Authority or Interpretation?

Written by Drew on December 15th, 2006

I once heard Bobby Duncan say, “Practically every question underlying present-day denominationalism is a question of authority, and not of interpretation.” Really, there is not much disagreement over what the Bible actually says. The disagreement is over what it is telling us to do today.

For example, Catholics sprinkle for infant baptism, not because they think that they can find this practice in the New Testament. Every New Testament scholar knows that candidates for baptism were immersed in the early church. Catholics allow sprinkling for baptism because, in addition to the authority of the New Testament, they accept the authority of the Pope, who has allowed an alternative to immersion.

The churches of Christ only immerse candidates for baptism because we accept only the New Testament as our authority in matters of religion and daily living. Our motto is, “Speak where the Bible speaks, remain silent where the Bible is silent.” As long as we adhere to this principle, we maintain a distinct position in today’s religious landscape.

These things came into my mind when I read that the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Texas has added an instrumental service to their worship schedule.

“There is unity in our eldership, and we are so thankful for that,” said Jon Jones, one of the elders who leads the Richland Hills church. His words sound hollow, seeing as how two of the elders resigned following the groundbreaking decision.

Rick Atchley, the church’s pulpit minister, was quoted as saying, “…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.”

How is it possible that Brother Atchley can claim we are more faithful to God’s word by allowing instrumental music into our worship assemblies? The New Testament says nothing about “instrumental praise.”

As Brother Duncan said, this isn’t about interpretation. Reputed Bible scholars of every stripe agree that you cannot find instruments of music in the New Testament. The Bible doesn’t need to be re-interpreted. This is about authority. Unfortunately, there are some among us (and the number is growing) who no longer believe that we must follow Scriptural authority in everything that we do (Col. 3:17).

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that believers must worship God “in spirit and in truth.” The Bible is the only source for truth (Jn. 17:17). Will the churches of Christ insist on following the truth revealed through the New Testament, or will they abandon that truth to follow the fleeting trends of society? The answer to this question not only determines whether we will employ musical instruments in our praise to God. Its implications reach even further into the very nature of who we are.

Make no mistake. This is not just about the instrument.


11 Comments so far ↓

  1. Isaac says:

    It sure would be a lot easier if we got together, say, once a year and democratically decided the tenets of our faith. A lot less confusion, and more freedom to adapt to the changing needs of society.

    Yes, it would be a lot easier. And after all, there are literally hundreds of passages designed to remind us all that the way is easy, and the path to righteousness is as flexible as we need it to be.

    (Okay, those passages aren’t there now, but if we got together and voted on it…)

    /sarcasm OFF.

  2. Paula says:

    Drew, I found your site several months ago and enjoy it tremendously. It’s so wonderful to see those who still hold to the truth, defend it, and preach it.

    Someone sent me an article about the Richland Hills congregation this week, and in it they said that in addition to the instruments being added on Saturday, they would also serve the Lord’s supper. I wanted to cry when I read it. I’ve heard all the arguments about “reaching the un-churched”, but if we bring them in on Saturday, play the piano for them, serve the Lord’s supper and tell them to enjoy their Sunday off, what have we done for them? They are still lost in their sins. The Bible I read tells me that the Lord’s supper is taken on the first day of the week…the Lord’s day….no other time. I don’t see how these men could have studied this for so long and come up with the rationalization that this would be okay. I don’t worry about the future of the church because I know it cannot be destroyed, but I do worry about and grieve for the souls of those who get caught up in trying to compete with the ‘mega’ churches who don’t teach the Bible…just give ‘motivational’ messages to avoid stepping on toes.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks for allowing an outlet to express my feelings.

  3. Paula Harrington says:

    I hope the article that the previous Paula mentioned regarding the Richland Hills congregation offering the Lord’s Supper on Saturday is false. I haven’t heard this and hope it isn’t true.

    I’m afraid that we are trying to please men and not God in too many situations.

    Thanks for the post, Drew.

  4. David Courington says:

    Great Article Drew! Someone recently told me to look at the dialogue between Rick Atchley and Jack Evans linked to Southwest Christian College Site. I would not agree with him on everything, but Evans said much that needs to be said. Keep the faith.

