“Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 6, 7 & 8A (Everyone Else Goes to Hell)

muscleshovelWe 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 —

Chapter 6

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?

We’ll see.

Chapter 7

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.

Chapter 8

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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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19 Responses to “Muscle & Shovel”: Chapters 6, 7 & 8A (Everyone Else Goes to Hell)

  1. Ray Downen says:

    There are members of the Stone-Campbell History e-mail list who are sure that the “Church of Christ” is not a denomination and that every other group is a denomination. Despite every effort to show them that they denominate themselves with a particular name and accept as brothers only ones who believe particular doctrines they hold, they are sure that their churches are undenominational since they have no denominational leaders or headquarters.

  2. Gary says:

    I had a dear CoC friend, now deceased, who came to center his entire faith around the A.D.70 doctrine that the Second Coming occurred at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD.70. For awhile I tried to reason with him but I finally stopped when he said once that every argument against that belief only made him believe all the more that Christ had already returned in A.D.70. His mind was stuck in some kind of feedback loop in which every scenario and line of reasoning ended with only one conclusion: the promised Second Coming of Jesus has already happened in A.D.70. It seemedto me to be similar to a psychotic break only more limited in scope. Conservative Church of Christism is full of such psychotic breaks that all come back to one conclusion: all liberals and denominationalists are lost. Thankfully God’s grace also covers these well intentioned but extreme heretics

  3. Alabama John says:

    That those COC churches can make their own decisions about so many things and split when and if they want to without anyones permission means they are not a denomination since denominations have a heirarchy of some kind.

    What is not talked about is so many COC do not have deacons or elders for the same reason, although not finding men that qualify in the members eyes is given as the reason they don’t have any. If they do have both, many leave if the elders try to correct them for something so they do not have much authority if any at all over the members there at the time.

    Any of us can start a COC and teach different from all the other COC around us in our home or lake home with two or three and answer to no one and many have started just like that.

    Is there any denominational church that is any more independent than the seperate churches fo Christ, or its members?

  4. There is a concept in political campaigns that the one who controls the vocabulary, wins. Shanks’ (and traditional CoC) definitions are intended to damn all denominations but his own by terminology alone. WE are the Lord’s church (just look at our sign and see Romans 16:16). We all agree that those other guys are not part of our group, which means their group belong to someone else besides Jesus, which means they are damned. This is really very badly reasoned, as Jay points out, as Shanks rejects other groups who practice baptism the same way he does.

    The fallacious logic runs as follows: “We have an animal; it is a white cat. They have an animal; it is not white, therefore it is not a cat.”

    This position is expected to be taken as self-evident, it is presented to us as res ipsa loquitur, but is never actually proven. That is why the proofs which will be offered will be found to be mere inductive restatements of the assertion, not additional evidence of its validity.

    The idea that we are the Lord’s church because we do things right is at the heart of this ill-conceived identification. But I must admit thta it has been used effectively to divide believers from one another, and shows little sign of weakening. Like a powerful acid poured on paper, it eats through that object, then through the table upon which it rests, then through the floor as it drips through. “We do it right” eats through the connections between the COC and the Catholics over the Pope, then burns the connection between the COC and the Calvinists over OSAS, then it eats the connection between the COC and the evangelicals over soteriology, then it severs the bond between the COC and the rest of the Restoration Movement over the piano, then it cuts the bond between the Cooperatives and the Anti-Cooperatives over the orphanage, then it chews through the bond among Cooperatives over everything from Sunday School to fellowship halls to located preachers to praise teams to women passing the plate. Shanks’ traditional view is a solvent so powerful that it eventually breaks down the connective tissue in everything it touches.

  5. Gary’s experience reminds me of the old saw, “One convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

  6. Monty says:


    “That those COC churches can make their own decisions about so many things and split when and if they want to without anyones permission means they are not a denomination since denominations have a heirarchy of some kind. ”


    “The idea that we are the Lord’s church because we do things right is at the heart of this ill-conceived identification.

    28 major Baptist sects(hundreds of lessor ones), 200 sects of the Church of God, depending on who you read some 170 – 740 different Pentecostal sects. Division is the blight of Christianity. CofC doesn’t hold the patent on it. Curiously, it’s all based on “rightly dividing the word.”

  7. Grace says:

    Not posting the exact same church name on sign doesn’t mean a church has divided from others, a lot of times it’s a church plant that is just in a different location.

  8. laymond says:

    All who obey the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ are promised a place in God’s Kingdom. I don’t know how the rest is going to get there.

