By Dub McClish
After various signals of a growing spirit of compromise on the part of the Forest Hill (FH) congregation (Memphis, TN), it was predictable that others would follow. While brother Barry Grider, FH preacher, has been the “point man” in these indicators, the conference table in the FH elders’ meeting room nonetheless bears the sign—figuratively if not actually—“The Buck Stops Here.” Whatever happens in the congregation or in the Memphis School of Preaching (MSOP), which it operates, is ultimately the charge of the FH eldership.
They have apparently given their preacher carte blanche to forge ahead with his agenda. Said agenda has manifestly included enlarged fellowship boundaries, as evidenced by invitations to several speakers who were formerly (pre-2006) out of favor (and rightly so) with FH/MSOP, but who have magically come into favor since.
Then there was the disgracefully compromising edition of the Forest Hill News (FHN) (2/10/09) in which brother Grider wrote an article, published a separate article by Tyler Young, and printed the silly, touchy-feely, loosey-goosey “fellowship circle” article—all three of which announced boldly to perceptive readers that he (Grider) was “pushing the envelope” on fellowship. In reality, he pushed a bit beyond the theme of broader fellowship in that material, advocating the use of practices that Bible-loving brethren cannot abide (see the April 2009 edition of Contending for the Faith for coverage of the 2/10/09 issue of FHN).
With no public repudiation of this material from either the FH elders or any of the MSOP faculty, what could the FH preacher (and all brethren who read what he wrote and printed) conclude but that his elders and fellow MSOP instructors agreed with the material and that he should forge ahead, and go even further next time (whence our title)? In brother Grider, we have the change agent modus operandi on display:
- Push the boundaries until there is resistance
- Ease up until resistance subsides
- Push the boundaries further next time
- Keep repeating steps 1–3
“Next time” arrived with the July 12, 2011 issue of FHN, in which he published an article—without editorial comment—by Rob Hatchett, titled, “Where Are the Future Leaders?” (see: http://www.foresthillcofc.org/Bulletins/2011/July_12_2011.pdf). It originally appeared in the June issue of Think magazine (edited by Brad Harrub, Glenn Colley, David Longley, and David Shannon), from which Barry Grider obtained it (incidentally, both Think and FHN misspelled Hatchett’s name as “Hatchet”). Both the article’s content and those who have endorsed it by publishing it raise some significant considerations.
The Article—Its Author, Content, and Place of Publication
Some Internet research reveals that Rob Hatchett lives in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area and is a member (but not one of the “ministers”) of the Clear Creek Church of Christ in nearby Hixson. He is a Freed-Hardeman University alumnus. The Clear Creek Website reveals a church in the advanced stages of acute liberalitis, a deadly spiritual malignancy, complicated by raging social gospelitis. It lists various liberal speakers who have been there recently or who will be coming (e.g., Randy Lowry [pres. of Lipscomb U.], Johnathan Storment [Richland Hills], Randy Harris [ACU], Tim Woodroof, et al.). Books by denominational authors are the bases for at least some of their “Bible studies,” including one by Francis Chan, who is involved in the universalistic Emerging Church movement.
This congregation is at least refreshingly honest about its gymnasium; it calls it a “gym,” bypassing the family-life-center subterfuge of most congregations that have joined the entertainment/recreation craze. Clear Creek also fields teams in basketball, softball, and flag football. It openly solicits funds indiscriminately (from members and non-members alike). Among its seven “ministers,” three are women, and, of course, how can a liberal church exist without its “Children’s Bible Hour”?
From the title of the article (i.e., “Where Are the Future Leaders”?), one might expect it to address the problem of leadership failure in the Lord’s church. (Had congregations and schools had the strong, Scripturally-qualified leaders the Lord intended, the church would not be in its present sad state of apostasy and compromise—as exemplified by Clear Creek.) However, incredibly (given the article’s title), Hatchett never even gives a wave of the hand to that important subject, but launches immediately into the typical non-thinking/liberal blame game for the loss of so many young people when they reach college age and young adulthood: “Where did the church go wrong?”
