A STUDY OF THE ANTECEDENTS OF LANDMARKISM IN GEORGIA
By Leroy B. Hogue
In the consideration of Landmark antecedents in Georgia, a somewhat different approach will be employed from that of the previous two chapters. To avoid an unnecessary repetition of that which has already been noted in the histories of the Baptists in the Carolinas and in the Philadelphia Association, attention will be focused in this chapter upon certain specific elements in the history of Georgia Baptists which are felt to be especially pertinent to the purposes of this dissertation. It is to be recognized, of course, that in a study of this type a degree of repetition is both necessary and desirable, in order to lay adequate foundations for the conclusions that will be drawn. At this same time, the variation in approach will point up even more clearly that the history of the Baptist denomination in Georgia is of particular significance as it relates to the overall purpose of the present discussion. This chapter will be primarily concerned with the events in a specific Baptist organization, the Georgia Association; with the significance and influence of the views of a certain Baptist leader, Jesse Mercer; and with the reflection of typical Baptist views in a Baptist publication, the Christian Index.
Baptist Beginnings in GeorgiaBaptists were included among the earliest settlers in what is now the state of Georgia, but no sort of ecclesiastical connection was formed for at number of years. Nicholas Bedgegood, converted to Baptist sentiments and baptized about 1757 into the fellowship of the First Baptist Church at Charleston, ministered for a time to a small group of Baptists in and about Whitefield's Orphan House near Savannah. This group, some of whom Bedgegood himself had baptized, probably functioned as a branch of the Charleston church, by whom he had been ordained in 1759, but no lasting organization was effected here. A second group of Baptists, initially gathered at Tuckaseeking by Benjamin Stirk, a disciple of Bedgegood, was later cared for by Edmund Botsford, a young licentiate of the Charleston church. This body was an arm of the Euhaw Baptist Church in South Carolina. Botsford's "anxious spirit" led him to itinerate widely, in which work he met with a high degree of success. The first organized church in Georgia was established in 1772 at Kiokee and was the fruit of the labors of Daniel Marshall, a Separate Baptist preacher from North Carolina, whose wife was a sister to Shubal Stearns. While Marshall was not particularly noted for his eloquence or his learning, he proved to be exceptionally effective as an itinerant evangelist and his constancy in labor and his fervency of spirit more than made up for any of his deficiencies. He and Botsford, who was of the Regular Baptist order, became close friends and were "perfectly united in their efforts to disseminate the truth, and to build up the Redeemer's kingdom."1
Georgia Baptist AssociationThe first associational union formed in the state was the Georgia Baptist Association, established in 1784, with five churches constituting the total membership at the time of its founding.2 For many years it occupied a place of leadership among the Baptist churches of Georgia somewhat akin to that of the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations in their respective sections of the country. By the year 1790 the number of associated churches had increased to thirty-two,3 and by 1810 four additional associations had been formed out of this parent body.4 Benedict, writing in 1848, testifies to the leading role of this association in missionary and benevolent work:In it have originated most of the institutions in Georgia, so far as the Baptists are concerned, for education, missions, foreign and domestic, and among the native tribes.The doctrinal stability and missionary spirit of the Georgia association were significant factors in the course of Baptist history in the state.
This parent Association, with the liberal and enterprising Mercer at its head, set an early example in all the benevolent operations of modern times, which was followed by most of the other institutions in the State for many years. 5
Significant Aspects of the Formation and Early History of the AssociationAs a doctrinal basis for their union, the churches of this association adopted a brief "Abstract of Principles." 6 The second section of this statement of faith is typically concerned with those matters relating to "Gospel order." The visible church is defined as a "congregation of faithful persons, who have gained Christian fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord, and to one another and have agreed to keep up a Godly discipline, agreeable to the rules of the gospel." The second article in this section declares that "Jesus Christ is the great head of his Church, and only law giver, and that the government is with the body, and is the privilege of each individual." The responsibility of the churches to maintain a strong corrective discipline among their members is clearly stated as a matter of necessity for the peace and unity of the churches. The emphasis in these first two articles is placed on the independence and authority of the church as a local boy under Christ.7
The remaining articles are primarily concerned with the proper observance of the ordinances. Two of these are of particular interest. The fifth article says that "none but regular baptized church members have a right to communion at the Lord's table."8 This signifies that church membership (particularly Baptist church membership), as well as baptism, was considered by the Georgia Baptists to be prerequisite to a proper participation in the Lord's Supper. The sixth article states that it is the duty of every "heaven-born soul" to become a member of the visible church and to be "legally baptized" so that he may properly partake of the Lord's Supper at every "legal opportunity."9 Legal baptism and legal participation in the Supper refer to that observance of these ordinances which is in accord with the laws of Christ and the rules of the gospel. This emphasis upon a scriptural legality in the observance of the ordinances was typical of the Baptists of this period and is remarkably similar to the legalistic outlook that characterized the Landmark system.
