by Louis Keith Harper
Each of the many groups within the ranks of Christianity has carved for itself a particular niche. Since Baptists are no exception, a brief survey of certain Baptist principles may be helpful in understanding "Old Landmarkism," the subject of this thesis.
First among these principles is the Baptist attitude toward the Bible. Baptists maintain that the Bible is inspired by God, provides the principles for righteous living and stands alone as man's ultimate code of faith and practice. The first article of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith of 1833 states:We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasury of heavenly instruction: that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error, for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.1A second fundamental Baptist principle is their understanding of how individuals achieve righteousness. Baptists believe that all men are sinners by nature and need salvation from God. This salvation is granted by God's graciousness and secured through faith in Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection from the dead. According to Baptist theology, salvation is an individual experience. Furthermore, no one may rightfully claim salvation without first having had an encounter with God, usually referred to as "the born again experience," having exhibited repentance of all sin and having believed in Jesus Christ as
Yet another basic Baptist principle is their observance of two ordinances, namely, baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptists believe that the rite of baptism is only for those who have exhibited faith in 3esus Christ as Savior. They believe that baptism is immersion in water as a symbol of inward regeneration and is in no way intended to convey God's merit upon the one being baptized. Likewise, Baptists believe that the Lord's Supper is also symbolic rather than sacramental, and depicts the broken body and shed blood of Christ. Concerning these ordinances, the 1963 Southern Baptist Convention Statement of Faith said:Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried and risen Savior, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is a prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper.Baptists have therefore rejected pedobaptism, the baptism of infants, because of infant inability to exercise faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.4
The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.3
Finally, Baptists practice congregational church government. Each Baptist church functions as an independent, autonomous, democratic body with each member being equal to the others. Baptists also believe that church membership is only for those individuals who have been converted and properly baptized. Furthermore, Baptists insist upon the complete separation of church and state.5
These principles, especially the nature of the ordinances and the nature of the church, were of vital importance to the movement known as "Old Landmarkism."6
The principal leaders of the Landmark movement were James Robinson Graves, usually described as the father of Landmarkism, James Madison Pendleton and Amos Cooper Dayton. These three men were vitally concerned with the questions of religious authority and which denomination had the "legal" right to serve as Christ's ambassadors in the world. It was their opinion that only Baptist churches could rightfully claim the status of "true churches of Christ."
The question as to which churches were "true churches," as it related to "Old Landmarkism," was apparently initiated by a question submitted to the annual meeting of the Muscle Shoals Association, Alabama, in 1847. On February 25, 1848, the Rev. R. B. Burleson in turn posed the question to the Western Baptist Review, a denominational paper based in Frankfort, Kentucky. Burleson asked:Will you give your views on the following questions, viz.: Is the immersion of a person in water into the name of the Trinity, upon a credible profession of faith in Christ, by a Pedo-baptist minister who has not been immersed, a valid baptism? This question is agitating the Muscle Shoal Association very much and unless some judicious plan can be devised to settle the difficulties amicably, no one can divine what will be the consequences. Your views on the subject, published in The Review, will be much valued.7John L. Waller, editor of the Review at that time, responded in the affirmative but asserted that it was, nevertheless, a matter for local churches to decide and that the association had no jurisdiction in such matters. He went on to say that no one could prove the administrator of their baptism had himself been properly baptized. Thus, if historical succession of valid baptism was necessary to
legitimize current baptism, no one could be sure that he had properly observed the ordinance.8
At the same time, James Robinson Graves was editor of The Tennessee Baptist, a denominational paper based in Nashville, Tennessee. Graves disagreed with Waller. He felt that immersion performed by a Pedobaptist was not legitimate baptism and Waller's position was a deviation from standard Baptist practice. Graves maintained that, "The unbroken practice of the Baptist Church, from deep antiquity till now or within a few years, is higher than a score of Reviews."9 Thus was initiated an editorial warfare that marked the actual beginning of the Landmark movement.10
Baptists in the South watched as the issue became more heated. Finally, Graves summonded all interested Baptists to meet at Cotton Grove, Tennessee, on June 24, 1851. As will be seen in Chapter Three, the issues transcended the battle between Graves and Waller. Nevertheless, Graves asked five questions at the meeting that came to be known as "The Cotton Grove Resolutions." They were:1. Can Baptists consistently, with their principles or the Scriptures, recognize those societies, not organized according to the pattern of the Jerusalem church, but possessing a different government, different officers, a different class of membership, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as the Church of Christ?
2. Ought they to be called Gospel Churches or Churches in a religious sense?
3. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies, as gospel ministers in their official capacity?
