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Stranger Than Fiction

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

What you are about to read is dreadful. It sounds a warning. Please stay with me as this preposterous story unfolds.

Nine years ago [1988] in Nashville, at the Belmont Church 1, a man named Don Finto returned from a sabbatical with the startling claim that out in the desert God appointed him to be an apostle with worldwide authority.2 Finto dismissed the elders of the congregation and made himself the sole ruler of that body.

A tape recording was made of that strange service. Max Lucado was in the auditorium. The tape was transcribed and you are about to read some of the cockeyed things recorded on the tape.

Don Finto said: "I'm just going to say to you again, It's hot. Our air conditioner is broken." He said the service would nevertheless continue and the people must not complain. Finto blamed the air conditioner problem on the devil, saying, "This is an attack of Satan, however he came."

Then Don Finto said: "Max (Lucado), I don't want to embarrass you, but I was just thinking ... as we were talking a moment ago ... I am so grateful for your books ... for your writings. I've read before these people a lot of things you've written. God is in you, brother, and his writings are. This is the brother who wrote ... (long pause ... tell me the names of them), God Came Near, ... uh ... On the Anvil, No Wonder They Call Him Savior. Those book titles may not mean a lot to you, but you've heard some of 'em cause I've read you some of it. And the Lord's working in him and Denalin and in their family. Their ... uh ... I went to school with Denalin's mom, Romadean. And ... uh ... uh ... just have been delighted. They were missionaries in Brazil for awhile. And now they are back in this country in the San Antonio area, but I'm just grateful for them.

"Rusty, go ahead and bring that word. And let's just hear- wherever you are. Just bring that word. That you perceive the Lord to be saaa-bringing. And let's just ... winna ... winna a word comes like this, we judge it, and so let's just hear what this is. I think Rusty had no idea what I was about to say, and let's just hear from him ... and ... and ... and try to open our hearts to the Lord."

Rusty said, "Uh, if you could first pray for me, because ... ah ... you know ... the tongue is his, not mine. And, uh, and when the spirit of prophecy comes upon me I have to step back and let the Holy Spirit worketh [sic] in me. So if you could just extend your faith towards me and just ask God for his perfect word to rise up in me (voice, We do). And to come out of me today for the (voice, Yeah) with the strength and the boldness and without the quivers going on ... (this first time I've done something like this). Ah ... but I've done it for many, many years in private, so, ah, d'you all wanta hear a word from the Lord today? (voice, Yeah). Ya need a word from the Lord today? (voice, Yeah). That's what he's been telling me, too. So, if, uh, first of all he told me, Now, Frank, for the Lord -to receive your word-we have to be comfortable. I said, Would you make the temperature go down about five degrees in the auditorium (voice, Thank God ... just came on). Just came on? (voice, Yeah). See what I'm saying ... So the Lord's conformation. The Lord also says ... that, uh, that, uh, he is good about some things like that, 'but I've been holding the heat for a reason.'

"Could you just close your eyes just for a second and help me out. O-uh-God-those who have spiritual tongues go ahead and speak forth in them. Let's worship the Lord. Go to his throne because his perfect word comes down from his throne. It flows over the edge of the rivers of living water. Flows down ... down into our lives and into our spirits. Many times we have to ascend into heaven to receive the very word of the Lord. And it's hard for us to open up with our eyes around us, and see the things going on around us, to receive the word of the Lord. Let's just worship. Confess out loud. Let's just pray in the spirit right now."

Kalla ma sone, da fa kooka shores. It kin da la key la shone da la kene (his voice becomes hoarse and is reduced to an indistinguishable whisper). Bear fose sone ta wentta lone (voice trails off into a whisper again). Da lotta tongue de cush­a­wong do so coo toe. Ah shon da ba she dees ... O. Lord, your good ... Gash a la mon sewer. El ah ma she sa (more whispering). Fa kon a la ma dorman begetta see de so lawsuit...3

"O, Lord, O. Lord ... Lord ... come ... into ... and reside, right now. You withhold nothing. You tell us that you withhold nothing. Freely receive this morning. We freely receive. We need your word, Father. We are as dry and thirsty as the land around us (voice, Right). We need to feel your hand upon us. We need to feel the finger that you carved the ten commandments out of in stone -burning down inside of us. Ahhh ... following your comforting word ... we needa a gentle word ... We need the word we can crawl up into your lap and say, 'Ah it is good. It's good to be with you. It's good to be with ye. It's good to be with ye.' (Long pause.) Thank you, Father. Thank ya fer turnip' the air conditioner on. Thank ya for answerin' our prayers and cooling down. Now, we can readily receive your word, Father. Father forgive us of any murmuring (Voice, that's right), and grumblin', which you hate (voice, Amen). Kept the Israelites in the wilderness forty years 'cause they did that. And we will not murmur this morning. We will not grumble at the things ... things ... that are happening around us. The heat (voice, That's right). The repositioning of men. Father, it is your will. It is your hand. We said yes. And your doing it. Gotta see it from your perspective-not ours. And so the Lord says, I am doing a good thing. The Lord said, I've had my hand upon this church for many, many years. O. many, many years. I've brought thee through suffering. I've brought thee through persecution. I've brought thee through changes. I've brought thee through reorganization. I've brought thee through the very depths of hell many times. But I was faithful. And I was there. And many times in your room-in your prayer closets-in cars and buildings-you said, 'Where is the hand of the Lord? Where is he?' The Lord said, 'I was faithful. In order for you to receive more, I have to test you to see how much you love me and how much you will be obedient to me. You will not escape that because I have taught my own to do that. It is training from me. I send the rains and I tell the rains to stop. I told the rains to stop. In purification, I raised the heat.'"

The tape ends with some meaningless and worthless "prophecies" by Rusty.

