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The Beginnings of Landmarkism
By Robert A. Baker

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In the fifth decade of the nineteenth century the movement known as Landmarkism began to take shape. Evidently sparked by the practical question of accepting pedobaptist immersion, it gradually developed into a full-blown system of theological interpretation and ecclesiastical practice. The leaders of the early thrust were J. R. Graves, J. M. Pendleton, and A. C. Dayton. Pendleton later turned away from most of the Landmark conclusions.

Cotton Grove Resolutions

The early thinking of J. R. Graves, principal leader of the movement, is reflected in the series of resolutions he presented at a mass meeting convened at Cotton Grove, Hardeman County, Tennessee, on June 24, 1851.

Rev. J. R. Graves then proceeded to offer the following queries, which he wished to be considered at this meeting, and referred to some adjourning meeting.

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 a government, different officers, a different class of membership, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as the Church 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 in their official capacity?
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 doctrines of Christ, and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?

After considerable discussion, which showed an unanimous feeling and sentiment, On motion and second, the above queries were referred to a subsequent meeting.
(From Tennessee Baptist, June 19, 1851.)

Old Landmarkism: What is It?

The most definitive work of Graves on the nature of this movement is found in this little book by him.

1. Purpose of writing the book

Now the work I have undertaken to accomplish by this "little book" is threefold:
1. To establish the fact in the minds of all, who will give me an impartial hearing, that Baptist churches are the churches of Christ, and that they alone hold, and have alone ever held, and preserved the doctrine of the gospel in all ages since the ascension of Christ.
2. To establish clearly what are the "Old Landmarks," the characteristic principles and policy, of true Baptists in all these ages.
3. To demonstrate, by invincible argument, that treating the ministers of other denominations as the accredited ministers of the gospel, and receiving any of their official acts preaching or immersion as scriptural, we do proclaim, louder than we can by words, that their societies are evangelical churches, and their teachings and practices orthodox as our own; and that by so doing we do encourage our own families and the world to enter their societies in preference to Baptist churches, because, with them, the offense of "the cross hath ceased."
(From J. R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What Is It? [Memphis, 1880], pp. 25- 26.)

2. Landmark beliefs

Landmark Baptists very generally believe that for the Word of the Living God to stand, and for the veracity of Jesus Christ to vindicate itself, the kingdom which he set up "in the days of John the Baptist," has had an unbroken continuity until now. I say kingdom, instead of succession of
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churches, for the sake of perspicacity. Those who oppose "church succession" confuse the unthinking, by representing our position to be, that the identical organization which Christ established the First Church of Judea has had a continued existence until to-day; or, that the identical churches, planted by the apostles, or, at least, some one of them, has continued until now, and that Baptist ministers are successors of the apostles; in a word, that our position is the old Romish and Episcopal doctrine of apostolic success. I have, for full a quarter of a century, by pen and voice, vehemently protested against these misrepresentations, as Baptists have, for twice as many more, against the charge of teaching that no one can be saved without immersion, and quite as vainly; for those who oppose us seem determined to misrepresent, and will notbe corrected. We repudiate the doctrine of apostolic succession; we do not believe they ever had a successor, and therefore, no one to-day is preaching under the apostolic commission any more than under that which Christ first gave to John the Baptist. They are our opposers who, in fact, hold to apostolic succession; for the majority do believe that, if ministers, they are preaching by the authority contained in that commission! So much for this charge.

Nor have I, or any Landmarker known to me, ever advocated the succession of any particular church or churches; but my position is that Christ, in the very "days of John the Baptist," did establish a visible kingdom on earth, and that this kingdom has never yet been "broken in pieces," or given to another class of subjects has never for a day "been moved," or ceased from the earth, and never will until Christ returns personally to reign over it; that the organization he first set up, which John called "the Bride," and which Christ called his church, constituted that visible kingdom, and today all his true churches on earth constitute it; and, therefore, if his kingdom has stood unchanged, and will to the end, he must always have had true and uncorrupted churches, since his kingdom can not exist without true churches.