He tells of being in a previous congregation from which several young families with children departed. He implies that the congregation was at fault for not making its worship “entertaining” enough to keep the defectors from leaving. When he was told that worship is not for the purpose of entertaining, Hatchett retorts, “If I’ve heard this response once, I’ve heard it a thousand times” (a bit of a hyperbole, perhaps?). In Clear Creek, brother Hatchett has found himself a congregation that appears to major in the entertainment field.
He proposes three questions for “self-evaluation” of “your church.” Question 1: “Does your church have a system to track the kids that have graduated from your youth group over the past 10 years?” Imagine how that would go over with “kids,” especially when they get to their mid-twenties, are married, and perhaps have started their families. I concur with his claim that congregations far too often segregate “youth groups” from adults—which is almost the very purpose of the hired “youth director” or “youth minister” and the “Children’s Bible Hour” program (all very visible at Clear Creek). Many of us have been opposing this mentality and setup for decades, and it’s surprising to hear a liberal agree with it (did he slip up without realizing it?).
Question 2: “Is your congregation ‘relevant’ to Christians in their 20s?” He defines “relevance” as (among other things) singing “newer songs” and using “technology” (I suppose he means such things as PowerPoint sermons, projected announcements/songs, and podcasts). Then he asserts that we should compete with “relevant” “community/non-denominational churches” (notice he refers to denominations as “non-denominational,” a description that fits only the church of the New Testament).
The article gets more interesting: Per Hatchett, congregations need to learn from the McDonalds hamburger chain the way to attract young folks (they’re spiffying-up some of their stores to make them “trendy/modern/relevant” [his words] with two-way fireplaces, stone exteriors, and granite countertops). Since he advises “conservative” congregations to heed Hatchett or die, would the FH preacher have the least objection to replacing the pews at FH with recliners and inviting Starbucks to set up shop in the foyer? In this context, Hatchett feels the need to deny he is calling for a change in the Gospel, but he is contending precisely for that. The Gospel is not about superficial appeals to the flesh. Furthermore, congregations that have implemented his approach are unrecognizable as churches of Christ—and Hatchett’s Clear Creek “Church of Christ” is “Exhibit A” in proof thereof.
Hatchett then makes another of several sweeping generalizations (all of which are devoid of any research/documentation):
Those leaving the church in their 20s are consistently saying it’s because the congregation where they worship, though doctrinally sound, is out of touch with what they face and their needs in their Christian walk of life.
So it is clear that being “doctrinally sound” is secondary to being “relevant” (as perceived by today’s typical 20-somethings). Brother Hatchett then delivers this liberal chestnut: “The greatest need for people today in their 20s is the need for social interaction and social connection.” Silly me, but I thought the greatest need for people, whether they are 15 or 115 years old, was for salvation, spiritual development, and faithfulness to the Lord every day (which are available only through knowledge and practice of Biblical doctrine [Mat. 4:4; John 6:26–27; Acts 20:32; 2 Tim. 3:15–17; Heb. 5:12–14; Jam. 2:22–25; 2 Pet. 1:5–11; 3:18; et al.]).
At Clear Creek, when they greet a visitor or approach a “20s person,” they invite him to play basketball, take a mission trip, play on one of the church’s three softball teams, meet with the young professionals on Thursday night for dinner, or do chores for the widows (note the implied equivalency of playing basketball and softball with a mission trip and helping widows).
Question 3: “Does your congregation put more focus on simply filling a pew on Sunday or on being a Christian?” Brother Hatchett reports to us that being “the most doctrinally correct church” is a downer for the 20s crowd. Skip that old fogey stuff. They want a church that will help members “truly develop a relationship with God.” Talk about liberal-speak, here we have it on display. This nonsense is not only an unscriptural (i.e., false) dichotomy between doctrinal soundness and creating/maintaining a “relationship with God,” it is an anti-Scriptural one. There is no right relationship with God apart from doctrinal soundness: “And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, emph. DM). But he’s not through: “Those leaving the church are saying that women’s role, musical instruments, denominations, baptism, etc., were forced on them so much that they never learned how to truly develop a relationship with God….” Remember, to brother Grider, it’s follow the Hatchett program, or perish for “conservative congregations.”