It is worthy of notice that the "plan of government" printed in these same minutes assured the churches that "this Association shall have no power to lord it over God's heritage; nor by which they can infringe upon any of the internal rights of the churches."10
In 1788, only four years after its organization, the Georgia Association was faced with the troublesome question of the validity of Pedobaptist immersion. A Methodist preacher by the name of James Hutchinson appeared at this session of the body and related his experience of grace, asking to be received into the fellowship of the church in that locality where the association was meeting. Having been immersed on his profession of faith by another Methodist preacher, he did not wish to be rebaptized. Thus the question was brought before the association. Could his baptism be accepted as valid? Evidently impressed with his profession of faith and his complete renunciation of the Methodist doctrines and discipline, the body ruled that his baptism was valid. But this was not the end of the matter. Mercer says that many were not well pleased with the action taken and that it led to strife and confusion. In a short while, Hutchinson went to Virginia and commenced preaching in a remote area where there was no Baptist church. Experiencing a great success in his ministry, he baptized about one hundred persons and gathered them into a church. But the Ketocton Baptist Association refused the church admission to their fellowship because they considered Hutchinson's Baptism invalid, the Georgia decision notwithstanding. In addition, the baptisms of his people were ruled invalid because they had not been baptized by a qualified administrator. At this point, Hutchinson submitted to rebaptism, and his people, with two or three exceptions, followed his example. Thus the controversy ended. Mercer's comment on the matter was: "So much for admitting a paedo-baptist administration of the ordinance of baptism!"11
The principal significance of these events lies in the influence which they had on the future attitudes and decisions of the Georgia Association. The decision to consider Hutchinson's baptism as valid was by no means unanimous. There was a strong minority that did not consider such Pedobaptist immersions as scriptural. This division of sentiment, coupled with the negative ruling of the Ketocton Association, made a lasting impression on the ministers and churches of the Georgia body. Later decisions of the association reveal a determined opposition to the reception of such baptisms, a position which was in harmony with the actions taken by other Baptist bodies.
Jesse Mercer, An "Old Landmarker"C. D. Mallary states that much of the respectability and usefulness of the Georgia Baptist Association is to be attributed to the commanding influence of Jesse Mercer, who was, in various capacities, connected with the association for more than fifty years. For more than twenty years, from 1795 until 1816, he served as clerk of the body, and for twenty-three years more, he served with great distinction as moderator. He was, by all accounts, the leading figure in the association during his lifetime, admired and appreciated both for his preaching ability and the wisdom of his counsel. It is an indication of his leadership and his influence that he was asked on five separate occasions to write the circular letter for the association.12
Certain of Mercer's doctrinal views, particularly in matters of ecclesiology, were remarkably similar to those of Graves, so much so, in fact, that Tull has said that the historian is tempted to pronounce Mercer as a "pre-Landmark Landmarker."13 Graves himself noted the close similarity between the doctrines of Landmarkism and those of Mercer and spoke of him as an "Old Landmarker."14 He regarded Mercer as an important link in the chain of evidence to prove that his views and those of his fellow Landmarkers were neither heretical nor innovational. Obviously, Mercer's doctrinal statements are of prime importance in a discussion of Landmark antecedents in Georgia.
The Circular Letter of 1811In 1810 the Georgia Association resolved "that the subject of the next circular letter, be our reasons for rejecting Methodist, or Paedobaptist baptism by immersion, as invalid," and Mercer was requested to prepare the letter.15 In compliance with the order of the association, he produced what was evidently considered to be a most significant statement of Baptist views on the matter. More than thirty years later the letter was still being quoted by Georgia Baptists in their discussion of gospel order.16 An examination of the letter affords the clearest indication as to why Graves felt justified in referring to Mercer as an "Old Landmarker."
Mercer began the letter with the declaration that the only true gospel church is that church which is in direct descent from the apostolic church. Such a church recognizes Christ only as its head and as the true source of ecclesiastical authority. In a gospel church, the ministers are the servants of the church and "have no power to lord it over the heritage of their Lord." In the second section of his letter, Mercer says that those churches that have originated since the apostles and are not in succession to them cannot be acknowledged as being in gospel order. Those ministers who have been ordained to the work of the ministry by such churches as these, who have, in other words, derived their ministerial authority from human sources alone, cannot be considered as the true servants of Christ or His church, and they therefore have no right to administer for Him. "Those who have set aside the discipline of the gospel, and have given law to an exercised dominion over the church, are usurpers over the place and office of Christ, are against Him; and, therefore, may not be accepted in their offices." Furthermore, those who administer contrary to their own faith or the faith of the gospel cannot administer for God and their administrations are "unwarrantable impositions."17
Having laid the above foundation, Mercer then came to a precise declaration of the reasons for the Baptist rejection of those immersions performed by Pedobaptist ministers. The first reason is that the Pedobaptist churches are not in the line of succession from the apostolic church and they therefore have no part in the apostolic commission. This constitutes a denial that the Pedobaptist churches are true churches. Further, the Pedobaptist ministers have derived their authority ultimately, by ordination, from the church at Rome or from self-appointed individuals, and consequently they lack divine authority for their ministrations. A third reason is that the ministers of the Pedobaptist churches maintain an unscriptural authority over their churches and are not subject to the authority of gospel churches. Lastly, they fail to administer in accordance with the pattern of the gospel. In Mercer's judgment, any one of these defects was sufficient reason for the Baptists to hold the Pedobaptist administrations as invalid. He closed the letter with a strong statement of his conviction that the Baptists alone were in the line of succession from the apostolic church: "The Pedobaptist, by their own histories, admit they are not of it; but we do not, and shall think ourselves entitled to the claim until the reverse be clearly shown."18
At every point, then, Mercer seems to have to have anticipated those views later regarded as Landmark. The insistence upon a succession of true gospel churches from the days of the apostles, the emphasis upon the authority of the church in relation to the ministry, the denial of ecclesiastical character to the Pedobaptist churches, the rejection of all Pedobaptist administrations of the ordinances, the denial that Pedobaptist ministers may be regarded as valid ministers of Christ -- all of these were fundamental tenets of Landmarkism. It should be borne in mind that this letter was adopted by the Georgia Association as its official circular for the year 1811 and that it represented, therefore, not the views of Mercer alone, but rather the views of the whole association.
