), but were proudly distinguishing themselves from 'those denominators.'" (p. 41). Note that they don't blush to add a word or two to make the meaning suitable for their purposes. It is true that one calling himself a Christian can in fact have a denominational spirit. Each of these authors, while "pleading for unity," think of themselves and the churches they represent as denominations, thus, "Without thinking we are the sum of God's people."
- They charge, "We have likewise been guilty of hypocritically looking down our noses at our denominational brothers and sisters while proudly maintaining our distinctiveness" (p. 41). Since they use the collective "we" when speaking of hypocrisy, I will grant that Bro. Atchley has properly described himself. He pretends to be one of us, i.e., a faithful minister of the Church of Christ, but in reality he spends his time and energy in undermining and attacking the church and promoting error. Was Paul hypocritical when he insisted that those who preach another gospel than he had delivered were anathema (Gal. 1:8)?. "In our worst moments of shameful arrogance, we have referred to ourselves as 'the true church.'" (p. 42). If it is shameful arrogance to think that we are the Lord's true church, does he think he preaches for an untrue church so as to be modest?
- "We celebrate this modern-day ârestoration' movement that is bringing Christians together in the name of Christ" (p. 44). The early leaders of our Restoration Movement were calling people out of denominationalism, back to the Bible and the church revealed therein. These writers are calling members of the Church of Christ to abandon their commitment to do only what Scripture authorizes and follow them away from Christ's church into denominationalism.
- Their goal is, "We must unite with all believers for the sake of Christ and his gospel" (p. 42). Let's see, that includes Catholics, Orthodox, Mormons, and a thousand other denominations and cults who profess faith in Christ. They opine, "Too often we have fought unnecessary battles and made enemies out of peaceful neighbors" (p. 44). Of whom do they speak? The Disciples of Christ and Christian Churches with their unscriptural innovations? with their theological liberalism? Or of Roman Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses? "We call on all believers to set aside petty differences" (p. 44). "The times are long gone when Christians can afford to argue about peripheral matters of faith" (p. 47). So do we. The problem is, how do we determine those matters that are "petty" and those that are significant? Is the way we worship a "petty matter?" Is the way of salvation a "petty matter?" Is the nature of the church a "petty matter?" Only to those who do not feel obliged to follow Christ in all matters so view them.
- They concede, " And truth matters in religion as well. If the core beliefs of different religions about the nature of God and salvation contradict each other, then only one of them can be right or they are all wrong. There is no other possibility" (p. 50). The first sentence in this paragraph is one of the few valuable truth found in this book! However, the authors are very selective in the things they believe are "core beliefs."
- They insist, "However, at times in the past we have been guilty of preaching our pet doctrines rather than the cross of Christ" (p. 52). "We have sometimes left the impression that we are saved by the way we do church instead of the way Jesus made for us at Calvary." Do they say that the way we worship is of no consequence to Christ? Can we do things contrary to Christ's will with impunity?
- They quote Robert Richardson who contrasts his view of Christian faith with that of others of his day. "...they suppose this Christian faith to be doctrinal, we regard it as personal" (P. 52). "The Christian faith, then in our view, consists not in any theory or system of doctrine, but in sincere belief in the person and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ" (p. 53). Every person baptized into Christ by ministers of Churches of Christ is ask but one question. "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? " (Matt. 16:18). That confession, in practice, means Christ is lord and we are servants. Servants obey their Master's will! (John 14:15; Heb. 5:9).
- They quote the book, The Crux of the Matter, "They insist that our history is one of too much fragmentation over opinions that are not directly tied to the cross of Christ. They include the controversy over instrumental music in their list of opinions that have unnecessarily divided us" (p. 53). Granted we should not divide over opinions, but the matter of instrumental music is not in the realm of opinion. God clearly says, "Sing" (Eph. 5:19). He nowhere in the New Covenant tells us to include mechanical instruments with our singing. He warns us against going onward and not abiding in the teaching of Christ (II John 9-10). Instrumental music is a later addition to the worship of God. Just calling it an opinion does not make it that! "Its practice (instrumental music) is not tied to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus" (p. 53). Thus they assume it can or cannot be used. But when we worship God in song we often sing about his crucifixion and resurrection! They say elders can or cannot allow instruments. Neither is benevolence tied to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Can we practice or not practice it?
- They say, "We should boldly proclaim the clear doctrines of Scriptures, Doctrines like the special creation of man..." (p. 60). What has the special creation of man to do with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ?
