Today we have a special field report from an SFL reader who recently visited Bible Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL — famous for being pastored by Peter Ruckman and being the home of Pensacola Baptist Institute. The visit did not disappoint.
My trip to Peter Ruckman’s Church
I had the chance to visit the church that Peter Ruckman has pastored for decades. Regular readers will understand why I choose to remain anonymous. Opsec is everything, amen?
I realized that I knew next to nothing about Ruckman. Most of what I knew was hearsay and much of it was negative. I decided to learn what I could about him. Like a good college student, I went to Wikipedia. I found that Ruckman is a WWII veteran. My respect for him increased from nothing all the way up to a miniscule but nevertheless measurable amount. Near the end of the article I found that Ruckman believes that African-Americans have lower IQs than Caucasians, there are three types of aliens with different color blood and that the CIA runs a secret underground alien breeding farm. My respect for Ruckman returns to baseline. Ruckman is known for his bad attitude, which he calls Truth With An Attitude. At his bookstore I saw several sermon compilations from the Bad Attitude Baptist Campmeeting. He is best known for his stance on the King James Version.
I got out my church clothes and realized that I was going to venture into the very den of KJV worship without a KJV. I decided to go whole-hog and put on jeans, tennis shoes and a T-shirt. I grabbed my ESV and headed for the door.
I get to the church about 25 minutes early. Parking is ample and I find a spot near the door with no problem.
Most of the cars in the parking lot have several magnetic stickers on them. A sample:
“Mohammed is dead. Jesus is alive”.
“The King James Bible is God’s only preserved Word”. Most of the stickers are either of Bible verses or praising the KJB.
The all caps black on white design seems to have been designed to visually scar near-sighted people at a distance.
3. The Church
I found the most important room in any church located conveniently by the front door. As I entered the bathroom I was struck by the sight of a very large, heavily bearded man standing pantsless in the middle of the floor. He spun to look at me as I came in. After staring at me for several seconds he asked “Can I help you?” I felt like I must have stumbled into a private office. “I want to use the restroom” I stammered. He pointed toward the urinal with a ‘be my guest’ kind of gesture.
I found a seat in the middle near the back. I sit there for twenty minutes and no one greets me or even returns my greetings. In a way, I am glad for the bearded man in the bathroom. If it were not for him I would think I had inadvertently activated my invisibility shield again. I hate it when I do that. From the time I come in the church, the bearded man is the only person who acknowledges my existence. I started trying to make eye contact with people and smile. No one returns my greetings.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. They certainly seemed to be friendly enough to each other. The lead up to the service was filled with laughter, conversation and frivolity. I guess there must be an application process or secret handshake about which I was not informed. I would estimate that there were about 300+ people there.
The church about ten minutes before starting time. (Fifteen minutes before the actual start)
4. The People.
It seemed like a normal enough church except for the big bass drum up by the platform. As you can see the layout is pretty normal for a fundy church in the South.
I was surprised at how many people were young. This must be due to their unaccredited (surprise, surprise!) Bible Institute. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that my dress was not out of place. The men’s dress ran the gamut from jeans to suits. A lot of the men are wearing ties with incomplete sentences such as “In the beginning God created…..” or “In the beginning was the Word….”. I have a novelty tie at home that says “I have a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack”. I guess it would be considered inappropriate. It is hard to find an occasion that calls for Springsteen-themed neckwear.
The women are dressed uniformly conservatively. Some are dressed in traditional Fundy Dowdy costumes-jean jumpers, white tennis shoes and socks.
The service begins with little warning. The song leader begins while there are still some people milling about fellowshipping. They quickly take their seats. There is a brass band, which, combined with the bass drum and cymbals gives every song a slight polka sound.
Song 1: Page 99 Angels We Have Heard on High.
Song 2: Page 103 One Day.
Announcement. Will all the men please turn in their red ties to the church office before next Sunday? (Churches should really explain cryptic announcements like this for the benefit of visitors. Otherwise we sit there and puzzle over it the entire service.)
Announcement: They had some good results the day before at the Christmas parade downtown. Several church members went there to street preach.