4. Is it not virtually recognizing them as official ministers to invite them into our pulpits, or by any other act that would or could be construed into such a recognition?
5. Can we consistently address as brethren, those professing Christianity, who not only have not the doctrines of Christ and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and better
opposition to them? 11On July 28, 1851 the Big Hatchie Association met in an annual session at Bolivar, Tennessee. After discussing these questions, numbers one, two, three and five were answered negatively. Question four was answered affirmatively. "These propositions of Dr. Graves," said one historian, "constitute the first official pronouncement of Landmarkism." 12
Later in his life Graves wrote, "I think it no act of presumption in me to assume to know what I meant by the Old Landmarks, since I was the first man in Tennessee, and the first editor on this continent, who publically advocated the policy of strictly and consistently carrying out in our practice those principles which all Baptists, in all ages, have professed to be!ieve."13
Clearly, the core of the movement may rightfully be considered ecclesiological with the various tenets, ". . . fitting into a very logical system centered around the primacy of the local church."14 Adopting the premise that churches were assemblies of properly baptized (immersed) believers, the Landmarkers argued that pedobaptists, those churches practicing infant baptism, were nothing more than religious societies. They further argued that since pedobaptists had no valid church affiliation, their ministerial ordinations and observance of the ordinances were null and void.15 As one student of Landmarkism has said, "... the issues for specific debate (in Landmark controversies) nearly always revolved around one central question: namely, whether the church is exclusively responsible for all gospel acts; and that underneath this question was another more fundamental, namely, what is the church?" 16
Obviously the unique doctrines of Old Landmarkism were not forged in a social or religious vacuum. The question is, what factors led to the rise of this movement? It is this author's contention that Landmarkism was the result of a combination of factors. On the one hand, Landmarkism was a reaction to what Graves and other Landmarkers perceived as ecclesiastical encroachments from without the Baptist ranks as well as what they perceived as doctrinal perversion within Baptist ranks. On the other hand, the nineteenth century was a time when many denominations were seeking an identity. The Landmarkers found their identity in their ecclesiology. Hence, the movement is a portion of a much larger question in the history of American religion. Granted, this thesis is not entirely new. However, this project proposes a new approach to the study of Landmarkism's antecedents. Earlier studies have either examined the biographies of the "Great Triumvirate," or they have dealt with doctrinal issues raised by "Old Landmarkism." The majority of the doctrinal studies have sought to either vindicate Landmarkism or prove its unorthodoxy as compared with traditional Baptist beliefs. The questions raised by these doctrinal studies are good, legitimate questions. This study, however, will look at Landmarkism's historical genesis by investigating the events that led to the rise of Landmarkism as a mid-nineteenth century movement in American religious history.17
There are a number of reasons for undertaking this project. One reason is the impact that this movement had on Baptist life. Without question, Landmarkism constitutes one of the most significant controversies in Southern Baptist history.18 In fact, the controversy was so heated that in 1905, a group of churches separated themselves
from the Southern Baptist Convention and formed a group that later became known as the American Baptist Association.19 Furthermore, Landmarkism continues to influence a number of Baptists who are not affiliated with the new group. For many, the conviction remains that the only kind of church Jesus established or meant to establish was a Landmark Baptist Church. As one Landmarker put it, ". . . there is a distinct qualitative difference in the personal pronominal adjective 'My' in Matthew 16:18, when Jesus clearly distinguishes His congregation - His kind of congregation - from all others then in existence, as well as all to come later and any that had existed before."20 Any movement that has generated such controversy deserves thorough historical investigation.
This study contains three chapters. Chapter One, a historiographical essay, surveys the scholarly investigations of the Landmark movement. Chapter Two surveys American religion prior to the rise of Landmarkism. Chapter Three discusses both the interdenominational and intradenominational strife Baptists experienced during the first half of the nineteenth century.
With the exception of the historiographical essay, the period discussed will be limited to the first half of the nineteenth century. Generally speaking, elements that precipitated the Landmark controversy occurred in this period. The three original Landmark leaders were born and assumed prominent places of leadership within the movement during this period. Further, by the mid-1850's the movement had already assumed a unique character.
This author does not expect to settle all controversies regarding Old Landmarkism. It is his hope, however, that this thesis will be a
welcome addition to the scholarly studies that have already been done. It is also his hope that this thesis will aid others who wish to know more about this interesting, albeit controversial, movement in Baptist history.
