Sunday, December 25, 2005

In Christ Alone: Ecumenical Evangelism vs. Re-Emerging Baptist Landmarkism

I have received several emails from young pastors who have bemoaned the recent direction of the Southern Baptist Convention in the new baptism and tongues policies of the International Mission Board. Many of them have been very perceptive in their emails by drawing attention to the fact that this is not the first time parameters of fellowship and potential service have been narrowed, and unless there is a concerted effort by many across the convention, it will certainly not be the last attempt by some who are seeking uniformity and conformity across our vary diverse convention.

It has been said that those who do not know history are destined to repeat other's mistakes.

For those unfamiliar with Baptist history, one might believe that we Baptists have always been an exclusive, non-ecuminical, isolated sect of evangelicals. On the contrary, Baptists historically have been a people of broad cooperation, ecuminical spirit, and a fierce desire to see people worship in freedom without coercion.


When Baptists began to blossom in numbers across England and eventually Europe in the 1600's and 1700's, persecution against those Baptists abounded. Baptists were forbidden from obtaining higher education at the state supported universities, and as a result, most Baptist pastors were self-taught.

That is not to say the Baptist pastors of this time period were not educated, because most were. They were, however, educated through book learning and not through official channels.

Thus, when the eminent Baptist scholar of the 1700's, Dr.John Gill, received his honorary doctorate for his work in the languages and ancient literature, he made the famous statement regarding his degree, "I neither thought it, sought it, or bought it."

Eventually evangelicals (Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, etc . . .) in both Europe and Great Britain began to accept Baptists, mostly because of the thoroughly biblical 1644 and 1689 Baptist London Confessions of Faith, and the way Baptists preached the gospel through men like John Bunyan, Benjamin Keach, John Gill, and other famous Baptists of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Though there were disagreements over the mode of baptism among evangelicals in that day, cooperation in ministry and partnership in missions marked the late 1700's and early 1800's among all evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic. Southern Baptists in America formed their convention in 1845 and participated in this evangelical cooperation among their Southern evangelical friends, including Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

That is until the mid 1800's when Landmarkism began to arise within the Southern Baptist Convention.

There are plenty of websites on the internet that can give you a brief history of Landmarkism, but my point in this post is to simply give you the salient facts regarding Landmarkism to help you understand why it is essential it not be allowed to rise again within the SBC.

Some leaders of our convention in the 1850's were upset that some Southern Baptist Churches were allowing "Presbyterian" pastors to preach from the pulpit. In addition, these convention leaders were concerned that Southern Baptist Churches were receiving into membership people who had been baptized by preachers who were not "Southern Baptist." It was believed by these "Landmarkers," as they came to be called, that a person baptized at the hands of an "unbaptized" pastor (i.e. a preacher who was himself baptized as an infant), was not truly baptized, even though the baptism was by immersion and took place after that person had come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Landmarks sought to "purify" the pulpits and churches of the SBC.

Landmark Baptists believe that a "pure" church is a priority; and the only pure church is the "Baptist" church.

The tenets of Landmarkism are as follows:

Landmarkism believes that the original church was a baptist church (Mat 16:17-19), and that the only true churches are baptist or baptistic. Some of the corollaries to this are:

1. There is no universal church, only local churches.
2. Baptism by a church that is not baptist or baptistic is not valid, and those coming to a baptist church from another background need to be baptised, even if they had a "baptism" in some other church. This is often referred to as "alien" baptism, or "alien" immersion.
3. Communion is closed, that is, it is only to be celebrated by members of a local congregation, and visitors, whatever their faith, are not allowed to partake.
4. There is an apostolic succession of baptist churches, unbroken since the first church in Jerusalem, organized by Christ Himself. New churches must be "mothered" by a church in the chain, or they are not valid.
5. The "bride of Christ" consists only of members of proper baptist churches. Though others will be in heaven, they will not be part of the bride.

The Landmarks of the 1850's were eventually defeated by the majority of the Southern Baptist Convention and they left to form independent Baptist churches that supported missions through the local church.

