A STUDY OF THE ANTECEDENTS OF LANDMARKISM
IN THE PHILADELPHIA ASSOCIATION
In the introduction to the seventeenth chapter of his Old Landmarkism: What Is It? J. R. Graves indicated that he regarded the Philadelphia Association as being of the greatest importance in his effort to find historical support and vindication for his views and interpretation of Baptist ecclesiology. The policy and practice of this oldest of Baptist associations must conclusively decide, he said, "the truth or falsity of the charge made against us by our liberal brethren -- viz., that we are attempting to bring in a heresy, and a new departure, in opposing the reception of alien immersion, and the recognition of Pedobaptist societies as evangelical churches." 1 His conclusion, based upon a study of the minutes of the association, was that "the Baptists of America from 1707-1807, did not regard Pedobaptist societies as scriptural churches, or their ministers as baptized or ordained."2 It is apparent that Graves, in his opinion, found in the records of the Philadelphia Association the historical vindication for which he sought. Graves was undoubtedly correct in his assessment of the importance of this "mother body." The direct influence of the Philadelphia Association was widely felt by other Baptist bodies, both churches and associations, and the influence of her Confession of Faith cannot be measured. But there have been many among the scholars and historians of the Baptist denomination who would challenge the correctness of Graves' conclusion as to the meaning of her history. It has been asserted that the ecclesiology of the Philadelphia Association, as seen in its Confession stood unalterably opposed to the innovations of Landmarkism.3 The universal church idea of the Philadelphia Confession, involving "the priority of the spiritual organism over the institutional organization," has been described as being in the center of the great theological stream of Baptist history and as being in sharp contrast with the purely localistic emphasis of Graves and Pendleton.4 In other words, the tendency has been to say that the Philadelphia ecclesiology, contrary to the findings of Graves, is incompatible with the Landmark system. These divergent points of view with regard to the doctrinal history of the Philadelphia Baptist Association serve to bring into focus the significance of this history for the purpose of this present study. It is apparent that a close examination of the association's history is essential for any meaningful consideration of the antecedents of Landmarkism. In the following discussion, the effort will be made to distinguish those elements that bear a relationship to the principles of Landmarkism. Attention will be centered upon three specific points: the general ecclesiological concepts of the Philadelphia Association, the views of the association as to the requirements for valid baptism, and their views as to the proper administration and the proper participants of the Lord's Supper.
The Philadelphia Ecclesiology Robert T. Handy says that the "Particular Baptists were strongly church-centered."5 It is true that the nature of the church and its function, especially as it related to the association, was a matter of continuing interest to the Baptists of Philadelphia, as it has been to Baptists generally; yet it does not appear to have been so dominant a concern with them as it was with the Baptists of New England. The environmental factor was evidently the reason for this difference. The New England Baptists, with their Congregational background and with the presence of persecution by the civil-ecclesiastical powers, were forced to consider their ecclesiology from a perspective that never presented itself to the Baptists of Philadelphia; consequently the churches of the middle colonies were perhaps no so urgently concerned in this area as their sister churches to the north. But the Philadelphia Association had a strong ecclesiology and exercised a powerful influence at this point far beyond the geographical limits of the association, especially to the south and west.6
The Concept of the Church The Philadelphia Confession of Faith, which was essentially the Second London Confession of 1677, defined rather carefully the church in its every aspect. But even more important, because they were the express productions of the association, were the treatises on the subject of church order and discipline issued in 1743 and 1798 and also the actions taken by the body at its annual meetings, which serve to indicate their understanding of the church in the practical aspects of its life and work.
The church as universal
The twenty-seventh article of the Philadelphia Confession, in the first of that article, has a clear statement concerning the "Catholic or universal Church," defining it as that invisible body which "consists of the whole number of the Elect, that has been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof." All those who, throughout the world, profess the faith of the gospel and obedience unto God by Christ are a part of this body. They are those whom the Lord Jesus has called out of the world unto himself through the ministry of his word and by his Spirit.7 It is apparent that this concept of the church in its larger sense was not merely an idle expression, but rather it was an accurate reflection of that spirit of Christian unity which many of the brethren of the Philadelphia Association deeply felt. That this was so is illustrated by the opening words of the 1757 circular letter of the association: "Dear brethren and fellow members of the mystical body of which Jesus Christ is the head . . . ."8 Obviously, Graves could not possibly have accepted this aspect of the Philadelphia ecclesiology, for he explicitly denied the concept of an invisible universal church.9 But, for that matter, many of the brethren of the Warren Association, in New England, would also have had difficulty at this point, and it was this same Confession of Faith that was adopted by them, with some minor changes. There was much in this article on the church with which Graves would have agreed. The third section, for instance, which speaks of the perpetuity of Christ's kingdom in the world, would have evoked a warm response on his part, for this was a recurring theme in his writings.