Essays on church power and independenceIn the December 10, 1833 issue of the Christian Index, of which he was then editor, Mercer published two brief essays, both of which reflected his deep interest in the matter of church independence and authority. The first was entitled "A Dissertation on the Resemblances and Differences between Church Authority and That of an Association" and was originally written and published at the request of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Primarily Mercer sought to show that while there were certain similarities between the authority of a church and that of an association, there also were some very significant differences. The association, for instance, has only that power, and no more, which the churches composing it can give. It has no power of discipline, it can exercise no authority with regard to individual members, it has no sort of authority over the ministry. There is not even any direct scriptural authority for such an organization as an association. The church, on the other hand, receives its power and authority directly from Christ. It is granted all necessary authority for purposes of gospel order and Christian discipline. Its authority extends over the ministry. "The Church has primary and final jurisdiction over them [the ministers} as members. She alone can call them out, and . . . ordain them; and for false doctrines or immoral conduct, stop them from preaching and even excommunicate them." In other words, the authority of a local church is direct and basic; that of an association is secondary and derived.19
To the above dissertation was appended a briefer essay on "The Independence of the Churches." This was intended primarily as a supplement to what Mercer had said previously about the authority of the church. The independence of the churches, he said, "consists in their separate and distinct organization; each having its own officers and government, and being in no wise subject to any human authority." This was the pattern in the days of the apostles, with no church being subject to any outside jurisdiction, and each one governed by its own rulers and its own laws. Not even the apostolic churches had any unusual authority over the other churches. Mercer closed this essay with a warning to the Baptist churches of Georgia to be "on their watch tower. They should be jealous for their liberty . . . and put down the first motion in the Association, which threatens their independence, or intermeddles with their internal polity."20 The maintenance of church independence was a basic concern of Mercer, as it was with Graves, and at no point is the similarity of their thought, even the very expression of it, more fully evident than in this particular area.
In this connection, an extract from one of Mercer's editorials seems very appropriate, as revealing the absoluteness of church independence and authority in his view:Our Lord has laid down a few plain rules of government, and established a tribunal in his church, at which all offences are to be tried and decided; and from whichthere is no appeal. I believe it is adopted by all regular Baptists as the doctrine of Christ, that his church is his kingdom on earth; that he sits in judgment there; and that when a gospel church is sitting in gospel order, for the transaction of disciplinary business, there is not a higher court on earth; and that such church is arraignable at no other, or foreign bar: because her Judge is in her midst, and has commanded her implicit obedience.21
It is to be noted in this paragraph that Mercer here makes an identification between church and kingdom, a principle which has been previously noticed as a characteristic teaching of Landmarkism.
Mercer's views on Baptist-Pedobaptist relationshipsThroughout his ministry, Mercer displayed a spirit of Christian warmth toward those of other denominations, and he frequently urged his Baptist brethren to guard against an uncharitable spirit in their relationships with those who differed from them in faith and practice. In His circular letter for the Georgia Association in 1821, he said: "We exhort and admonish you to carry yourselves towards them as Christian professors; . . . go with them freely as far as you can preserve a good conscience and the fellowship of your brethren." But Mercer cautioned: "Stop where you must according to the scriptures."22
In this same letter, Mercer, stated with great clarity his own objections to mixed communion. It was his conviction that there could be no real communion between Baptists and those of other denominations, that such an effort would be "too pretensional for sacred and sincere Christianity." The failure of the Pedobaptist churches to exercise a New Testament discipline and the vast and discordant differences in principle and practice among the Baptists and Pedobaptists made Christian communion an impossibility until those differences could be resolved.23 Mercer did indeed desire a closer union among the denominations, but not at the expense of principle.
