THE STUDY OF LANDMARKISM
by Pastor Tim
The commencement of the Landmark movement was prompted in the 1850’s by a series of published articles written by James Robinson Graves, editor of The Tennessee Baptist and John L. Waller, editor of the Western Baptist Review (Tull 1980, 130). The official endorsement came in July, 1851 when the Big Hatchie Association at Bolivar, Tennessee unanimously adopted five Landmark resolutions that had been discussed at the Cotton Grove meeting one month earlier. The Resolutions “dealt with the problem of recognizing as valid churches those bodies whose polity, offices, doctrines and practices were different from those of Baptist” (Patterson 1975, 46). The evidence confirms that multitudes of Baptist all over the South fully endorsed these resolutions.
It was not until 1854 when a tract was written by James Madison Pendleton entitled “An Old Landmark Re-set” that the phrase “Landmarkism” was coined. This tract was later printed in book form in 1899 and included a response to all opposing arguments. This book also included articles by J. N. Hall, J. R. Graves, Judson Taylor and J. B. Moody, all of whom favored this movement.
It is from the introduction of this book that the term Landmarkism is defined as “Always speaking and acting consistently with what you profess to believe the Scriptures to teach” (Pendleton 1980, 7). Rooted within this definition is the heart of Landmarkism, which is the ecclesiastical separation founded upon authority and preserved by tradition. The argument is simple: if the Scriptures do not authorize sprinkling or pouring for baptism, then those who are sprinkled have not been scripturally baptized, and are not members of the Lord’s church. Therefore, unbaptized men that claim to be preachers should not be invited to teach and preach from Baptist pulpits. This practice would accept infant baptism as scriptural and endorse at times another gospel which is a violation of scripture.
THE STUDY OF LANDMARKISM
In taking up the study of Landmarkism, there are many complications that arise. The primary problem is that Landmarkism is surrounded by contradictions.
Scholars from the twentieth century disagree and view the whole Landmarkism movement very differently than nineteenth century scholars. There are four different areas of study that the scholars have developed through the years, and there are seven main works concerning Landmarkism (Harper 1990, 31). In the Baptist History and Heritage, Louis Keith Harper compared these seven works and concluded that the scholars cannot agree on Landmarkism. This creates confusion and causes difficulty in finding the truth. An example of this can clearly be seen in the book by James E. Tull entitled A History Of Southern Baptist Landmarkism In The Light Of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology (1988). Tull ground a historical ax and tried to connect Landmarkism with an anti-mission movement, Alexander Campbell, and traditionalism. He claimed that Graves was the innovator of Landmarkism and that he had actually erected a new Landmark. Of this Tull wrote: “The author, prophet, and statesman of the Landmark movement was James Robinson Graves” (Tull 1980, 128). Following a short biography that stresses an “educational deficiency” Tull implies that Graves was trying to build an empire on these teachings, and used his gifts of speech to “bewitch” people (Tull 1980, 146).
The Baptist Encyclopedia of 1881, on the other hand described J. R. Graves as an “intellect so great, and a genius so uncommon”. This biography described Graves as a great evangelist. “Before he was thirty years of age over 1,300 persons had professed religion in special meetings which he held” (The Baptist Encyclopedia 1988). The perception of The Baptist Encyclopedia regarding the authorship of Landmarkism also differed greatly from that of Mr. Tull:
The doctrine of landmarkism is not a novelty, as some suppose, is evident, because William Kiffin, of London, one of the noblest English Baptist, advocated it in 1640 . . . Truly the Old Landmark once stood, and having fallen, it was deemed proper to reset it. (The Baptist Encyclopedia 1988)
It is important to note the smoke screen imposed by men like Tull and others who try to weaken Landmarkism by pinpointing its origin. If one looks beyond this, it is clear that the philosophy of Landmarkism was in place long before J. R. Graves penned his first article regarding the subject.