The church as local
In typical Baptist fashion, the major portion of the twenty-seventh article of the Confession has to do with the particular visible churches. Those who have been called by Christ are commanded by him to walk together in particular societies or churches. These churches are to be constituted only of those who give visible evidence of their obedience to the call of Christ. Such a particular church, then, is a gathered body, organized and established according to the mind of Christ, as revealed to man in his Word. Of the fifteen sections of this article, eleven of them deal with the local body and its various responsibilities, its officers, its discipline, and other aspects. The major emphasis is on the church taken in its local sense rather than the less tangible, larger sense.10 In 1742, the association officially adopted and called for a reprinting of the 1689 London Confession of Faith.11 At the same time, as an indication of its concern that the churches walk in proper order, the association ordered the preparation of "a short treatise of discipline, to be annexed to the said Confession of Faith."12 Jenkin Jones and Benjamin Griffith were appointed for this task, but the work, as it was completed and adopted by the association , was that of Griffith. The treatise concerns itself with the various aspects of the life and work of a local church, and the first section, entitled "Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church," sets forth the manner in which a visible gospel church is organized. In the first place, such a church is made up of only those persons who have entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And then:The persons being first orderly baptized [italics mine], according to the command of Christ in Matthew XXVIII. 19, and being all satisfied of the graces and qualifications of each other, and being willing in the fear of God to take the laws of Christ upon them, and do by one mutual consent give up themselves to the Lord, and to one another in the Lord . . . being united, they are to be declared a Gospel Church of Jesus Christ.13
A gospel church, then, is a covenant body, established according to the laws and commands of Christ and accountable to him alone as Head of the church. The statement of Griffith, that those who enter into the constitution of a gospel church must first be "orderly baptized," may possibly be an indication of the manner in which the Philadelphia Baptists regarded the churches of the Pedobaptist denominations. If this statement be strictly interpreted, he is saying that those religious bodies which lack "orderly baptism," according to the Baptist understanding of that ordinance, are not true and orderly gospel churches. At best they are churches in disobedience and disorder. Specific actions of the association, to which later reference will be made, indicate that this was indeed the Baptist attitude toward churches outside their denomination.
The Authority of the Church A major emphasis of the Landmark system, it will be recalled, was upon the authority of the local church. It is important, therefore, that this aspect of the Philadelphia ecclesiology be carefully considered. Indications are not wanting that the authority of the local church was a major concern of the Philadelphia Association. The official actions taken by the association at its annual meetings, as well as those documents that were formally approved and adopted by it, stated clearly the deeply-rooted insistence upon the independence of every local body of believers under Christ and displayed a constant regard for the maintenance and strengthening of the authority of the local church. Three aspects of this authority will be considered: the basic autonomy of the church, its authority with regard to the ministry, and its authority with regard to its membership.
The autonomy of the church
The character of the church as an autonomous body under the rule of Christ is clearly stated in the Confession of Faith: "To each of these churches thus gathered . . . He hath given all that power and authority, which is any way needful, for their carrying on that order . . . and discipline, which he hath instituted for them to observe."14 Following this concept of complete power and independence under Christ, Griffith, in his 1743 treatise on church order, stated that the particular churches "are all equal in power, and dignity," there being no disparity between them or subordination among them.15 In a 1749 essay on the power and duty of an association, Griffith began with a declaration "that each particular church hath complete power and authority from Jesus Christ, to administer all gospel ordinances . . . and to exercise every part of gospel discipline and church government, independent of any other church or assembly whatever." The essay was adopted by the association and expressly declared to be the judgment of the entire body.16 That the power of each church to govern itself was jealously guarded is indicated by the minutes of the association. In 1767 a query was brought concerning the propriety of an appeal to the association by "any member of the associated churches, or from one excommunicated from any of said churches" It was decided that in some cases such an appeal might be heard, if a church agreed to suspend their prerogatives.17 The next year, however, evidently in response to a further discussion of the matter, "it was agreed that the word appeal was not quite proper, as the Association claims no jurisdiction, nor a power to repeal anything settled by any church."18 The principle was repeated in 1805 when it was resolved "that this Association cannot take up a question that relates to an individual member of any church without interfering with the independence of such church."19 These entries are indicative of a continuing solicitude for maintaining the complete autonomy of the local church.
