Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 3)

(Part 3 considers more of the implications of Graves’ doctrine of the church. Read the series so far.)

Implication #3 – All Non-Baptist Ministers are False Ministers

Graves wrote, “If Baptist preachers are scriptural ministers, Pedobaptists certainly are not, and vice versa, since two things unlike each other cannot be like the same thing—scriptural.”1 One should not be surprised that Graves made this leap. After all, if local Baptist churches are the only “true churches” which accurately represent Christ’s Kingdom, then it naturally follows that only the Baptist ministers of these “true churches” are legitimate ministers of the gospel. Graves wrote:

Nothing could be more inconsistent than to admit those preachers into our pulpit who hold and teach doctrines, on account of which we would exclude both from our pulpits and our churches, any minister of our own denomination.2

This is a startling proclamation by itself, but Graves was even more explicit elsewhere:

There are no authorized ministers, but immersed preachers, acting under the authority of a regular church—and who have been ordained by a presbytery of immersed believers.3

Therefore, a non-Baptist minister is a false minister. Moreover, as we have seen, a non-Baptist church is not a true church, but merely a “religious society.” To Graves, this was a central issue. After all, to invite a non-Baptist into the pulpit was tantamount to inviting an Amorite priest to officiate in the Tabernacle! It would impugn the dignity and sanctity of Christ Himself.

Why did Graves have such strong words about non-Baptist ministers? Because he believed they were representatives of counterfeit “religious organizations” which deliberately ignored the pattern for Christ’s Kingdom. To Graves, ecclesiology was quite literally the most important theological distinctive a man had. Being a faithful Baptist church was synonymous with being a faithful Church of Christ in the Kingdom of God. This means that being a “true Church” (i.e. a Baptist) was, for J.R. Graves, an umbrella concept for theological orthodoxy.

Implication #4 - Only a True Church Can Observe the Ordinances

If only Baptist churches are true “kingdom churches,” as Graves held, then it logically follows that only true Baptist churches can observe the ordinances. Graves advocated what Leon McBeth called a “double closed communion.” Zealous to protect the Kingdom of God, Graves was concerned about inadvertently allowing a traitor4 to partake of the Lord’s Supper:

If the supper is a repast for the members of each particular church only, it is because the Divine law governing the feast has made it so, and, therefore, it would be in violation of that law for a church to invite, or allow others than her own members, to partake of it; and equally so for members of another church to accept such an unlawful invitation. This is so plain to my mind that discussion is useless.5

To Graves, the Lord’s Supper was an ordinance for each particular church and its members, and no one else. Moreover, Christ had given authority to a man to partake of the Supper only in his own local church. “It is certain that no other church has any right to extend her church privileges beyond her own bounds.”6 This prohibition included even other Baptist churches.

Nor is it designed to be used as an expression of fellowship, or “courtesy” towards other Christians or members of other Baptist Churches. The ordinance is profaned and eaten “unworthily” when it is observed with this design.7

Such churches can exclude heretics, drunkards, revelers, and “every one that walketh disorderly” from their membership, that they may not defile the feast; but they cannot protect the table from such so long as they do not limit it to their membership.8

On one hand, one could simply assume that Graves was taking a strong and principled stand and providing Scriptural support for his position.9 However, was his view of the Kingdom driving this assertion? After all, how could a local church vouch for the validity of the Baptism of a stranger? How could a local church vouch for the qualifications of the home church of the visitor? Was the home church in question a “true church?” Because Graves believed the local Baptist church was the Kingdom of God, these were not theoretical questions.

Graves believed only a Baptist minister could perform valid baptisms or officiate at the Lord’s Supper:

That Baptism and an official relation to a church are prerequisites to a regular gospel minister—hence all ordinances administered by an unbaptized and unordained although immersed minister, are null and void.10

He also believed that Baptism by immersion defined a “true church.” He asserted, “where there is no scriptural baptism, there are no scriptural churches of Christ, no scriptural ordinations, no scriptural ministers, no scriptural ordinances.”11 Therefore, in Graves view, all non-Baptist ministers were false ministers, only a Baptist minister can perform a Baptism or officiate at the Lord’s Supper, and a church can only allow its own members to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, Graves even printed a letter to the editor in his own newspaper, The Tennessee Baptist, where the writer claimed that (1) a heretic is one who upholds errors in the faith, (2) all Paedo-baptists tolerate such errors and thus (3) all Paedo-baptists were heretics!12

It seems probable to conclude that Graves’ zeal to safeguard the integrity of Christ’s Kingdom (as he conceived it) was driving his viewpoint here. He was worried about quality control.


1 Graves (Old Landmarkism, Kindle Locations 2883-2884).

2 Ibid.

3 Graves, “Landmark Principles,” 319.

4 Remember, Graves considered any man or organization which deviated from the Baptist model a traitor to Christ (“Landmark Principles,” 319).

5 Graves (Old Landmarkism, Kindle Locations 1449-1452). He is quoting from a “Bro. Richard Fuller.”

6 Ibid, Kindle Locations 1427-1428. Graves was quoting approvingly from a “Bro. A.P. Williams,” from some unknown work by Williams on the Lord’s Supper.

7 Ibid, Kindle Locations 1415-1417.

8 Ibid, Kindle Locations 1596-1598.

9 Graves’ strongest argument is that one simply cannot know the spiritual state of a person who is not from one’s own local church. He argues that the church at, say, Jerusalem would have never taken the chance that an unrepentant church member from the church in Corinth mighty partake of the Supper unworthily (Ibid, Kindle Locations 1542-1675). “No thinking man can believe, with Paul’s instructions before his eyes, that the church at Corinth did practice intercommunion with the church at Jerusalem or the churches of Galatia, and very many of the other churches of Asia.”

10 “Landmark Principles,” 319.

11 Graves (Old Landmarkism, Kindle Locations 1172-1174).

12 The Tennessee Baptist, 05 Jan 1884, Vol. 16, No. 30, pg. 2. Retrieved from

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Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that Graves' theology would preclude the ancient churches from hosting the wandering messengers that brought Paul's epistles and the Gospels to them--he'd be in good company with Diotrephes, really.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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