- They admit, "We should follow apostolic precedence in matters of practice and polity" (p. 60). Why? What have these matters to do with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ? Can we dispense with them? They concede, "Therefore, we are wise to imitate the early church practices" (p. 60). But vocal music was the practice of the early church! Therefore wise Christians will worship God with vocal music! They assert, "both sides must admit that no passage in the New Testament clearly prohibits or permits the use of instruments in worship" (p. 65). This is true of the Christian Churches, but not true of us...save for our change agents. We understand that we are to obey all things whatsoever Christ commanded (Matt. 28:20). He does instruct us to sing, but not to play instruments in worship!
- "We need to remember that a precedent does not equal a command" (p. 60). "It is important not to divide over disagreements regarding apostolic precedents" (p. 60). The authors clearly do not have a clear understanding of how to apply the Bible's message in daily life. The write, "The non-instrumentalists do not use the same arguments of silence to prohibit the use of church buildings, multiple cups, located preachers...hymnals...or many other things that were not used in the early church" (p. 61). A command or instruction must be obeyed. The question is, How to go about obeying it, if the details are not prescribed? Without detailed instructions, we are left to our own judgment on how to implement it. There are things that help to expedite the obedience to the command: Lights for an evening assembly; a building to house an assembly; seat on which to sit; heat for cold climates; cooling for hot climes. These simply help the people assemble for worship (Heb. 10:25). " This has been the root cause of many of the division in the Churches of Christ since 1901" (p. 61). I find it interesting that all the criticisms offered are of Churches of Christ. Have the Christian Churches had not disagreements, factions and schisms? Why did they separate from the Disciples of Christ? What of their brethren who were ultraconservative? Have they had any sectarians in their midst? Have they not change agents at work in their midst? Why did they not address those problems? Is the Christian Church the mother church and we the wandering children?
- "Bible believing Christians can look at the same Scriptures and come to opposing conclusions. The role of women in the church, the title of the preacher, millennial views and many other issues fall into this category" (p. 64). Granted there are some matters hard to be understood (II Pet. 3:16). The question of women in the church is not one of them (I Tim. 2:11-12). It is a matter of acceptance or rejection!
- Quoting A. Campbell, "What was wrong, he said, was the spirit that insisted on propagating ones opinion and demanding that all bow to it" (p. 65). They write these words thinking that faithful, Bible believing Christians are the ones binding their opinions. But they are promoting their own opinions and trying to persuade all to accept them.
- "We are not to ignore or belittle such disputable matters" (p. 65). But that is precisely what they propose that we do! They wish to go right on using their instruments, but we are to forget the matter and say nothing of it.
- "We should agree that we should repent of such attitudes and accept this (instrumental music) as a disputable matter that should not divide us" (p. 66). This is the heart of the matter! Their message is, Churches of Christ should repent of the sin of protesting innovations such as instrumental music in the worship of God and continue to fellowship those who do so without divine authority. Rick Atchley is a full convert to the Christian Church position on instrumental music and other matters. When we hear him speak or read his words, we should not think of him as an advocate and representative of the Church of Christ, but of the Christian Church. Atchley is like a man who defects to Cuba and then appeals to loyal Americans to accept his new Communist comrades.
- "It would be terribly unnerving to the members of the instrumental congregations, and in many ways counterproductive, to call on every instrumental church to abandon the instruments in hope that their non-instrumntal brothers might join them" (p. 67). This overlooks the question, Is the use of instrumental music in worship a sinful practice? If it is, they are recommending that we not disturb them in their sin. Such would be unnerving. They seem not concerned with the fact that members of Churches of Christ are truly unnerved...better, offended, when a change agent seeks to introduce instruments into the worship activities of the church. Rick Atchley would rather that we, like his Richland Hills church, have services using instrumental music for those who want it.
- "A rapidly growing number of members of a cappella churches have no scriptural problem with instrumental worship" (p. 68). "Most simply prefer to worship with the human voice alone " (p. 68). Why is this the case? It is because of years of neglect in teaching on this important theme and because for several years change agents have been undermining their faith in the scripturalness of our worship.
- The authors are kind to offer practical suggestions for bringing our brethren into the fellowship circle of Christian Churches without them giving up their instruments of music or any other unscriptural practices. This book is part of a slick promotional campaign to convince our brethren to abandon their objections to instrumental music and accept them with their instruments.