Its authority with regard to the ministry
The functions of the gospel ministry, including the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the ordinances, were considered by the Philadelphia Association to be under the authority of the church. This fact is illustrated by the agreement of the association in 1707, the year of its organization, that no man would be allowed to preach among their churches "except he produce credentials of his being in communion with his church, and of his having been called and licensed to preach" [by a church].20 Morgan Edwards, referring in 1771 to the above action, commented that "Christ is the door to the ministry, and his church is the porter, for to it hath he given the keys; and whoever comes in at the door, to him the porter openeth, John x.3; he that climbed into the pulpit any other way, climbed thither by an extraordinary call and mission, and must give an extraordinary proof thereof, as the Apostles did."21 Any man, then, who aspires to the ministry of the gospel must subject himself to the authority of the local church and may seek her approbation, unless he possesses such an extraordinary commission as the Apostles had. The question of ordination to the gospel ministry was frequently a subject for discussion at the annual meetings of the association. The association itself specifically disclaimed any right in the matter. Refusing in 1775 the request of the church at Coram to ordain a certain Ebenezer Ward as an itinerant, on the basis that this was the church's responsibility.22 Both the Confession and Griffith's treatise of 1743 stated that the power of choosing and ordaining a man for the work of the ministry belonged exclusively to the church. Griffith said: "After having taken all due care to chuse [sic] one for the work of the ministry, they are by and with the unanimous consent or suffrage of the church, to proceed to his ordination."23 But questions were raised before the associational meetings as to the necessity of ordination in specific cases, its purpose, and the manner in which the church should carry it out. In 1744 the church at Bethlehem queried the association as to the validity of the administrations of a man "who takes upon him to preach the gospel, and proceeds to administer the ordinances without a regular call or ordination from any church." In reply, the association called the proceedings irregular and as opposite to their discipline. "We therefore give our sentiments that such administrations are irregular, invalid, and of no effect."24 In this case it is clear that the determining factor in the decision was the fact that the man lacked the approbation and authority of a local church for its action. Two years later the question of the necessity of ordination again came before the body. The church at Philadelphia queried "whether it be lawful or regular for any person to preach the gospel publicly without ordination." Referring to various scriptural examples, the association replied that a man might indeed preach without ordination, but his gifts should be exercised only within those limits specified by the church. Every aspect of the matter is left to the discretion of the church. "Since the Lord Jesus Christ hath left these important affairs to his church, and intrusted her to apply his directions . . . Therefore it must be an intrenchment upon her liberty and privilege, for any to use means to force or constrain a church, either to put a person on trial or to hasten his ordination; both of which ought to be the free, joyful and unconstrained acts of a church."25 In the view of the Philadelphia Association, then, the highest authority under Christ, with regard to the gospel ministry, was the local church. It should not be forgotten that a significant aspect of the Landmark emphasis on church authority was that preaching was an official act or duty and as such came under the control of the local church. It was upon that basis that the Landmark doctrine of non-pulpit affiliation rested. Only Baptist churches, as true gospel churches, could grant the authority to preach the gospel.
Its authority with regard to its membership
One other aspect of the church's authority is seen in its relationship to the individual members. According to the Confession of Faith, it is incumbent upon every believer to join himself to a particular church.26 The admission of members to the fellowship is a power that has been given to the church itself. In the words of Griffith,The Lord Jesus Christ hath committed the use and power of the keys, in matters of government, to every visible congregational church . . . . The keys are the power of Christ, which he hath given to every particular congregation, to open and shut itself by.27
This is a power that cannot be delegated, not even to the elders of a church. "The elders of a church, meeting in the absence of the members, or convened with the elders of other churches, are not entrusted with a power to act for a church in admission of members."28
But not only may a church use the power of the keys for the admission of particular persons into its membership; it may also use this power for the exclusion of unworthy members from its fellowship.29 Having been admitted to the privileges of a church, the individual member is subject also to the censures and government thereof.30 Any particular congregation, being convened in the name of Christ and acting under the rule of the gospel, may go so far as to bar a person from the communion of the church, if the said member is found to be disorderly in walk, obstinate in spirit, or heretical in principle. Indeed, such action is the duty of a church.31 The minutes of the association abound with references that indicate that the churches were not slack in their duty at this point. The minutes for 1735 make mention of a case where a church, in response to its query, was advised to proceed "according to the Word" with regard to certain contentious members.32 In 1747 the association answered in the affirmative a query from the Pennepek church as to whether a certain preacher had not forfeited, by his obstinate spirit, not only his right to communion but also his right to preach the gospel.33 The next year the body recommended "the highest censure" for a person who had denied the foreknowledge of God.34 It is apparent that the churches took seriously their divinely imparted responsibility of regulating the doctrinal and moral purity of their membership.35
The Relationship of the Church to the Association One of the most important factors in the obvious success of the Philadelphia Association was the fact that it was able to maintain a strong, effective organization and at the same time to hold in constant regard the independence and dignity of the local churches composing it. That they were able to do this is a testimony to the strength of the conviction that the church, under Christ, is its own authority and is not to be subjected to the rule of any power outside itself and also that the churches are to be in harmonious communion with one another. Indications of their concern with this matter of the relationship between the churches and the association are found in frequent entries in the minutes relative to the subject and also in their adoption of Griffith's 1749 essay on the powers of an association of churches. The chief importance of this relationship to this dissertation is that its serves as an indicator of the strong emphasis that was placed on the local church, even in an association that expressly acknowledged the concept of the universal church.