With regard to other areas of relationship with the Pedobaptist denominations, Mercer inclined toward the view that effective cooperation necessarily meant the imposition of certain restrictions on scriptural truth. This was a condition that he was willing to accept, as he indicated in a letter to Lucius Bolles of Boston:I think a Baptist Sunday School Union would be of great usefulness to our churches. I am not opposed to unite on common ground with the Pedoes; but I feel opposed to the inference which must be made by every child of common sense, from the restriction not to publish any thing but whatall agree in, which will be, that those things not published and taught are of no importance. 24
Thus Mercer indicated a preference for institutions that were distinctively Baptist in which there would be no need for any restrictions on biblical truth, as understood by the Baptists.
Significant Actions of the Georgia AssociationThe actions taken by the Georgia Association in response to the queries brought before it reveal the same deep concern for the maintenance of a proper gospel order as has been observed in the actions of other Baptist bodies in other areas. Especially do these queries from the churches indicate an interest in the proper scriptural observance of the ordinances.
It has already been pointed out that in 1788 the association was willing, though sharply divided on the question, to recognize a Pedobaptist immersion as valid. In 1810, the association was again faced with the issue, in the form of a query from the Fishing Creek church: "Shall any person be received into our communion on a baptism received from a Methodist or Paedo-baptist minister? And if not, what shall be done with those who may have been received on such baptism?" By this time, there had been a significant shift in sentiment and the association, evidently without controversy, returned a negative reply, recommending at the same time that "such as have been received on such baptism be re-baptized."25 It was this query, incidentally, that apparently led the body to request Mercer to write the 1811 circular letter on the reasons for rejecting Pedobaptist immersions.
Another aspect of the valid baptism question was raised in 1812, and again in 1830, with the submission of queries respecting the propriety of private baptism, that is, baptism performed without the express authorization of a local church. In 1812, the association replied that "it would be improper for any part of the church, except when authorized for that purpose, to received anyone to membership, or to encourage any application for baptism, but to the church in conference." Yet, it was conceded that extraordinary circumstances might justify such a procedure.26 In 1830 the association ruled that it might be lawful for a Baptist minister, on occasion, to baptize without the consent of a church, but it could seldom be considered expedient.27 Significantly, these actions indicate that baptism was considered as a church ordinance and that the authority of the church withy regard to its administration was fully recognized. The association was inclined to look with disfavor upon any baptismal administration performed without sufficient authorization from a local church.
In 1788 the association was queried as to the reasons for the Baptist refusal to commune with churches of other denominations. In reply the association emphasized those basic differences in doctrine and practice which separated the Baptists from other religious groups: the failure of these other bodies to follow the scriptural requirements as to baptism; their laxness of discipline and lack of scriptural church polity; and the educational requirements for ministerial ordination on the part of some. Because of these factors, there could only be "a shadow of communion."28 This unequivocal response suggests that the Georgia Baptists of this period were characterized by a strong spirit of denominational exclusiveness much akin to that of the Landmarkers.
Numerous other queries considered by the association in the first fifty years of its existence were concerned with various aspects of church order; particularly with the independence and authority of the local church. In response to these queries, the association consistently upheld the power of the church in the management of its own internal affairs and the responsibility of each church to exercise a strict discipline over its members. A typical query from the minutes of 1827 illustrates the manner in which the independency of the church was firmly maintained. The Bethesda church asked:Shall corresponding brethren, sent by order of conference to visit a sister church, at their instance [insistence] have a vote in the conference, to which they are sent? If yea, say how.The association replied: "We consider they have no right," indicating thereby that such action would, in its judgment infringe upon the internal rights of the church.29
Other Baptist Associations in GeorgiaThe other Baptist associations in the state followed the example of the parent body in matters of ecclesiology, strongly emphasizing the place of the local church in the work of Christ's kingdom. Like the Georgia Association, they were strongly committed to maintaining the independence of the church and the scriptural concept of church authority. As with many of their brethren elsewhere, they tended toward an exclusiveness in their relationships with other denominations, refusing to commune with non-Baptist groups and rejecting as invalid all irregular or non-Baptist baptism. These characteristics and others will be noted by brief reference to specific events in the histories of other representative Georgia associations.