Brother Hatchett may think he has come up with something new and revolutionary in his three questions. Not so. Liberal change agents have been urging these failed inanities for four decades or more, assuming that social and entertainment activities will develop spiritual growth and maturity in young people—and the change agents got them from the denominations in the first place. He further implies without warrant that elders and/or congregations have the responsibility to teach, train, and rear children and, if children go astray, it is the fault of the elders, the church, or (gasp!) even the preacher. While congregational activities can and should be supportive, the last time I checked Ephesians 6:1–4, that responsibility still belonged to parents.
The Original Place of Publication and Its Editors
As previously mentioned, Think magazine originally published the Hatchett article. Brother Brad Harrub began this publication and the company that publishes it a few years ago after leaving Apologetics Press. I am acquainted with only two of the four editors of Think—brethren Harrub and Colley. They represent themselves as being “conservative” relative to the Scriptures. However they have both confuted that representation by their willingness to consort repeatedly with rank liberals on such the Lake Tahoe Family Encampment and other venues in recent years. That aside, their publication of this article is sufficient to discredit any serious claims of “conservatism” for themselves or for their magazine.
Editors have choices when they receive an article for publication:
- Reject it outright (because its content, poor quality of writing, etc., render it unacceptable)
- Return it to the author for suggested changes
- Publish it either with editorial disclaimer or rebuttal (if the editor disagrees with the content)
- Publish it as submitted, implying full endorsement by the editor(s)
It obviously was not rejected outright. It may have been returned to the author for suggested changes (but if so, one must wonder how even more blatantly anti-Biblical the original submission was). The Think editors published it with no disclaimer or rebuttal. Therefore, this article represents the convictions of the editors of Think magazine (I can’t resist asking what these “conservative” “thinkers” were “thinking”).
Additionally, the editors either (1) did no “vetting” of Rob Hatchett’s background or congregational affiliation, or (2) if they did so, they cared not that he represented an off-the-wall liberal church that wears the designation Church of Christ in sacrilege—to which they gave an implied approving nod. Either option leaves the Think editors grossly inexcusable and culpable. The defenders of Brad Harrub’s and Glenn Colley’s “conservatism” in the face of numerous fellowship compromises over the past 6 years—and now this—have some more egg to wipe off their faces.
The Article—Its Place of Republication and Its Republishing Editor
It was only mildly surprising that this doctrinally off-color article appeared in Think. Its appearance in FHN, however, may (and should) raise the eyebrows of discerning brethren far and wide. Due to various statements and actions of brother Grider (editor of FHN) over the past several years, at least some of us did not doubt that he holds such convictions as set forth by the liberal Hatchett. My source of surprise is in the brazenness of his moving this fast—and this openly—to advance the next phase of his liberal agenda. He compounded his bold publication of the sorry article by orally endorsing it in a preface to his July 17 evening sermon (see: http://oabs.org/archives/foresthill/2011/asx.asx?link=5&mon=july). (His compulsion to mount the pulpit and defend the article’s content raises the question of how much criticism he has received over the article. “The [gentleman] doth protest too much, methinks” [with apologies to Shakespeare’s Hamlet].)
Publication and endorsement of this liberalism-laced article in FHN reveals far more about Barry Grider than it does about Rob Hatchett. The errant Hatchett is apparently not pretending to be something he is not—he obviously and openly embraces the liberal milieu of which he is a part. At this point, our brother Grider is still putting up a “conservative” facade, but it is slipping increasingly with each of his stunts. As in politics, so in the church: When one embraces liberalism, he just can’t seem to keep himself from moving ever more leftward and seeking to drag others into the same maelstrom.