Function of the association
Griffith began his "Essay" with a statement as to what an association is not, stressing that such a body is not a superior judicature, having any kind of superior power over the churches involved. He followed this with an assertion as to the independency and power of the local church. He repeated the emphasis with a further statement that the "assembly of their delegates, when assembled, is not to be deemed . . . . as having a superintendence over the churches, but subservient to the churches."36 On the positive side, he said that the association is a voluntary confederation of churches joined together for their mutual strength, counsel, and other valuable advantages.37 Morgan Edwards in 1771 defined the body as "an association of messengers authorized by their respective churches to meditate and execute designs of public good." He, too, was careful to state the limits of associational power, emphasizing that the organization is no more than "an advisory council; it gives them no ecclesiastical legislature, nor jurisdiction, nor coercive power, nor anything else which may interfere with the rights of particular churches, or those of private judgment."38 In practice, the association did indeed serve as an advisory council, offering its opinions, which were not binding, to the churches on a great variety of matters. It labored to settle disputes between sister churches and within the churches themselves, when requested to do so. The minutes of 1731 record a successful effort by the association to resolve a difficulty in the church in Piscataqua.39 A similar entry appears in 1736 with reference to the church at Montgomery.40 In 1772 and 1773 efforts were being made to remove the difficulties existing between the First and Second Churches of New York.41 Churches were frequently warned against receiving ministers who had been guilty of misconduct or heresy. In 1793 the association advised that a certain Joseph Stevens had been excommunicated by his church, evidently for holding to universal salvation.42 In 1796 a particular church was advised that a Mr. German ought not be permitted to administer the ordinances among them, as it might be productive of confusion and disorder.43 In addition, the association aided the churches in securing pastors, answered the queries of the churches as to matters of doctrine and scripture interpretation, assisted in raising funds for joint causes, and in countless other ways, strengthened and helped the churches.
Maintaining the independence of the church
In the discharge of the responsibilities and duties indicated above, there was always the potential danger that the association might overstep the limits of its power and infringe upon the rights and liberty of a church. But as a matter of fact, the churches of this body, as in other associations organized on the same pattern, had little to fear at this point, because the authority of the local church was carefully guarded.44 The statements of Griffith and Edwards, as to the strict limitations placed on the power of an association, have already been noted above. In addition, the actions of the association were continually subject to a close examination by the affiliated churches, lest there be at any time a move to usurp the power belonging to a church. This was indicated by Morgan Edwards in his comments on the question of an appeal to the association, which was under discussion in 1767 and 1768:45An effectual opposition was made to the motions from an apprehension that as soon as the association starts from its present firm basis of an advisory council so soon will it become contemptible for want of power; or having power, become tyrannical, as all assemblies of the kind have proved. Nay, the very word appeal has a caveat upon it in the records, lest the judgment or advice which the association give upon matters brought before them, by the mutual consent of churches or parties concerned, should be considered as decisive, or the acts of a superior judicature.46
If such as this were not enough, there were other reminders, such as the letter from the Southampton Baptist Church to the association in 1787, which warned that "should an Association forget her Bounds and assume a power to do the Business peculiar to the Churches of Christ, the connection would be no longer desirable."47 Obviously, any departure from the guiding principle of the autonomy of the church would be, at the least, difficult.
It has been suggested by some that the power of the association to declare a church or a party within a church defective in doctrine or disorderly in practice constituted an infringement on the independence of the local church. Goen says that a strict interpretation of this power would result in a theological policing of the churches by the association.48 But it is to be remembered that the union of churches was based upon an agreement in doctrine and practice and further, that, wherever possible, the churches were relied upon to use their own best judgment in dealing with doctrinal or moral deviations.49 The efforts of the association were evidently directed toward the maintaining of a doctrinal unity without any overriding of the rights of the churches.
The Question of Valid Baptism During the first one hundred years of its existence, the Philadelphia Baptist Association was repeatedly called upon to express its opinion as to what constitutes valid baptism. Specifically, the questions brought before the association were concerned with the validity of the baptismal rite when performed by an unbaptized and unordained administrator. The Philadelphia body was not alone in facing this question. The records of other associations indicate that there was considerable agitation among the churches with regard to the matter, and it is apparent also that there was no great consistency among the Baptist bodies in the decisions that were reached.50 The Philadelphia Association, with one or two exceptions, returned essentially the same verdict throughout this period -- that such baptism was invalid and not acceptable for admission into Baptist churches. The issue was still very much alive during the lifetime of Graves, and the rigid rejection of all such baptism regarded as invalid was a distinguishing characteristic of the movement which he founded. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that Graves was greatly interested in the historical records of this first Baptist association in America. In the following pages, the confessional statements as to the requirements for valid baptism, as well as the practical applications of those principles by the association, will be noted.
The Requirements for Valid Baptism The basic principles which guided the Philadelphia Association in its decisions with regard to baptism are set out in the Confession adopted in 1742 and the Disciplines of 1743 and 1798. Those statements of principle are not extensive and they are capable of various interpretations, but it is evident from the acts of the associations that there was a common understanding as to the application of these principles. Indeed, this "common understanding" was perhaps more important in the final determination than the explicit statements found in the official documents of the association.
As to the Philadelphia Confession
The thirtieth article of the Philadelphia Confession deals specifically with the ordinance of the baptism and states, in predictable Baptist fashion, the requirements for a proper observance of the rite. Baptism is a sign of one's fellowship with Christ, of his remission of sins, and of his surrender of self unto God through Jesus Christ. The proper subjects of baptism are those only who have professed repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus. The scriptural formula, in the name of the Trinity, is specified, and immersion is declared to be necessary to the "due administration of this ordinance."51 The obvious and intended implication of the article is that the baptism of those other than believers and the practice of any other mode than immersion is contrary to New Testament teachings. The most significant statement, as far as the question of baptismal validity was concerned, had to do with the administrator, for it was upon this point that the discussion centered. The twenty-ninth article says simply, with reference to the ordinances, that "these holy appointments are to be administered by those only, who are qualified and there unto called according to the commission of Christ."52 The specific items that enter into the qualification of an administrator are not enumerated. While the statement lacks clarity yet it is clear enough that the administrator was regarded as important to the proper administration of the ordinances and that his qualifications were not a matter of indifference.
