Dr. Barber wrote and asked me: to answer the following question:
Could you spell out for me in specific and careful terms what you perceive to be the differences between Neo-Landmarkism and the theologies of John Smythe, Thomas Helwys, William Kiffin, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson, Roger Williams, or John Clarke in the period of their lives in which they were Baptists?
The men mentioned by Dr. Barber are for the most part English Baptists, with just a couple of them, including Adoniram Judson and Roger Williams, having any connection at all with the New World and America. There are at three key differences that I will point out in this post between English Baptists of the 18th Century and modern neo-Landmarkers in the Southern Baptist Convention.
In neo-Landmark theology, the only people with "authority" to baptize, serve the Lord's Supper, teach, etc . . . are men who hold an "office" that bestows authority. In other words, authority flows from "the church" and not Jesus Christ directly.
English Baptists, however, believed that the Christian's authority came directly from Christ, not the church, and that the fulfillment of Christ's commands was the duty of all Christians. For example, John Gill, speaking for English Baptists, said this about baptizing converts . . .
Baptism is not a church ordinance, (and by that) I mean baptism is not an ordinance administered in the church, but out of it, and in order to admission into it, and communion with it; it is preparatory to it, and a qualification for it; it does not make a person a member of a church, or admit him into a visible church; persons must first be baptized, and then added to the church, as the three thousand converts were; a church has nothing to do with the baptism of any, but to be satisfied they are baptized before they are admitted into communion with it.
It is impossible for a neo-Landmarker to understand the above statement because "baptism" is a church ordinance, and the authority to baptize comes from "the church" and not Christ. This is why the rise of neo-Landmarkism in the IMB has led to the new policy that any missionary candidate baptized in a church that doesn't believe in "eternal security" will be rejected as a Southern Baptist missionary. Rather than asking the individual Southern Baptist about his or her baptism and what it meant to him or her, the IMB trustees are now investigating "the church" in which missionary candidate was baptized.
In a neo-Landmark church, communion is "closed," meaning that nobody else but "local church members" can partake. The idea that a Christian who has not been "properly" baptized could partake in communion with Southern Baptists is almost deemed "heresy" by neo-Landmarkers.
But the English Baptists, including those mentioned above, believed the following according to Dr. Greg Wills in Baptist History and Heritage:
Few Baptist churches in America practiced open communion, but most in England did. Many practiced open membership as well--they admitted persons to membership based on their profession of faith alone, whether they had submitted to believer's baptism or not. Open communion Baptists in England claimed an impressive heritage. John Bunyan, the great Baptist preacher of Bedford, whose Pilgrim's Progress was and remains a devotional classic, practiced open communion and ably defended his practice. In the early nineteenth century, Robert Hall Jr., the brilliant and eloquent Baptist preacher whose writing brought him extensive fame, persuasively defended open communion views. Baptist Noel, the immensely popular Baptist preacher whose defection from the clergy of the Church of England brought considerable notoriety, promoted open communion from his prominent London pulpit. Spurgeon's church combined open communion with strict membership. The combination reflected well his commitment to evangelical unity and believer's baptism.
The church I pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Church, holds to open communion with strict membership, a pattern followed by many within the SBC but called unorthodox by neo-Landmarkers in the SBC like Dr. Malcolm Yarnell. Ironically, again, the rise of neo-Landmarkism in the IMB has led to a clamp down on the Lord's Supper being served in "house" churches within countries like China where there are no men who can act as "pastor" and serve it. Here you have the problems that arise out of a neo-Landmarker's faulty understanding of both authority and communion.
Cooperation with evangelicals is a very, very low priority to a neo-Landmarker. In a neo-Landmarker's mind, it is more important for there to be "doctrinal" conformity and purity before there is any evangelical cooperation and unity. All doctrines to the neo-Landmarkers are important.
Thus, a statement like the following from English Baptist Charles Spurgeon would be hard to understand by a neo-Landmarker:
"I am persuaded that neither the Church of England, nor the Wesleyans, nor the Independents, nor the Baptists, have got all the truth.... I would persuade you, my Baptist friends, that your system is not perfect. Nor can church polity prevent heresy and spiritual death. You cannot, by Presbytery, or Independency, or Episcopacy, secure the life of the Church. Ecclesiology does not preserve spiritual life in a denomination, but the "presence of the Lord" in its midst." (Spurgeon, "Things Unknown" (1858), in MTP, 46:105; Spurgeon, "Christ Is Glorious--Let Us Make Him Known" (20 March 1864), in MTP, 10: 163).
Sadly, the rise of neo-Landmarkism in the SBC and IMB is thwarting more evangelical cooperation and causing missionaries overseas to have to shut down cooperation with other Great Commission denominations and churches. To some Southern Baptists, it is more important that a person be baptized in a Southern Baptist church than it is to extend the right hand of Christian fellowship in evangelical cooperation.
For these reasons I will continue to write against the rise of neo-Landmarkism in the SBC. I trust I have fulfilled my promise to answer Dr. Barber's question.
In His Grace,