- Atchley says, "Our conscience may be weak in the area because of our traditions, but let us be challenged to acknowledge the freedom we have in Christ and refuse to pass onto our children a strict conviction regarding the use of instruments in worship (p. 69) WOW! This is ll they ask of us who believe it is sinful to have instruments in worship. Just give us your children! They urge, "Let us not perpetuate into future generations a yoke of slavery...so we hope the day will arrive when the use of instruments in corporate worship is no longer a debatable question because we all recognize the freedom we have in Christ" (p. 70). So Atchley thinks we are slaves to error in our rejection of instrumental music! I wonder if his elders understood that when they first employed him? Were all brethren for the last 200 years who objected to instrumental music slaves to error?
- "It seems unreasonable to conclude that Jesus would have intended the silence of the New Testament regarding use of instruments to be a prohibition" (p. 70). When men pit their reason against God and his word, they will always be found wanting. "Surely such a departure from the past and future would have demanded a clearer command" (p. 70). I recall denominational folks saying the same thing about the necessity of baptism for salvation, or immersion, etc.
- They cite noble men of the past to try to bolster their case. All change agents love to cite G. C. Brewer. Yet he would not have given them an inch. He often defended that which he believed in oral or written discussions. He would have reproved Atchley for trying to introduced instrumental music into our churches. They appeal to T. B. Larimore, the lone example of the late 19th and early 20th century of a member of the Church of Christ, who refused to take a strong stand on the questions of societies and instruments. They forget to tell the rest of his story. He ended up working with our brethren who rejected instruments. He is not our authority, any more than is Alexander Campbell.
- "Both our fellowships need to acknowledge that in the past we have often misrepresented the gospel message, focusing more on the "pattern" of the church than the cross of Christ" (p. 76). Our brethren followed the noble example of Paul and preached the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Perhaps they would provide us with the precise formulae for teaching on the cross and other aspects of the faith! Paul gave us a pattern we are to cling to (II Tim. 1:13). It seems they have outgrown Paul.
- "We are greatly encouraged to see a day where the gospel is now being preached in almost all of our growing churches" (p. 77). Is this hubris? Did no one preach the gospel in Churches of Christ until the change agents emerged among us some 25 years ago. How were Rick Atchley and his parents saved prior to then?
- "It is with much hope and prayer that we seek to bring together the many factions in both our fellowship that have bickered over the place of baptism in the gospel" (p. 80) Wow! Will they say baptism is like instrumental music, a matter of opinion, that each is free to practice it as he wishes? If not why? But of whom do they speak? Disciples of Christ? All denominations? They seek to assure us, "But we do teach that baptism is to accompany that faith and is the ceremonial moment when we receive the assurance that our sins are washed away" (p. 84). No Baptist could have state this better. They continue, "The confusion over our view of baptism has been exacerbated because some in our fellowship have turned this doctrine into a creed, a Shibboleth, judging others as heretics who do not baptize for remission sins. Some have even refused to accept a person's baptism if he came from outside our fellowship, because he was not baptized for remission of sins" (p. 85). If we can omit baptism for remission of sins, can we not do the same for baptism by immersion, or baptism only for those old enough to be believers? Could we not omit belief or repentance before baptism? "Baptism is a simple but powerful reminder that our sins are washed away" (p. 89). I want them to explain the difference in this view of baptism and that Evangelicals who insist that we are saved at the point of faith and baptized to declare our salvation. Are they too timid to state that they believe in salvation by faith, before baptism? "Rick ...came to realize that his repulsion against a gospel of baptismal regeneration...had caused him to become unnecessarily hesitant to call people to be baptized" (p. 88). Perhaps it was his ignorance of the Bible record, or his view that the Bible's message is not really that important.
- " The primary reason we are making efforts to unite our two groups is so that Christ's mission can be accomplished" (p. 94). Do they really think it was never accomplished before they came along? Such arrogance!
- "In east Africa, for example, missionaries for a cappella and instrumental Restoration church have worked together for over two decades" (p. 96). Elders, were missionaries you have supported part of this fellowship experience? We use to associate with members of Christian Churches in order to teach them about the reasons for our faith and our differences and to encourage them to abandon their human traditions and embrace the ancient faith. Many did. That never enters the mind of modern change agents. They have already been won to the digressive position. "Richland Hills Church of Christ supports missionaries in Moscow, Uganda and Kenya who have cooperated with Christian Church missionaries for years" (p. 98).
- "We are not suggesting that our two sides develop an official missions board that will control all missions dollars" (p. 97). Why not? A missions board has nothing to do with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Christian Churches had that in days past. They still have their missionary organizations to recruit, send and support missionaries.
