Backgrounds of the Restoration Movement: Landmarkism

passioncartoonMany 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.” And they like to use the language of formal logic — to “prove” the most illogical things.

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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