The sense in which any existing Baptist church is the successor of the First Church of Judea the model and pattern of all is the same as that existing between any regular Masonic Lodge and the first Lodge that was ever instituted. Ten thousand local Lodges may have existed and passed away, but this fact in nowise affects the continuity of Masonry. From the day it was organized as symbolic Masonry, it has stood; and, though it may have decayed in some places, it has flourished in others, and never has had but one beginning. Thus it has been with that institution called the Kingdom of Christ; it has had a continuous existence, or the words of Christ have failed; and, therefore, there has been no need of originating it, de novo, and no unbaptized man ever had any authority to originate baptism, or a church, de novo. I understand that Christ's declaration (Matthew 16:18), and Paul's statement (Hebrews 12:28), are emphatic commentaries upon the prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 2:44).

We do not admit that it devolves upon us more than upon every other lover of Jesus to prove, by incontestible historical facts, that this kingdom of the Messiah has stood from the day it was set up by him, unbroken and unmoved; to question it, is to doubt his sure word of promise. To deny it, is to impeach his veracity, and leave the world without a Bible or a Christ. We dare not do this. We believe that his kingdom has stood unchanged, as firmly as we believe in the divinity of the Son of God, and, when we are forced to surrender the one faith, we can easily give up the other. If Christ has not kept his promise concerning his church to keep it, how can I trust him concerning my salvation? If he has not the power to save his church, he certainly has not the power tosave me. For Christians to admit that Christ has not preserved his kingdom unbroken, unmoved, unchanged, and uncorrupted, is to surrender the whole ground to infidelity. I deny that a man is a believer in the Bible who denies this.

Nor do we admit the claims of the "Liberals" upon us, to prove the continuous
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existence of the church, of which we are a member, or which baptized us, in order to prove our doctrine of church succession, and that we have been scripturally baptized or ordained. As well might the Infidel call upon me to prove every link of my descent from Adam, before I am allowed to claim an interest in the redemptive work of Christ, which was confined to the family of Adam! We point to the Word of God, and, until the Infidel can destroy its authenticity, our hope is unshaken. In like manner, we point the "Liberal" Baptist to the words of Christ, and will he say they are not sufficient? When the Infidel can prove, by incontestible historical facts, that his kingdom has been broken and removed one year, one day, or one hour from the earth, then we surrender our Bible with our position.
(From J. R. Graves, op. cit., pp. 121-125.)

3. Answer to false charges

Landmark Baptists are continually charged by all who oppose their characteristic principles and policy Baptists who know better, not excepted with many and grievous offenses, in order to make us obnoxious to our own brethren, and detested by all others. It seems proper, therefore, at this point. to refute all these, by stating, first, what Old Landmarkism is not, before making a summary of what it is. Then -

1. Old Landmarkism is not the denial of spiritual regeneration to those with whom we decline to associate ministerially or ecclesiastically.
2. Landmarkism is not the denial of the honesty and conscientiousness of Pedobaptists and Campbellites.
3. Landmarkism is not a proof of our uncharitableness.
4. Landmarkism is not the denial to others the civil right, or the most perfect liberty to exist as professed churches, or to their ministers to preach their views, as is falsely asserted.
(Ibid., pp. 131-35.)

4. The full-rounded "Old Landmark"

1. As Baptists, we are to stand for the supreme authority of the New Testament as our only and sufficient rule of faith and practice. The New Testament, and that alone, as opposed to all human tradition in matters, both of faith and practice, we must claim as containing the distinguishing doctrine of our denomination a doctrine for which we are called earnestly to contend.
2. As Baptists, we are to stand for the ordinances of Christ as he enjoined them upon his followers, the same in number, in mode, in order, and in symbolic meaning, unchanged and unchangeable till he come.
3. As Baptists, we are to stand for a spiritual and regenerated church, and that none shall be received into Christ's church, or be welcomed to its ordinances, without confessing a personal faith in Christ, and giving credible evidence of piety.

