Spiritual Perspectives


Gary W. Summers


      All right.  I freely admit I have never watched Nancy Grace on CNN.  If her March 27th segment is indicative of the way she handles news, it is unlikely that I ever would give her any attention.  Below is an analysis of the transcript of that program, the subject matter of which will be self-explanatory.


GRACE: A well-respected and much beloved minister in the Church of Christ, Selmer, Tennessee, gunned down in his own home. His wife, according to many reports, has confessed to police. They say whodunit is not the issue. It’s why she did it. That is the question.


I want to go to pastor Tom Rukala, joining us tonight, a special guest, a Baptist minister. I’ve been researching the Church of Christ. I don’t know that much about it. What can you tell me?


     Whoa!  What is the meaning of this?  Why would someone interview a Baptist about us?  Would not one of our preachers be a more likely person to have a conversation with about this tragedy?  When Henry Lyons, the leader of the National Baptist Convention, USA, was discovered to have had an extra house and an extra female "friend" in addition to his wife (this story broke when his wife set fire to the plush house), did anyone consult a preacher in the Lord’s church to comment on it?  No.  When he was subsequently charged with 56 counts of fraud, extortion, money laundering, conspiracy, and tax evasion back in 1998, did anyone seek out our opinions on the matter—so that we could cluck our tongues and mumble something about how greedy Baptists are?  No.  So, why would Nancy Grace interview a Baptist about what happened in Selmer?


     Nancy says that she has been researching the Church of Christ.  Really?  Is it possible she did not come across any information about Freed-Hardeman University, which is about 25 miles north of Selmer?  The Memphis School of Preaching is only around 90 miles from Selmer.  One of its faculty members is Garland Elkins, who acquitted himself well on the Donohue show twenty years ago.  Grace might have interviewed him.  The viewer should be wondering why she is interviewing a Baptist when we have a number of brethren who have television shows and are accustomed to being in front of the camera.  In all of her “research,” did she find nothing about GBN?  Her “research” skills are questionable, to say the least.  All of these comments are to prepare the reader (in part) for the comments that were made in answer to her question.

BAPTIST PASTOR TOM RUKALA: Well, the Church of Christ is a relatively new church. It was started about 150 years ago by Alexander Campbell.

     Obviously, Pastor Tom does research about as thoroughly as Nancy Grace.  He might have said that the church of Christ came into existence on this continent about 200 years ago.  “The Last Will and Testimony of the Springfield Presbytery” was published in June of 1804, when Alexander Campbell was only 16 and still living in Ireland.  Barton W. Stone was one of the signers of this document which decried the divisiveness of denominationalism and urged people to abide by the New Testament.

     Thomas Campbell (Alexander’s father) came to America in 1807, leaving his family behind.  He wrote the famous Declaration and Address in 1809 before Alexander reached the shores of America.  Among other points highlighted in this document are these: 1) “that nothing be required of Christians as articles of faith but what is expressly taught and enjoined  upon them in the word of God”; and 2) that the New Testament is supreme authority for Christians in all matters of faith and practice.”  Others were thinking along these lines before Thomas’ son ever arrived in America.  

     Alexander Campbell is, perhaps, the most well-known of those who attempted to return to the New Testament and abide by its teachings (as opposed to manmade doctrines), but he was certainly not the first.  He did publish The Christian Baptist and The Millennial Harbinger for decades, and many people of various denominations read them.  He also had five significant debates: two with Baptists, one with the Presbyterian, N. L. Rice, a Roman Catholic, and the atheist Robert Owen.  These debates generated a tremendous amount of influence and are well worth reading.  Camp-bell also founded Bethany College, which still exists but has long since departed from its original aims.

     As great as he was, however, there is one thing that Campbell never did: he never founded the church of Christ!  Jesus is the only one who was qualified to build the church (Matt. 16:18).  He was the only one qualified to shed His blood to redeem the lost and make them fit for the kingdom of heaven.  To say that Alexander Campbell founded the Church of Christ is to ignore the entire thrust of those who desired to restore the church of the New Testament.  The goal of all of those men was to get away from manmade doctrines and traditions of men.  To say that any one of them started his own church reveals a vast ignorance of the times and an abysmal sense of history.