In the eighteen hundreds, the main differences between Baptists and other denominations were the doctrines of the visible church and church succession. These two accepted doctrines became a foundation for ecclesiastical separation. It is clear that Tull blatantly misrepresents James Madison Pendleton in these areas. Tull wrote:
Pendleton’s differences form what we may denominate “classic landmarkism” were mainly four in number.
1. Pendleton never relinquished the idea of the universal church.
2. Pendleton refused to equate the kingdom of God with the aggregate of Baptist Churches.
3. Pendleton refused to subscribe to the theory of church succession.
4. Pendleton thought that the theory of non- inter-communion was trivial and unimportant. (Tull 1980, 259 260)
Pendleton never had any views of a universal church to relinquish, and he clearly denounced them in his book Landmarkism. Pendleton wrote, “There is no universal visible church” (Pendleton 1980, 31). Pendleton included an article written by J. N. Hall entitled “The New Issue: The Invisible Church Idea.” In this article Hall wrote:
For our part we deny this whole “invisible, universal church” idea. There is but one sort of church in the New Testament; and that is a local and visible church. (Pendleton 1980, 75)
Tull said Pendleton “refused to equate the Kingdom of God with the aggregate of Gospel Churches”. It should be noted that Graves was a premillennialist and Pendleton was an amillennialist, which would cause some differences regarding the Kingdom. However, in spite of eschatological differences, the two joined hands in the cause of ecclesiastical separation because they both believed in a visible church and in church secession. The laying aside of eschatological differences to unite in restoring ecclesiastical separation adds strength to the movement rather than weakens it. Was Tull completely honest about Pendleton’s position? Pendleton wrote in the Baptist Church Manual:
The inspired writers, as if to preclude the idea of a church commensurate with a province, a kingdom, or an empire, make use of the following forms of expression, “the churches of Galatia,” “the churches of Macedonia”. (Pendleton 1949, 7)
Mr. Tull also stated that Pendleton refused to subscribe to the theory of church succession. Yet, Pendleton included an article by Graves that gives a church succession discourse (Pendleton 1980, 45-50) and affirmed it himself in his original tract (Pendleton 1980, 19). The following refutes Mr. Tull’s claim of Pendleton’s position on non-inter-communion. Every visible church of Christ may be considered a sacred inclosure, susceptible of entrance in but one way. In the inclosure is set the table of the Lord. . . As of Baptism so of the Lord’s Supper. Its purity is to be preserved by the preservation of pure membership. . . But let it not be forgotten that every church is an independent body. This fact forever settles the question that inter-communion between the members of Baptist churches is based on courtesy and not on right. (Pendleton 1989, 193 209)
It is sad that many use resources such as Tull to mold their opinions of Landmarkism. The only Old Landmark that they were advocating needed to be reset was Pulpit affiliation. The doctrines of a visible Church and Church succession were not yet in jeopardy.
The loudest and most significant plea for ecclesiastical separation came from J. M. Pendleton and not J. R. Graves. Although Graves is no doubt a primary influence in the popularization of Landmarkism, Pendleton enhanced its credibility abroad. Pendleton was the author of the Baptist Church Manual that is still in use today (although revised). This original manual was used as a text book in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as late as 1911. Pendleton was also the author of one of the simplest statements of Systematic Theology ever written entitled Christian Doctrines (McBeth 1991, 49). Anti-Landmarkers since the turn of the century have been surprised to find such a renowned Baptist Theologian endorsing these teachings and taking such a rigid stand (Tull 1980, 202). However, in the foreword of Pendleton’s tract, he explained why he endorsed these teachings. He wrote, “Truth has nothing to fear from the light. Error finds great advantage when the facts are obscured. All error is dangerous, but none so dangerous as a half truth” (Pendleton 1980, 4).