By republishing—and orally commending—this article, warning “so-called conservative churches of Christ” and “every congregation, conservative in nature” to take heed or face doom’s day, brother Grider has implicitly stated his agreement with the following:
- Entertainment should be a significant factor in determining the character of our worship assemblies
- Faithful congregations are to blame when entertainment-seekers depart
- Elders should track young people for 10 years when they leave home for college
- Congregations must become “relevant” to the “needs” of the 20-year-old crowd
- “Relevant” worship assemblies include “newer songs” and using “technology”
- Congregations must see what “community/non-denominational” churches are doing and compete with them to reach the 20s crowd
- Congregations must ape McDonalds restaurants to learn the way to be “relevant”
- “Relevance” is more important than being “doctrinally sound”
- “Social interaction and social connection” are the greatest needs of the 20s crowd
- Congregations should organize/sponsor football, basketball, and softball teams
- Congregations should build gymnasiums to attract/hold young people
- Being a “doctrinally correct church” will not help members “truly develop a relationship with God”
- Elders who “force” such subjects as “women’s role,” “musical instruments,” “denominations,” and “baptism” on young people are “completely out of touch.”
- Doctrinal sermons and learning the way “to truly develop a relationship with God” are incompatible
- We are doomed to lose all of our young people if we fail to provide entertainment, recreation, “social interaction,” “newer” songs, and “technology”
- If congregations will follow the Hatchett prescription, they will produce mature, stable, spiritual, and above all, Scripturally-sound leaders
- Faithful brethren should learn—from a member of an ultra-liberal church and from that church’s programs—the way to interest, attract, and hold young people
Brother Grider did not commend brother Hatchett’s liberal advice and “wisdom” in a personal “white paper” or publish it as an independent personal opinion on his personal Website. Rather, he advanced his unseemly convictions through the principal publication (FHN) of the congregation for which he preaches. As much as its pulpit, FHN is a public representative of a congregation whose reputation for faithfulness and soundness was unquestioned until a few years ago. Moreover, the July 12, 2011, edition of FHN carrying the Hatchett article and Grider’s July 17 oral commendation of it are both on the FH Website, accessible universally. Grider’s “Hatchett edition” of FHN and his oral commendation publicly represent the position of the FH elders and congregation until the FH elders tell us otherwise.
It is no coincidence that these untoward tendencies by the FH church and MSOP began appearing within a couple of years of brother Grider’s employment by the FH elders. The earliest of these signs of which I am aware (2004) was the appearance of some Grider-suggested speakers on the MSOP Lectures that so alarmed and disgusted some of the alumni that they boycotted the assemblies when these men spoke.
How Many Will “Go Along To Get Along”?
The Forest Hill Elders
I earlier observed that, although Barry Grider has been the leader of FH’s leftward tilt, “the buck stops” with the FH elders. Brother Grider has been able to do and say what he has pleased only because his elders have so permitted. While it hardly seems possible that these men have no concern about the slipping level of confidence in them and the congregation’s already tarnished image, what can one conclude when/if they allow such mayhem to go unchecked?
It is precisely by this means that hundreds of congregations have been lost to apostasy over the past forty-fifty years. Elders hire a preacher whom they trust. Unknown to them, he has some “strange” ideas (Lev. 10:1–2). As he gradually introduces them, the elders, perhaps fearing a rift in the congregation because of brethren afflicted with preacheritis, do nothing. “After all,” they tell themselves, “these changes are very minor and are matters of opinion.” Then, after ignoring a few such changes (as the preacher is gaining an even greater “fan-base”), the elders themselves become so desensitized by the “small” changes that they are blind to the fact that they have allowed some not-small changes to occur. They then end up defending the very things (and worse) that once disturbed them, aggressively denying any suggestion that their preacher has led them down error’s primrose path—and giving him even further liberties.
Just as elders could and should have prevented liberalism’s capture of many hundreds of congregations over the years, so only the FH elders can put a stop to the direction in which their preacher is leading them. Their responsibilities of overseeing and guarding the flock demand no less (Acts 20:28–31). This latest move by their preacher, if unaddressed—and publicly so—by the FH elders, can mean only one thing: They are in full agreement with their preacher’s liberal agenda. In response to their preacher’s previous adventures in compromise, their response has been two-fold: (1) Utter silence regarding the errors brother Grider has promoted, implying their support, and (2) “marking” as unworthy of fellowship two of the many brethren who have dared publicly to hold them accountable for their behavior. Will these men continue to “go along to get along” with their preacher and his admirers?
