The Regulative Principle: History, Part 2 (the Landmark story)

freedom_authority.jpgMany of the second generation of the Restoration Movement misunderstood the Campbells. In particular, Moses Lard and Benjamin Franklin (great nephew of the Revolutionary War Benjamin Franklin) taught a much narrower doctrine of salvation (soterology), sometimes insisting on near-perfect doctrine as a test of fellowship.

I’ve not come to a fully satisfactory explanation for why this generation so severely departed from the teachings of the first generation. But I think it’s a combination of the difficulty of understanding much of the Campbells’ writings (they liked really long sentences) and the influence of the Landmark movement among the Baptists, centered around Nashville.

Alexander Campbell famously debated the leader of the Landmark movement, James R. Graves, late in his career, with Graves trying to prove that the Restoration churches are all lost due to not bearing the true marks of the church and not being founded at Pentecost.

Consider these quotations taken from the Wikipedia article on Landmarkism —

Landmark Baptists have refused to recognize as valid any baptisms or ordinations performed in circumstances other than under the auspices of a Baptist church. Thus, Landmark Baptists have declined to allow non-Baptists to preach in Landmark Baptist churches and have required prospective members who have received “pedobaptism” or “alien immersion” to be baptized by a Baptist church before receiving them into membership. Expressed as a syllogism, the Landmark Baptist argument is:

Major premise: To be valid, Christian ordinations and baptisms must be performed by a valid New Testament church.
Minor premise: Only valid Baptist churches are valid New Testament churches.
Conclusion: Therefore, only ordinations and baptisms performed by valid Baptist churches are valid Christian ordinations and baptisms.

… In the latter half of the nineteenth century, most Landmark Baptists adopted English Baptist pastor G. H. Orchard’s assertion in his book, A Concise of the Baptists (1838), that actual organized Baptist congregations had existed at all times throughout the preceding centuries all the way back to the New Testament era. Orchard wrote:

During the first three centuries, Christian congregations, all over the East, subsisted in separate independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another. All this time they were Baptist churches. …

Believing that their origins predate those even of Roman Catholicism, Landmark Baptists have generally refused to refer to themselves as Protestants.

Gospel missions

Baptist missionary Tarleton Perry Crawford proposed in the late nineteenth century a theory of missiology that criticized at several points the missionary structures and methodologies of Baptist conventions and societies. Crawford’s theories were popular among Landmark Baptists. …

James Robinson Graves

Through his Tennessee Baptist newspaper, James Robinson Graves popularized Landmarkism, building for it a virtual hegemony among Southern Baptists west of the Appalachians. … 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?

The majority of the gathered Baptists resolved these questions to the disparagement of non-Baptist congregations, and then published their findings as the Cotton Grove Resolutions. The Cotton Grove Resolutions essentially comprise the organizational document of the Landmark Baptist movement.

And it’s not just this article. If you read the writings of these men, you can’t help but be struck by how much the 20th Century Churches of Christ sound like the 19th Century Landmark Baptist Churches. They insisted on certain “acts of worship” as “tests of fellowship.” They claimed to be the one, true church of Christ, even predating Catholicism, and identified themselves by certain “marks of the church.” They refused to be called “Protestants.”

If you can believe it, the fact is — we’re Baptists! Landmark Baptists, that is. The conservative Churches of Christ are much more like 19th Century Landmark Baptists than the 19th Century Restoration churches.

As argued by Bill J. Leonard in Baptists in America (2005), p. 25,

Baptists responded [to the Restoration Movement] by insisting that they did not need to restore anything, since they had kept the true church alive since the time of the apostles.

Imagine this conversation —

Restoration Movement preacher to Baptist preacher: Come out of your denominationalism and return to pure, simple, First Century Christianity!

Baptist preacher: But we already practice pure, simple, First Century Christianity.

RMP: The “Baptist Church” is a name not even found in the Bible. Your origins are recent.

BP: We have the true marks of the church. Only we practice the love feast, the laying on of hands, which you’ve willfully omitted, trying to please the world by your compromise and adoption of worldly philosophies!

RMP: No, we have the true marks of the church …

BP: Only a church with the 9 marks is the one true church. And the correct founder. We were founded by Peter on Pentecost. You were founded by Thomas Campbell.

RMP: No, WE were founded on Pentecost because we’re part of the church-universal …

BP: No, you were founded about 50 years ago when Thomas Campbell published his “Declaration and Address.”

RMP: Well, you were founded in 17th Century …

And on it goes. Rather than pointing out the underlying error of the argument (the church is all who are saved, not all who bear certain “marks”), we bought the arguments and tried to turn them against the Baptists. It was a horrible blunder.

Around the end of the 19th Century, the Southern Baptist Convention rejected Landmarkism as creedalism (and they were quite right). The Landmark churches became a separate fellowship of about 250,000, which is how about how many there are today, over 100 years later.

I’m persuaded that much of the 20th Century growth of the Churches of Christ was from (a) buying the Landmark arguments and trying to turn them against the Baptists and (b) from absorbing many members from among Landmark Baptists — who came to find the Churches of Christ more like themselves than the Southern Baptists.

Somehow or other, in all the debates with the Landmark Baptists and the frequent conversions of Landmark Baptists to the Churches of Christ, we became Landmarkers! We began to use the very arguments — even the vocabulary — that was invented to prove us to be heretics!

In fact, by 1906, our preachers were quoting the “Declaration and Address” — severely out of context — to prove that we must consider as damned those who disagree with us over instrumental music, located preachers, and missionary societies. We claimed to stand in the shoes of the great Restoration Movement leaders, when in fact we’d adopted the very arguments that they’d dedicated their lives to oppose.

We became the very people trying to prove us damned, which is why that our 20th Century theology actually treats the Campbells and the other founders of the Movement as lost! It’s an amazing story.

