A Theological History of Restoration Movement Thought, Part 5.5 (James R. Graves)

graves-sm.jpg20th Century Church of Christ theology owes a great deal to James R. Graves, of Nashville. Graves was never a member of the Churches of Christ. Rather, he was a staunch opponent of “Campbellism.” However, the more conservative elements of the Restoration Movement adopted very large portions of his arguments and theology.

Graves was the editor the Tennessee Baptist periodical beginning in the 1850’s. From this influential position, he argued that all outside the Baptist Church were lost because they were not members of the one true church. “Baptist churches are the churches of Christ, and that they alone hold, and have alone ever held, and preserved the doctrine of the gospel in all ages since the ascension of Christ.”

He argued that the true church is evidenced by certain “marks,” these being such matters as the place of founding, the founder, the church’s age, the church’s form of baptism, the church’s form of communion, and the church’s organization.

Graves argued that the Baptist church could be traced back to Pentecost in Jerusalem, whereas the Campbellite churches were founded in the early 19th Century by Stone and the Campbells. He traced Baptist roots via the Anabaptists back to the early church and even back to John the Baptist. According to the Wikipedia,

In 1851, Graves called a meeting of likeminded Southern Baptists at the Cotton Grove Baptist Church near Jackson, Tennessee to address five questions:

  1. Can Baptists with their principles on the Scriptures, consistently recognize those societies not organized according to the Jerusalem church, but possessing different government, different officers, a different class of members, different ordinances, doctrines and practices as churches of Christ?
  2. Ought they to be called gospel churches or churches in a religious sense?
  3. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies as gospel ministers?
  4. Is it not virtually recognizing them as official ministers to invite them into our pulpits or by any other act that would or could be construed as such recognition?
  5. Can we consistently address as brethren those professing Christianity who not only have not the doctrine of Christ and walk not according to his commandments but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?

Graves vigorously opposed the establishment of missionary societies among the Baptist congregations.

Now, Graves was a debater and controversialist. He had a huge impact on the Baptist Churches in the South. Although much of his theology has now been rejected by the Southern Baptist Churches, there remain many Landmark churches.

It’s easy to imagine that as the Restoration Movement spread throughout the South, Restoration preachers were confronted with Landmark arguments. In fact, Landmarkism was very similar to some versions of Restoration theology. Adherents of both claimed unbroken succession back to Pentecost. Both denied baptism administered outside their communions. Both tested the salvation of a church by certain marks, largely dealing with baptism, communion, and church organization.

As a result, rather than pointing out the flaws in the arguments of the Landmark Baptists, some Restoration Movement preachers adopted their arguments, simply arguing that we have the right marks, not them.

The flaw in this approach is that the Bible nowhere defines salvation in terms of marks of the church. Rather, the Bible defines salvation based on faith, repentance, and baptism. The Bible defines salvation in terms of receipt of the Spirit and being a regenerate person.
And, of course, it’s just not true that either the Baptists or the Restoration churches can trace their origins back to Pentecost by an unbroken succession of such churches–unless you include some very different types of churches in our heritage. The broad arrow at the bottom of the Jule Miller filmstrips showing the Churches of Christ continuing from Pentecost until now while the many denominations branch off is just not good history.

I mean, as Campbell himself argued regarding baptism, there were centuries when no one was baptized by immersion for remission of sins while a believer. Sprinkling and infant baptism dominated most of Europe for quite a long time. And you can hardly argue that you’ve “restored” a church that was always there!

In the 20th Century, however, in an effort to make this argument stick, we intentionally ignored our history. We no longer mentioned Alexander Campbell or the other leaders of the Restoration Movement. We kept repeating their slogans, but we acted as though we had no history–just a long yellow arrow from Pentecost until now. Hence, while H. Leo Boles would cite the “Declaration and Address” in his debates in the 1930’s, by the 1960’s, few would even recognize the name of Thomas Campbell, and hardly any would have had a copy of the “Declaration and Address” to study. (It took me 10 years to find a copy, in a church with an excellent Restoration Movement library!)

The result was to lose some of best elements of our heritage. We believed that what was taught in 1960 was the same thing taught in 1830. It wasn’t. Rather, we were teaching more Landmarkism than Restorationism.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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