A STUDY OF THE ANTECEDENTS OF LANDMARKISM
On the basis of the foregoing survey of Baptist life and work in representative geographic areas, it is now possible to present a summary statement of the doctrinal convictions that distinguished American Baptists generally in the one hundred years preceding the rise of the Landmark movement and also to draw certain conclusions as to the relationship of those convictions to the basic tenets of Landmarkism. With the latter purpose in view, throughout the study attention has been focused primarily upon matters of ecclesiology -- the concept of the church, the autonomous character of the church, the relationship of the church to the proclamation of the gospel. The Baptist position with regard to the ordinances has been described, along with the Baptist attitudes toward those other denominations. All of this has been specifically aimed at pointing out the doctrinal antecedents of Landmarkism in the history of the Baptist denomination. A pronounced localism was the distinguishing feature of American Baptist ecclesiology during this early period. This characteristic was by no means limited to the Baptist of New England, where the influence of the Separate Baptists was so prominent. The Baptists of Philadelphia and Charleston Associations, where there was at least a degree of emphasis on the universal concept of the church, likewise stressed the local nature of the church and placed their major emphasis at this point. In most areas, Baptists tended to ignore any concept of the church other than the local and manifested a primary concern in those matters pertaining to the visible, gospel church. This aspect of their ecclesiology corresponded very closely to the Landmark emphasis on the primacy of the local church. The most significant difference was the explicit denial by the Landmarkers that the universal church idea was a scriptural concept, but even this facet of the Landmark view was strongly suggested by the careful avoidance among Baptists generally before 1851, of any reference to the universal church. Early American Baptists were much concerned, as were the Landmarkers, with the matter of church authority. They regarded the church as an independent and autonomous body whose authority extended to every area of Christian endeavor. The church alone, in their view, possessed the power and responsibility for the discipline of individual Christians, for the maintenance of a proper gospel order, and for the conduct of missionary operations. They tended to look with suspicion upon any agency or organization, such as an association or state convention, that threatened to usurp the functions of the church at any point. The 1814 statement of the Tennessee Association typifies the Baptist position at this point: "We humbly conceive that the sole power of Christ's spiritual Kingdom rests in his Church, that we believe her to be the highest tribunal on earth; and that all ecclesiastical powers are but delegated, and are amenable to the Church."1 This was precisely the position of the Landmarkers, who declared the church to be the executive agency of Christ's Kingdom and who likewise viewed with suspicion those organizations that threatened "to trench upon the divine rights of the church."2 Particular emphasis was placed upon the authority of the church in relation to the gospel ministry. Baptists in every part of the country emphasized that the gifts of preaching were to be exercised only by the authority and with the sanction of a local Baptist church. Churches alone were considered as possessing the power to license and ordain men to the ministerial office. Associations expressly disclaimed this right, although they did, in their role as advisory councils, offer counsel as to procedures to be followed in ordination and extended assistance in forming the needed presbyteries. Similarly, churches alone were empowered to silence disorderly ministers by excommunication or other acts of discipline. The associations were not regarded as having this authority, although in many instances associations would advise churches that such actions were called for. The right of the churches were carefully guarded at this point. It was considered disorderly on the part of a church, for instance, to hear a preacher who had been excommunicated by another church; such a man lacked the sanction of a local church for his ministry. All of these things suggest that preaching was regarded by these early Baptists as a more or less official responsibility or duty of the local church. This was closely akin to the basic Landmark teaching that the preaching of the gospel was a church act, to be exercised only under the control of a gospel church. There are two points of major significance in the Baptist position with regard to the ordinances during the period of time under consideration. The first is that the ordinances were looked upon as belonging to the local church and the church was considered, therefore, as having the responsibility for the proper administration of them. This was simply an extension of the concept of church authority. The ordinances were considered to be properly administered only when they were administered under the auspices of a local church. This was