As to the Discipline of 1743
The requirement of the Discipline, that the persons entering into the constitution of a gospel church must first be orderly baptized, has already been noted.53 What is "orderly baptism?" It is that baptism which is "according to the command of Christ in Matthew 28:19." At the very least, Griffith meant by this the baptism of believers by immersion. But it seems very possible that he was also suggesting that the baptism which is sufficient to admit one into the fellowship of a gospel church is that which has been administered by one who is properly commissioned to baptize, as were the Apostles. This is to say that the qualifications of the administrator were considered to be a factor in determining the validity of baptism. Griffith's Short Treatise does shed some light, perhaps, on the meaning of the statement in the Confession concerning the administration of the ordinances by those who are "qualified." In the section "Concerning Ministers," he states the personal qualifications which, according to the Scripture, a minister must possess. Then he outlines the method by which a man is properly chosen by a church and solemnly set apart for the work of the gospel ministry. After he has thus been ordained by the authority of the church, with the laying on of hands by the elders, he is qualified to care for the various responsibilities of a pastor, including the work of administering the ordinances.54 One of the essential qualifications, then, to a due administration of the ordinances was the ordination of the administrator by a gospel church.
Specific Acts of the Association as to Valid Baptism David Spencer, in his The Early Baptists of Philadelphia, made the comment that "where a person is thoroughly converted and is immersed in the name of the Trinity upon a profession of faith, the baptism is valid without any regard to the character of the administrator."55 His judgment in the matter, however, differed markedly from that of the Baptists about whom he write, for it was their expressed conviction on at least seven different occasions, from 1707 to 1807, that baptism may be invalidated by a defect in the qualifications of the administrator. The first recorded instance in which the question came before the association is found in the minutes of 1729. That year a query was presented by the church at Philadelphia concerning a "gifted brother, who is esteemed an orderly minister by or among those that are against the laying on of hands in any respect." The church asked "whether we may allow such an one to administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper or no." The association voiced a strong negative, saying that such a practice would be contrary to the rule of God's word, which provides for the setting apart of ministers of the gospel by the laying on of hands. Reference was also made to that section of the Confession which enjoins the ordination of ministers by the same rite.56 The effect of this decision was to declare invalid the administrations of a man who had not come under the imposition of hands and whose ordination, if any, was therefore considered defective. In 1732, a question was raised as to the validity of the baptism administered by one who was himself unbaptized and who presumed, in private, to baptize another. Should such baptism be considered valid or should it be judged to be a nullity? The answer of the association was brief and unequivocal: "We judge such baptism as invalid, and no better than if it had never been done."57 A similar case in 1744 concerned the activities of a man who had taken upon himself to administer the ordinances, without any sort of call or ordination from a church. The question in this instance was as to whether a person baptized by such a man might be admitted into the membership of a gospel church on the basis of this baptism. The judgment of the body was that such administrations were irregular, invalid and of no effect.58 The Scotch Plains church brought essentially the same query in 1749 and was referred to the answer given in 1744.59 In 1768 the baptism by a minister not ordained was ruled invalid and disorderly.60 The most complete answer on the question, which has been termed by some the "mature decision" of the association,61 was given in response to a query from the First Baptist Church of New York concerning the validity of baptism administered by one who was neither immersed nor ordained, but who had been called by a "religious society" to serve as their teacher or minister. The question was first raised in 1787, but was held over for consideration until the next year.62 At that time the association ruled that such baptism was null and void and cited four reasons:First. Because a person that has not been baptized must be disqualified to administer baptism to others, and especially if he be also unordained.
Second. Because to admit such baptism as valid, would make void the ordinances of Christ, throw contempt on his authority, and tend to confusion: for if baptism be not necessary for an administrator of it, neither can it be for church communion . . . and if such be valid, then ordination is unnecessary, contrary to Acts xiv. 23 ; I Tim. iv. 14; Tit. i. 5, and our Confession of Faith, Chap. XXVII.
Third. Of this opinion we find were our Association in times past; who put a negative on such baptisms in 1729, 1732, 1744, 1749 and 1768.