- "First Christian Church in Nashville and Woodmont Hills (formerly identified as a Church of Christ) "have combined college ministries, reaching a number of students from Lipscomb where the Woodmont Hills preacher, John York, is a professor" (p. 98-99). This tell us much about the direction of David Lipscomb University!
- "We have been proud of our doctrinal purity, and in our pride we have ignored one of the Bible's clearest commands" (p. 109). Perhaps they could specify those clearest commands that we have ignored. They are the one who ignore Christ's clear teaching on the role of baptism in salvation (Mark 16:16), the sacred pattern given for us to follow (II Tim. 1:13), the command to sing and make melody with our hearts (Eph. 5:19).
- "We would be opposed to groups that do not hold high the infallibility of God's Word" (p. 109). What of the Disciples of Christ and those ACU Bible professors who in their new One Volume Commentary on the Bible exhibit a low view of the biblical text?
- "What we are proposing is a grass-roots effort to promote and practice unity among the brotherhood churches" (p. 110). Interesting, change agents no longer refer to Churches of Christ as "our brotherhood" They refer to us as "our fellowship." But they use the term brotherhood to refer to their relationship with Christian Churches. This says much about them. Unity is a noble quest. Unity among alienated brethren is a desideratum. But there is a fly in the ointment. They want to unite truth with error. Like oil and water, they will not mix. Better to be alone with Christ's truth than to be united in error. Their concept of unity is, the Church of Christ surrenders it biblical objections and accepts the unfounded assertions and assumptions of Christian Churches. "We hope that preachers, Bible College faculty, editors and small group leaders will all consider ways they can promote unity between our two fellowships" (p. 111). Here we see their strategy. They have effectively recruited the Bible faculty of Abilene Christian University, Pepperdine, Lipscomb University and Rochester College. They have pockets of influence in several other schools. Now you can see why preachers who are laying the ground work for the change agenda in a congregation want the small group meetings. They provide them a usable vehicle for indoctrination in their change agenda, away from the larger gathering where voices of opposition would be raised. Often the small group meetings have no elders present to oversee them.
- "We believe we are going to see more and more congregations from both groups decide to actually merge with each other..." (p. 111). Frankly it would be a blessing to the Lord's church if those who have lost their love and loyalty to her would openly declare their defection and leave for pastures more suitable to their spiritual state. They want us to "...declare that we are brothers, forget the past, and move forward" (p. 112). Should we forget the past when their fathers wrecked a flourishing brotherhood, when they used trickery, deceit and power plays to gain control of churches, their buildings, when they divided families and set brother against brother? They would like to continue with the same program that worked well in the past. If we forget the past, we leave ourselves blind to the threat before us. "Ninety-five percent of the people in the pews of our congregations are anxious to put aside petty difference and get on with th task of impacting our world for Jesus Christ" (p. 120). May how they exaggerate their numbers. Even in Atchley's Richland Hills there has been a sizable number who refused to accept his program!
- "We have at times been on the right side of doctrinal issues but had the wrong spirit. Our sectarian spirit has done as much damage as false doctrine" (p. 112). "We've been jealous, critical and judgmental" (p. 113). They speak for themselves! That a few have had a bad attitude is not denied. That all have is a slanderous charge.
- They urge us to "Be positive about our movement. Some of us have suffered from a poor self-image about our movement" (p. 117). Rick Atchley and his fellow change agents are prime example of brethren who have been and are negative and hateful toward Churches of Christ that do not follow their leadership.
- "Many young church planters with roots in the Churches of Christ are also distancing themselves from any affiliation with their heritage" (p. 118). They are following the lead of these change agents. If they no longer believe and worship as we do, why should they stay affiliated with us? Better for them to go on their way. They went out from us because they were not of us (I John 2:19).
- "Our movement's forefathers envisioned a day when the Restoration Movement would no longer be necessary because all Christians would have united on Christ and his Word" (p. 119). Who said this? When? Where? Rather they emphasized that because of man's proclivity to drift, every generation must be engaged in restoring the ancient faith.
- "Let us not be distracted by the loud but small minority of brethren who would spend all their time in the shallow water. Let pray for them, but stay in the deep!"( p. 121). This arrogant boasts remind me of the false teachers who troubled the church in Thyatira. They claimed to know the "deep things of Satan" (Rev. 2:24).
The value of this book is to alert members of the Church of Christ what the real agenda of the change agents is and it provides a list of preachers, professors and journalists who are a fifth column in our midst.
John Waddey, Editor
Christianity: Then and Now
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Together Again: Restoring Unity in Christ after a Century of Separation
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