When the new policies on baptism were approved by the trustees of the IMB, I was greatly troubled because I believed it was a reversion back to the 1850's and the re-emergence of Landmarkism within the SBC.

Is it?

Only time will tell.

All I can say is that we better, as a convention, seek to be more open in our evangelical fellowship and understanding of the church of Jesus Christ or we will continue to lose hundreds of young pastors to the Bible church or community church movement that is far more ecumenical in approach than the current SBC.

Baptism identifies a person with Jesus Christ.

Nowhere in Scripture does it identify a Christian with a church.

Churches are responsible to examine a person's faith and baptism before they admit a person into fellowship within the church, but it is critical to understand the nature of biblical baptism --- by immersion after having come to faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of the qualifications of the administrator of the baptism.

Sola Scriptura should drive our every policy and procedure.

As of this writing not one person has been able to show me one Scripture upon which the new policy on baptism is based.

Are we really a convention of the Book?

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Marty Duren said...

Great I correct in assuming that those who departed the convention were also known as "Campbellites"? said...

Some became "Campbellite" and joined the "Church of Christ" movement, while others separated and became known as Independent Baptists or in some cases "Hardshell Baptists." The Southern Baptist Convention from 1865 (after the batttle with Landmarkism) until the 1920's experienced both a great level of theological conservativism and evangelical cooperation, something you and I both desire in our day.

Unknown said...

And some were welcomed back into the convention in the spirit of cooperation. But landmarkism by nature does not die easily, it only perpetuates itself through time and even crept into some of our doctrinal statements. We have heard arguments over the past months, given with great conviction, not from scripture, but from the ghosts of landmarks past.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Very thought-provoking blog on re-emerging Landmarkism within the SBC. My interest is more in the historical angle rather the current controversy.

First, your argument for Baptist fellowship and participation with other evangelicals is overstated, IMO - both demostrated by somewhat vague examples rather than specific proof, and failing to note differing Baptist opinions. Some of this can be seen in the open membership debate between Bunyan, Keach and others. OTOH, the 1689 London Confession, based on the Westminster Confession, does show a clear attempt to "move into the mainstream". Persecutions of Baptists in America at least up until the passing of the Bill of Rights also calls into question how widespread this early cooperation was.

Secondly, you perpetuate a few "myths" about Landmarkism: [1]that Landmark tenets were new among Baptists in the mid 1800s. Leroy Hogue's SWBTS doctoral disseration (A Study of the Antecedents of Landmarkism) points out that "Landmarkism represented, at every major point, simply the logical extension of practices and beliefs widely held among Baptists in the one hundred year period preceding the rise of the movement." Robert A. Baker acknowlged that all the points of J. R. Graves ecclesiology could be found among other leading Baptists of his day. (Baptist History and Heritage, Jan. 1975); [2] that Landmarkism should be caricatured by its extreme forms. By this I mean such things as the Baptist Bride and chain-link succession, which are held by some Landmarkers but are not consistent tenets of the ecclesiology. Baker wrote that there has never been "a monolithic Landmark system" embraced by all. Fair representation, IMO, presents those beliefs which find a common denominator among all Landmarkers. [3] that Landmarkism left the Convention "to form independent Baptist churhes". Though extreme Landmarkism did leave, Landmarkers stayed and still exist in the Southern Baptist Convention. One of its great early 20th century leaders, B. H. Carroll, was a Landmarker, as well as its great early 20th century historian, John T. Christian.

If we would learn from the past, we must first present it historically rather than polemically. said...

Mr. Vaughn,

Nice post. I agree with most of what you have said.

However, three things by way of clarification for those who read my post and your comments.