Impromptu announcement from someone in a pew: Had one saved at the prison and one at the Subway today.
Offering time: Unlike most churches the communion table is pointed out from the pulpit. From my vantage point in the back when the ushers gather around it they appear to be pallbearers getting ready to transport a coffin.
Two specials by a group of what I presume are Bible College students. There are 18 of them and they appear to be in their early 20s. “I call Him Lord” and “Crown Him Lord of All”.
Song 3: 446 Satisfied.
(Some shouting and waving of songbooks)
Up until now the service had seemed pretty normal to me. I even found myself enjoying the music. Due to the acoustics in the building and the lively audience the congregationals were inspiring.
(Normal got up and quietly exited the building at this point.)
The Man Himself, Peter Ruckman was not preaching. He did get up and describe in detail an eye problem that he has been having. He never gave the name of it but he described it as a black spot that was slowly blocking out his vision.
He described all his attempts to find a cure. He refuses to go to a real doctor but he claims that acupuncture was really helping. He went to a Chinese herbal doctor who really helped him but unfortunately the Doctor left to go to Colorado to try to convince the military to accept alternative medicine and give up prescriptions. (Good luck with that). He is now pursuing a course of treatment that he says takes out his blood, pumps it full of oxygen and then puts the blood back in.
He warned people that he would not be able to preach much longer due to blindness. That is why he is having preacher boys preach on Sunday nights. Getting people ready for when he has to step down. The preacher is described as being one of the best in the church. Nearly as good as Ruckman himself.
6. Sermon by Bro. Wally ?. No last name was given that I heard. Brother Wally is surprisingly sedate and self-deprecating. I was expecting a man who screamed and beat the pulpit. That doesn’t seem to be his style. He barely ever raised his voice above a conversational tone throughout the whole message. He doesn’t let that stop him from dialing the crazy up to 12 though.
(Disclaimer: Persons attempting to find a point in this sermon will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find an outline will be banished; persons attempting to make sense of it will be shot)
He praises Dr. Ruckman for several minutes.
Talks about being raised in the “Southern Baptist Cliché”
Ridicules people who learn Greek. Calls them “Bible correctors”.
Praises God for the King James Bible.
He was pastoring a SBC church in Kentucky before he heard of Dr. Ruckman. He was introduced to Ruckman by a man named Hoot Gibson. (Sometimes stereotypes are true).
He heard Ruckman preach about The Authority of the Authorized Version.
He then bashes John R. Rice and Oliver B. Green as Bible-correctors. “Sure, they were strong KJB men in public but if you read their books you find where they corrected the King James”. (Trivia time: Guess which authors have books in Ruckman’s bookstore?)
(I would quote the verses here but he is going to preach from the text. Away from it. He will periodically rampage through the Bible tagging verses and then scampering away from them. )
The passage is about the ten lepers.
Title: Where are the Nine?
Joke: (Old, old, old joke. Few people laugh.) “Why didn’t you tell me the dog was a Baptist?”
Prayer: “Thank you Lord for this church, Dr. Ruckman, Bro. Donovan and the KJB. Amen.”
1.The Lord Expects It. (Expects what? I think he means thankfulness. The number one is deceptive. He doesn’t have any more points until he circles back to number one again.)
The preacher starts down a list of things that he doesn’t like:
a. Red lights.
b. Teenagers who text.
c. The mall. He stops here to make fun of a cashier he saw yesterday at the mall. We are told that she had a weave and three inch fingernails. He imitates her manner of speaking. It is obvious that he is trying to imitate a black woman. “Come on now, you know how they talk”.
d. Women who wear a lot of perfume.
f. A local road that he names.
g. The interstate.
“Show me a thankful Christian and I will show you a happy person”
“Christians should not always be griping.”
(The cognitive dissonance nearly gives me whiplash.)
“Only one of the lepers was made whole. That means God cured the others but he only removed the marks of leprosy from the one”. (He must have the director’s cut of the KJB)
Thankfulness will enrich countenance, encourage contentment and one other thing.