Tugalo AssociationIn 1839 the Tugalo Baptist Association was queried as to the "best method of carrying into effect the commission of the Savior so that the Gospel shall be preached in all the world." In a lengthy reply the following year, the association indicated its sympathy with the goal of missionary endeavors, but stressed that this "glorious design" is to be carried out "through the instrumentality of the church and her ministers."30 In their view, no other organization was needed.Nor yet do we think it necessary to form any societies distinct from the church for the accomplishment of this great and good work. The Church is built by Jesus Christ for this noble enterprise; it is not barely a society, but a Church, not only to resist one but all evils, not only to attempt one good work, but to perform all good works, and we believe the Church should be kept distinct from all other societies and worldly establishments.31In other words, the church, and the church alone, is empowered to carry on the work of Christ's kingdom. This statement reflects the prevailing Baptist concern that extra-ecclesiastical organizations might tend to usurp the role of the church. This was the same concern that led the Landmarkers in later years to reject the authority of missionary boards and societies as unscriptural and destructive of church authority.32
Other actions of the Tugalo Association indicate their rejection of irregular baptism not administered by the authority of a regular Baptist church. In 1820 the Beaver Dam church asked the association for its advice as to an application for membership on the part of a person "who has been baptized on the profession of their faith, dipped three times face foremost." In reply, the association said that such baptism could not be considered valid and recommended that the churches not receive such individuals on their baptism. 33 The Shoal Creek church brought a similar query in 1828, asking if the association would object if they were to admit to the privilege of the church a man who had been baptized by a Dunkard. The association replied that it would be a bad precedent.34 In both of these instances cited, the association apparently considered the baptism invalid because the administrator was not a Baptist and also because the mode -- trine immersion -- was not according to Baptist usage. This rejection of all but Baptist baptism became an integral part of the Landmark system. 35
Ocmulgee AssociationThe author of the History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia states that, while pulpit courtesies were extended by the Baptist denomination to Pedobaptist preachers in the early years of the century, yet the Baptists were very explicit in rejecting their official acts as invalid. He cites the case in the Ocmulgee Association of the Richland Creek church, which applied for admission to the body in 1811. The association rejected the application of the church on the grounds that it had been invalidly constituted because Elijah Hammack one of the two ministers forming the presbytery, was not considered to be validly ordained, and one minister alone could not legally form a presbytery by which a church might be constituted. Hammack's ordination was judged invalid because he had been ordained by a certain William Lord, whose ordination was also considered invalid because he had been ordained by a presbytery "not of our faith and order" -- evidently by Pedobaptist ministers. By the next year, the defect in the constitution of the Richland Creek church had been remedied and it was received into the fellowship of the association. 36
The above incident affords a perfect illustration of how involved and interrelated were these matters of church order and the importance which the Baptists attached to them. There were obviously certain well-defined and well-understood (even if unwritten) rules of church order which the churches were expected to follow if they wished to be recognized as regular and received into the general fellowship. The incident suggests also something of that rigid legalism which characterized the Landmark movement.
Sunbury AssociationThe actions of the Sunbury Association frequently indicate a concern that the churches composing it maintain a gospel order and discipline and that they adhere to the commonly accepted Baptist doctrine and practice. At the same time the association displayed the greatest respect for the independence of the churches and sought carefully to avoid any action that might seem to infringe upon their internal rights. This latter characteristic is illustrated by a resolution adopted by the body in 1834:This Association being an advisory body, and having no power to dictate to or bind any church or churches of which it is composed,
Resolved, That it be respectful for any Church differing as to the expediency or propriety of any resolutions of this Association, to submit their views in their annual letter, or instruct their Delegates with regard to the ground of their objections.37
A further illustration of this respect for the rights and authority of the churches is seen in a resolution adopted the same year which was designed to deal with the problem of laxness in ministerial licensing:This Association believing that the Churches are the only proper judges of the moral and intellectual qualifications of an individual to preach the Gospel,
Resolved, therefore, that this Association recommends to the Churches more caution in licensing brethren to preach.38
Thus, in expressing a word of caution to the churches, the association gave clear recognition to the church's authority with regard to the ministry.
Queries concerning the proper administration of the baptismal ordinance appeared before the Sunbury Association, as they had before other such bodies. One question in 1840 concerned the propriety of a Baptist preacher baptizing an individual, independent of any express authorization by a Baptist church and with the knowledge that the person thus baptized has no intention of connecting himself with a Baptist church. This query was decided unanimously in the negative.39 In the view of this association, then, baptism was considered as truly a church ordinance and was administered properly only when the person baptized was joined to a Baptist church.
The frequently recurring questions as to the validity of Pedobaptist immersions was brought before the association in 1842. The White Bluff church asked if a Baptist church should receive as a member one who had been immersed by a Pedobaptist minister. The association replied:We think, in common we believe with all Christians, that an unbaptised man is not properly qualified to baptize another, and as immersion is in our view essential to baptism, one who has never been immersed is not properly qualified to immerse another, and that the practice of so doing should be carefully avoided and discountenanced as highly irregular. 40The association thus expressed its strong disapproval of the acceptance of Pedobaptist immersions for entrance into a Baptist church, but in characteristic fashion it went onto say that it was willing for the matter to be left to the final judgment of the church and individual concerned.
Baptist Publications in GeorgiaA careful examination of the Baptist periodicals published during a given period of time provides an excellent means of discovering the state of the denominational mind during that period and of becoming acquainted with the principal attitudes and issues of the day. So it is in Georgia. The principal publication here was, of course, the Christian Index, which was published in Georgia from 1833 onward and which served both officially and unofficially for a number of years as the organ of the Baptist denomination in Georgia. Of lesser significance, but of some historical interest is the Georgia Analytical Repository, published for only two years, 1802-1803, under the editorship of Henry Holcombe. It is mentioned here chiefly because of its references to the Powelton Conferences.