(1). My post is not a dissertation, only a discussion of the current issue within our convention. As a result, I am not attempting to trace the history of Landmarkism (which can be traced further than 1850), but to simply point out when Landmarkism erupted witin the convention. The parallel for today is striking. There are many Southern Baptists who are Landmark in their theology, particularly in Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, and my home state of Oklahoma, and I fellowship with these men and cooperate with them in missions. Landmarkism only becomes a problem for me, and others, when they Landmarkers start excluding the members of my church from participating in missions and service in the SBC because they have received an "alien immersion" (Scriptural baptism at the hands of a non-baptized pastor). This issue "erupted" in 2005 when the IMB policy adopted a Landmark position on the "qualifications" of the administrator of baptism. It's a little similar to Calvinism vs. Arminianism. We have both stripes of soteriology within the SBC, but we work together. The only time we will have a problem is when Arminians (or for that matter Calvinists) begin to exclude the people from the other side from service. I am saying we should "cooperate" with each other when we disagree in areas of "Biblical interpretation." Landmarkism in the IMB is now excluding those who disagree with a Landmark interpretation of baptism.

(2). I disagree with your assessment that I "overstated" Baptist participation in the 1700's with other evangelicals. You cite my lack of specific examples. Again, my post was not a dissertation, but let me give you a couple. Dr. Gill was wonderful friends with Augustus Toplady, and Anglican and author of the great hymn "Rock of Ages." They exchanged pulpits often even though Gill wrote his classic work "Infant Baptism" showing it was a pillar of Roman Catholicism and not evangelicalism. Of course Bunyan took a view of Baptism similar to Piper's church today, although you are correct, many dissented in Bunyan's day. Benjamin Keach, the famous Baptist hymn writer opened doors of cooperation and fellowship throughout evangelicalism in his day because of his great works and understanding of the universal church of Jesus Christ. Again, I am not writing a dissertation, only showing that Baptists in the past have been thoroughly open to their brothers in Christ from other denominations, without compromising on their own Biblical positions on baptism.

(3). I placed the fundamental tenants of Landmarkism in my post. They logically flow together and are the tenants held by the "fathers" of Landmarkism. Sure, not every Landmark believes them all. It's a little like Roman Catholics. They sure don't know what all their "fathers" teach, and if they did, they would not believe it themselves, but it does not negate the fundamental tenants of Roman Catholicism.

Having said all the above, I reiterate --- nice post Mr. Vaughn.

R. L. Vaughn said...

I'm enjoying your blog. Thanks for the kind reply. I don't disagree with most of your explanation, with the exception of Landmark tenants. Also one left out that is agreed upon by almost all Landmarkers is "no pulpit affiliation". Too, I don't disagree about Gill and Toplady, but they might be a curious example of "evangelistic" cooperation.

I realize that your post was not intended as a dissertation, and I may not have been clear throughout my comments. I suppose what I ultimately disagree with is this. With the intent of presenting history to help keep from repeating the mistakes of others (a very good principle), you asserted that Baptists have historically welcomed fellowship and participation with other evangelicals. Historically that is partly true and partly not true. Both that and the opposite have occurred in Baptist history. So one is left with choosing which model of history they prefer.

20 years ago I would have said there was no real Landmarkism left in the Southern Baptist Convention. About 5 years ago a neighbor left here and moved to Kentucky. This person was a member of an ABA church (largest landmark association, I suppose) and sought to join a Kentucky SBC church by letter. They would not accept him and required rebaptism. What a twist, to my mind! Now I theorize that Landmarkism never left the Convention. Rather, in the early 20th century it went into the background in the spirit of cooperation and healing the wounds of the former bitter Landmark controversies. Later it went "underground" due to repeated assualts from both academia and the liberal camp. Now it is ready to resurface. Whether that is thought a good or bad thing will depend on one's own ecclesiological persuasion.

Thanks for listening.

Jim Shaver said...

Bro. Burleson, I am enjoying your blog not because of the subject matter but because of your courage and willingness to say some things that need to be said.

I was not up to date on the current controversy over IMB policy but you are educating me and many other Southern Baptists which is something we have longed for from our elected trustees.

Keep up the good work.

Jim Shaver, Pastor
Providence Baptist Church
New Bloomfield, MO

Tim Sweatman said...


