The subject being dealt with here is complex and a thorough treatment could easily turn into a large book. This is not our intention, so therefore we will be brief and not cover all relevant Scripture passages. Much of it is related to a distortion of dispensational theology, which is dealt with more directly in our article Ruckman’s Variable Salvation Dispensationalism.
For all practical purposes salvation has always been the same. We would concede that salvation was different in the Old Testament in some small technicalities such as them having a more limited knowledge of Christ and looking forward to his redemptive work, but the basic elements of faith, grace, and repentance have always remained the same. Salvation since Old Testament times involves a more complete knowledge of Christ (such as specific details about his death, burial, and resurrection), something for which Old Testament saints would not have been held responsible. Luke 12:48 tells us For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required...
Peter Ruckman does teach salvation by grace in the current church age, but for other periods it is a different matter. Here is a representative quote that summarizes his views:
The original “plan of salvation” was pure WORKS (Gen. 2:16-17), and in the Millennium the last plan of salvation is again pure WORKS (Rev. 22:14), contrary to every immature, milksop, Baptist baby in your town or city. Genesis 3:22 corrects the kiddies. (Ruckman, Peter. Ruckman’s Bible References: Personal Notes on Salient Verses in the Bible, p. 7)
For the Old Testament Ruckman has an erratic system with the method of salvation switching back and forth in an attempt to deal with some theological difficulties. Notice the following:
In the Old Testament, you find salvation before the Law by grace through faith and under the Law by faith and works… (Ruckman, Peter. Body, Soul, and Spirit. 1986, 1997, p. 12)
Ruckman does bring up the fact that the teaching of salvation which includes works had been more prevalent earlier in the church age. However, what is unusual is someone who believes in salvation with no works during the current dispensation, but also believes that works were involved in previous dispensations in addition to it being involved after the rapture. Notice Ruckman's instructions for those left behind after the rapture in his odd tract Millions Disappear:
2. Start working your way to heaven.–
If the Lord comes and you remain behind, then start working like a madman to get to heaven, because you’re going to have to. You have entered a period of time called “The Great Tribulation,” and the plan of salvation in the Tribulation is faith in Jesus Christ plus your own good works. (Ruckman, Peter. Millions Disappear. 1989, p. 23)
Before the Rapture, you could have been saved by grace through faith plus nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9), but one minute after the Rapture took place you must get out the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule and start learning them, because you’re going to be judged by them (Matthew 25:31-46). (Ruckman, Peter. Millions Disappear. 1989, p. 23)
It will take faith in Christ’s shed blood, plus works—exactly as in the OT it took faith in shed blood and works. (Ruckman, Peter. Millions Disappear. 1989, p. 26)
Ruckman's system of different plans of salvation for different ages is so bizarre that he teaches no less than six different plans of salvation in the book of Acts alone:
E. “The book of Acts consistently presents the same keys, the same plan of salvation.”
It does if you are as blind as blind Bartimaeus on a weekend drunk—just as blind as a bat backing into a blizzard. There are SIX “plans of salvation” in the book of Acts, as God continued to reveal more light on “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) (which was not revealed to Peter; it was revealed to Paul—Gal. 1, 2). Peter himself testifies to Paul’s “plan of salvation” in Acts 15:11. Read it. I said, “Read it.” Read it or shut your big, tongue-wagging blabber mouth.
1. Salvation by repentance and water baptism with NO tongues as evidence in a single convert (Acts 2:38).
2. Salvation by belief and water baptism without any convert speaking in tongues (Acts 8:12).
3. Salvation by grace through faith before water baptism or tongues (Acts 10:44).
4. Salvation by grace through faith after water baptism (Acts 19:2–6).
5. Salvation by belief and baptism without getting the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:16).
6. Salvation by grace through faith without tongues or water baptism (Acts 8:37) and without tongues or laying on of hands (Acts 8:38). (Bible Believers' Bulletin Jan. 2007, p. 16)
Could you imagine the confusion inherent with six different plans of salvation during the short period covered in the book of Acts? This paints a whole different picture compared to the God of the Scriptures, who is described therein as "not the author of confusion" (1 Cor. 14:33).
The confusion in Ruckman's system is not restricted to the book of Acts, as he admits that "Under the Mosaic Law, 'salvation' is such a shifty, indefinite thing…" (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. 1996, p. 53)
Ruckman's beliefs regarding Old Testament salvation are so inconsistent that he regularly has to make exceptions to his own rules. Romans 4:6 is very clear in stating that God imputed David's righteousness "without works." As for Abraham, notice verses two and three in the same chapter: For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Notice also Genesis 15:6: And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. Now observe how Ruckman has to make a special exception for them:
The two ruses resorted to are to refer to Abraham, who was NOT under the Law, and David (Isa. 55:3; Rom 4:6; Acts 13:34), who was a chosen exception to the Law. (Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers' Bulletin Reprint Vol. 3 "Doctrinal Studies." 2000, p. 324)
The fact that Ruckman had to make multiple exceptions to his rules throughout the Old Testament period indicates the weakness of his position.
