That there are two elements among Southern Baptists, recent events have made more evident. These elements are generally known as Landmarkers and anti-Landmarkers. The Landmarkers do not believe in pulpit affiliation and alien immersion, but believe, as a rule, in church succession. The anti-Landmarkers generally believe in pulpit affiliation and alien immersion, but not in church succession.
And then there are other divisions. A good many Landmarkers who do not believe in alien immersion believe in receiving Hardshell baptisms, on the ground that Hardshells are not aliens, but part of the great Baptist family, while others insist upon regarding them as aliens. A large majority of Southern Baptists, Landmarkers and anti-Landmarkers believe in the Board system of doing mission work, but some do not. These are called Gospel Missioners. Nearly all Gospel Missioners are Landmarkers, but not all Landmarkers are Gospel Missioners by a great deal. Now, what are we going to do about it? We are compelled to do one of three things.
1. Agree. We wish we could all do so. That would be the simplest and best solution of the problem. But that seems impossible at present. Both sides claim to be guided by principle. Both are earnest, both determined in maintaining their position. You can't force an agreement, and even if you could a forced agreement would be worse than no agreement. The Baptist principle demands voluntariness, freedom of conscience, religious liberty for every one whether he agrees with us or not.
2. Disagree and in consequence divide. Some think this inevitable, and they seem to think that it would be the best thing to do. In fact, we have heard brethren on both sides contend that this is the best course to pursue. But we do not believe it. We believe that it would be disastrous if such division should come, and we propose to use all of our influence to prevent it.
Suppose we divide, what would be the line of division?
Shall it be geographical? Shall we make, say, the Mississippi River the line, as has been suggested, a Southwestern Baptist Convention? That would make this Convention embrace only Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and part of Louisiana, leaving Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky in the Southern Baptist Convention. For one thing the division would not be an equal one. For another thing it would hardly be an appropriate one. Neither body would be homogeneous. There would be Landmarkers, anti-Landmarkers, Board men and Gospel Missioners in each. This would not accomplish the desired purpose of bringing peace and harmony, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, where the principle discordant elements would continue side by side.
Shall the division be along the line of Landmarkers and anti-Landmarkers? That would be to form two distinct denominations. Has that become a necessity? Are we really for it? We believe not. That would put some of our best men on one side and some on the other. Is there no room in the Southern Baptist Convention for such men as W. E. Hatcher and B. H. Carroll, R. H. Pitt and J. B. Cranfill, W. W. Landrum and T. T. Eaton, Carter Helm Jones and Geo. W. Truett side by side? We believe there is. These men, and others like them, have lived in the Convention together for fifty years, and it is rather late in the day to begin talking about separation now. If J. B. Jeter and J . R. Graves could remain in the same denomination and the same Convention, W. E. Hatcher and B. H. Carroll ought to do so.
And then if we are to divide into Landmarkers and anti-Landmarkers, the Landmarkers themselves are not altogether homogeneous and might have to divide again. For instance, to make church succession a test of fellowship would have required Dr. J. R. Graves to disfellowship Dr. J . M. Pendleton. Then here is an editor who is an intense Landmarker, but he was baptized by Hardshell Baptists. Another Landmark editor insists that he is not a Baptist and would declare denominational non-fellowship for him unless he is baptized by a Missionary Baptist. Besides the question of alien immersion, is belief in the validity of Hardshell baptisms to be made a test of Baptist fellowship and orthodoxy? That would split up the Landmarkers considerably. But here comes still another prominent Landmark editor who declares that editor No. 2 is not a Missionary Baptist and advises him to go and join the Hardshells, where he belongs, on account of his avowed and persistent opposition to the organized work of the denomination and to our Boards, which editor No. 3, who is quite a historian, says has been a mark of Missionary Baptists all along, while opposition to Boards has been a mark of Hardshells. Here we have three prominent Landmarkers. No. 2 disfellowships No. 1, and No. 3 In turn dlsfellowships No. 2. Thus the Landmarkers would be split up into factions and divisions. That would be peace and harmony for you!