Analytical RepositoryThe meetings of Baptist ministers known as the "Powelton Conferences," held at Powelton, Georgia, in 1801, 1802, and 1803, represented the earliest efforts of Georgia Baptists to work together at an organizational level beyond that of the association. Henry Holcombe, as one of the chief promoters of the conferences, published the accounts of the meetings in his paper. These reports given in the Repository indicate that some of those participating in the conferences envisioned not simply a more general union among Baptists, but also a climate of better understanding among all denominations of Christians. In the 1802 conference a committee was appointed to draw up a plan to promote "union and communion among all real Christians." This committee proposed that a general committee of the Georgia Baptists be formed, representing the various associations in the state and having as one of its responsibilities that of conferring and corresponding with individuals and societies of other denominations "for the laudable purpose of strengthening and contracting the bonds of a general union, on the pure principles of eternal truth, until all who breathe the spirit . . . of . . . Jesus, shall enforce a strict discipline and sit together at his table."41 This remarkable proposal was followed in 1803 by an address to the ministers of other denominations, inviting them to attend the next meeting of the newly formed General Committee and pledging "our best endeavors, to remove every obstacle to our communion at that board which, we trust, will be succeeded by an infinitely richer banquet in our Father's house."42
The reaction to these proposals on the part of Georgia Baptists was not very favorable. Their publication in the Analytical Repository seems to have aroused some apprehensions as to the true purposes of the conferences and to have brought at least implied accusations that the leaders in the meetings were seeking to lead the denomination into open communion, which was not their purpose at all. A letter by Holcombe published in the Repository of September-October, 1802, was apparently written to allay the fears of a friend at this point:Dear Brother,
I have just received your friendly letter on mixed communion, and hasten to relieve your mind, as fully as possible, from anxiety on this subject . . . I perfectly agree with you, that desirable as union among Christians is, it must never be sought at the expence of integrity. . . . Be assured . . . That it is only on the ground, and principles of eternal truth that I seek union. 43
But the objections to the General Committee continued. Even in the Georgia Association, the minutes of 1805 record that "serious apprehensions were entertained by many well-disposed persons, that evil might result from the continuance of the committee."44 That same year, Jesse Mercer, in the General Committee's Circular Address, "was compelled to defend the committee, and to answer the objections and fears entertained by many that it was intended to prepare the way for open communion." 45 The historian of Georgia Baptists comments that the emphasis on union "in a Baptist organization was, doubtless, a mistake. It cast a cloud over this entire movement, and although the General Committee scheme lasted perhaps seven years . . . it was never cordially adopted by the denomination, and was dissolved about the year 1810." 46
The adverse reaction to the General Committee idea is indicative of an intense denominational consciousness among Georgia Baptists. They were not willing to accept any plan of action that seemed to suggest, even remotely, the sacrifice or compromise of any of the distinctive principles of the Baptist denomination. The concept of "union and communion" with other denominations was foreign to Baptist thinking generally, and it was upon this rock of opposition that the General Committee fell to pieces. An additional factor in the failure of the General Committee was undoubtedly the fear, so strongly expressed in later years in opposition to the state convention that any such central organization would endanger the independence of the churches.
The Christian IndexThe first owner and editor of the Christian Index after its removal from Philadelphia to Georgia in 1833 was the highly respected Jesse Mercer, who had purchased the paper from W. T. Brantly. Mercer's successor as editor in 1840 was W. H. Stokes, who had served as assistant editor for a number of years. In 1843 Joseph S. Baker, a man of forceful and somewhat controversial temperament, became editor and served with distinction until 1849. As a denominational paper the Christian Index faithfully mirrored the issues and controversies which confronted Georgia Baptists over the years, and it is therefore of the greatest significance in the study of Landmark antecedents in Georgia. Its pages bear abundant testimony to the fact that the tenets of Landmarkism were not innovational as far as Georgia Baptist were concerned. In this section reference will be made to representative articles of the previous statement.
An item of particular interest in relation to the present study, because it so strikingly suggests the basic issues raised by the Landmarkers, is a letter from an unknown correspondent, identified only as J. M. P., which was published in the issue of April 21, 1843. The writer noted that there was a great interest currently prevailing in the question of which church was the true Church of Jesus Christ and that different denominations or churches claim their origin with the apostles and their perpetuity in an unbroken succession down to the present time. In view of these contrary opinions the correspondent asked Editor Baker to answer four specific questions in the pages of the Index. There is an obvious, perhaps coincidental, similarity between these questions and those propounded by Graves at Cotton Grove in 1851.1st. Do Baptists recognize Paedobaptist churches as true Churches of Jesus Christ, or only as religious societies?In a lengthy and somewhat tardy reply, Baker said that there was some difference of opinion among Baptists as to the true character of Pedobaptist churches. The majority, he was inclined to think, considered them to be true churches, at least in the sense that they were composed of nominal Christians, but yet churches in disorder. They considered them to be in disorder because of their neglect of a gospel ordinance -- believer's baptism; because of their practice of infant baptism; and because of their unscriptural forms of church government. But there was, Baker said, a respectable minority "who view Paedobaptist churches merely as religious societies." Because of what this latter group believed as to the essential constitution of a true Christian church, they could not consistently recognize the Pedobaptist churches as true churches of Christ in any sense.48 Baker appears to have numbered himself with the minority and suggested that while Baptists might speak of these other bodies as churches in some sense, they should not apply the term "Christian" to them until they cease to admit into their fellowship those whom they know to be in an unregenerate state."49 In Baker's view, then, there was a substantial minority of the Baptist denomination who refused to concede ecclesiastical character to the Pedobaptist churches and whose views therefore corresponded with those of the Landmarkers a decade later. But even the majority of the Baptists looked upon the Pedobaptist organizations as disorderly and disobedient churches with whom they could not consistently fellowship.