Because Ruckman teaches salvation by grace through faith in the current church age, some statements he makes referring to this age reveal the impossibility of his position as applied to other ages. In Theological Studies, vol. 23, p. 9, he affirms that "grace is not works, and works is not grace," however in the plan of salvation he makes up for Moses he mixes both together: "Salvation is by grace, through FAITH and WORKS." (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola, FL: Bible Baptist Bookstore, 1996, p. 98). Here is another contradiction. Keep in mind that Ruckman combines faith and works, and faith involves belief: "Belief is the opposite of works (Romans 4:5), and believing is what you do when you don’t work (Romans 4:5)." (Ruckman, Peter. The Book of Acts. 1974, 1984, p. 471)
How were Old Testament saints saved? The Bible does answer the question for us, invalidating any contrary speculation. The clearest passage is the entire chapter of Hebrews 11. A single verse that sums it up nicely is found in Acts 10:43: To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. The following passage also answers the question: Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 1 Peter 1:10-12. Referring to Isaiah’s time, Paul assures us in Romans 10:16-19 that Israel had heard the Gospel and that they knew about it: But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know?
Ruckman is very quick to insult Baptists and other sound teachers who do not go along with his views in this area with his characteristic abrasive style:
Those silly a**es actually teach that salvation is the same in the Church Age, the Tribulation, the Millennium, and the Old Testament. You never met a more gullible, blind, deceived bunch of Bible-rejecting apostates in your life. They do not believe one verse in the Holy Bible (AV 1611) if it offends them or if it is incomprehensible to their cloned, programmed, isolated mentalities. (Bible Believers' Bulletin Nov. 2001, p. 13)
A Baptist who teaches that Old Testament salvation before (and under) the Law and Tribulation salvation and Millennial salvation are identical to New Testament salvation is, by any set of Scriptures quoted from any translation of any version of the Bible, a viable heretic. He has denied three-fourths of the Scriptures at one lick…how do these pitiful, Bible-perverting Baptists alibi their sin? (Ruckman, Peter. Bible Believers' Bulletin Reprint Vol. 3 "Doctrinal Studies." 2000, p. 269)
Not only does he call them apostates, he does not hesitate to use the term "heretic" for those who teach that in the Old Testament saints were saved by looking forward to the cross:
Whenever you hear any heretic say that “men are saved in the Old Testament by looking forward to the cross and after the New Testament by looking back at the cross,” you are dealing either with a lazy preacher or a stupid preacher or a crooked, lying fool. (Bible Believers' Bulletin. April 2004, p. 18)
Notice carefully Acts 26:22-23, which informs us that Moses and the prophets foretold believers of their day concerning the coming and work of Christ, which gives credence to the adage about those in the Old Testament looking forward to the cross: Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22-23)
It seems Ruckman tries to be very careful with what he says about the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and man’s current inability to perform enough good works to merit salvation, likely because he believes men in certain periods could/will be saved by works. For example, his commentaries under Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5 (well-known clear passages refuting works salvation) have little to say about the matter except how the passages refute the major cults. However, in the series Theological Studies in which he heavily plagiarized from Alban Douglas’s work One Hundred Bible Lessons (see Is this plagiarism?), Ruckman lets his guard down. Notice this statement:
Every man and woman who is counting on their righteousness to save them has pitted their righteousness against the righteousness of God…Do you know what you have said to God? You have said to God, "I know that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth, but personally I think that prayer and good deeds can make me just as good as Jesus Christ." …when Christ made that payment for sin on Calvary’s cross, that payment extended from before Genesis 1:1 until after Revelation 22. (Ruckman, Peter. Theological Studies, booklet 10, pp. 7-8)
How does the above square with Ruckman’s belief in works salvation during approximately two-thirds of the time man has been on earth? Was man any different in the past? Was man previously capable of pitting their righteousness against the righteousness of God? Will mankind after the rapture be capable of pitting their righteousness against God, and suddenly be capable of meriting salvation by their own good deeds? Ruckman can’t have it both ways. When an unbiased person attempts to apply Ruckman’s teachings consistently, he quickly see that his theological system is full of holes and falls apart very quickly.