  5. Anonymous says:


    I praise God for Richland Hills and their missional vision for becoming all things to all people to reach the lost. Further, I commend them for there inclusion of an instrumental service and communion on a Saturday evening, neither of which can be argued against from Scripture. I would caution you against using pattern/blueprint theology and a hermeneutic which itself has no bilblical authority. Paul would never have dreamed of seeing his letters misused/exploited in the ways many are misusing them to support their inherited positions, which lack individual thought and ownership. It is truly a sad sight when people place the use of the instrument on the same level as the divinity in Christ, and therefore heresy and separation of fellowship. I doubt there would have been quite the outcry had RH denied the divinity of Christ – quite an embarassing show for churches of Christ. Churches of Christ have preached church autonomy vehemently but ignored it and violated it consistently. Let RH do what is right for them and pray God’s blessings upong them. (By the way, I’m not a member of RH). Blessings on you as you continue to search for the truth.

  6. Paul says:

    It’s discouraging that more and more churches are turning away from the word of God and convincing themselves that instrumental music or Saturday night services are okay. Good night, have I misread the Bible all these years and the RH congregation finally cleared up the confusion? Sheesh.

  7. Drew Kizer says:

    To my anonymous reader,

    You make a lot of assumptions in order to argue your case.

    There is no evidence that adding instrumental music to the worship services of a church of Christ serves as a “missional vision.” These experiments fail, as they already seem to be doing at Richland Hills.

    Secondly, to argue that Scripture offers nothing in regard to when we should take the Lord’s Supper and the use of instrumental music is to completely ignore the arguments of the other side. The Scriptural evidence on both of these issues has been addressed on Truth and Repose.

    Finally, when you charge us with not respecting the deity of Christ, you remove yourself from the debate as a person who is only interested in winning an argument, instead of seeking the truth.

    I don’t know who you are or what you look like, but if I were to look up the word “strawman” in the dictionary, I would probably get a pretty good idea.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dear Drew,

    I’m sorry my comments incited such a response and personal name calling (“strawman”?) from you. (You’re also assuming I’m a man). I must confess your response was predictable but I was hoping you would be above persoal name calling. Unfortunately, your response misrepresented my views. The very assumptions you claim I make in order to bolster my case are also leveraged by you in making your case. We all operate with underlying assumptions. Epistemology is grounded in assumptions, all of which are shaped by personal history, culture, context, background, mentors, teachers, education, etc, etc. Hence, we must ensure that our assumptions are grounded in truth. So, dismissing someone with a flippant flick of the wrist because you think he/she is making a lot of assumptions is to presume you’re not making assumptions, which of course you are. We all are. Intellectual honesty in this regard is the first step intellectual freedom.

    On your communion response, Scripture has very little to say about the timing of communion. Acts 20:7 is the only New Testament reference to communion on the first day. (1 Cor 16:2 connects Sunday with an offering, probably a special offering for Jerusalem as opposed to a continual weekly offering). I never stated that “Scripture offers nothing in regard to when we take the Lord’s supper and the use of instrumental music…”, just that we can’t argue against having communion on another day in addition to Sunday. It’s also important to note that our Lord’s Supper service looks nothing like the early church’s Lord’s Supper. Their Lord’s Supper was part of a love feast (Jude 1:12) which continued through the patristic era until later being condemned by the Catholic church. It was also this love feast that Paul told the Corinthians had been taken too far.

    On the instrument….I have taught both sides of this issue. I know the arguments exceptionally well. I began to study the origin of many of our beliefs from a historical perspective, (i.e. Alexander Campbell’s influence on our Arminian, cessationalist, rationalistic approach to theology and Scripture and the lenses through which we interpret Scripture), as well as the meaning of gospel, that is, good news. We (Churches of Christ) take much of our identity from Paul’s letters and very little from Jesus’ words. We shouldn’t over correct here, but we certainly should reassess our view of gospel and be careful not to include beliefs and teachings under the rubric of “gospel” or “doctrine of Christ” when Christ was very silent on the issues we scream about. I have learned to tread gently on sacred ground and I’m too conservative to draw lines where Jesus didn’t draw them. I’m also very wary of people who claim they have arrived, whether it be Rick Atchley at RH or you, or me!! Theology is a human construct. It’s something that fallen, sinful people do. I know this and thankfully God knows this too.

    And in reference to the charge that you don’t respect the divinity of Christ, I certainly am sorry if you read my message with that assumption. Hyperbole can be dangerous. I was simply trying to say that if Richland Hills announced they no longer believed in the Divinity of Christ, most people would be saddened and rightly remove fellowship with them. But, should they announce they will use instruments, the gloves come off, mud, slander and blogs are slung, and fellowship is withdrawn from them. We have placed the use of the instrument on the same level with the Divinity of Christ when decide to withdraw fellowship from a church who uses an instument. And personally, that is reprehensible, unglodly, and an affront to the gospel of love that Jesus taught.

    Tread gently Drew, as I recommit to doing. As a new PhD, I will tell you that I am learning to be more humble with my assumptions and less judgemental for I found out just how much I don’t know!