In Harper’s appraisal of the work of Livingston T. Mays entitled A History of the Old Landmark Movement, he wrote:
In Mays’ assessment, . . . Landmarkism tended to elevate the church as an institution above Christ. Nevertheless, Mays condemned neither the movement nor its leadership. He saw the mid-nineteenth century as a time when Baptist had become “loose” on doctrinal matters”. (Harper 1990, 32)
This “looseness on doctrinal matters” resulted from an open pulpit era sometime after the turn of the eighteenth century. In the early eighteen hundreds it was considered a “very rare” thing for Baptists to exchange pulpits with men that sprinkled infants, and as far as “ministerial services were concerned the doctrine of non-intercourse universally prevailed between Baptists and Pedobaptists” (The Baptist Encyclopedia 1988). Mays added that Landmarkism helped to restore doctrinal purity to Southern Baptists (Harper 1990, 32). It is clear that these men who were considered by their peers as Baptist pillars of orthodoxy were fighting the infiltration of liberalism. Realizing that liberalism was the result of a “change in pulpit practice” and ecclesiastical intercourse was its fountain head, The Baptist Encyclopedia says: “Truly the old landmark once stood, and having fallen, it was deemed proper to reset it” (The Baptist Encyclopedia 1988). Pendleton sets out to re-establish this landmark with a loud cry for ecclesiastical separation in his twenty page tract entitled “An Old Landmark Re-set.”
Livingston T. Mays suggested the primary motives of Landmarkism resulted from pride and bigotry. Landmark writers were extremely conscious of this fact. In the introduction of the book Landmarkism, J. B. Moody wrote:
This will at least convince them that the conclusions arrived at are not the product of bigotry of any kind or degree. To my mind both the scriptures and practical consistency require the conclusions arrived at by the author. (Pendleton 1980, 7)
Moody reinforced this statement by citing the Baptist practice of excluding its own ministers for heresy. He also noted that it would show great inconsistency if we exclude our own brethren for heresy and extend fellowship to others that teach the same heresy (Pendleton 1980, 7). Pendleton recognized this same misconception, and to head off any thoughts of pride or bigotry, his first argument was founded upon some extracts of “Open Communion” from Dr. Griffin, a Pedobaptist and the president of Williams College. Pendleton used a doctrinal statement made by a Pedobaptist to call for ecclesiastical separation (Pendleton 1980, 12). Tull could not understand why Pendleton quoted Dr. Griffin and thought it strange that Pendleton would use a Pedobaptist statement to make an argument (Tull 1980, 204). Realizing that it is hard to find truth in the fog of fancy rhetoric written by Tull, it seems best to analyze the original tract that brought about the popularity of Landmarkism.
In the tract by Pendleton he asked the question: “Ought Baptists to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers?” (Pendleton 1980, 11). In addressing this question Pendleton set out to prove this question in the negative. First, he used the statement of Dr. Griffin which is: “If nothing but immersion is baptism, there is no visible church except among the Baptists” (Pendleton 1980, 13). Pendleton affirmed that “nothing but immersion is baptism”. This means that the Pedobaptists are not visible churches and their ministers have not been baptized; therefore, we should not let unbaptized men in Baptist pulpits. The next concern is this “transparent sophistry” that Pendleton said developed when Pedobaptists claim that they were in favor of believers baptism. On this he wrote:
Yet, they say, they are in favor of the baptism of believers! Greatly in favor of it, truly! They allow the sprinkling of a babe to supersede the baptism of an accountable agent! And they know, too, that if their principles should universally prevail, the baptism of believers would be banished from the world. It would become an obsolete thing. (Pendleton 1980, 14)
If these people have not been scripturally baptized then they are not gospel organizations. It is at this juncture in history that the term “evangelical denominations” had its origin. Pendleton writes:
In this day of spurious liberality and false charity much is said about evangelical denominations and evangelical churches. What is an evangelical denomination? A denomination whose faith and practice correspond with the gospel. What is an evangelical church? A church formed according to the New Testament model. (Pendleton 1980, 14-15)
Space will not permit a complete synopsis of this tract. However, in summary, Pendleton claimed that Pedobaptists have no true evangelism and no evangelical authority. The causes for this change in the practice of allowing Pedo-ministers in the Baptist Pulpit was due to unscriptural charity, and the fact that Baptists had grown ashamed of their distinctive principles and practices. A historical argument is then presented showing that we have done better without intercourse with other religions societies (Pendleton 1980, 13-21).