1 J. Newton Brown, "The New Hampshire Confession of Faith," Article I, as found in A Baptist Church Manual (Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1969), p. 5. Hereafter cited as The New Hampshire Confession. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is only one of several employed by Baptists. Another common Confession is the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. See William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969).
2 A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1974), pp. 777-886. See also T. P. Simmons, A Systematic Study of Bible Doctrine (Daytona Beach: Associated Publishers, 1969), pp. 241-277. Hereafter cited as Systematic Theology and Systematic Study respectively. See also Ephesians 2:1-9.
3 The Southern Baptist Convention Statement of Faith, Article VII, as found in Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, p. 396.
4 Strong, Systematic Theology, pp. 951-959.
5 Frank S. Mead, Handbook of Denominations in the United States (New York: Abingdon Press, 1975), p.38.
6 The name "Old Landmarkism" was taken from a tract written by J. M. Pendleton. In this tract Pendleton maintained that Baptists could not recognize Pedobaptist ministers (those practicing infant baptism) as valid ministers and their administration of the ordinances as "valid ministerial acts." He argued that the issues at stake were scriptural baptism and scriptural authority. Pendleton further argued that since pedobaptists lacked valid baptism they could not be a legitimate church. If genuine authority rested in legitimate churches, and pedobaptists could not consider themselves as a part of a legitimate church, they had no authority. This emphasis on church authority was a "Landmark" that Baptists had allegedly maintained throughout the centuries. Ironically, it was Graves, not Pendleton, who entitled the tract, "An Old Landmark Reset," a title taken from Proverbs 22:28 and Job 24:2.
7 Western Baptist Review, III, March 1848, pp. 276 ff. as quoted by W. W. Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention 1845-1953 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954), p. 102. Hereafter cited as SBC 1845-1953.
8 Barnes, SBC, 1845-1953, p. 103.
9 J. R. Graves as quoted by Barnes, SBC, 1845-1953, p. 103.
10 James E. Tull, "An Historical Appraisal of the Landmark Movement," Baptist History and Heritage 10 (January, 1975), p. 3.
11 Barnes, SBC, 1845-1953, p. 104.
13 J. R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It? (Ashland, KY: Calvary Baptist Church Book Shop, n.d.) reprinted from 1880 edition, pp. 15-16.
14 Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, s.v., "Landmarkism," by W. Morgan Patterson. Hereafter cited as ESB. Landmarkers define the term "local church" in terms of individual Baptist churches.
16 "A Study of Southern Baptist Landmarkism the Light of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology" (Ph.D dissertation, Columbia University, 1960), p. 261. Hereafter cited as SBL.
17 The heart of Landmarkism involves doctrine, especially ecclesiology, or, the doctrine of the church. A number of studies have been done in this field from both the Landmark and non-Landmark position. The following list is intended as a sample.
Non-Landmark: Hoyle Eugene Bowman, "The Doctrine of the Church in the North American Baptist Association," (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1960); George W. Hall, "The New Testament Church" (Ph.D. dissertation, Bob Jones University, 1973); John MacArthur Jr. The Church: The Body of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973); Daniel Perry Olinger, "Parachurch Ministries and the New Testament: A Consideration of Neolandmarkist Ecclesiology," (Ph.D. dissertation, Bob Jones University, 1984); Earl D. Radamacher, What the Church is All About (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978); Bob L. Ross, Old Landmarkism and the Baptists (Pasadena: Pilgrim, 1979); Robert Earl Woodward, "The Theology of Ephesians and Colossians" (Ph.D. dissertation, Bob Jones University, 1978);
Landmark: R. Charles Blair, The Church on the Rock (published by the author: n.d.); Roscoe Brong, Christ's Church and Baptism (Lexington: Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, 1977); B. H. Carroll, Ecclesia (the Church) (Little Rock: The Challenge Press, n.d.); Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances (Little Rock: The Challenge Press, 1972; Roger Williams Maslin, "The Church: A Critique of the Universal Church Theory" (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1951); Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, 14th edition (Clarksville: Bible Baptist Church, n.d.); Edward Hugh Overbey, The Meaning of Ecclesia In the New Testament (Little Rock: The Challenge Press, n.d).
18 Baker, "Editorial," Baptist History and Heritage 10 (January, 1975), pp. 1-2, 8.
19 ESB, s.v., "Landmarkism," by W. Morgan Patterson. See also "American Baptist Association," by J. Don Hook, I. K. Cross, and Albert W. Warden Jr. in Vols. 1, 3 and 4 respectively.
20 R. Charles Blair, The Church on the Rock (published by the author: n.d.), p. 3.
[A Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Department of History, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, May, 1986 - in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts. Used with the permission of the author. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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