The MSOP Full-time Faculty
Where is the MSOP fulltime faculty in all of this? Are they one with the FH preacher (and their fellow MSOP instructor) who holds forth in the building across the driveway from their own domain where others and I were once so cordially welcomed? It was my high privilege to be invited to deliver the MSOP graduation sermon several years ago (1998, I believe). From the FH pulpit, I addressed my challenge not only to the graduates, but also to the elders. I praised them highly (and deservedly), but I also challenged them to “take heed unto themselves” to remain faithful, emphasizing the weighty responsibility on their shoulders, both for the congregation and for MSOP. I stressed that, if they faltered, both the church and the school would be lost to the Cause. I distinctly remember the “amens” that were uttered to that challenge. The FH elders commended my sermon highly. I particularly recall the fact that long-time/full-time MSOP instructor, Keith Mosher, enthusiastically told me my remarks were the best he had heard delivered to any of their graduating classes. The Lord knows I do not relate these matters to boast, but to underscore the significance of the very phenomenon I described that is unfolding concerning this very influential eldership, church, and school.
How can brethren Liddell, Elkins, Mosher, Bland, Martin, Cates (father and son), and Clarke be in agreement with the untoward words and deeds of brother Grider? (If they are still warning their students about change agents and the way to recognize them, a good beginning illustration can be found across the driveway from their class rooms.) Have these once-stalwart men so invested their support and defense of one impenitent false teacher (brother Dave Miller) that it has caused them to ignore and muffle their opposition to error right under their noses? I dearly love and once respected these men who formerly so openly and impartially stood for the Truth and opposed error and its champions such as Rubel Shelly and Mac Deaver. It is bad enough that they embraced the multiple Miller errors, but that their voices have fallen silent on the error in their own house is beyond amazing—and disgraceful.
I find it hard to believe that none of these men had any concern over the February 10, 2009, edition of FHN. If any of them expressed any disapproval of that material privately, it had little effect (as evidenced by the latest Grider propaganda piece). Do they not lose any sleep over the fact that the elders under whom they work apparently have given their softy preacher license to take the once-stalwart FH church where he wants it to go (dragging the school with it)? Who would have thought 6 years ago that even one of the MSOP men would put up with what brother Grider is increasingly advocating next door? Observe it, read about it, reflect on it, pray over it, and weep because of it.
Until these men tell us otherwise, I have no choice but to assume they subscribe to the 17 points of the Hatchett-Grider plan listed above. They need to realize that their personal reputations are on the line in these matters. If the FH elders allow Barry Grider to destroy this congregation, once known worldwide for its soundness, MSOP—and its faculty—will go down in flames with it. The MSOP faculty may be the only force with sufficient influence on the FH elders to effect a course-correction, but if it has any such intention, it needs to move quickly. Will these men continue to “go along to get along” with elders who are seemingly complacent/complicit regarding their preacher’s errors?
The New Gospel Journal Board
Do the new Gospel Journal and its board (Ken Ratcliff, Tommy Hicks, John Moore, Paul Sain, Curtis Cates) subscribe to the Grider-Hatchett plan for salvaging young people? Its editor, brother Curtis Cates, is still intimately associated with FH by means of MSOP, of which he is “Director Emeritus.” I know from personal conversation with him in March 2005 that he was not happy with the Grider influence on the FH elders that caused them to spend a considerable sum on equipment that would allow them to broadcast over the fledgling Gospel Broadcasting Network. It would appear that this Grider-led non-doctrinal matter was of greater concern to brother Cates than Grider’s subsequent dangerous doctrinal moves have been. Until he announces otherwise, we must assume that he and his fellow board members of the new Gospel Journal have no problems with the publication of the Hatchett article in the FHN. Will brother Cates and his new Gospel Journal associates continue to “go along to get along”?