“Don’t hang around people who gripe a lot” (Like yourself?)
“When you are going through hard times and still thank God you are saying ‘God, you know what you are doing and I trust You”
(File this under Blind Squirrel)
“Thankfulness gets your eyes off yourself” (Guess who he talks about for the next few minutes?)
Horror story time!
Boy is cut in half in an ATV accident. The preacher gives graphic descriptions of the injuries. The boy dies while Brother Wally is there. So does the person in the next room. (If I am ever in the hospital I don’t want him coming to see me. He is bad luck.)
“Civil rights and gay rights are the product of self-centeredness and unthankfulness”
“Have you ever dealt with a gay? Or, as we ought to call them, faggots? They are fit for the fire, amen?” Chorus of amens.
“If they would just be thankful they would get out of that wicked sinful lifestyle. They are some of the most ungrateful people you will ever meet.”
“No one is more unthankful than the left wing, politically correct, Democrat sissies”
“We should have an attitude of gratitude. Does that sound gay?” Lots of laughter.
“What Am I Thankful For?”
1. The Bible. (Yes, we are back to number one again. This time there are things that follow it.)
“Thanks to the Bible I have never touched alcohol.”
“The Bible fixes depression”
“My wife” (To be clear, we are still under the heading of Bible. Trust me, it was even more confusing in person)
“I am glad my wife has stuck by me. I know I am in Dr. Ruckman’s church! Do you know how hard it is to find a woman who can stand Dr. Ruckman?” (Surprisingly, this shot at the thrice-married Ruckman elicits howls of laughter from the audience)
“I am thankful for how the Bible teaches me to follow my pastor” (It isn’t clear if he means this or is trying to walk back his joke)
“I am grateful that the Bible teaches me to love my church”
2. Jesus who is my hero.
“Barf Brooks and Winona Jughead are fake heroes. Jesus is real” He spent several minutes at this point making fun of Tammy Faye Bakers hair and looks. The audience found this very funny.
“Jesus is not a creation like the new Bibles claim. Only in the King James is He shown to be God! Only in the King James does it say “manifest in the flesh”. (This is technically true. My ESV says ‘manifested in the flesh’. Which is totally different)
3. Other Bible Believers.
“We aren’t the only ones, amen?”
“There are not a lot of churches in this town but I am glad there are a few!” (Fun fact: I passed seven Baptist churches on my way to theirs. I only drove two miles.)
He starts naming off what he considers to be good churches. Runs out of churches in his area pretty quick and starts ranging pretty far afield. Names some in CA, OK, AZ and IN. He also says that there is a good church in Canada and one in England.
Story time! (Spoiler alert: someone dies)
There is a Bible college graduate who wants a sports car. His pastor father tries to dissuade him but he is adamant. On the day of his graduation his father hands him a box. He opens it excitedly and inside it finds a Bible. He throws it to the ground and storms out, never to speak to his father again. The student moves away and gets a job. Years later, the father dies. The student comes to help with the funeral preparations and finds that box with the Bible. He picks it up and some keys fall out of the Bible. It turns out that they are the keys to the sports car that he always wanted. Which, for reasons that are not clear the father has kept this whole time. The keys say, Paid in Full, because of course they do.
“We here are the Bible Institute are trying to hand you a Bible. If you take it, you will find that it contains the keys to everything you want and they have already been paid for”. (The Belabored Metaphor Society called. Can you be president?)
“In the Bible you can find the key to being a good preacher or having a Christian marriage.”
The End. Yes, it was that abrupt.
Ruckman comes to the pulpit and says that one verse of an invitation hymn is probably about all we need. I agree.
318. I Need Thee Every Hour.
A Brother Lopez is asked to dismiss in prayer. He prays and thanks God for the message, for Ruckman and for the King James Bible. “Not a lot of churches have preaching like this.” (I agree with Mr. Lopez on his last point)
After the message I resolve to ask Ruckman to sign my ESV but he bolts through a side door immediately. I decide to go to the restroom. The bearded man is sitting on the floor. He has his pants folded neatly on the floor beside him. He ignores me.