2nd. Do Baptists recognize ministers of Paedobaptist churches as true ministers of Jesus Christ, or not?
3d. Do Baptists recognize Paedobaptist churches as churches of Jesus Christ in any sense? if so, in what sense, and to what extent?
4th. Do Baptists recognize Paedobaptist ministers as true ministers of Jesus Christ in any sense? if so, in what sense, and to what extent?47
Typically, many of the articles and queries appearing in the pages of the Index were concerned with the various aspects of the proper and orderly administration of baptism. One such question, addressed to Mercer in 1834, concerned the expediency and propriety of a Baptist minister baptizing those persons who had no intention of uniting with a Baptist church, but who instead planned to maintain their previous connection with a Pedobaptist church or else, having been newly converted, expressed the intention of connecting themselves with some other denomination because of their objection to some Baptist doctrine or practice. Mercer replied that is as his opinion that Baptist ministers should forbear to baptize in such cases. The very inconsistency of these persons is sufficient in itself to warrant the refusal to baptize them, and, for the Baptist minister involved, to baptize under such circumstances is not consistent, expedient, or proper.50 In an 1843 article, James Perryman branded as an innovation the practice of some Baptist ministers of baptizing individuals without a distinct understanding of their being joined to a Baptist church. To do so, he said, is to make baptism speak an untruth in every such instance of its administration. For a person to be baptized by a Baptist preacher and yet to affiliate with a Pedobaptists church is to approve the right and pursue the wrong. "Those who consort with the Pedo-baptists are in heart and practice pedo, even though they may have been put under the water by a Baptist."51 Thus, in Perryman's thinking, the principal objections to such administrations of baptism were the failure to give adequate consideration to the relationship between baptism and the church and the implication that Pedobaptist churches were on a par with Baptist churches.
As would be expected, the valid baptism question came in for its share of discussion in the Christian Index and received the expected response. An 1847 query directed toward Editor Baker presented the matter from a slightly different perspective than has been hitherto discussed: "Is that baptism valid, which has been administered by a Pedobaptist minister, who was, previous to his connexion with a Pedobaptist church, a minister of a regular Baptist church?" Baker replied that the administrations of such a man should be considered in the same light as those of any other disorderly Baptist minister and should be decisively rejected. He then went on to say:There appears to us to be a manifest tendency among many in our denomination, in the present day, to break down the barriers which separate us from other denominations . . . . The more strictly we conform to the apostolically usages and the more careful we are to stand aloof from all religious societies which have departed from the institutions of the gospel, the better will it be for us and for the cause of Christ. 52
What Baker was advocating, then, was not simply the rejection of Pedobaptist ordinances but a complete Baptist separation from all other denominations, which he considered to be unscriptural in doctrine and practice. Obviously, such a position accords very closely with the Baptist exclusiveness of the Landmark movement.
A further indication of the separatistic spirit of Georgia Baptists is seen in their reaction to the rupture between Baptists and Pedobaptists in the American Bible Society. A reference to one specific article in the Index by an Alabama correspondent will serve to illustrate the tenor of that reaction. The writer, calling attention to the expulsion of the Baptists from the Bible society, pointed out that all of the Baptist efforts to cooperate with the Pedobaptists had been marked with conflict and the "same ill success." It had been necessary for the Baptists to withdraw from, the Tract Society and, as for the Sunday School effort, "they are heartily sick of that union, the price of which is the virtual abandonment of their distinctive sentiments." The only course open to the Baptists was for them to have their own institutions, their own literature, and their own schools and colleges. "Our Missionary operations, and all our efforts in the cause of benevolence, must be stamped with the Baptist name and the Baptist character." In the view of this writer, then, (and he apparently echoed the sentiments of a majority of his brethren) Baptist cooperation with the Pedobaptists in any area of endeavor was an impossibility without the sacrifice of Baptist principles and this must not be. "The Baptist must stand alone on his own firm footing, and . . . must look to God for the result."53
It would be possible, certainly, to cite numerous other articles and editorials appearing in the Christian Index which suggest a similarity between the spirit and practice of the Georgia Baptists and that of Landmarkers. Those citations which have been given, however, are sufficient to point up the fact that the intense denominationalism of the Landmark movement, marked as it was by the exclusive claims that only Baptist churches were true churches of Christ and by a strongly separatistic spirit, did indeed have it antecedent among the Baptists of Georgia.
