I am a Christian by faith, a Baptist by belief, and a Landmark Baptist by conviction. While that is great joy to me, I fully recognize that most people in the Baptist world, know little about the distinctions made by the one simple word, Landmark. Furthermore, many in the Baptist world that are familiar with it, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, and larger Baptist groups, not only reject the terms and convictions tagged as “landmark,” but believe it represents a theological threat to progress in carrying out the Great Commission. While the larger Baptist world will recognize that “landmarkers” indeed hold Baptist beliefs and convictions, they reject the idea that Baptist beliefs and convictions include the distinctions of landmarkism.
I recently read an article and participated in comments, (smallest degree possible) in a discussion over the necessity of church authority in the ordinance of Baptism. When I came across the article I was fairly shocked to find intelligent Baptists denying the necessity for church authority when it comes to the ordinance of baptism. Upon further reading of the article, it became very clear to me, that the sentiment of those participating were very “anti-Landmarkism.” In fact the discussion turned from “who has the authority to Baptize” to a negative commentary on the history of Landmarkism.
Now without going into an all out defense of Landmarkism here; for those unfamiliar with the term, some of the basic doctrinal distinctions are fairly simple to understand:
1.) The doctrine of the church. – “Landmark” conviction is that the church is not dual nature. That it is only local, and visible, and does not include all the saved of all the ages. This belief in the nature of the church, when given an honest evaluation, will stand the scrutiny of the most intense textual autopsy. Landmarkers do believe that the “family of God” contains all the saved of all the ages but not the term “church.”
2.) The doctrine of the ordinances – Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are only under the authority, and administration of the local church. In other words, the Lord’s supper is for members of that local church only, and can only be taken in the confines of the gathered membership. Furthermore, Biblical baptism not only requires the right person – saved, the right method – immersion, but also must have the right authority – which is the local church. All baptisms have to be administered and authorized by a local assembly in order to rise to the level of authentic New Testament baptism.
3.) The issue of Missions. – The landmarker believes that only a church can send out a missionary. No other agency, no committee, or parachurch organization has the Biblical commission or authority to do mission work. When the New Testament commands and examples are given, a local church is always in charge of the mission work at hand.
Now that is not an exhaustive list or defense, but it is the primary sampling of differences. Some not explained are; 1.) Church history – Baptists are not protestants; 2.) Rejection of Pulpit affiliation – ecumenically aligning with non-baptists.
For those who are not familiar, these are the basic distinctions that move one from being only Baptistic in their faith, but also “Landmark” in their theology.
Why then does the term have a negative connotation in the larger Baptist world? I will not make an exegetical defense of each difference, but I don’t believe I have to, in order to give at least a couple of reasons the Landmarks are generally rejected, or neglected.
1.) In recent years, landmarkers have done a terrible job explaining and expounding their beliefs from the texts. For most of my life, the defense of landmarkism has been streamed through the rallying cry of 1850’s; “Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.” Which basically has relied completely upon the age of landmarkism as one of it’s main defenses. Which in Biblical theology is not really a defense. Most critics tie the beginning of Landmarkism to J.R. Graves; J.M. Pendleton; as well as other men like B.H. Carroll. All of which date to the 1840’s and 1850’s. Of course the landmarkers then point to the fact that their tenets can be documented in history long before Graves, Pendleton, and Carroll. Landmark scholars (of which I am not) have identified some of our most precious understandings of scripture centuries closer to the time of our Lord. – But so is Roman Catholicism; so is Phariseeism, and so is Islam. To appeal to the age of the tenets is an emotional appeal at worst, an endurability appeal at best; but it is not an authoritative textual appeal.
If “Landmarkism” is going to increase it’s influence then men who hold to the Landmark distinctives are going to have to do a better job of exegeting the texts of God’s Divine Word. When the Land Lord is not the authority, the Landmarks mean nothing to those around us.
2.) The “spirit” of many landmark preachers must change. As I said from the beginning, I do believe in these distinctions, and I believe in them for textual reasons; but I do not believe that the “Church” is the third person of the Trinity. Far too often, many good men, (and otherwise) wind up being more passionate about the nature of the church, than the destiny of the lost. Many times our mission efforts are more aimed at making sure there is a “right ecclesiology” in an area than there is a rescue mission for lost souls. I do buy into the cliche, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has had a chance to hear it at least once” and I think many in the world of landmark theology needs to believe that as well.
May I say this to you. I would rather a man go to heaven unchurched, than to hell undone; and I say that on the settled conviction that the New Testament upholds such a belief.
I am thankful for men of influence who have held to the distinguishing marks of the Landmarks; and not been upset about it. R.G. Lee; George Truett; B.H. Carroll; and J.M. Pendleton; of old I am also thankful that there still men of influence who hold these, Paige Patterson comes to mind.
Furthermore, as I understand it, Landmarkism is making a comeback within the Southern Baptist Convention. I would say if that be true, it doesn’t do much for Landmarkism, but it would do the Convention some theological good.
After reading the articles and debates the other day, I merely want here to make the point that Landmark Theology is not some fringe idea of a bunch of disgruntled Baptists; but it is a serious theology that intellectual and intelligent scholars have believed and still believe upon faithful examination of the texts. If we as Landmarkers are going to increase the influence of these distinguishing marks; then we are going to have to deal in texts, and truthfulness; not passions and pride. When our first and foremost passion is our Land Lord; then through patience, study, and meekness we will be able to gain ground with the Landmarks; however understanding the difference between the two would be a welcomed change worth making.