Fourth. Because such administrator has no commission to baptize, for the words of the commission were addressed to the apostles, and their successors in the ministry, to the end of the world, and these are such, whom the church of Christ appoint to the whole work of the ministry.63
It is apparent that the body regarded themselves as acting consistently with the decisions of the association in previous years and that they desired this to be a full and final answer on the matter. They reaffirmed their position in 1792 when they refused to accede to the request of the English Baptist Abraham Booth for a reconsideration of their 1788 decision.64
The Significance of These Associational Actions Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Philadelphia Baptist principles and practice with regard to baptism was their insistence that a baptized and ordained administrator was essential to scriptural baptism. Necessarily they were led by this to a rejection of Pedobaptist immersion as invalid and unacceptable for admission into a Baptist church. This, in turn, strongly implied that, in their view, all Pedobaptist administrations of the ordinances were invalid. For if a Pedobaptist administrator could not administer scripturally valid baptism for a Baptist church, he could scarcely do so for a church of his own order. In addition, the actions of the association virtually declared that, as far as the Baptists of Philadelphia were concerned, Pedobaptist ministers were lacking scriptural ordination. If they were regarded as unqualified to administer the ordinances, then at the very least their ordinations were considered defective and disorderly. It was suggested also that the admission of Pedobaptist immersions as valid would have the effect of invalidating the administration of the ordinances by Baptist churches and of proving their practice of close communion to be in error. That is to say that the Baptist and Pedobaptist usages with regard to the ordinances were so opposite that both could not be true and correct according to the rule of the Word.65 With the implied denial of the validity of the Pedobaptist ordinances and ordinations, the Philadelphia Baptists came very close to saying that the Pedobaptist churches were not, in any sense, gospel churches. They did not go this far, however, and Graves made note of the fact. While endorsing their stated arguments as "solid," he said, that he would rather emphasize the more conclusive one, that "those human societies are not scriptural churches, they have no power to authorize a man to preach -- i.e., ordain a minister -- or to administer the ordinances, and consequently all their ecclesiastical acts and ordinances are null and void."66 In Graves' view, then, the logical end of the Philadelphia Baptist position with regard to Pedobaptist administrations was a denial of true ecclesiastical character to their churches. This conclusion, he felt, was implicit in all of their pronouncements on the subject of such immersions and he regarded their actions as supportive of the teachings of Landmarkism.
The Lord's Supper: Its Proper Observance Queries from the churches in the minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association indicate that the various congregations were frequently faced with questions relative to the Lord’s Supper and its proper observance. From the nature of these queries it appears that the churches were deeply concerned that their practice at the Lord's Table should accord with the rule of scripture and the requirements of the Confession. The seriousness with which they viewed the place of the Supper in the life of the local church and of the individual Christian is evident. Primarily, the discussion concerning the ordinance seems to have centered upon its proper administration and its proper participants.
Its Proper Administration The Confession states that the Supper was instituted by Christ "to be observed in His churches."67 It is apparent that the divinely given authority of the church in the observance of the Supper was fully recognized. It was the church that was charged with the responsibility for the proper administration of the Supper. It was the church that admitted or refused to admit a person to communion. The observance of the Supper is always spoken of in the minutes in a local church context. Indeed, apart from the authority of the local church, it was not to be administered at all, as the response to a 1786 query from the church at Philadelphia illustrates. The query, concerning the propriety of administering the Supper to a group of Christians not yet organized into a distinct and regular church, received this reply:First. That the Lord's Supper ought not to be administered to persons who are not members of any church, though baptized.
Second. That this ordinance should not be administered to members of churches in a scattered situation, without the consent of one or more of those churches; but permission being first obtained they may proceed.68
Obviously, the Supper was regarded, as was baptism, as a church ordinance.
The authority of the church was to be exercised in the provision of a proper administrator for the ordinance. Those only were to officiate at the Lord's Table who were qualified and called according to the commission of Christ.69 After a man had been carefully examined and fully proved and had been set apart by the church for the gospel ministry, then and only then was he qualified to administer the Supper. It was the responsibility of the church to prevent an unqualified person from fulfilling that sacred function. It will be recalled that in 1729 the Philadelphia church was advised that the administration of the ordinances by one who had not come under the imposition of hands was contrary to Scripture and the Confession and that they ought not to allow it.70 The church, by the use of its disciplinary powers, was obligated to prevent any improper approach to the Lord's Table. The Confession stated that "all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Christ; so are they unworthy of the Lord's Table; and cannot without great sin against him . . . partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto."71 The church, then, was the guardian of the purity of the ordinance and had the responsibility of refusing communion to the unworthy. If a person had come under the censure of the church for some offence he had committed, if the matter were not so gross that it merited immediate excommunication, he could be suspended from communion at the Lord's Table until such a time as he should manifest repentance.72 The ordinance of the Supper, then, was closely related, in the view of the Philadelphia Baptists, to the discipline of the church and was to be used to bring offending members to an attitude of repentance. It was this close relationship between the Lord's Supper and church discipline that led Graves to emphasize so strongly a strict church communion. Obviously, a church could not discipline anyone but her own church members. Logically and scripturally, therefore, a church ought not and could not extend the invitation to commune beyond her own membership and discipline.73
The Proper Participants The major perplexity of the churches as to the Supper had to do with the proper participants. Who, by the rule of Scripture, might partake? The queries brought by the churches indicate a desire to be just in their treatment of all who wished communion with them and yet an even greater desire to maintain the ordinance in the manner of its institution, according to the command of Christ. There was an obvious consciousness of responsibility in the matter.
