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Nation’s largest Church of Christ adding instrumental service

The Richland Hills church in Texas — the largest of the nation’s 13,000 a cappella Churches of Christ — has decided to add an instrumental worship assembly with communion on Saturday nights.
Jon Jones, an elder and former pulpit minister at the 6,400-member church, told the congregation Dec. 3 that Richland Hills’ elders “fully and completely” endorsed the decision.
“There is unity in our eldership, and we are so thankful for that,” Jones told church members at a combined adult Bible study, according to a video on the church Web site.
Elder Roger Dean characterized the congregation’s overall response as “extremely positive.”
“Frankly, we did not know what to expect,” Dean said. “We felt like it was going to be pretty difficult, but it has not been. … People are truly supporting the leadership and the eldership.”
Senior minister Rick Atchley — a national leader in efforts to foster better relations with instrumental Christian Churches — told the congregation the decision should help ease crowding at Richland Hills’ two Sunday morning services. Moreover, he said, it will allow the congregation to “reach more people who need Christ.”
“We didn’t make this decision on a Tuesday and announce it on a Sunday,” Atchley said in the adult Bible study, citing much study, prayer and fasting by the elders. “This has been part of about a three-year journey that the leadership has been on.”
Two of the congregation’s 17 elders resigned as a result of the decision, a church member who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Christian Chronicle. Dean, one of the remaining 15 elders, confirmed that he understood the decision had prompted two elders to resign.
But John Wilbanks, one of the elders who resigned, said the timing was coincidental. Wilbanks said he remains an adult Bible class teacher at Richland Hills, has a “deep appreciation for the leadership” and offers the elders his full support.
“I love Richland Hills,” said Wilbanks, who had no comment on whether he had told members an instrumental service would not occur on his watch.
Elder Mikel Faulkner’s resignation was announced Nov. 19, the same Sunday as Richland Hills leaders first informed members of the decision. The church bulletin praised Faulkner’s “many years of selfless service” and said he had decided it was time to serve in a capacity other than elder.
Faulkner, who remains a member at Richland Hills, declined to comment on the instrumental service, telling the Chronicle, “I have nothing to say about that. Thank you for your call, though.”
Atchley declined an interview request from the Chronicle, saying he didn’t want to discuss the new service until it launches the second weekend of February.
“I do not want to give the rest of the fellowship the idea that I am trying to promote instrumental praise anywhere else,” Atchley told the Chronicle. “What we are doing is a missional decision for our congregation, and while we are not trying to hide our decision, neither do we wish to flaunt it.”
In the Dec. 3 Bible study, Atchley told Richland Hills members that “there has never been a moment’s discussion of changing the name of this church or our affiliation with Churches of Christ.”
But he said Richland Hills must put the kingdom of God and Christ’s mission above concerns that the change might hurt the congregation’s standing or influence among Churches of Christ.
At the same time, he suggested to members that Richland Hills’ decision might “inspire many other Churches of Christ to be courageous in their kingdom efforts, and it could help stem the tide of gifted young leaders who are leaving.”
“My e-mail is flooded with messages from elders and preachers across the country encouraging this church and praising us for the decisions we’ve made,” Atchley told the church. “I know this: If our fellowship stays on the course we’re on, our future looks bleak. Someone has got to be a leader.”
A growing but still small number of Churches of Christ nationwide host instrumental praise gatherings outside of regular worship services where the Lord’s Supper is offered. A few congregations — including the 1,700-member Farmers Branch, Texas, church — have added instrumental services with communion. But Richland Hills is, by far, the largest and most influential congregation to do so.
“I greatly appreciate a cappella praise,” Atchley told Richland Hills members. “There is no intention of this leadership to force anyone to worship any other way if that is their choice. … But I firmly believe that if Richland Hills is to be most faithful to God’s word and Christ’s mission, we must become a both/and church with regard to instrumental and a cappella praise.”
Atchley told the congregation he would address biblical concerns of adding instrumental worship as well as the church leadership’s justification for offering communion on Saturday nights in future Bible lessons planned in December.
But the Dec. 3 study dealt with the nature of churches making tough choices. Too often, Atchley said, churches have looked at decisions as “either/or” — either Christians can worship God with instruments or vocal praise alone is acceptable to God, for example. But many times, questions are “both/and” — meaning Christians can worship God with instruments or with their voices only, Atchley said.
Atchley drew a biblical parallel to Acts 15 and the early church’s debate over whether circumcision should be a requirement for Gentiles to accept the gospel. While circumcision was a longtime tradition of the Jews, the mission of the gospel required allowing Gentiles freedom in that regard, he said.
He pointed to Acts 15:19, where James said, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”
Atchley acknowledged that Richland Hills could lose some members to other churches as a result of allowing instrumental worship.
But he said, “We’ve already lost too many over a question that’s way too unimportant.”
Atchley’s three lessons on the “Both/And Church” are available for download at the Richland Hills Web site.