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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0 Responses to The Regulative Principle: History, Part 2 (the Landmark story)

  1. Alan says:

    I’ve not come to a fully satisfactory explanation for why this generation so severely departed from the teachings of the first generation.

    Perhaps one factor was the set of issues the church of that day was facing. In particular, instrumental music had a cataclysmic impact. Remember, all congregations were a cappella at the beginning of the century (and not just in the Restoration Movement churches.) The controversy over the introduction of instruments was far greater than today. It seems to me that people like McGarvey, Lard, Franklin etc were searching for a rationale that proved conclusively that the instruments were forbidden. That position seemed right to them instinctively. The Regulative Principle was well established in the Puritan and Anabaptist world, the roots of the Restoration Movement. Note also that the Separatist Baptists of the midwest held that position, and many of their members were converted into the Restoration Movement churches in that area. If McGarvey, Lard etc needed a hermeneutic to forbid instruments, they didn't have to go far to find one.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    There's no shorter road to error than starting with the conclusion and then looking for a rationale to defend it.

    Compounding that mistake was the emotional intensity of the fight, as many churches were split by the question. Of course, the "need" to split was driven by bad theology — not the other way around. But the emotions brought about by the splits (and lawsuits) solidified the conclusions.

    Some of our conservative brothers make a point of preserving memories of these ancient wrongs, in violation of 1 Cor 13.

    And yet the theology of division seems to me to predate the instrument, as it goes back to Franklin's early writings within the Movement. As you say, he was likely influenced by the Separate Baptists, who gave birth to the Landmark movement. Ultimately, the theology traces back to the Puritans, I think.

    (There's a D.Min. or Ph.D. or two in all this for somebody.)

  3. Alan says:

    Here's an interesting historical paper from Errett Gates (Disciples). According to this chapter:

    the controversies began with the missionary societies in about 1849. Apparently Franklin went from being the first paid officer of the society to its main critic after resigning. Interesting quote about the subsequent controversies about instruments:

    The organ controversy was the missionary controversy in a new form, for both grew out of the opposition to human innovations in the work and worship of the church. Most churches were without musical instruments in their public worship down to the middle of the century. The controversy broke out in 1860 through the introduction of a melodeon into the services of the church at Midway, Kentucky, then in charge of Dr. L. L. Pinkerton. Benjamin Franklin as editor of the American Christian Review, led in the attack upon the innovation. He was opposed to it as ministering to the pride and worldliness of the churches, as without the sanction of New Testament precept or example, and consequently as unscriptural and sinful. Franklin and those who shared his view refused to worship or hold membership in a church that used an organ. Through his influence the old enemies of the missionary society were lined up against the organ.

  4. Mark says:

    Please forgive my redundancy if someone has already pointed this out. When Dr. Pinkerton was asked to explain why they brought in the melodion, he reported that their "singing was so bad that it would scare the rats from the building."

  5. Alton P. says:

    While we are discussing the reasons for a split please do not forget that there were already hard feelings in the Southern churches against those in the North over the recent "War between the States", (Civil War to any Yankees reading this). :>) This was true as recently as my childhood (1940's). Most of the churches that continued as Christian Churches were in the North.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Alton, around heah, we say, "The War." Or "The Wawuh" a little further south.

    The first split was led by Daniel Sommer, and he was a Yankee leading Yankee churches.

    But there was a second, larger split in 1906, which was surely greatly intensified by the War.

  7. Brother Paul says:

    The church of Christ of the Bible is definitely split in this day and time. I have attempted to take a deeper look into this situaltion, and found that the true church was actually meeting on what would be our Saturday night. I am referring to Acts 20:7-and following verses. I am using Jewish reckoning by saying that the first day of the week would begin at 6PM Saturday and go til 6PM Sunday.

    You know that alot of churches will not offer the Lord's Supper after sunset on Sunday, because they know this would be the 2nd day of the week according to Jewish reckoning. The Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man also back this up.

    Many of the churches of Christ spell it…..Church of Christ….when it should be… of Christ….as evidenced plainly in the Bible. Perhaps a "small" point, but, then again, are we suppose to stick as close to the word as we can?………read……and find the truth you have been looking for all of your life….Blessings

  8. Todd Collier says:

    So now I go to hell not only because I use a proper English big "C" for the name but also because I can't understand what the actual debate is even about? After all wasn't everything Paul wrote written with capital letters and church spelled with an "E"?

    Frankly my dear brother – sometimes I fear that our great learning has made us mad. If learning trivial nonsense is indeed great learning at all.

  9. Joe Baggett says:

    Let me bring out the main problem with our theology of sticking to the Bible just as closely as possible.

    When we find parts of the Bible that seem to suggest a method or pattern or organization a local congregation may have had back then we presuppose that it is God telling us this how it has to be forever with no further questions asked. Well a good question we should ask before we make conclusions on presupposed ideas is why it was that way and is there any other deeper spiritual significance? You see Acts 2:46 says "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together". Based upon our presupposed pattern theology we should be "breaking bread" as it says in Act 20:7 everyday or is it only on Sundays? And should it only be in homes since both examples were in a private residence? Isn’t this God telling us how he wants it done? You see our thinking method has errors because one of these verses has to be wrong if there is only one day that God wants the Lord Supper to be observed. Here is the other presupposed idea; we presuppose that “breaking bread” is implying the Eucharist or Lord Supper even though it does not specifically say.

    Traditionally we have built an entire argument on presupposition and inconsistent thinking only applying this pattern hermeneutic in the areas that fit into our culture and then turned around and told anyone one else who wasn’t doing it just like we had concluded that they were going beyond what was written and being displeasing to God.

    When will we in the churches of Christ realize how inconsistent, biased, and delusional our theology is?