Members of the local church
The members of the local church, if in good standing were, of course, the legitimate participants of the Lord's Supper. Baptism was regarded as an essential prerequisite to communion, as it was to church membership. But the laying on of hands was regarded, at least for a time, in virtually the same light. The thirty-first article of the Confession, added by the Association in 1742, said that the laying on of hands was "an ordinance of Christ, and ought to be submitted unto by all such persons that are admitted to partake of the Lord's Supper."74 This was not rigidly adhered to, as the 1783 minutes indicate. An inquiry from the Newton church about the imposition of hands elicited this reply from the association:We observe, that imposition of hands on baptized persons has been the general practice of the churches in union with this Association, and is still used by most of them, but it was never considered by the Association as a bar of communion. Resolved, That any person scrupling to submit thereto, may be admitted to the fellowship of the church without it.75 Participation in the Lord's Supper was not regarded as optional for church members; it was required. In 1739 the association ruled that members who absent themselves from the communion of the church and who refuse to give a reason for such absence, should, if they persist, be dealt with as covenant breakers and as despisers of the authority of the church under Christ.76 In 1787 the association voted in the affirmative that a person who declines communion with the church ought to be excluded for that reason alone.77 The seeming rigidity at this point evidently stemmed from their view of the Supper as a positive institution which Christ had commanded to be observed and their understanding of the ordinance as a sign of the believer's fellowship with Christ and with his fellow church members.78
The normative practice in Philadelphia Association with regard to communion was for each Christian to partake of the Supper in the church of which he was a member. It was regarded as a church affair. Inter-church communion was, however, permitted on an occasional basis and within certain limitations. The permission of the practice is seen in the statement of Griffith that "the members of one such [affiliated] church may where they are known, occasionally partake at the Lord's table with a sister-church."79 The limitation is seen in the specification that this may be done only where they are known. Three years before the publication of Griffith’s Short Treatise, the Piscataqua church queried: "Whether it is regular to baptize persons proposing for baptism, upon the plea that they may be at liberty to communicate where they please." The association answered unanimously in the negative, saying that such a practice would be destructive to all gospel rule, order, and discipline and would make possible that "even the most scandalous immoralities and fundamental errors must escape without proper censures, according to gospel rule."80 The freedom, then, to commune with other churches was not unlimited, and each church retained its own authority to say who should, and who should not, partake of the Supper with them. Actually, the position of the Philadelphia Association, while not that of Graves, who regarded all inter-church communion as unscriptural, was very close to that of Pendleton. Pendleton considered inter-communion as a privilege or a courtesy extended by a local church and not as an unqualified right. If it were the latter, the church could not maintain the purity of the Lord's Table.81 In its restrictions on inter-church communion, this was what the Philadelphia Association sought to do.
In common with the majority of Baptists elsewhere, the Baptists of Philadelphia maintained a restricted communion, refusing to admit to their observances of the Supper those who were not, in their view, scripturally baptized. The church at Cohansie, in 1740, asked if it would be in good order to admit a pious person of the Pedobaptist order to their communion without being baptized. The association replied unanimously in the negative and gave three reasons for their answer: First, no unapprised person is to be admitted to communion, according to the Scripture; second, it is the church's duty to maintain the ordinances as they are delivered to them; third, it is not agreeable for procuring that spiritual unity and undisturbed peace which ought to prevail among Christian communities.82 Any church that deviated from this accepted practice of close communion could be certain of receiving a stern admonition from a sister church and faced possible loss of fellowship in the association.83
The Significance of the Philadelphia Emphasis on the Supper The most important aspect, as far as this present study is concerned, of the Philadelphia’s practice and teaching with regard to the Supper is the strong emphasis that was placed on the relationship of the ordinance to the church. The church's responsibility for the proper administration of the Supper and for maintaining the purity of the Lord's Table necessitated a carefully restricted view of communion. As has been noted above, the practice of inter-church communion was confined within narrow limits and a wide-open "denominational communion" would have been foreign to their thinking. There is an obvious relationship between the usage of the Philadelphia Association with regard to the Supper and the stress of the moderate Landmarkers, as represented by Pendleton. Even the more rigid, local church communion views of Graves are not so far removed from the Philadelphia practices as has been supposed. As with baptism, the insistence of the Philadelphia body on a qualified administrator for the Lord's Supper and their refusal to admit to communion the unbaptized placed a question on the validity of the Pedobaptist ordinances. If baptism was essential for one to partake of the ordinance, then surely it was essential for the one administering it, and in the Baptist view, no Pedobaptist was scripturally baptized. Therefore, no Pedobaptist could qualify as a proper administrator of the Supper.