  • Feedback
    I have attended the C of C for about a year. I thourghly enjoy their teachings but I do miss music. Can you tell me if a c of c is located in my area with music.
    Thank you,
    Kathleen Harkins
    C of C
    Young Harris, Georgia
    August, 4 2013

    what is it that is deceitful above all?
    Jeremiah 17:9
    The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
    Bob Aspey
    Littleton church of Christ
    Hudson, Colorado
    April, 7 2013

    If the elders decided it was alright to use instrumental music to praise God because they could find no scriptures prohibiting its use. Then using that type of logic what could be wrong with more than one wife ? Gambling ? Nothing specifically prohibits them. In a much larger sense though, it is telling what they haven’t said ie “We the elders by study of the scriptures think New Testament worship clearly authorizes and commands the use of instrumental music.” That is far different than the excuse they use to include it in some of their services. Nadab and Abihu changed God’s specific commands didn’t they in the Old Testament ? Could God be pleased with this change ? Please, I know that you know better.
    hadley scott
    highway 3381 Church of Christ
    de leon, TX
    January, 11 2012

    “We Speak where the Bible Speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent.” Think in terms that the Campbells were seeking Unity instead of Division. Certainly, Bible Readers/Believers would think in terms of Unity. Just perhaps there are some things God wishes would not divide believers. Perhaps instrument/no instrument is one of those things.
    Mark Nibbelin
    Northside Church of Christ
    Normal, IL
    August, 14 2011

    first of all brethren thanks be to our almighty God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.secondly my question to the Richard Hills Church in Texas is this How will they teach the sister congregation they have brought up being none instrumentally at first? basing my question Revelation 22:18-20 and Colossians 3:23-25.GOD BLESS YOU ALL.CLHEMENT K.SIELE.TOGOMDA COC. BOX.388,BOMET,KENYA.
    clement siele
    bomet, rift valley
    July, 26 2011

    Hasn’t Richland Hills had an instrumental service on Sat nights for a couple of years now. Seems that it has been going on for some time.
    Elise Haley
    Cuba Ave.
    Alamogordo, NM
    July, 13 2011

    I shutter to think how many musicians with great God-given talent have been driven away from God and His Church because their style of music was not accepted by the Pharisees that ruled the local congregation.
    The Bible says that the “tabernacle of David” would be restored in the End Times. Read the book of Psalms, and they had all kinds of musical instruments. Dancing and clapping before the Lord.
    So let’s get rid of our religious strongholds that satan has used for so long to divide the universal Church of Christ.
    If you prefer acapella music, don’t judge the one that loves drums and guitars. If you love the one that loves drums and guitars, don’t criticize the one that likes piano and organ.
    Peter J Shepherd
    The Universal Body of Christ
    Hurst, TX
    February, 25 2011

    Jesus prayed that His Church would be One, as We are One. So, why let the issue of musical instruments divide the Church He died for?
    I admittedly did not grow up in the denomination Church of Christ, but I did grow up loving Jesus and loving the larger Body of believers.
    Could someone clue me in – where the Bible says, “thou shalt not have musical instruments in church.” or “thou shalt only use the organ and piano” (my background)?
    Peter J Shepherd
    The Universal Body of Believers in Jesus Christ
    Hurst, TX
    US of A
    February, 25 2011