The MSOP Alumni
The MSOP alumni are also “on the spot” because of brother Grider’s latest exploits. The vast MSOP Alumni Association once so esteemed me that it awarded me honorary membership, and I once wore my pin very proudly. MSOP directors and teachers helped these students to understand the Truth and instilled in them the Scriptural obligation to defend it and to oppose error without fear or favor. I am now wondering how long and to what degree this great body of alumni will tolerate what they see happening in the church that oversees their alma mater, and which must affect their school if unimpeded. Doubtless, MSOP faculty members have correctly emphasized to their students the danger, error, and folly of loyalty to a school that surpasses loyalty to the Word of God. I pray that a large number of MSOP alumni will rise up and say, “This far, and no further.” A sufficient number of alumni could very well encourage the eldership to reconsider its course. Will the bulk of the alumni “go along to get along”?
The MSOP Financial Supporters
Yet another group must seriously contemplate the uncertain sounds emanating from the FH preacher, and (by implication of their silence), from the MSOP faculty. I refer to the financial supporters of the school. It takes large amounts of money to operate an enterprise as large as MSOP has become. Accordingly, the appeals for support have been and continue to be many, and Truth-loving brethren have generously responded over the years. I would be greatly surprised if all of those who have contributed or who are now contributing to MSOP agree with the 17-point Hatchett-Grider program. In fact, I would be surprised if some support has not already dried up at the latest Grider-inspired incident. By his own admission, a threat of financial loss for the school in 2005 heavily influenced the decision of brother Cates, director of MSOP at the time, in reference to the editorship of The Gospel Journal. Perhaps it will take a similar threat to influence MSOP’s current director and the eldership that oversees it. Will the financial supporters of MSOP “go along to get along,” or will they make their objections to the Grider agenda known?
I am not unaware of the predicament and conundrum in which both the FH elders and the MSOP faculty find themselves:
- They decided 6 years ago to give one prominent false teacher (brother Dave Miller) a pass, embracing, endorsing, and defending him and his errors
- They have been called to account repeatedly for choosing which (and whose) errors to ignore and which (and whose) errors to oppose
- They have resisted and vilified those who have sought their repentance, attempting to destroy their reputations and to marginalize their influence
- They have allowed various acts and statements of compromise by their preacher/fellow instructor to go unopposed over the past few years
- These acts and statements have now become so blatant that even these men must recognize that they are undeniably subversive to the Truth
- These acts and statements now pose a real threat to the FH church and MSOP
- However, if these men now admit and deal with this genuine problem, they will expose once more their partiality in opposing error in one of their own while continuing to ignore it in brother Miller
- Further, admitting the doctrinal problems of their preacher/fellow instructor will constitute a bitter admission that the several warnings concerning him were valid and that their “marking” of two brethren who tried to tell them so was unjustified (not to mention unscriptural)
- However, if they harden their resistance and rally behind brother Grider, they risk further tarnishing their reputation and losing support of alumni and contributors, to say nothing of signaling “full speed ahead” to brother Grider in his departures
It is evident that FH elders have painted themselves into an unenviable corner. It will take humble and spiritually-mature men to do what needs to be done to preserve the congregation and the school for the Truth. I pray that they will understand, however, that putting the brakes on their preacher is only part of what they need to do to remove all doubts. Whoever advised the elders to rally behind brother Miller and pretend his errors are of no consequence gave them atrocious and anti-Scriptural advice indeed. I implore them to correct that original misstep, which I believe to have been the initial compromise that has led them to their present predicament.
I have no personal axes to grind with any of these brethren, including brother Grider. The FH eldership was for decades as steady and predictable as Gibraltar in its stand upon and for the Truth. These men have overseen a great congregation and an outstanding school for those years. Through its graduates, MSOP has made an impact for the Truth on the world and the church in general that only eternity will reveal. They had no more enthusiastic promoter and admirer than I was for many years. Some of my most cherished memories involve associations with the FH elders, the church, and the school (faculty, alumni, and lectureship). I cannot fully express how deeply it grieves me to say it, but someone simply must do so: The eldership, the congregation, and the school are on the verge of squandering and forfeiting that immense brotherhood trust it has taken many years and lives to create. I ask readers to join me in praying that these elders will heed the Lord’s warning to the Ephesian church:
[Note: This article was published in the August 2011 edition of Contending for the Faith, ed. David P. Brown.]
Attribution: From TheScripturecache.com, owned and administered by Dub McClish.