The motto on our banner is:
Christ Before the Church, Blood Before Water

4. To protest, and to use all our influence against the recognition, on the part of Baptists, of human societies as scriptural churches, by affiliation, ministerial or ecclesiastical, or any alliance or co-operation that is susceptible of being apparently or logically construed by our members, or theirs, or the world, into a recognition of their ecclesiastical or ministerial equality with Baptist churches.
5. To preserve and perpetuate the doctrine of the divine origin and sanctity of the churches of Christ, and the unbroken continuity of Christ's kingdom, "from the days of John the Baptist until now," according to the express words of Christ.
6. To preserve and perpetuate the divine, inalienable, and sole prerogatives of a Christian church
1, To preach the gospel of the Son of God;
2, To select and ordain her own officers;
3, To control absolutely her own ordinances.

7. To preserve and perpetuate the
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design of baptism, and its validity and recognition only when scripturally administered by a gospel church.
8. To preserve and perpetuate the true design and symbolism of the Lord's Supper, as a local church ordinance, and for but one purpose the commemoration of the sacrificial death of Christ and not as a denominational ordinance, or as an act expressive of our Christian or personal fellowship, and much less of courtesy toward others.
9. To preserve and perpetuate the doctrine of a divinely called and scripturally qualified and ordained ministry, to pro-claim the gospel, and to administer theordinances, not upon their own responsibility, but for, and under the direction of, local churches alone.
10. To preserve and perpetuate that primitive fealty and faithfulness to the truth, that shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God, and to teach men to observe all things whatsoever Christ commanded to be believed and obeyed. Not the belief and advocacy of one or two of these principles, as the marks of the divinely patterned church, but the cordial reception and advocacy of all of them, constitute a full "Old Landmark Baptist."
(Ibid., pp. 139-41.)

Challenge to Southern Baptist Convention in 1859

J. R. Graves went to the Southern Baptist Convention of 1859 determined to oust his personal enemy, R. B. C. Howell, from the presidency of the body, and to challenge the "Board" system of foreign missions. Howell was reelected president but immediately resigned as a gesture of peace. The Convention disarmed Graves by offering their aid in transmitting funds for any churches which might wish to carry on a foreign mission program apart from the Foreign Mission Board. This move neutralized the Landmark attack on foreign mission methods until the Gospel Mission controversy, in which Landmarkers were once more vocal.

Report of the Committee of Inquiry as to the Improvement of
the System of Missions and Missionary Operations

The committee to whom was referred the resolution of the Convention, directing them to inquire whether any and what improvements can be made upon the present system of missions and missionary operations, have had the same under consideration, and have instructed me to report as follows:

Upon such consideration as your committee have been enabled to bestow upon the subject referred to them, no plan has been suggested, and none occurs to the committee, contemplating a change in our present system of missions or missionary operations not subject to objection. Through the blessing of God upon the past labors of the Convention, such progress has been made in the diffusion of gospel light, as calls for profound gratitude to the Father of Mercies; and, inasmuch as change is undesirable in itself, only as a means of accomplishing some greater good, therefore, we recommend the adoption of the following resolutions:

1. Resolved, That in the judgment of this Convention, it is inexpedient to make any change in the existing plans of missionary operation.

2. Resolved, That in case any churches, associations, or other bodies entitled to representation in this Convention, should prefer to appoint their own missionaries, and to assume the responsibility of defraying their salaries and entire expenses, that the respective Boards are authorized, under our present organization and fundamental rules, to become the disbursing agents of the bodies so appointing missionaries and appropriating funds, whether such contributions be intended for the civilization or the evangelization of the heathen; provided that such expenses of forwarding
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the money, as have to be specially incurred, be borne by the contributors.
All which is fraternally submitted,
W. P. CHILTON, Chairman.
(From Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1859, pp. 95-96.)
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[Robert A. Baker, editor, A Baptist Source Book: with Particular Reference to Southern Baptists, 1966. - Formatted by Jim Duvall.]


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