Pendleton charged that Baptists had grown weak, and sought respectability from the world and from former persecutors. He also charged that Baptists who would not take a stand were afraid of being unpopular. In closing his tract, Pendleton appealed to the conscience of Baptists, asking the question “What is right?” (Pendleton 1980, 10-21). This tract brought much response and criticism, and in Pendleton’s (1899) book he addressed each argument made against this tract.
What would be the result if we let the world in to our pulpits, the place that God has ordained truth to be proclaimed? Are there requirements or prerequisites for preaching in a Baptist church? Does one have to be saved? Does one have to be a baptized believer? Must one believe in the inerrant Word of God? Is it all right to allow a rationalist, Catholic, Campbellite, or a woman teach the people from a Baptist pulpit? History bears out the results of such practices. It does not take long when the old landmarks are removed for the church to change its course, become weak in doctrinal truth, and lose their ability to represent Christ.
One of the major factors in the issue of what had been advocated concerning a closed pulpit, is the fact that in the nineteenth century, Southern Baptists were closed communionists. Generally all agreed that the Lord’s Supper was a church ordinance. Even the Baptist pastors that would step aside for a Pedo-minister to speak in the pulpit, would not invite him to the Lord’s table until he was properly baptized (Tull 1980, 224). Amos Dayton in his novel takes up only the issue of baptism and explains that in regards to the Lord’s Supper, Pedobaptists and Baptists stood on the same ground regarding salvation preceding the Lord’s Supper:
These bodies and ourselves, therefore, stand on precisely the same ground — that is, we each require evidence of both conversion and baptism, before we admit or invite any to our communion. (Dayton 1857, 376)
The Pedobaptists professed that although a person had been sprinkled at infancy, he or she still could not eat at the Holy Table until they had an experience of grace.
Baptism was the issue in the fictional novel Theodosia Ernest: Or, The Heroine of Faith. Dayton used simple observations in the quest of Theodosia Ernest to find out who had the proper mode of baptism. Theodosia was a young girl that became concerned about her type of baptism after seeing a Baptist preacher immerse a new convert:
They went down into the river, and then he plunged her under the water, and quickly raised her out again; and sister says if that was baptism, then we were not baptized, because we stood on the dry floor of the church, and the preacher dipped his hand into a bowl of water, and sprinkled a few drops on our foreheads. (Dayton 1857, 3-4)
Through prayer and a ten-day study with doctors of Pedo-theology this young woman searched for the truth. This was a fictional story that clearly brought doctrinal simplicity.In the life of Adoniram Judson, a missionary supported by the Congregationalists, he too found error in his baptism. As he was translating the Greek language, while traveling by ship to Calcutta, he discovered that he had not been scripturally baptized. Adoniram said to his wife Nancy, “I am afraid the Baptists may be in the right” (Anderson 1972, 129). The Holy Spirit convicted Adoniram and his wife to be immersed in spite of the consequences of being completely cut off by the Congregationalists. Nancy wrote of how they felt during this time: ” We feel that we are alone in the world, with no real friend but each other, no one on whom we can depend but God” (Anderson 1972, 146). They were baptized by immersion on September 6, 1812 and became the catalyst for the Baptist mission thrust movement.
Tradition may be one of Landmarkism’s strongest allies. All across the world, pockets of Baptists still adhere to the Landmark convictions. Many Baptists believe in church succession because the Bible teaches it. They do not need the historical account to believe in its perpetuity. The Southern Baptist scholar, S. H. Ford, LL.D., said:
Succession among Baptists is not a linked chain of churches or ministers, uninterrupted and traceable at this distant day . . The true and defensible doctrine is, that baptized believers have existed in every age since John baptized in Jordan, and have met as a baptized congregation in covenant and fellowship where an opportunity permitted. (Jarrel 1894, 1)
Today, many of the Baptists who hold to the doctrines of church succession and a visible church are not even aware of the term “Landmarkism” and the controversy surrounding it.