true even when, as in a few scattered instances, baptism was not considered as directly initiatory to church membership and when the Lord’s Supper was administered at the annual meetings of the associations. It was the recognition of the church's responsibility for guarding the purity of the ordinances that prompted the Baptist concern with regard to valid baptism and that led to the almost universal Baptist practice of close communion. The Landmarkers likewise placed considerable emphasis on the close relationship of the ordinances to the church, magnifying the role of the church as custodian of the ordinances. Their concern for the proper administration of the ordinances led to an emphasis, on Graves' part, on a strict local church communion. Pendleton, as noted previously, was willing to concede a carefully restricted intercommunion. They also stressed a closeness with regard to baptism, and were greatly concerned with questions of baptismal validity. The second item of major significance was the emphasis placed upon the necessity for a properly qualified administrator. It was considered a part of the church's responsibility in relation to the ordinances to provide for their proper observance by a qualified administrator. The church was also to prevent one who was not qualified from officiating at their observance. The Philadelphia Confession stated simply that the administrator was to be "qualified and thereunto called according to the commission of Christ."3 Other statements of faith were more detailed and explicit as to the qualifications for an administrator. For example, the articles of faith of the Broad River Association (South Carolina) specified that the administrator of the ordinances was to be called of God, regularly baptized, approved by the church, and to have come under the hands of the presbytery.4 It is evident from this that the administrator was regarded as of considerable importance in the proper administration of the ordinances, and it is certain that his qualifications were not looked upon as a matter of indifference.5 The exponents of Landmarkism were in close agreement with this position, emphasizing the absolute necessity of a qualified administrator for the proper and scriptural observance of the ordinances. Inevitably, the insistence upon a qualified administrator led to the position that those administrations were to be regarded as invalid which were performed by one who lacked the necessary qualifications. In the Baptist view, no Pedobaptist administrator could be considered as qualified since he lacked scriptural baptism. The majority of the Baptists, therefore, in the years before the emergence of Landmarkism, rejected all Pedobaptist administrations of the ordinances. Specifically, this meant that they would not engage in communion with the Pedobaptists and that they refused to accept Pedobaptist immersions for admission into Baptist churches. It must be noted that there was no complete unanimity among Baptists at this point. Some Baptists were willing to accept Pedobaptis invitations to commune, and they were also willing to recognize as valid the immersions performed by Pedobaptist administrators. But the larger part of the denomination inclined toward a decisive rejection of such practices. This rejection of Pedobaptist ordinances was a point of major correspondence between the Landmarkers and their predecessors in the Baptist faith. Graves contended that this was the historic Baptist position and decried the inconsistency of those Baptist who, in his opinion, had departed therefrom. Baptists prior to 1851 displayed an attitude of uncertainty as to the ecclesiastical status of Pedobaptist churches. In their refusal to recognize as valid the ordinances of the Pedobaptists, and still further, in their unwillingness to consider Pedobaptist ordinations as valid, there was an implied denial that the Pedobaptist churches were true gospel churches. Some Baptists went so far as to declare positively that the churches of the Pedobaptist order were lacking in true ecclesiastical character. Among these were such men as Jesse Mercer and Joseph Baker, both of whom were leaders among Georgia Baptists. The majority of Baptists, however, apparently considered the Pedobaptist congregations as churches in some sense, but as churches in a state of disorder and disobedience. The position of the Landmarkers, which involved a categorical denial of church character to the Pedobaptist "societies," accorded with the view of the minority. Yet even the majority of the Baptist denomination were far from granting that the churches of these other denominations were churches in the same sense as and on a par with the churches of the Baptist order. Thus, it may be said that the Landmark view represented the logical development of the attitude of the Baptist majority toward the Pedobaptist churches. The Landmark emphasis on a succession of Baptist churches from the days of the apostles, so widely regarded as a distinguishing mark of the Landmark system, was anticipated at many points in American Baptist history. Jesse Mercer, who voiced the thoughts of the Baptist denomination in Georgia for almost fifty years, held views of succession very similar to those of Graves. R. B. C. Howell