Baptist History Homepage

The Origin of the Appellation: "Old Landmarkism"
By J. R. Graves
"Et quorum pars ful." -- Virgil, L, 2, 1. 6.
     My thoughts were first awakened to the subject discussed in this little book [Old Landmarkism] in 1832, upon witnessing the immersion of my mother and sister by a Pedobaptist minister, and the plunging of another subject face forward as he knelt in the water, and the pouring water upon another while kneeling in the water, the sprinkling it upon another in the same position, and the sprinkling upon several others while standing on the banks of the stream, and yet others out of a pitcher in the meeting-house. Those different acts for "one baptism" made an indelible impression, and the more so because the administrator seemed to he in ill humor when he immersed, and dipped his hand in water and laid it upon the heads of the candidates he immersed while he repeated the formula! The questions started were: "If he did not believe in immersion, was the act at his hands valid? If 'what is not of faith is sin,' could his sin be an act acceptable to God?"

     Twenty-two years after, that mother applied to the 2d Church in Nashville, of which I was pastor, for membership upon her immersion, which brought the whole matter up afresh as a practical question for serious examination. Being quite young and this my first pastorate, I referred the whole matter and responsibility to Bro. Howell, then pastor of the 1st Church, telling him that I was in serious doubt about the validity of her baptism. He promptly decided it all sufficient and according to the usage of the denomination. From this time I commenced the careful study of the question, "Can an unbaptized man administer baptism?" Reason said, No; and I found no example of it in the New Testament after a church had been organized. Soon the question with me assumed a proper form: "Has any organization, save a scriptural church, the right to authorize any one, baptized or unbaptized, to administer church ordinances?" I decided this, by God's Word, in the negative; and subsequently this additional question came up: "Are immersions administered by the authority of a scriptural church with an unscriptural design valid?" Such immersions I also decided, by the clear light of the Scriptures, to be null and void; and thus I instructed my church, which, from that day to this, has never been troubled about unscriptural baptisms.

     Shortly after I had the pleasure of seeing that mother and sister observe the ordinance as at first delivered.

     In 1846 I took charge of "The Tennessee Baptist," and soon commenced agitating the question of the validity of alien immersions, and the propriety of Baptists recognizing, by any act, ecclesiastical or ministerial, Pedobaptist societies or preachers as churches and ministers of Christ. This agitation gave rise to the convention, which met at Cotton Grove, W[estern]. T[ennessee]., June 24, 1851, of all Baptists willing to accept and practice the teachings of Christ and his apostles in these matters. In that convention these questions were discussed, and the decisions of that meeting embodied in the famous "Cotton Grove Resolutions," which attracted the attention of Baptists throughout the whole South. As a matter of history, I copy them from the minutes, which were offered in the form of "queries."

     "Rev. J. R. Graves offered the following questions:

"1st. Can Baptists, consistently with their principles or the Scriptures, recognize those societies not organized according to the pattern of the Jerusalem Church, but possessing different governments, different officers, a different class of , different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as churches of Christ?

"2d. Ought they to be called gospel churches, or churches in a religious sense?

"3d. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies as gospel ministers?

"4th. 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?

"5th. Can we consistently address as brethren those professing Christianity, who not only have not the doctrine of Christ and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?"

     These queries were unanimously answered in the negative, and the Baptists of Tennessee generally, and multitudes all over the South, indorsed the decision.

     The name of Old Landmarkers came in this way. In 1854, J. M. Pendleton, of Kentucky, wrote an essay upon this question at my special request, viz.: "Ought Baptists to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers?" which I brought out in tract form, and gave it the title, "An Old Landmark Reset." This calm discussion, which had an immense circulation in the South, was reviewed by many of the leading writers, North and South, and they, by way of reproach, called all Baptists "Old Landmarkers" who accepted his conclusions, and the impression was sought to be made that Brother Pendleton and myself were aiming at dividing the denomination and starting a new sect.

     From this brief history it will be seen that we, who only deem ourselves "strict Baptists," are not responsible for the name, but our opposers. But that we have no reason to be ashamed of it will be seen by every one who will read this little book. Why should we object to the name "Old Landmarkers," when those ancient Anabaptists, whom we alone represent in this age, were content to be called Cathari and Puritans, which terms mean the same thing as Old Landmarkers?

     I put forth this publication now, thirty years after inaugurating the reform, to correct the manifold misrepresentations of those who oppose what they are pleased to call our principles and teachings, and to place before the Baptists of America what "Old Landmarkism" really is. Many believe that simple opposition to inviting ministers into our pulpits is the whole of it, when the title to the tract indicated that that was only one of the landmarks of our fathers. Others have been influenced to believe that we hold to "apostolic succession;" others, that we hold that baptism is essential to salvation, but its efficacy ineffectual unless we can prove the unbroken connection of the administrator with some apostle; and yet others, that we hold that any flaw in the qualification of the present administrator, or any previous one in the line of his succession, however remote, invalidates all his baptisms and ministerial acts, as marriages, etc., past, present, and future, and necessitates the re-baptisms and re-marriages of all he has ever immersed or married. It is certainly due to those who bear the name to be vindicated from these hurtful misrepresentations. I think it is 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 publicly advocated the policy of strictly and consistently carrying out in our practice those principles which all true Baptists, in all ages, have professed to believe. Be this as it may, one thing is certainly true, no man in this century has suffered, or is now suffering, more than myself "in the house of my friends," for a rigid maintenance of them.

     In 1846 pulpit affiliations, union meetings, receiving the immersions of Pedobaptists and Campbellites, and inviting Pedobaptists, as "evangelical ministers," to seats in our associations and conventions, even the Southern Baptist, had become, with but few exceptions, general throughout the South. At the North not only all these customs, but inviting Pedobaptist preachers to assist in the ordinations, and installations, and recognitions of Baptist ministers, was quite as common. I have noticed that in some of these meetings Universalist, if not Unitarian ministers affiliated, and delegates were appointed by Baptist associations to meet Pedobaptist associations and Methodist conferences. A glance at my file for 1856 notes this action by a California association:

"Delegates of fraternal courtesy were also appointed, as follows: Bro. Brierly to the Congregational Association of California; Bro. Saxton to the Methodist Conference, North; and Bro. Shuck to the Methodist Conference, South."
     Baptist papers made a glowing, pleasing record of all these inconsistencies without a note of disapproval.

     At this writing, January, 1880 -- and I record it with profound gratitude -- there is only one Baptist paper in the South, of the sixteen weeklies, that approve of alien immersion and pulpit affiliation ("The Religious Herald"), while already two papers in the Northern States avow and advocate Landmark principles and practice. I do not believe that there is one association in the whole South that would today indorse an alien immersion as scriptural or valid, and it is a rare thing to see a Pedobaptist or Campbellite in our pulpits, and they are no longer invited to seats in our associations and conventions anywhere South.

     The heavy drift of sentiment throughout the whole South, and the "Great West" and Northwest, is strongly in favor of Baptist churches doing their own preaching, ordaining, baptizing, and restricting the participation of the Supper to the members of the local church celebrating it.

     With these statements, before the reader forms an opinion, a fair and impartial consideration of these chapters is entreated. A Christian man will certainly heed the injunction of the apostle, "Prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good," i.e., in accordance with the teachings of God's Word.
           Memphis, January, 1880.


[From J. R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, "Preface," 1880; reprint, pp. 13-17. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More on Landmark Baptists
Baptist History Homepage