    Blessings and peace on your ministry. I doubt I’ll respond again to further responses. I don’t enjoy theological tennis matches.

  9. Brandon says:

    You don’t enjoy theological tennis matches? As a “new PhD,” I would suspect those would be right up your erudite alley.

    Could it be that you want to pontifate to us lesser mortals and then be off to the magical world of academia? Too, I find it interesting that you use words like “reprehensible,” “ungodly,” etc., when, for all you know, as a “fallen, sinful” person, you may be wrong!

    One quick word on fallibility as it pertains to epistemology. When a person reaches a wrong conclusion, he does so fallibly. On the other hand, when he reaches a correct conclusion, he also does so fallibly. Thus, it is not our fallibility as such that is the variable (i.e., the determining factor as to whether or not we have reached a correct conclusion. Rather, it is the evidence that we use to reach our conclusions that determine their veracity.

    But, as a new PhD, I’m sure you already knew that.

  10. Drew Kizer says:

    I’m not wanting to play “theological tennis,” but I do want to correct some of the assertions made above, since the language they were couched in may have intimidated some readers into buying them before they were weighed in the balances.

    True, the NT doesn’t say much about when to take the Lord’s Supper. But how much does it have to say? If the Lord tells us once to do something, that should be enough.

    Incidentally, when 1 Corinthians 16:2 is read in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 11:20, the passages makes clear implications regarding the timing of the Lord’s Supper.

    On the letters of Paul: It is impossible to take much of our identity from the apostle’s letters and little from Jesus’ words at the same time. Paul’s letters are the words of Christ. Study John 14:16, 26; 16:13; Mt. 28:19-20. I know all about the movement in recent years to separate the NT letters from the four gospel accounts. But if one believes Jesus’ promise to His disciples to continue to supply revelation through His Spirit, he does not make this distinction.

    Thanks to all who make comments. Regardless of whether I agree with them, I am flattered when my articles are honored with a reasonable response.

  11. Kevin W. Rhodes says:


    I continue to appreciate your good writing on timely topics. Since I live and work in close proximity to Richland Hills, this particular topic has greater implications for my work. (Also, note to Anonymous, “strawman” was not name calling, it was descriptive based upon your post. If a person believes in total hereditary depravity, he should not be offended if I call him a Calvinist.)

    What I found most interesting about the comments of the Anonymous poster was the postmodern theology that laced every word. It appears also that despite his references to the words of Christ that he has read The Second Incarnation more closely than what Jesus said.

    But we also need to understand something here that is illustrative about the world of academia. The essence of the academic world is peer-review. This places men as the ultimate authority by its very nature. I have written much about baptism and hermeneutics, but neither would get published in a peer-review, academic setting–not because of poor scholarship but because those writings do not represent the views of others and instead offend them to the point that they are unwilling to give them sanction. However, I have written other works in a different field that have received high praise for their scholarship. Did a different person write these? Did he change the nature of his scholarship in the process? No. It was completely dependent upon the willingness of academia to accept the material based upon whether or not they liked the conclusion.

    What Rick Atchley, and others like him, have done is abandon the principle of silence that is itself taught in the Bible. As you pointed out already, the issue is authority for all things–not just a matter of instrumental music and when to partake of the Lord’s Supper.

    I almost laughed, except for the sadness of it, when I read that somehow what Alexander Campbell taught is the reason why I believe what I do. That is so ridiculous (and so condescending) that it should be treated for what it is: a broad brush statement attempting to disarm anyone who still believes we need to have Jesus’ approval for what we do.

    Richland Hills has ignored these matters for years and adopted an interpretive approach that is consistent with what they wanted to do instead of one that was consistent with what they Bible says. Their recent decision is sad, but not unexpected.

    The saddest part of this is the use of academic credentials to try to improve an argument. Sadly, some with higher degrees attempt to use their degree to cover up their inability to stand up for truth. Having a higher degree can be helpful, but in many cases it places the emphasis on men’s opinions instead of on God’s Word. For example, one person who reviewed my book (and who probably held the same views as Anonymous) commented that it was not an academic work, probably due to the fact that I did not quote a lot of men. Now, the fact that it is filled with scripture from cover to cover apparently did not matter. Scripture is THE primary source. Men’s opinions are secondary sources. Anyone who has any truly good academic background understands that primary sources indicate higher research. I guess I should have included a chapter reviewing all of the books on the same subject first to prove I had read and considered them. However, I had never seen that done in a textbook!

    Say, I wonder when someone is going to suggest we all start praying to Allah in order to reach out to the Muslim community?

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