PASTOR TOM RUKALA: And it’s, unfortunately, a very legalistic sect, and they tend to use methods of intimidation and pressure tactics. They claim that they are the only ones going to heaven, and all other people are condemned to hell.

     Obviously, Pastor Tom has had his head stuck in the sand for 40 years and knows absolutely nothing more than what some of our enemies were saying then.  Perhaps he could provide one piece of documentation where anyone of us has ever said that we are the only ones going to heaven.  There is a simple reason why we never say such words—we are not the judge; Christ is (John 5:22, 27).  We teach what the Scriptures say about salvation.  Others understand by the message we preach that they are lost.  We did not need to tell them that; they can figure it out for themselves.

     For example, Jesus did not say, “If you follow Buddha, you are lost.”  He did say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  So if you’re a Buddhist, what does that tell you?  Buddhists understand that they are lost through proper reasoning.  Likewise, on the Day of Pentecost, Peter told those who sinned, “Repent and be baptized…” (Acts 2:38).  So if you have never repented or been baptized, what does that verse tell you?  If you’re a Baptist, teaching “faith only,” when Peter said that repentance and baptism are needed, what does that tell you?  Logic says that you have the wrong message and are lost.  We—members of the church of Christ—do not have to make any pronouncements of judgment upon anyone.  We simply preach the truth; listeners understand the meaning and the implication.

     Furthermore, Pastor Tom has probably hurt the feelings of Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, and most ACU professors, who have worked so hard to fight against the “legalistic” image.  In fact, they have tried to change the image of the church of Christ so diligently that many are not even so designating themselves any more.  They have dropped the name of Christ and are now a community church or just The Oak Hills Church.  These men have worked so hard to teach that we are saved by grace “plus nothing” that it just doesn’t seem fair that Pastor Tom is still lost in the sixties somewhere—totally oblivious to their best efforts at compromise. 


     Are we legalistic?  To be honest, we do subscribe to some pretty rigid teachings, which are listed below:


We believe that one cannot just call Jesus, “Lord,” in order to be saved; he must do the will of the Father.


We believe that if people love Jesus, they will keep His commandments.


We believe that faith without works is dead.


     Do those sound legalistic?  The first two were taught by Jesus personally (Matt. 7:21; John 14:15); the last one was taught by James (2:17, 20, 24, 26).  If teaching Scriptures such as these constitutes being legalistic, we happily plead, “Guilty.”  Is Pastor Tom willing to say that these verses are to be ignored? 


     The charge about using intimidation and pressure tactics is absurd.  Mr. Rukala possesses no sense of shame whatsoever.  Nancy Grace, however, has not heard enough defamation of character and slander.  She asks her guest, “What more can you tell me?”


PASTOR TOM RUKALA: Well, they claim that if you’re not baptized by one of their ministers, that you’re doomed to hell—even if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, which, of course, breaks completely from the traditional Christian view that all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved because we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again.


     Rukala is not only 40 years out of date; he has stooped to making things up as regards being baptized by one of “our ministers.”  If he knew his history better, he would know that Alexander Campbell (whose name he brought up) was baptized by a Baptist preacher.  If he knew even the slightest thing about us, he would know that oftentimes ministers do not even do the baptizing.  Oftentimes, a father or grandfather will baptize someone, or it may be a member of the church who taught an individual the truth.  In fact, both of those recently occurred here.  Eric Winningham was baptized by his grandfather, Carl Faires, and more recently Nathan Lipps was baptized by Geoff Rowe.  Pastor Tom has provided inaccurate information for CNN viewers.    


Furthermore, baptism by immersion did not originate with Alexander Campbell.  Dabney Phillips wrote in Restoration Principles and Personalities:


It has been established that in 1669, during the reign of Charles II, there were eight congregations of the Lord’s Church in Northwest England. An old book of business minutes dated that year has been found which reveals that they called themselves by the name of the Church of Christ, practiced baptism by immersion, celebrated the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s day, and had elders and deacons (14).