The giddy and the gullible bought into it. The Belmont church became Finto's church and ceased

to be known as a Church of Christ. He gathered leftover hippies, street people, the cynical, the cranky, the kooky, the amused, the wrong­headed, and the unseeing. The building was once again full-full of people, full of frivolity, full of nonsense. It rocked along, but most thought it was too irregular to be taken seriously.

Now, fast­forward to April 22, 1997. The scene: A Nashville Hotel banquet room. The purpose: To get Nashville ready of the 1997 Jubilee. The chairman of the meeting: Rubel Shelly, preacher for the Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville. The speaker: Max Lucado, preacher for the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio. An honored guest: Don Finto, preacher for the Belmont Church in Nashville.

We would have thought Don Finto far too aberrant to be taken seriously by Lucado and Shelly, but both these men endorsed Finto that day. (This program was recorded and the words of approval and praise for the apostate Don Finto preserved.)

Rubel Shelly, who has a doctorate from Vanderbilt, asked Don Finto to bless the food-not that Finto would ask God to bless the food, but that Finto would bless it (Shelly made this statement three times). The speaker of the hour, Max Lucado, in his introduction, said, "Don Finto is my hero." So, there you have Shelly, Lucado, and Finto-birds of a feather flocking together. These men-Shelly and Lucado-are either as much of a goose as Finto, or they are laughing in their sleeves. I cannot tell which. In either case, it is inexcusable.

Sleeping giant! Awake! Arise!

1 The Belmont Church of Christ is one of the oldest in Nashville. According to a book written by Paul D. Phillips, former Professor at David Lipscomb University, the Belmont Church is no longer to be considered a church of Christ. He wrote: "The major battles with Church of Christ traditionalism all ended in victory for the Charismatic crusaders led by the Spirit­energized Don Finto. Many, but not all, of the old traditions went to the scrap heap. The preeminence of the church gave way to the preeminence of Jesus Christ." Phillips speaks of how "[T]he rebels at Belmont trampled on one sacred tradition after another. In violation of the apostolic injunction to be quiet (sic), sisters frequently shared their testimonies in the public assemblies and even prayed audibly. Communion was served ... at special events on week days ... [A] profession of internal conflicts emerged over matters of doctrine, faith, and tradition. The name of the church, hand clapping at the assemblies, the role of women, spiritual gifts, and instrumental music were among the most divisive." Phillips speaks of how "The issue of spiritual gifts, especially speaking in tongues, would further split the Belmont Church." He tells of how Amy Grant sang one Sunday evening with the accompaniment of her guitar," and of how this caused "the elders by majority vote" to read the statement that "anyone who felt led to share in an assembly with an instrument would not be denied on the basis of the instrument alone, but the offering of Psalm or hymn would be judged as any other statement of worship." He continues, "Perhaps, no one could foresee that within a decade choir­led congregational singing would be accompanied by a band to the beat of ear­splitting drums. The fight was over, and those opposed to instrumental music in the worship (including two of the elders) felt compelled to leave for conscience sake." Phillips says that the Belmont Church could no longer be identified as a Church of Christ. It should be noted that Phillips' history of the Belmont Church is written from the viewpoint of one who is sympathetic with the innovations and supportive of the departures. He continues to be a member of Belmont and gives full endorsement to Don Finto. Return to article.

2 In announcing his claim to be an apostle of Jesus, Finto said, "We began to realize that there were many apostles in the New Testament other than the twelve. Silas, Timothy, Andronicus, Junias, and others were called apostles." Barnabas is called an apostle in Acts 14:14, but he was not one of the twelve. He was, apparently, an apostle of the church at Antioch in Syria. The word "apostle" means "one sent." Barnabas was sent out by Antioch, but not called and appointed as an apostle of Jesus. Finto would be hard pressed to prove that any of the others he mentions were apostles of any kind. The twelve apostles of Jesus were chosen before the resurrection of Jesus to receive, report, and confirm the revealed word and give witness to the fact of the resurrection (John 16:13; Mark 16:20­21; Acts 10:39­42). In selecting a replacement for Judas, Peter said, "Of the men therefore that have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the day that he was received up from us, of these must one become a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:21­22). Paul was an exception and says of himself that he "was as one born out of due season." The twelve apostles were witnesses of the resurrection and Paul had to see Christ in his glory-the risen Christ-to qualify. Paul wrote, "And last of all ... he [Jesus] appeared also unto me (1 Cor. 15:8). Jesus appeared to Paul "last of all." Therefore he did not appear to Don Finto at all-at least not in the sense he appeared to Paul. Finto needs to take note that the New Testament mentions "false apostles" (2 Cor. 11:13), and that Jesus commended the church at Ephesus because they could "not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false" (Rev. 2:2). The holy city Jerusalem (heaven) is described as having "twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev. 21:14). Sorry, but there is not room for Don Finto's name on the foundations of that great city. The church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20). Finto's claim to be an apostle is presumptuous, arrogant, and false. Some say, on not too good authority, the alleged apparition in the desert claimed by Finto took place near Roswell, New Mexico, and involved creatures with huge eye sockets, pea­green in color, and with antennae protruding from their skulls. When they spoke it sounded like, "Ga da fa ka sock ah mock ah." Finto thought God was speaking to him. Return to article.

3 This was taken from the tape and spelled phonetically because the words are not a part of any known language, unless it is the language of an illiterate baby ­ cooing and gurgling. The scripture says that if there is no interpreter, it is unlawful to speak in a tongue 1 Cor. 14:27­28. The jabber of Rusty was not interpreted. No reasonable person would claim the words of Rusty on that fateful day in 1988 edified anybody. How could they? Please see 1 Corinthians 14:2­20. Return to article.

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