traced the history of the Baptist denomination through the same groups in Christian history that were identified by Graves as being in the Baptist ancestry. T. J. Bowen, pioneer Southern Baptist missionary to Africa, declared his conviction, several years before the advent of the advent of the Landmark movement, that Baptists had originated during the time of Christ. Records of the Sandy Creek and Broad River Associations bear their testimony that successionism was a widely accepted belief among Baptist during the first half of the nineteenth century. The successionist doctrine, with its emphasis that only Baptist churches were in the line of legitimate descent from the church established by Christ and that only Baptist churches were therefore to be considered as gospel churches in the fullest sense, was adopted by Graves and he made it an integral part of the Landmark system. The rapid spread of Landmarkism helped to popularize the successionist belief among Baptist people. But the doctrine did not originate with Graves and his associates. It was very much a part of Baptist life and thought long before 1851.6 In the preceding chapters, attention has been repeatedly directed toward the state of Baptist-Pedobaptist relationships. It has been observed that Baptists were frequently involved in controversy with those of other denominations and that these controversies were not uncommonly linked with the exclusivistic doctrines and usages of the Baptists. Pedobaptists especially objected to what they termed the "unchurching" practices of close communion and rebaptism. At the same time, Baptists tended toward a strongly separatistic spirit, shunning extensive involvement with other denominations and expressing a preference for doing Baptist work in a Baptist way. Apprehension was frequently expressed that cooperation with other Christian groups would involve a compromise of basic Baptist doctrines. This conviction was strengthened by the events transpiring in connection with the Bible controversy of 1835-36. This same sectarian spirit was closely reflected in the intense denominationalism of the Landmark movement. Landmarkism itself was characterized by a strong separatism and seemed to thrive best on controversy. The Baptist distaste for cooperation with other denominations was reflected in the Landmark emphasis on non-pulpit affiliation. Thus, the spirit of the Baptist denomination in the pre-Landmark years, as much as any point of doctrine, may be regarded as one of the antecedents of Landmarkism. The leading principles of Landmarkism, then, coincided at numerous points with the doctrines and practices of the Baptists in the years preceding the Landmark era. This is to say, actually, that the Landmark movement was not an "alien, heterodox element" in the life of the denomination and that it is inaccurate to speak inclusively of "the innovations of Landmarkism," as comprehending the whole body of its teachings.7 It cannot be denied that Landmarkism was a disruptive element in the Southern Baptist fellowship, but this was largely the result of method and other factors, and not of doctrine. Neither can it be denied that the movement had its innovational aspects. The very rigidity of doctrine which it proposed, the uniformity of belief and action which it sought to produce among Baptists, even the specific principle of non-pulpit affiliation -- all of these were, to some degree, new things in Baptist life. Yet they were all so logically related to elements already present that they were not considered by many Baptists to be extreme. The systematic presentation of the particular principles advocated by the Landmarkers was in a measure innovational. T. A. Patterson has said that Graves was "the first person ever to bring all these different beliefs into one system."8 As a system, the Landmark movement represented the logical culmination of deepening trends in Baptist life toward a stronger denominational consciousness and a consequent disengagement on the part of Baptists from all involvement with other denominations. It was a genuinely Baptist movement; it sprang from the center of Baptist history. Although it was radical and extreme in some respects, it faithfully reflected the central aspects of Baptist life in the one hundred years before 1851. Its relationship to the historic Baptist movement should be fully and objectively recognized. __________________
1. Minutes of Tennessee Baptist Association, 1814, p. 67.
2. Graves, Old Landmarkism, p. 45.
3. See above, pp. 170-71.
4. See above, p. 203.
5. It has been said that Baptists, before Graves, attached little importance to the qualifications of the administrator of the ordinances. Such statements do not accord with the facts of Baptist history. Citations given here and in preceding pages are sufficient to show that the qualifications of the administrator were regarded as of the greatest importance.
6. See W. Morgan Patterson, Foundations, V, No. 4, 342-43.
7. See reference to Tull and Moody, above, pp. iii-iv.
8. T. A. Patterson, "The Theology of J. R. Graves and Its Influence on Southern Baptist Life" (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1944), p. 139.
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