SummaryThe Baptists of Georgia, like their brethren elsewhere, were characterized by a strong emphasis on the local church. Their principal interest ecclesiologically lay with the "gospel church" and the maintenance of "gospel order." While there are many indications, such as the Powelton Conferences, that they felt a sense of spiritual unity with all Christians of all denominations, yet there was virtually no emphasis placed on the concept of the church as universal. A strong denominational consciousness was displayed in the actions of the Baptist associations of Georgia by their rigid insistence upon the practice of close communion, in their virtually unanimous rejections of the validity of the Pedobaptist administrations of the ordinances, and in their attitude as regards the status of Pedobaptist churches. Of Particular interest in relation to the study of Landmark antecedents is that distinguished leader among Georgia Baptists, Jesse Mercer, whose writings represent the clearest enunciation before Graves of those principles which characterized the Landmark movement. Mercer, who so often spoke the mind of the denomination, was a strong successionist and clearly stated that only the Baptist churches were, in his thinking, in the line of succession from the apostles. In their relations with other denominations, the Baptists of Georgia were inclined to hold themselves apart from cooperation with them because of the feeling that cooperation meant compromise. Thus, at many points of doctrine and practice, the history of Georgia Baptists prior to 1851 reveals a kinship between them and the Landmarkers.
1. Jesse Mercer, A History of the Georgia Baptist Association (Washington, Ga.: 1838), pp. 13-16. Cited hereafter as History of Georgia Association.
2. Ibid., p. 20.
3. Benedict, General History, p. 726.
4. Anon., History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia (Atlanta: Jas. P. Harrison & Co., 1881), p. 66.
5. Benedict, General History, p. 729.
6. Mercer, in his History of Georgia Association, p. 29, says that this Abstract of Principles was printed in the minutes of the association for 1792, but that it had been adopted at a previous meeting of the body. It seems likely that it was adopted at the time the association was organized.
7. Ibid. pp. 30-31.
8. Ibid., p. 31.
10. Ibid., p. 32.
11. Ibid., pp. 22-24.
12. C. D. Mallary, Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer (New York: Printed by John Gray, 1844), pp. 137-39.
13. Tull, pp. 277-78.
14. Graves, Old Landmarkism, p. 262.
15. Mercer, p. 49.
16. James Perryman, [Article], Christian Index. XI, No. 3 (Jan. 20, 1843), 45.
17. Mercer, pp. 196-99.
18. Ibid., 199-200.
19. Jesse Mercer, "A Dissertation on the Resemblances and Differences between Church Authority and That of an Association," Christian Index, I. No. 22 (Dec. 10, 1833), 86.
20. Jesse Mercer, "the Independence of the Churches," Christian Index, I. No. 22 (Dec. 10, 1833), 86.
21. Quoted in Mallary, pp. 249-50.
22. Mercer, History of Georgia Association, p. 253, citing 1821 Circular Letter of Georgia Association.
23. Ibid., p. 252-53.
24. Quoted in Mallary, p. 133.
25. Mercer, History of Georgia Association, p. 133.
26. Mercer, History of Georgia Association, pp. 133-34, citing the Minutes of Georgia Association, 1812.
27. Ibid., 137, citing the Minutes of Georgia Association, 1830.
28. Ibid., 128-29, citing the Minutes of Georgia Association, 1788.
29. Ibid., 137, citing the Minutes of Georgia Association, 1827.
30. J. F. Goode, HIstory of Tugalo Baptist Association (Tocca, Ga.: Published by The Toccoa Record, 1924), p. 36.
31. Ibid., p. 38.
32. Graves, Old Landmarkism, pp. 45-46.
33. Goode, p. 19.
34. Ibid., p. 28.
35. Graves, Old Landmarkism, p. 79.
36. History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia, p. 270.
37. Minutes of Sunbury Baptist Association, 1834, p. 5.
39. Minutes of Sunbury Baptist Association, 1840, p. 4.
40. Minutes of Sunbury Baptist Association, 1842, p. 6.
41. "Interesting Conference at Powelton," Georgia Analytical Repository, I, No. 2 (July-Aug., 1802), 58-59.
42. "Minutes of the General Committee of Georgia Baptists," Georgia Analytical Repository, I, No. 6 (Mar.-Apr., 1803), 288.
43. Henry Holcombe, "Letter on Mixed-Communion," Georgia Analytical Repository, I, No. 3 (Sept.-Oct., 1802), 123-24.
44. History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia, p. 55, citing the 1805 Minutes of Georgia Baptist Association.
45. History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia, p. 55.
47. J. M. P., Letter to the Editor, Christian Index, XI, No. 16, (Apr. 21, 1843), 251.
48. Joseph S. Baker, "The Christian Church," Christian Index, XI, No. 24 (June 16, 1843), 379-80.
49. Joseph S. Baker, "The Christian Church -- No. 2," Christian Index, XI, No. 25 (June 23, 1843), 395-96.
50. Christian Index, II, No. 48 (Dec. 2, 1843).
51. Perryman, Christian Index, II, No. 3, 44-45.
52. "Query," Christian Index, XV, No. 25 (June 17, 1847), 198.
53. G. F. H., "The American Bible Society vs. the Baptists," Christian Index, IV, No. 15 (Apr. 21, 1836), 229.
[From Leroy B. Hogue, "The Antecedents of Landmarkism," pp. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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