In 1905, the American Baptist Association was organized and from this group the Baptist Missionary Association of America emerged in 1950. These groups are no doubt an aggregate of Landmarkers that were concerned with the Board’s policy:
However, the great majority of those with Landmark convictions did not share the mission philosophy of the separatists, had no quarrel with the “board system” and therefore had no reason to leave the Convention”. (Patterson 1975, 54)
In Texas, the founder and president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary B. H. Carroll, although not a hyper-Landmarkist, was well known for embracing the idea of church succession, the visible Church, and for refusing to have anything to do with alien immersions (Tull 1980, 636). Carroll stood in direct opposition to the view of William H. Whitsitt who tried to discredit church succession. Whitsitt had suggested that the Baptist denomination originated in the seventeenth century and his teaching was not tolerated (McBeth 1991, 43). When William H. Whitsitt, professor and later president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the “1641 discovery”, Baptists were outraged: Piles of letters poured in . . . The General convention of Texas expressed disapproval, and several associations passed resolutions to stop sending funds for students to Louisville until Whitsitt was removed. The Friendship Association in Oklahoma went a step further by calling for “the speedy removal of Dr. Whitsitt . . . and also the faculty that agree with him in his peculiar utterances. (McBeth 1991, 42-43)
The general feeling of Baptists over the Whitsitt controversy was to remove him, exclude him from membership in a Baptist Church, and some even said he could not possibly be a Christian (McBeth 1991, 43). For a complete study of the Whitsitt controversy, this writer recommends Baptist Succession by D. B. Ray. In Baptist seminaries today, the Whitsitt theory is widely accepted. However, McBeth in his article “The Texas Tradition: A Study in Baptist Regionalism” said that the teachings of the Baptist principles of Carroll are still very much in practice today. McBeth wrote:
There are pockets in the Southwest where people who never heard of Whitsitt still oppose his views. I know the Landmarkism of the Southwest firsthand, for I was reared in that tradition. (McBeth 1991, 50)
This writer was also reared in the tradition of Landmarkism, although not in the southwest, and is acquainted with thousands of traditional Baptists across the country who still hold to the teachings of church succession, the visible church and are in opposition to alien immersion.
Church succession, a visible church, and opposition to alien immersion were in place as fundamental Baptist principles long before Graves, Pendleton and Dayton. One must only read the Confessions of Faith, or better yet, the Bible to find these doctrines. There is a clear teaching of Church succession in Ephesians 3:21; a visible Church in Matthew 5:14; and evidence of alien immersion in Acts 19:5. The attempt to remove the teachings of a visible church, church succession, and opposition to alien immersion is done by the claim that these teachings evolved from the Landmark movement. The truth is that an invisible universal Church idea infiltrated the Baptists through J. N. Darby and the Darby dispensationalism eschatology. This is directly traceable to the Plymouth Brethren that began in England and Ireland about 1830. The influence of the Old Presbyterian School dominated at the Prophecy and Bible conferences organized by Darby and attended by such men as D. L. Moody, C. I. Scofield and W. B. Riley.
Landmarkism is used as a scapegoat today in an attempt to weaken these three fundamental teachings found in the scriptures. The primary Landmark attempting to be reset was Pulpit affiliation. Landmarkers fought against an infiltration of doctrines that were not scriptural, and like any type of reform, they met with resistance. These men who advocated Landmarkism were not ignorant and unlearned renegades as some imply; rather they were men that God raised up with remarkable gifts to restore scriptural consistency and Baptist integrity. Liberalism was the reason for Landmarkism. As doctrinal error began appearing in some Baptist churches, scholarly men set out with voice and pen to illuminate the Old Landmarks in the church of Christ by the use of common sense and logical reasoning.