We don’t claim that Ruckman completely originated the view that Old Testament saints were saved by works, but some Ruckmanites have portrayed CI Scofield of holding this view in an attempt to add some respectability to Ruckman’s position. Admittedly, there are a couple quotes from the first edition of Scofield’s Reference Bible that in isolation give the impression that Scofield held to Ruckman’s view on this matter. To look further into the issue, we located two of Scofield’s books, and we gleaned the following quotes which reveal views incompatible with salvation by works at any time:
If a soul seeks salvation by good works, the works must be performed. And this is why the law can only condemn; for, besides Jesus, no man ever kept the law. (Scofield, Cyrus. In Many Pulpits. New York: Oxford University Press, 1922, p. 129)
But the emphasis of this lesson [Isaiah 55] certainly falls on the freeness of Gospel salvation. There is absolutely nothing to apply. Any "Gospel" that leaves one single atom of salvation to be wrought out by the sinner is that "other" Gospel upon the preaching of which rests the solemn anathema of God (Gal. 1:6-9). (Scofield, Cyrus. Things New and Old. New York: Publication Office Our Hope, 1920, p. 12)
If there remains any doubt about Scofield’s position, the reader should read the chapter “The Walk of Faith” (pp. 301-307) in Scofield’s Things New and Old book. In this chapter he deals with the faith of Old Testament saints, drawing from Hebrews 11.
A thorough treatment of James 2:14-26 to the topic at hand could turn into a whole book. But it deserves to be dealt with at least briefly. James chapter 2 is not speaking of meritorious works, but rather of works in the sense of evidence of salvation that is visible to others. James 2 is not about earning, but about proving. Works is often brought up in the Scriptures as evidence:
If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. (John 10:37)
They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16)
Much (if not all) of James chapter 2 is talking about being justified in the eyes of men by our works, not righteousness before God or self-merit. Verse 18 refers to “showing” twice. If you have faith, it will show in your works. Man is not able to see the heart like God can. Compared to God, we are handicapped because we can only see what is on the outside, which is works. God does not have this handicap. …for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Sa. 16:7).
In summary, works are brought up in James 2 as evidence of faith, not the initial act of being set right with God as when one is born again. Holding to the old biblical adage that “We don’t work to get saved, we work because we are saved” is helpful when studying this passage.
Is Ruckman the first Dispensational writer to ever teach that salvation during the tribulation can only be obtained through works? Ruckman apparently thinks so, as in the following documentation he seems to give himself credit for teaching this for the first time, as the date he lists is around the time he graduated with a doctorate from BJU:
This means that in the Tribulation, you can lose it! … the truth that I’m talking about right now—taught first in 1954—is unknown to Pre-Millennial scholars. (Ruckman, Peter. The Book of Revelations. Pensacola, 1970, 1982, p. 413)
Could it be that some aspects of Ruckman's teachings of different plans of salvation for different ages were motivated by a desire to make a name for himself? We may never know for sure, but the way he brings up the matter, that he believes salvation by works in the Tribulation was unknown and untaught before his time, not to mention the way he demonizes those who teach that Old Testament saints were saved by grace is cause for suspicion. The fact that some aspects of Ruckman's multiple plans of salvation are new teachings (something Ruckman does not deny), plus other odd teachings such as "the KJV corrects the Greek" warrants placing a label on such a theological anomaly. When a group responsible for new teachings does not name themselves differently (i.e., Ruckman continuing to call himself a Baptist), it is proper and in line with church history to invent a name for new or unusual teachings. It is not uncommon for a name to be given based on the person who was responsible for popularizing a new belief. This is why the strange teachings of Peter Ruckman have been referred to as Ruckmanism since the 1970's.
In conclusion, we offer the following brief outline to demonstrate the unscriptural nature of Ruckman's beliefs regarding this matter:
- Switching back and forth between plans of salvation that are opposite to one another would be against God's nature (Mal. 3:6).
- Six plans of salvation during a short time frame in Acts would portray God as the author of confusion, which he is not (1 Cor. 14:33).
- At no time could a combination of grace and works constitute salvation, as they are terms that are contradictory to one another (Eph. 2:8-9).
- Abraham and David were examples of Old Testament saints, and not exceptions to the plan of God for salvation (Heb. 11:1-33).
- God declared Christ's righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, which would naturally allow the sins of Old Testament saints to be remitted (Rom. 3:25).
- Christ offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all and ever lives to make intercession for us, invalidating the need for any other means of salvation in the future (Heb. 7:25-27).
- Although OT saints did not have complete knowledge of it, in God's eyes Christ's blood was shed before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:19-20). Salvation has always been based on his shed blood, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).
- Although some isolated verses may appear to teach salvation by works in the Old Testament, one of the most basic rules of Bible hermeneutics is to interpret individual verses in the light of the entire Bible, comparing Scripture with Scripture (1 Cor. 2:13).