    Wow! What must our Father be thinking about all this arguing? That’s what I’d be more worried about. I’m wondering if all these opinions are fear based or faith/relationship based. Ask God himself what He thinks about it- He does still speak. If you feel peace and the presence of the Lord while worshiping with an instrument, then I say, praise Him with whatever you can find to praise Him with! Don’t let the devil stir up trouble with all this! Do not allow your joy to be robbed. God will show you if you ask, seek and knock.
    Donna Strachan
    College Church of Christ
    Searcy, AR
    January, 20 2011

    The Restoration Movement from which the church today emerged had a simple mission.That was to return to the purity of first century christianity.Perhaps that was a bad idea.
    Willie Rollins
    Nichols Street CoC
    Bay City, Texas
    January, 19 2011

    If the decision would help “ease crowding at Richland Hills,” why not plant a sister congregation within the area? If this is right, why take three years of prayer & fasting? What has really changed?
    Ono Jnr
    Komga C.O.C
    East London, Eastern Cape
    South Africa
    October, 20 2010

    I was born an raised Church of Christ and I believe that it is not compromising one’s faith to be a youth minister at a Christian Church. The youth of today are falling away from a cappella. It’s true we need more ways to reach out.
    Bryson Bunger
    church of christ
    edmond, oklahoma
    July, 22 2010

    First, thank you for the response. Next, we view scriptural silence as being affirming regarding this issue. I’ll admit, there are certain issues where it’s clear that change cannot occur such as qualifications for a person in church leadership. Our elders do nothing without discussing with the Lord and with themselves. The church can’t allow itself to be bound by man-made tradition, otherwise how are we any different from the Pharisees?
    John Curtis Thompson
    Richland Hills Church of Christ
    Arlington, TX
    April, 27 2010

    Brethren, what ever happened to our respect for the silence of the Scriptures? God does not have to tell us what NOT to do after already telling us what TO DO. SING psalms, hymns and SPIRITUAL songs to one another (this is collective) making melody in the heart (those are the strings that are plucked) {Eph 5:19; Col 3:16} What more do you need?? The music is VOCAL – the instrument is the human heart. Don’t go too far or you risk your own soul (2 John 9).
    Charles Gant
    Rockdale church of Christ
    Rockdale, Texas
    April, 23 2010

    I do believe it’s time someone from the “offending” congregation stepped up in defense. First of all, where does it say we are to meet on Wednesday nights in Scripture? Nowhere. Understandably enough you question why we do communion on Saturday nights for which I’m not certain, very good question, though. As per instruments, before y’all break out the “strange fire” argument, allow me to ask this: Where in the NEW Testament is instrumental worship prohibited. Remember, the whole strange fire event occurred in the Old Testament under the Old Covenant which became null and void when the New was established with the Blood of Christ.
    John Curtis Thompson
    Richland Hills Church of Christ
    Arlington, TX
    United States
    February, 28 2010

    I’m still waiting for someone to show me WHERE in the Scriptures that Congregations are required to sing only Psalms, much less without the use of instruments in worship??? CONTEXT people and the verses your probably dying to throw out DO NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH A WORSHIP SERVICE……….
    Robert Hayes
    a wise one
    Long Beach , MS
    December, 16 2009

    The problem as I see it, is disciples taking a slogan by the Campbells “Where the bible speaks, we speak, and where the bible is silent, we’re silent” as scripture. It is not! I think the slogan would better serve Christ and His church if it stated, “Where the bible speaks we speak and where it is silent we have freedom expressed in love! Furthermore where in the OT is it commanded to have synagogues? It doesn’t! Yet Jesus attended synagogue and I he never condemned the practice. It is a result of freedom expressed in love!
    Brothers and sister love one another.
    With much love.
    Tom Turowski
    Tampa Bay Church
    Valrico, FL
    December, 11 2009