Very well said. I, too, am concerned that the recent adoption of these policies may be a sign that Landmarkism is reemerging within our convention. I certainly believe that we need to draw firm doctrinal boundaries on issues that are central to the gospel and are clearly taught by Scripture, but it seems that some in our convention are determined to draw boundaries on the basis of specific doctrinal interpretations rather than the doctrines themselves. If they succeed, then we are in major trouble as a convention, and the greatest casualty will be missions.

Stand firm, brother. We're with you.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Burleson,

Very interesting blog. You have certainly keep the waters stirred over the IMB's new policy on baptism. As a young Southern Baptist pastor in Kentucky and a devout Landmarker please allow me to share a few thoughts with you:

1. Landmarkism is not re-emerging in the SBC, it never really left to begin with. When the liberals began to take over the seminaries, colleges, state conventions, newspapers and other various agencies in 1940's - 1950's, most of the Southern Baptist Landmarkers simply stopped being involved in these things and spend more time in their own churches, local associations, and regions. For example the last conservative editor of a state convention paper prior to the conservative resurgence was Joe T. Odle of Mississippi and he was a Southern Baptist Landmarker. Yet when the resurgence took place it opened the door for the Landmarkers that were left to have more a vocal part in the SBC, hence the new IMB policy. While not all of those involved in the resurgence were Landmarkers, a good many of them have a Landmark influence.

2. As to your comments about baptism, we Landmarkers believe it is the Bible and not tradition that forces us to reject alien immersion. In Romans 16:17 Paul says to "avoid" those with doctrinal errors. When we Landmarkers see a religious group that believes in losing your salvation, or practicing infant baptism, or accepting sprinkling as valid baptism, or believes in baptismal regeneration, or denies the trinity, we reject their baptisms. This idea is at least as old as Tertullian who plainly said to reject the baptism of heretics and I believe the idea is taught in the New Testament. How else should we "avoid" these groups? As to the connection between baptism and the church, how about Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 2:41-47 as well as countless other verses?

3. As to cooperation between Baptists and non-Baptists, this has always been an area of disagreement between Baptists. If you check the old association records of the English Particular Baptists of the early 1600's, they wouldn't even let their members go and hear a non-Baptist preach! Also the book on the History of Brown University includes a letter Abraham Booth of England wrote to the Philadelphia Association of Baptists in American criticizing them for refuses to accept non-Baptist immersions. As Brother Vaughn has mentioned all the tenets of Landmarkism existed long before J.R. Graves.

Just a few thoughts for you from the other side of the fence.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Discussion. Looking at the Bible. It appears any Christian can baptize any other Christian. (Baptize itself meaning to immerse) Limiting it to pastors alone seems needlessly restrictive. Re-Baptism after a believer has been scriptually baptized also seems silly. How many people who were baptized understood fully the amazing implications and theology of what they were doing. Many baptisms occuring to people 8-12 years old. Further education is needed for what it means that was already done.

Another issue that always concerned me is why is Baptism delayed after conversion anyway. The biblical example obviously shows it being part of the conversion process. Landmarkism is something that should not divide fellowship that is for sure.

Anonymous said...

I attend a Baptist church which teaches that the Baptist church is the pure church that was not part of the Reformation or Protestantism. It sounds like it has some of these Landmarkism beliefs. From the Church history books that I have read it indicates that Anabaptists (with which these people associate their views)were prevalent after the Reformation and were persecuted. If the Baptists can trace their denomination from the apostles directly (and forgo any involvement in the catholic church - thus not a part of any Reformation), who were their leaders before the Reformation? Are their any historical documents which support this?

Anonymous said...

Read the Catholic Encyclopedia & Foxe's book of Martyrs. You will find that many hundreds of years before the reformation Baptists (anabaptists) were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church.It wasn't until the last 50 years or so that Baptists started calling themselves protestants. Baptists never were part of the Catholic Church. Richard Doiron (a former Catholic)