by Rick Atchley and Bob Russell
January – April, 2006

A Call for Unity
The synergism of that weekend in 2003 really began with the speech Rick gave at the North American Christian Convention on Thursday night. The theme of the convention was, “I Can Only Imagine.” Here is what Rick said that night:

Good evening. This is my first North American Christian Convention, and it has been one of the spiritual highlights of my life. I am about to explode. I don’t want it to end! And I can’t wait to bring more people back with me again. All week long as I’ve experienced the convention, I’ve had mixed emotions. I’ve been so glad that I could be here, be with you, be blessed by you. But I have to confess that at times I’ve also caught myself feeling a great sadness.
My name is Rick Atchley. I preach for the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth. Some say we’re the largest a cappella church in America. Until just a few years ago I didn’t even know about the convention. I suspect until tonight most of you didn’t know about me. Several years ago I spent some time really searching for the heart of God, asking him to give me a mission in the second half of my life that was so big only he could do it. God put something on my heart. I shared it that next Sunday in all three services of our church. I shared with them that 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 of the world.
Over a hundred years ago we split. I don’t know what that was all about. I was told when I was a kid that it was about an organ. Now I can’t pretend to speak for all of the a cappella churches, but I can speak for a lot of them. I know the pulpits of all of our great, growing, thriving churches. I know what those men preach; I know what they don’t preach. I know the faculties of our best and healthiest schools. I know what they teach; I know what they don’t teach. I know the hearts of the young men and women who are training right now in our schools for ministry – the kind of churches they want to build, the kind of churches they want to be, and the kind of churches they don’t want to be. And I can speak for them. And I can tell you tonight, I believe with all my heart that in my lifetime we can have a family reunion.
Now I’m not calling on anyone tonight in any church to change their practices or their preferences. I’m just calling on all of us to recapture the vision of our forefathers of a church that was united simply around the cross of Jesus Christ and ask all the leaders to gather there.
It’s going to take several things for this family reunion to take place. We’re going to need to do some repenting and some forgiving. Now speaking from the a cappella side, it seems to me that we need to do most of the repenting and ask for most of the forgiving. But I’m sure that some of you would say tonight that from your side there have been some things that would have grieved the heart of God too. All I can tell you tonight is that if you’ve ever heard a sermon, if you’ve ever seen an attitude by anyone from one of our churches that was ugly, sectarian or cruel, I want to tell you how sorry I am. That’s not who we want to be any more. And I’m going to beg you, let’s not let old wounds define who we are. Let’s let the prayer of Jesus for one body define who we are.
The second thing it’s going to take is for us just to reach out to each other. I had no idea what to do three years ago when God put it on my heart, except just to pick up the phone and call the senior minister of the closest Christian Church to me and say, “Let’s have lunch and get to know each other.” And it’s been thrilling to me all week to have so many of you stop and say, “I’ve become friends with the minister of the a cappella Church of Christ in our town and we’re doing things together now.” The church where I preach has partnered with some Christian Churches to send a mission team to Uganda that’s doing a fantastic work together. And that’s where it’s got to start. There’s no one who can pass an edict or speak for all the churches. It’s just going to be you and me reaching out a hand, starting one-to-one with the love of Christ.
And one more thing: We cannot allow a vocal minority to deter us from seeing this dream come true. I have taken considerable criticism from a loud but small group of people for what I’ve said. And I guarantee you they will get the tape tonight. I can already give you the web sites they will be on by tomorrow. But I am not going to spend the rest of my life intimidated by people who lost the vision our fathers and grandfathers gave their lives for and that, more importantly, Jesus gave his life for.
I can imagine a day – soon – when our preachers are filling each other’s pulpits and speaking at each other’s conventions. I can imagine a day soon when our churches are partnering together to send mission teams into the world, to do local outreaches in our cities, to feed the hungry, to help the wounded in every major city in America. I can imagine the vision of our Restoration forefathers being restored and the prayer of Jesus being fulfilled. For 100 years we have served God apart. Only God knows what we can do the next 100 years serving him together. But I know this: I know it will be more than we could ask or imagine. Amen.

There is no doubt that Rick’s challenge was well received by the attendees of the convention. But it’s one thing to applaud a battle plan. It’s another to stand on the front lines and charge forward. Lynn Anderson is right when he says we’ve been separated far too long over far too little.
After one hundred years of division, it is time for a Family Reunion. It is time to put aside our differences and work as one to accomplish Christ’s mission to save a lost world. Jesus prayed that we would be one “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). This book is an effort to explain why we believe the two groups who trace their history to the Restoration Movement and still believe in its founding principles should be unified. We’ve documented key areas of agreement between the two groups and given practical ideas for steps toward unity in hopes that members of both sides will begin working together for the cause of Christ.
Neither of these two groups has a governing board. We are all members of independent, autonomous churches. The authors of this book hold no official position other than being ministers in our own churches. Christ alone must be our guide, and to him alone we must give account. 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. We pray there will be a renewed emphasis on the unity of all believers, beginning with us, and that we may be one as the Son and the Father are one.New Wineskins

Rick AtchleyRick Atchley has served as the preaching minister for the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, since June, 1989. He has a BA in Oral Communications and a MA in Religious Communications from Abilene Christian University.
Rick is the author of three books: Sinai Summit: Meeting God With Our Character Crisis, Back to the Father: Crossing the Bridge of Forgiveness Without Burning it Behind You and What Men Need to Hear.
Rick married Jamie Lyda, of San Antonio, on June 6, 1981 and they have two sons, Michael and Matthew, and one daughter, Morgan. Reach him at [].
The church’s Web site: [Richland Hills Church of Christ]

Bob RussellGod has blessed Bob Russell with a life much different than one he could have ever imagined. As a young man growing up in northern Pennsylvania, Bob had intended on becoming a high school basketball coach in his hometown. During his senior year of high school, however, Bob realized a desire in his heart to enter the ministry. Soon thereafter, he enrolled in Cincinnati Bible Seminary where he graduated in 1965.
At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Today that small congregation of 120 members has become one of the largest churches in American, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend.
Bob and his wife Judy have been married for forty years. They have two married sons who live in Louisville and are active at Southeast, and six grandchildren with whom they enjoy spend their time.
An accomplished author, Bob has written over one-dozen books. He also has a weekly column in The Lookout, a magazine printed by Standard Publishing. A highly respected speaker, Bob is heard weekly on the Living Word, a nationally syndicated radio program. In his leisure time he enjoys playing golf and is an avid University of Louisville basketball fan.
Bob Russell’s gift of humor and insight, along with his unyielding commitment to honesty and integrity, will inspire the hearts of those who listen to consider Biblical truths as they relate to life in contemporary culture.
The church’s Web site: [Southeast Christian Church].

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