    The Bible doesn’t mention microphones and yet it’s used in worship isn’t it. The fact is…many times in the New Testement it says to praise the Lord with psmalms and hymns. The Greek for psalms is psalmos, which means to pluck an instrument. Get out the guitar, drums, organs, horns and praise the Lord for He is worthy!
    Lane Sandstrom
    Williston, ND
    November, 27 2009

    I’ve read all of your comments, and still haven’t seen a New Testament Biblical justification of adding instruments of music in the Lord’s Worship Service. Opinions are find. But do we stand on God’s Word or our own opinons? Please respond.
    Haywood Broussard
    Westside Church of Christ in San Mateo, Ca.
    Redwood City, Ca.
    September, 28 2009

    Seriously, I will pray for the elders of this flock. Thousands of souls on their hands. Seriously.
    Judi L Doty Tarrant
    Effingham Church of Christ
    Effingham, IL
    September, 19 2009

    Nation’s largest Church of Christ adding instrumental service! I AM EMBARRASSED…IN MY EMBARRASSMENT, I WONDERED WHAT JESUS WAS THINKING AT THIS MOMENT.
    How unscriptural our world has become. The falling away of the church has truly begun.
    Judi L Doty Tarrant
    Effingham Church of Christ
    Effingham, IL
    September, 19 2009

    Why spend time arguing the case over a matter in another congregation? Let true worship abound in your own congregation as you see fit. Isn’t that the reason the c of c doesn’t have a goverening headquarters?
    I prefer acappella worship, but I do not condemn those who use instruments. I have heard many debates and the many defenses pro and con instruments, but at the end of the day, the same answer is prevalant – “scripture simply does not say.” We can only suggest and infer from historical accounts and side note philosophies that acappella is “the only way.”
    A cultural shift is occurring in which young people will not respond to acappella worship. How will your church respond?
    Alvin, TX
    September, 16 2009

    Hello my dear brethren in Christ
    Rom.12 : 1-2
    … to offer to the Lord livingg sacrifices,hily and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual act of worship…
    Philippe Dela
    DELA Philippe
    Maarstricht- Netherland
    Herstal, Herstal
    September, 13 2009

    What a weak parallel! The requirement of circumcision was excluding the Gentiles from the gospel, limiting God..How can one add something to our worship and not see that you are placing an instrument between our worship and God? Are you not saying/implying that the instrument is required to be pleasing to God? Communion on Saturday night! I see no basis for this. NONE!
    Randy Denton
    Goodman Oaks
    Lake Cormorant, MS
    August, 17 2009

    God has given the instructions on how he wants the “Saved” to worship and left out whatever is unnecessary. It is God’s Kingdom to which we strive to belong, not ours. Are we now trying to tell God how to do things? Where’s the “thus sayeth the Lord?”
    Maureen Chegin
    Longmire Road church of Christ
    Magnolia, Texas
    United States
    August, 16 2009

    Why would you want to alter God’s word? He didn’t give us a choice of days for communion. Upon the first day of the week — Acts 20:7. Also, I haven’t found anything about using instrumental music in the worship service. Matthew 7:13-14
    Joan Scott
    Paragould, Arkansas
    August, 15 2009

    How do you justify communion on Saturday? And, what scriptural support do have for adding instrumental music to the Sunday Worship service?
    Please reply.
    Haywood Broussard (Adult Class Bible School Teacher)
    Haywood Broussard
    Westside, San Mateo, Ca.
    San Mateo, California
    United States of America
    June, 1 2009

    If members of a church are baptized believers, if they are living a Christian life, if they are bearing fruits of the spirit, and if they are faithful witnesses of the gospel, how can anyone remove fellowship over the addition of an instrument?
    Lets throw the 18th century hermeneutic in the trash, and fellowship without our instrumental brothers and sisters!
    If they worshiped with instruments in the Old Testament, and if the angels worship God with Harps in Revelation, then I won’t condemn anyone for doing it now. That’s the joy of being Free in Christ.
    April, 29 2009

    If the addition of instrumental music is not important, according to Rich Atchley, why do it when it alienates so many in the brotherhood?
    July, 4 2008

    May, 23 2008

Filed under: National

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