Summary The primary emphasis of the Philadelphia ecclesiology was on the local church. The concept of the universal church was recognized, as an expression of the unity of all Christians, but it detracted in no way from their understanding of the local church as an autonomous body under Christ. In every aspect of Christian life and labor, the authority of the local church was held in the highest esteem. The proclamation of the gospel, the administration of the ordinances, even, to a rather great degree, the private life of the individual church member, were regarded as being under the authority of the particular visible church. The matter of church authority was especially emphasized with regard to the administration of the ordinances and the provision of a qualified administrator for them. The Philadelphia Baptist concept of the importance of the ordinances and their relationship to the church led them to reject immersions performed by those whom they considered unbaptized and to refuse to admit such to communion. In these views of church and ordinances, there are obvious areas of relationship to the doctrines of Landmarkism. If the Philadelphia ecclesiology is indeed in the mainstream of Baptist life and development, then it would appear that Landmarkism, as a movement within the Baptist denomination, was not so "alien" and "heterodox" as has been suggested. ____________
1. Graves, Old Landmarkism, pp. 205-6.
2. Ibid., p. 208.
3. Tull, p. 607, citing J. N. Prestridge, "The Centre of the Battle," The Baptist Argus, III, No. 15, (Apr. 13, 1899), 8.
4. McCall, pp. 16-17.
5. Hudson, p. 35.
6. W. W. Barnes, "American Baptist Ecclesiology," Review and Expositor, XXXVII, No. 2 (Apr., 1940), 136.
7. A Confession of Faith, Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians, Adopted by the Baptist Association met at Philadelphia, September 25, 1742 (9th ed.; Philadelphia: Printed by Stephen C. Ustick, 1798), pp. 42, 43. Cited hereafter as Philadelphia Confession.
8. A. D. Gillette (ed.), Century Minutes of the Philadelphia Baptist Association: 1707-1807 (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1851), p. 75.
9. Graves, Old Landmarkism, p. 32.
10. Philadelphia Confession, pp. 42-45.
11. Gillette, p. 46.
13. Benjamin Griffith, A Short Treatise of Church Discipline, p. 4. (Bound with Philadelphia Confession, having different pagination.) Cited hereafter as A Short Treatise.
14. Philadelphia Confession, p. 42.
15. Griffith, p. 26.
16. Benjamin Griffith, "An Essay on the power and Duty of an Association," printed in Gillette, pp. 60-61, Cited hereafter as “Essay.”
17. Gillette, p. 101.
18. Ibid., p. 105.
19. Ibid., p. 410.
20. Ibid., p. 121.
22. Gillette, pp. 148-49.
23. Griffith, A Short Treatise, p. 5.
24. Gillette, p. 49.
25. Ibid., pp. 50-552.
26. Philadelphia Confession, p. 44.
27. Griffith, A Short Treatise, p. 8.
28. Ibid., p. 26.
29. Ibid., p. 8.
30. Philadelphia Confession, pp. 44-45.
31. Griffith, A Short Treatise, pp. 25-26.
32. Gillette, p. 37.
33. Ibid., p. 56.
34. Ibid., p. 58.
35. Hudson, pp. 44-45.
36. Griffith, "Essay," pp. 60-61.
38. Morgan Edwards, Materials toward a History of the Baptists in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Cruikshank and Isaac Collins, 1770), pp. 122, 123.
39 Gillette, p. 32.
40. Ibid., p. 38.
41. Ibid., pp. 123, 129.
42. Ibid., p. 293.
43. Ibid., p. 317.
44. John P. Gates, "The Association as It Affected Baptist Polity in Colonial America," The Chronicle, VI, No. 1 (Jan., 1943), 19.
45. See above, pp. 157-58.
46. Edwards, pp. 123-24.
47. Robert G. Torbet, A Social History of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, 1707-1940, (Philadelphia: American Baptist Historical Society, 1944), p. 18n.
48. Goen, p. 292.
49. Gillette, p. 256.
50. Gates, The Chronicle, VI, No. 1, 19.
51. Philadelphia Confession, p. 47.
53. See above, p. 155.
54. Griffith, Short Treatise, pp. 4-6.
55. David Spencer, The Early Baptists of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: William Syckelmoore, 1877), p. 167.
56. Gillette, p. 30. The scripture cited by the association in its answer include Acts 13:2-3; 14:23; Titus 1:5; and I Tim. 4:14. For the reference to the Confession, see Article 27, Section 9, Philadelphia Confession, p. 44.
57. Gillette, p. 33.
58. Ibid., p. 49.
59. Ibid., p. 60.
60. Ibid., p. 104.
61. Philip Edward Rodgerson, "A Historical Study of Alien Baptism among Baptists since 1640," (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, March, 1952), p. 125.
62. Gillette, p. 229.
63. Ibid., p. 238.
64. Ibid., pp. 270-71, 282.
65. See the second part of the association's 1788 reply to the query from New York printed above.
66. Graves, Old Landmarkism, pp. 207-8.
67. Philadelphia Confession, p. 49.
68. Gillette, p. 218.
69. Philadelphia Confession, p. 47.
70. See above.
71. Philadelphia Confession, p. 50.
72. Hudson, p. 43.
73. Graves, Old Landmarkism, p. 81.
74. Philadelphia Confession, p. 48.
75. Gillette, p. 194.
76. Ibid., p. 40.
77. Ibid., p. 228.
78. Philadelphia Confession, p. 49.
79. Griffith, Short Treatise, p. 26.
80. Gillette, pp. 42-43.
81. See above.
82. Gillette, p. 42-43.
83. Ibid., p. 200.
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