Or, shall we divide into those who favor the organized work and those who are against it, Board men and Gospel Missioners, or, as Bro. Throgmorton would call them, Missionaries and anti-Missionaries? Of course, if this distinction should hold, such a division would be proper, and a good many believe it ought to be made. But the Gospel Missioners resent the imputation of their being anti- Missionaries. They claim that they believe in missions, but only oppose the present plan of carrying on the work. We believe that these brethren are greatly mistaken and misguided in their views. But at the same time they are good brethren and we should be sorry to see them driven from our ranks. Besides, such a division would not bring the harmony desired. Among the Board party there would still be Landmarkers and anti-Landmrkers.
Then there are among us some brethren who are strong Calvinists, and others who are, if not Arminians, at least semi-Arminians. Some believe that we are in Christ because we are elect, others that we are elect because we are in Christ. Some believe that regeneration comes before faith, and others that faith comes before regeneration. Some brethren would perhaps consider this the most important question on which we could divide. It really conies nearer touching the foundations of our faith than any other, as it concerns the plan of salvation itself. Well, shall this be the line of division? Then you will mix up Easterners and Westerners, Landmarkers and anti-Landmarkers, Board people and Gospel Missioners all on both sides.
Nor are the anti-Landmarkers entirely homogeneous. They differ, for instance, on women preaching in public, on the precedence of regeneration and faith and on other questions. Shall they divide on these questions?
Or shall all of us, Landmarkers and anti-Landmarkers, divide along all the lines indicated? Well, why not? If we must divede on one |point of difference, why not on all? If we begin dividing, where shall we stop, and who shall say where we shall stop? Who shall say which point is the most important? Some will think one is, some another.
But suppose we divide on all these points. Then you would have a pretty mess of it. There would be innumerable Baptist factions, discordant, jarring, warring. Well, what shall we do then? The best thing, we think, is to
3. Agree to disagree.
Let us recognize that others have opinions as well as we, and that others have a right to their opinions as well as we. This is only to act upon the grand old Baptist principle of religious liberty. It is for this we plead.
Let us remember also that there are essentials and incidentals in the Baptist faith. Among the essentials are salvation by grace through faith, regeneration before church membership, believers' baptism, baptism before the Supper, a congregational form of church government, with bishops and deacons as the officers, religious liberty and the missionary spirit. No one can be a true Baptist without these marks.
Among the incidentals are pulpit affiliation, alien immersion, church succession, the plan of mission work, the precedence of regeneration and faith. We do not say that these are not important. We believe they are. We mean simply that they are not essential parts of our Baptist faith. Baptists may differ upon them and still be Baptists. They may not be as good Baptists as we think they ought to be and as we would have them be. But they are Baptists. To say not is to declare on the one hand that John A. Broadus and J. B. Jeter were not Baptists; and on the other, that J. R. Graves and J. M. Pendleton were not Baptists - not to speak of the living. To make these matters tests of fellowship would be to split the Baptist denomination, as we have shown, into various factions, and to drive out some of the best and noblest Baptists from our ranks. Drs. Broadus and Jeter and Graves and Pendleton did not insist upon applying these tests, and why should we now?
Let us have our principles. Let us hold to them as tenaciously as we please. Let us promulgate them earnestly and try to induce others to adopt them. But let us not make them tests of orthodoxy, within the limits of essential Baptist principles, and drive others from us if they do not accept our views. Let there be no unkind reflections cast by some upon the others. Let none attempt to injure others. Let us remember that ''we be brethren." Let us pursue a live-and-let-live policy. "With malice toward none, with charity for all," let us live together and work together, as we have done for fifty years.
And may God bless us and guide us all to his glory.
[From Edgar E. Polk, editor, Baptist and Reflector, 1899, January 5, 1899, p. 8. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
Baptist History Homepage