Sometime in 2010, Rick Atchley, preacher for what was then the Richland Hills Church of Christ and is now The Hills Church, produced a YouTube video called “Chairs”. In it, he presents his argument for rejecting the traditional Restoration view of Bible authority. It generated lots of discussion back in the day, and it continues to pop up on Facebook from time to time.
Recently, I was asked what my perspective on “Chairs” was (honestly, I thought I’d already written about it, but apparently not). Let’s start with the good. I give Atchley all the credit in the world for being a smooth, plausible, even funny speaker. Unfortunately, he uses his considerable skills to promote false doctrine. He distorts the Biblical truth about authority in a way that will cause souls to be lost, and I think he does so knowingly. The problems with “Chairs” are legion. Here are the four I think are most significant.
Bible authority is not the cause of division. Over and over again, Atchley beats the drum of unity, and he argues that the greatest hindrance to unity in the church is our wrongheaded insistence on having authority for our religious practice. Because we have different views about what practices are authorized, we end up dividing.
Logically, then, if we abandon our teaching on silence of the Scriptures, etc., unity will result. This is patently absurd. In fact, I think it’s so absurd that even Atchley has to know it’s absurd. When we consider the wider “Christian” world, we don’t see unity, even among churches that reject our understanding of authority. We see division, with many thousands of denominations, splinter churches, and individual congregations doing their own thing.
In real life, concern for the Biblical pattern doesn’t cause division. Self-will does. Wherever people gather, there will be those who insist on getting their own way, and this is as true within the Restoration Movement as outside of it. If we want unity, we aren’t going to get there by rejecting the headship of Christ. Instead, we’ll get there by submitting ever more fully to His headship. It is our own pride and contentiousness that we must reject, not the authority of the Scriptures.
His first chair is arbitrary. There are lots of things that the Scriptures are silent about. There is no Bible text that says, “Thou shalt not have a pope.” We get there by reasoning from what the Bible says about the kingship of Christ. There is no Bible text that says “Thou shalt not permit same-sex marriage.” We get there by reasoning from Scriptural teaching about marriage and sexual immorality.
Presumably, Atchley is never going to submit to the authority of the pope. Hopefully, he won’t start officiating gay weddings (though the Internet is silent concerning his thoughts on the issue). However, his first chair wasn’t “the pope”, nor was it “gay marriage”. It was “the instrument”—a starting point he selected to make his congregation (which had already adopted the instrument by then) seem broad-minded and reasonable, and more conservative churches seem arbitrary and irrational.
Atchley wants to present himself as the one who is taking the logical, consistent stand. However, there is no consistency to the way that he approaches Scriptural silence. He is only consistent in doing what is right in his own eyes.
The slippery slope is real. At various points in the video, Atchley pauses to mock the generations of brotherhood preachers who have warned that abandoning the Biblical standard in some area is the first step down a slippery slope of apostasy. Ironically, his own career demonstrates precisely the problem that he dismisses.
Take, for instance, his views on baptism. He explains them quite clearly in this video on The Hills’ website. According to him, we are not baptized for the forgiveness of sins. We are baptized because Jesus was baptized.
This is what Baptists have been teaching for centuries, and it is one of the most pernicious false doctrines in existence. The Bible reveals in many places that baptism is necessary for salvation, and those who are not baptized according to the Scriptures have no hope. In rejecting Bible baptism, Atchley does not merely reject the authority of the Scriptures when they are silent. He also rejects their authority when they speak. The direction of his own teaching is a disastrously perfect example of the slippery slope of apostasy in operation.
He ignores the logical and Scriptural differences between chairs. In his second chair, Atchley pretends to be a Christian who objects to instrumental music. A few chairs down, he pretends to be a brother who believes that using multiple cups during the Lord’s Supper is unscriptural. In so doing, he implies that those two positions (and various other positions along the way) are logically equivalent.
They aren’t. Brethren have debated the use of the instrument for more than a century now, and during that time, nobody has ever advanced a Biblically founded argument for employing the instrument in worship. Generally, those who want to adopt the instrument end up using Atchley’s strategy—attacking the concept of Bible authority generally. By contrast, those who want to follow the Scriptural pattern are left with only one option. They must sing a cappella.
In the case of the one-cup debate, though, all the logical problems lie on the more restrictive side. Did the church in Jerusalem, with its thousands of members, celebrate the Lord’s Supper together using one literal cup? At that point, the container in question is no longer a cup, but a vat. Presumably, it also must have been accompanied by the “one bread” of 1 Corinthians 10:17—a cracker the size of a football field.
I certainly don’t question the sincerity of my one-cup brethren. I do wish, however, that they would develop a greater appreciation for Biblical symbolism. They clearly aren’t correct, and when we lump them in with those who reject the instrument on a reasoned basis, we do the latter a disservice.
“Chairs” is a clever illustration, no doubt about it. For those who are inclined to agree with Atchley, or for those who are ignorant of the Scriptures, it may well be a persuasive one. However, it serves to deny and distort the truth rather than promote it. Clever illustrations won’t help us on to heaven. The word of life will. Let’s pay attention to it, not them.