We are considering Michael Shank’s book Muscle and a Shovel. And having spent far too much time in chapter 5, dealing with baptism, we finally move on to —
Shank soon found that his studies with Randall resulted in some criticism from fellow workers. In particular, they said that Randall thought his denomination was the only denomination going to heaven.
Shank asked Randall for a direct answer to this question, and Randall seemed reluctant to give one. He pointed out that the Churches of Christ are not a denomination. Finally, he said,
“The bible clearly teaches that everyone who’s not a part of the church that Jesus purchased with His blood, Acts 20: 28, will not be saved.” …
“Mr. Mike,” he said meekly, “from my understanding of God’s Word, if you’re a member of a denomination, whether it be Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Mormon, any church that Jesus Christ did not establish and buy with His blood, there’s no question that you’re headed toward eternal destruction.”
(Kindle Locations 1184-1185, 1188-1192).
Shank is so proud of this part of his book that he has these same quotations posted on his website as a sample of what he teaches.
Notice, first, the eccentric use of “denomination” as meaning, contrary to every dictionary, “not the Churches of Christ.” I mean, as I pointed out earlier, there is simply nothing in the word “denomination” that implies being damned or even unorthodox. Nor does it mean that the denomination thinks that others go to heaven, too. Misusing the word in this way is not a sin except against the English language. (Alright, that’s out of my system, now.)
Shanks (speaking through Randall) argues that the Churches of Christ are identical to the “church that Jesus Christ [established and bought] with His blood.” It’s not just a part of that church — it’s all of it.
Why is this? Well, this will be explained in later chapters. Of course, we already should know by now that the heart of the argument is that an improper baptism will not save. But there are other denominations that baptize believers by immersion for remission of sins. For example, the Christian Churches and Disciples of Christ (Christian Churches) both baptize exactly as the Churches of Christ do — and so do several other denominations that don’t have roots in the Restoration Movement.
Moreover, some Catholic churches baptize their adult converts by immersion for remission of sins. In fact, this was standard practice in the Middle Ages, as a tour of European cathedrals will prove — they have baptisteries! And they are tubs, not fonts.
And some Baptists are baptized in Baptist Churches by Baptist pastors for remission of sins. I know because I’ve met and talked to some.
So the Churches of Christ denomination does not have a patent on its view of baptism. And yet Shank claims that only those in the Churches of Christ will go to heaven when they die. Why?
In a surprising turn, Shank decides to refute Randall by gathering tracts from 200 different churches on his sales route. (And this explains why this book reads like a novelized tract rack to me, despite Shank’s excellent narrative skills.) He concludes that the Churches of Christ are the only denomination to have book, chapter, and verse for all their teachings.
(He really should have investigated a church without a tract rack! They’re typically much more grace oriented.)
He then decides to investigate where the Baptist Church (his own denomination) came from.
Shank asks a Baptist pastor how the Baptist Church began, and the pastor explains that the Baptists began with John the Baptist. He also concludes that the pastor was a “pompous jack—.” The pastor suggests that Shank read Matthew 3.
I’ve never met a Baptist that made this claim, but there’s an element that believes this. It’s not a widely held belief among the Baptists, and I’m having trouble confirming on the Internet that anyone among the Southern Baptist Churches holds to that position today. Even Baptist sources reject that theory.
I did find an article posted by the Old Paths Baptist Church, which I figure is exactly the kind of Baptist Church that would make such a claim — and they trace their denominational roots to the founding of Rhode Island and the beating of Obadiah Holmes, who believed in believer baptism rather than infant baptism.
In fact, most histories, both inside and outside the Baptist Church, teach that the denomination split from the New England Puritans (Calvinist or Reformed) over baptism, retaining their Calvinism and then later dividing over elements of Calvinism.
I’m sure Shank experienced exactly what he says, but that pastor is almost certainly part of a very, very narrow sect within the Baptist Church known as the Landmark Baptist movement, centered in Nashville, which is where Shank lives. They actually do trace their roots back to John the Baptist, claiming as spiritual ancestors many of the same groups that are claimed by those in the Churches of Christ who claim a continuous denominational history back to Pentecost.
This brings us to an important story, which will be the subject of the next post.