  9. Randall says:

    The “gospel teachings of Jesus Christ” include to love God with ALL of our being and our neighbor as our self. I suppose those of us that fail at doing these two thing perfectly (is trying hard OK?) with just have to depend on God’s grace.

  10. Johnny says:

    Alabama John said
    “That those COC churches can make their own decisions about so many things and split when and if they want to without anyones permission means they are not a denomination since denominations have a heirarchy of some kind.”
    By that definition Baptist Churches are not a Denomination, Baptists Churches are autonomous, you need no permission to start one, to split, and there is no hierarchy. Baptist Churches voluntaryly associate together and pool money for support organizations and schools. They are not required to do so, because there is no one to require them.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Johnny wrote,

    By that definition Baptist Churches are not a Denomination, Baptists Churches are autonomous, you need no permission to start one, to split, and there is no hierarchy.

    Exactly so. I was also taught the lie that the Baptist Churches are subject to their conventions and was furious when I learned from a Baptist friend that it’s not so. Several years ago, I actually visited the Alabama state headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention and confirmed that the tracts do not tell the truth.

    From the SBC website —

    Among doctrines Southern Baptists emphasize is the doctrine of local church autonomy. Article VI of the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith clearly states, “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel” (The Baptist Faith and Message, Article VI, The Church.)


    Participation in the Conventions program is entirely voluntary. There are no penalties for not participating. The resolutions of the Convention are advisory only and very often not followed by the local churches.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Charles — “res ipsa loquitur“! — I’m pretty sure you have to have a law license to say that.

  13. Royce says:

    Alabama John, Yes, of course there are other church groups that have churches that are completely independent. Bible Churches, Baptists, Pentecostals, and lots and lots of others. I helped to plant two churches in my past. One a Baptist church in rural N C and one a Church of Christ in Alabama. Both groups answered to no one. No person or entity outside the local congregation could tell them what they could or could not do, what literature to use in their Sunday Schools, what missions to support or anything else.

    My parents for many years were members of a Southern Baptist Church. For several decades that church did not contribute one penny to the Cooperative Program, did not use the denomination’s literature. Then after they began to participate with the denomination in missions giving, and before, no person, association, convention, or denomination hierarchy ever told the pastor and any others what they could preach, teach, do worship, or anything else.

    There is lots of fiction out there. It’s best to check things out before you believe something someone says.

  14. Alabama John says:

    OK, ya’ll convinced me that other than the Church of Christ, there are a few others that are slipping by. Only time we are inside any other is at a funeral or wedding and some will not enter for those. lol

    The churches of Christ in this area teach and have taught for many years that they are the only ones non denominational. Same lesson when I was active in the USMC, there were most of the time, seperate services for jews, catholics, protestant, and church of Christ. Same four religional differences stamped on all our dog tags which by the way I still have mine with Church of Christ on them.

    I wonder if the ones you listed concentrate or teach and proudly proclaim their being non denominational or does their being apart from the main church name that they carry even come up?

  15. Alabama John says:

    I like laymonds last line “I don’t know how the rest is going to get there”.

    Rightly so, its up to God judging each person seperately due to that persons circumstances and opportunity as well as mental ability and any other way He chooses.

  16. Oops. Sorry about the Latin, Jay. I know God only speaks Greek. Don’t know what came over me. Hanging out with lawyers, maybe. A local lawyer managed to slip that phrase into an adoption hearing last week. I may never let him live it down. 😉

  17. Just re-read part of Shank’s bit about gathering up tracts from all over his sales route. “By this shall they know you are my disciples, if you have the most Bible passages in your tracts.” 🙂

  18. Doug says:

    Alabama John, having been born into and active for most of my adult life in the Independent Christian Church, I can assure you that this “non-denominational denomination” is just as independent and just as proud of its’ Independence as is the “non-denominational denomination” Church of Christ. The North American Christian Convention is held yearly to encourage and enhance fellowship but no votes are taken for any business as far as I know. Much used to be made of our lack of a Church hierarchy but this practice is not discussed or promoted much anymore. Other things that have changed is the practice of Sunday night and Wednesday night services… for most churches that practice has disappeared over the last 40 years as has the Piano/Organist and Choir (replaced by guitars, keyboards, and drums).

  19. Alabama John says:

    Didn’t know that Doug Thanks.

    Don’t know of one around here.

    We do have one of what is considered a very liberal church of Christ we attend that all but does have instrumental music as it has tapes played in the service that has music background. We sing without music though like the conservative church of Christ does.

    There seems to be a widening gap between the older folks out of the conservatives who are dying off and the younger with few exceptions that are taking over and changing a few things along. The Church of Christ will sure look different when my grandchildren are in charge.

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