The only matters we will discuss about Peter Ruckman's personal life come from what he has volunteered to release publicly via his writings. Ruckman is a public ministry figure who has himself published details regarding his personal life; therefore the details should not be considered off limits or inappropriate. This is the only article we have planned on Ruckman's personal life. Any other mention elsewhere will be incidental.
Briefly, the most controversial detail about his personal life is the fact that he is twice divorced and married three times. As if that was not controversial enough for a pastor, each one of those marriages and divorces involved controversies of their own. Concerning the accusations of physical abuse alleged by his first wife, he admits to leaving bruises during what he described as "a violent argument" in which he grabbed her by the wrists, and pushed her against a table and a sink (The Full Cup, p. 225). The divorce trial, which he implies ended in his favor, went all the way to the Supreme Court of Alabama. The second woman he married was the young former wife of one of his students (The Full Cup, p. 273). His decision to remarry in 1972 split the church he was pastoring, as a third of the congregation voted against the second marriage, believing he was no longer qualified to pastor (Ibid, p. 276, The Book of Hebrews, 1986, p. 243). Ruckman appeared to have stayed for two more years according to his own words: "I resigned and gave the people I left two years to get the work on its feet" (The Full Cup, p. 276). He then picked up seventy-five people and started Bible Baptist Church in 1974 in the same town (The Book of Hebrews, 1986, p. 243). His second marriage ended in divorce in 1988. Ruckman married a third time in 1989 to a member of his congregation who was 27 years younger.
As for Ruckman's side of the story, he says his first two wives deserted him. Regarding the claims of physical abuse alleged by his first wife, he affirms that he did not hit her, and she was trying to provoke bruises to document abuse. He claims to be against divorce and says he does not recommend divorce.
His irreverent attitude towards those who hold to the historic and conservative view that "the husband of one wife" means "a one-woman man" is revealed by his description of a traditional church wedding for his third marriage, followed by the following words: "I was flaunting my faith in the face of the apostate Fundamentalists who were going to 'cash in' on my marriage" (The Full Cup, p. 319).
He described the environment of his second marriage early on as follows:
Out in public, it was the "happy Ruckman family" with "Ruckman's new wife," but inside…fights going to the airport, fights returning, fights on the way to church, fights (or deadly silence) all the way back. (The Full Cup, pp. 279-280)
Without specifying which troubled marriage, he described the low point in his home life as follows: "…knock-down, drag-out arguments in the home sometimes running as long as three days" (The Last Grenade, p. 339). As to disagreements over disciplining children with his second wife, he described how "there was something just short of a fistfight everytime [sic] I disciplined them." (The Full Cup, p. 279)
All the above information should be scrutinized in the light of God's Word, which contains the qualifications for a pastor. 1 Tim. 3:2-5 reveals multiple violations, regardless of which spouse was at fault the most:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Kenneth Wuest, author of the multi-volume Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, explains the meaning of the term "husband of one wife" from the Greek:
The entire context is one in which the character of the bishop (pastor) is being discussed. Thus, one can translate, "a one-wife sort of a husband," or "a one-woman sort of a man." We speak of the Airedale as a one-man dog. We mean by that, that it is his nature to become attached to only one man, his master. Since character is emphasized by the Greek construction, the bishop should be a man who loves only one woman as his wife. (Volume 2, p. 53)
In his booklet Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, Ruckman provides strange reasoning for his belief that the "husband of one wife" pastoral qualification cannot mean "only married once." Notice what he says on p. 27:
First Timothy 3:1 can't mean "only married once." That would disqualify a thousand ministers from the ministry. It has to mean he is faithful to the one wife he's got. If he's scripturally and legally divorced and remarried, he has only one wife. If he's true to her, that is the only wife he's got. Any other interpretation of that passage is immoral and is trying to give a man an alibi for sin; because if it means "only married once," it means the bishop, as long as he doesn't get divorce papers from his wife or vice-versa, can have as many women to shack up with as he wants to.
Divorce is caused by sin. And yet Peter Ruckman strangely claims that those who interpret the pastoral qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:1 as meaning only married once (with an exception made for death of first wife, as he acknowledged on p. 26) are the ones interpreting in an immoral fashion and seeking an alibi for sin! His twisted interpretation that the "only married once" view would allow a pastor to shack up with as many women as he wanted as long as he did not get divorce papers is refuted by the same verse stating that the pastor must be blameless and of good behaviour, not to mention v. 7 also stating that he must have a "good report of them which are without."
According to 1 Pet. 5:3, pastors are to be "ensamples to the flock." 1 Tim. 3 makes it clear that the example the pastor should set includes his home life. Regardless of who may have been at fault the most, Ruckman's own description of his home life during his first two marriages reveals it was not an example, and he even used the term "dual life" to describe the second marriage (The Full Cup, p. 279).
Even if one interpreted "the husband of one wife" in 1 Tim. 3 as merely a prohibition of polygamy and would further reason that since Ruckman's home life has stabilized with his third marriage, a case could still be made that Ruckman's caustic writings and unscriptural beliefs reveal that he still does not meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1.
A poster on an internet forum posted the following relevant comment, which we reproduce here:
A bishop must be blameless — Can anyone claim Ruckman is blameless — no one can legitimately hold accusations against him?
The husband of one wife — Whether you believe this phrase means "one woman man" or literally the husband of one wife, it doesn't matter, Ruckman is disqualified.
No Striker — a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person. Ruckman? Definitely!
Not A Brawler — contentious — again, no question.
Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without — What is Ruckman's report? I think this one alone is enough to disqualify him.
No pastor is perfect, and pastors struggle with sin along with everyone else. The problem is when these matters characterize the offender, when they are not even recognized as sin by the offender, and the offender is not actively striving to rectify the problems caused by the sin. Ruckman, if he only was willing to be an obedient "doer" of the words of Scripture rather than simply a "professor" of the words of Scripture, would immediately resign his post as pastor of his church to someone who is Biblically qualified. He would also immediately apologize for his vulgarity, brutish rhetoric, and seek reconciliation with those he has sinned against.