     But we can go way beyond 1669 to show that baptism is by immersion; Acts 8:38-39 demonstrates the fact.  Acts 2:38 provides the purpose for baptism—for the remission of sins.  Furthermore, Paul referred to the various congregations in existence in the first century as the churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16).  Perhaps Rukala would care to show us where the Baptist Church is in the New Testament.


     He is also wrong to imply that salvation is granted at the point of faith only.  People are saved by grace, as well as by faith—but not by grace only or faith only—which would exclude repentance and baptism, which Peter taught were necessary (Acts 2:38).  Even Jesus taught that merely saying, ”Lord, Lord,” was insufficient (Matt. 7:21).  The correct way to call on the name of the Lord, is to repent and be baptized (Acts 22:16).  Even these acts are not sufficient unless we live faithfully unto death (Rev. 2:10). 


PASTOR TOM RUKALA: For the church of Christ folks, that’s not enough. You have to be a member of their narrow sect. It’s a very exclusive group, and if you’re not a member of their sect, you’re condemned.


     Jesus is the one who talked about entering in by the narrow gate and walking in the narrow path.  Does Rukala want to take issue with the Lord (Matt. 7:13-14)?  Yes, the entrance to the kingdom of heaven is narrow, and the path is narrow.  Jesus said that most people will not go to Heaven.  The church is an exclusive group.  In order to be part of it, a person must have his sins washed away by the blood of Christ (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5).  No one is condemned because he is not part of us; he is condemned because of his sins and not availing himself of salvation.  We are willing to discuss publicly (and have) what the Bible teaches about salvation.  Perhaps Rukala would care to stand up and oppose one of us face to face instead of hiding behind Nancy Grace.


GRACE: You know, Pastor, you keep saying “sect.” “Sect.” You make it sound like a cult.


PASTOR TOM RUKALA: It’s kind of a borderline cult, unfortunately. I don’t want to make it out to be some kind of Hare Krishna group. But it has cult-like characteristics and…

GRACE: In what sense?


PASTOR TOM RUKALA: Well, in the sense of exclusivism, the attitude that they are the only ones who know the truth. The tactics that they use are sometimes just—not only un-Biblical but unethical, and they can be very ungracious, unfortunately.


     Ungracious?  Like taking cheap shots at people who have no opportunity to defend themselves?  Pastor Tom is the ungracious one, unfortunately. 


     The Lord’s Church has a long history of being called names, beginning in the first century.  Those who know the Bible will recall that, when Paul arrived at Rome, he called the leaders of the Jews together to explain why he was a prisoner in their city (Acts 28:17-20).  They had not received any communication concerning him (v. 21), but they wanted to hear him speak, “for concerning this sect, we know that it is everywhere spoken against” (v. 22).  The church was not a sect of Judaism, and the church of Christ is not a sect today, either. Brethren are accustomed to being insulted.


     Grace should have asked: “Isn’t the Baptist Church a sect?”  What is the difference between referring to oneself as a denomination and being a sect?  He accuses us of what Baptists freely admit being.


     Sooner or later, judging by his negative attitude toward us, it was inevitable that he would trot out the C word, accusing us of being a cult.  This inaccuracy has already been dealt with (see February 26th Spiritual Perspectives).  At least Grace had the good sense to ask Rukala to explain himself; his answer is both vague and deficient.  What about this “sense of exclusivism”?


     We are no more exclusive than Jesus, who invited all: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  We have no restrictions save what the New Testament teaches about repentance and obedience.  It is probably more difficult to become a Baptist than to just be a Christian.  Certainly we are not exclusive as regards any “secret“ teachings that we have; everything we teach and believe is done publicly, where anyone can analyze or attempt to refute them  We are not the ones who are afraid to defend publicly what we believe.  Pastor Tom should consider this article a public challenge to discuss these same issues in the form of a debate.


     The charge about being the only ones who know the truth is nonsense, and he knows it.  Do Baptists have the truth about Jesus being the Son of God, being born of a virgin, or being resurrected from the dead?  Does that make them the only ones who know the truth?  Yes, we believe that what we teach and practice is the truth; is there any religious group that is willing to admit that they intentionally teach and practice error?  And what tactics do we use that are un-Biblical and unethical—asking people to read the Bible and to reason?




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