James R. Graves popularized the so-called “Landmark Baptist” movement in the United States in the mid-19th century. Here, in this excerpt from his landmark work (pun intended) entitled Old Landmarkism – What is it?, we see Graves explain his position.1
Facts Taken For Granted:
- That Christ while on earth did “set up a kingdom” and “build a Church,” unlike any institution that had ever been seen on earth.
- That Christ “set up” but one kingdom, and built but one house, which he designed to be called, in all after ages, “the house of God,” “the Church of the living God,” and to be “a pillar and ground of the truth.”
- That Christ did not found His “kingdom” of provinces or parts in deadly antagonism to each other, and all in open rebellion to His own authority, laws and government—a kingdom constitutionally “divided against itself”—or construct his divine “house,” which he designed for His own glory and praise, of heterogeneous and discordant materials, so that, from their very nature, they could never be “fitly framed together” and become a homogeneous, compacted whole, but ever and necessarily “a house divided against itself.” “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”—Christ. But Christ’s kingdom is never to be brought to desolation, and his Church is to stand forever.
- It will be granted by all that there are fifty distinct religious organizations in America alone, [see Churches and Sects in America] each radically dissimilar in form and faith, each asserting its right to be considered an evangelical—which means scriptural—church, and, in more respects than any other, like the original organization which Christ set up to be the model and pattern for all His churches. Now, the unthinking multitude is taught to believe that all these sects are equally evangelical, and that it is proof of “intolerant bigotry,” and the lack of all “Christian charity,” to assert that all cannot be churches, or if one is indeed scriptural, all the rest must be unscriptural. The absurdity of admitting them all to be equally churches of Christ does not occur to them.
The Direct Inferences from these admitted facts are:
- First; the popular “church-branch theory” is a bald absurdity.
That theory, as preached and taught by those who pride themselves upon being “undenominational Christians,” is that all these different sects are “branches of the Church.” Branch is a relative term, and implies necessarily a trunk or body; but they are unable to tell us what or where the trunk or body of the tree is! But the absurdity of the conception of a tree bearing natural branches of fifteen or twenty different kinds of wood, does not seem to occur to the people or their teachers!
- Second; the absurdity of the “church-army theory,” which is the popular pulpit illustration with “undenominational preachers.”
This theory is that all the different denominations compose but one great army, Christ being the “Captain,” and the various sects the regiments, brigades and divisions, and their different creeds the different flags, etc. The illustration breaks down fatally when we remember that the parts of an army are all under the same laws and army regulations, and drilled by the same tactics, and not in conflict, each regiment with every other regiment in the army, as these different denominations, called churches, are—doing the army more deadly harm than the common enemy can do!
- Third; the equal absurdity of the “universal church theory.”
This theory is, that all the different and opposing sects, taken together, constitute the kingdom of Christ on earth, and all the true Christians in these sects constitute the “invisible, spiritual Church.” This theory—of one kingdom, composed of a multitude of discordant elements, irremediably divided against themselves and engaged in destroying each other—is sufficiently noticed above.
It is too preposterously absurd to be put forth by men who have any respect for the wisdom of the Divine Founder of the Church. Infidels could wish for no better argument against Christianity. I honestly believe that more infidels are made by those who preach, hold, and teach these absurd and unscriptural church theories than by all the speeches and writings of infidels themselves. Convince a man that it is true that Christ originated all these diverse sects, and is the author of their radically different and mutually destructive faiths, and he must be an infidel or a fool.
If they mean invisible kingdom, the reply is, Christ has not two kingdoms or two churches, considered as institutions, for He has but one Bride, and will have but one “wife”—He is not a bigamist.
Graves goes on to state several “axioms” which will guide his discussion going forward:
Axiom 1 - things equal to or like the same thing are equal to or like each other.
The corollary of this is that, if there are fifty different and conflicting organizations, claiming to be churches, and are each evangelical (i.e. scriptural), they must be like each other in doctrine and organization; but they are essentially and radically unlike the one to the other, and therefore they cannot all be scriptural.
The man who admits they are alike evangelical, or any two of them, involves himself in the absurdity of asserting that things unlike and unequal to each other are like the same thing! It is asserted by the advocates of an “undenominational Christianity,” that Baptists and Pedobaptists hold “in common all the fundamental doctrines and essential principles of Christianity, differing only in non-essentials.” This is a thorough misstatement of the known and palpable facts in the case, and calculated to deceive and mislead the unthinking.
Protestants are fundamentally opposed to each other. For example, the Presbyterians will admit, and openly maintain, that their Calvinism is vitally opposed to the Arminianism of the Methodists, and Methodists will as freely assert that their Arminianism is fundamentally and essentially opposed to Calvinism. Presbyterians hold and teach that Arminianism is subversive of Christianity, and Methodists affirm the same of Calvinism. If one preaches the Gospel, the other certainly does not. Every sound Baptist in the land will affirm that the fundamental doctrines and principles of Pedobaptism are utterly subversive of the whole system of Christianity. Therefore, it is not true that Baptists and Pedobaptists “hold in common” all the fundamentals of Christianity and are equally evangelical, in doctrine they differ radically.
Axiom 2 - two truths or a thousand can no more antagonize, than two or one thousand parallel lines can cross each other.
The direct inference is that two or one thousand evangelical (which always means scriptural) churches cannot antagonize, but must be essentially one in fundamental doctrines and principles, having “one faith and one baptism” in form and design, as certainly as one Lord and Savior. Therefore, all evangelical churches are equal to and like each other. Therefore, the fifty different denominations in America are not all evangelical — if one is, only one is.
Axiom 3 - Baptist, Campbellite and Pedobaptist organizations are fundamentally and vitally different in doctrine, in character and in principles
If Baptist churches are evangelical, as all Baptists do believe, then all Pedobaptist and Campbellite societies are not evangelical, and vice versa. This serves as a reminder that it requires us to do violence to the plainest dictates of reason to demand that we admit that opposites and contradictories are one and the same—equal.
Axiom 4 - contradictory systems or theories no more than antagonizing elements in nature (e.g. light and darkness) can exist in the same time or place without antagonism.
Harmony or quiescence is impossible. The direct inference is that there cannot be any harmony or real union of effort between a system of religion founded in truth, and systems of religion founded in error; and sham unions are hypocritical and sinful.
“Compromise” is the settlement of differences between two or more parties by mutual concessions. The fundamental principle is that moral convictions and the revealed truths of God cannot be denied, yielded or modified to effect a compromise; while opinions, prejudices, feelings and self-interests may be … Christianity is a system of divinely revealed truths and principles to be held and proclaimed in their entirety, and therefore admits no increase or diminution and can neither be conceded nor modified. Therefore, between Christianity—the gospel of Christ—and systems of religion that are not Christianity, between the gospel and “a gospel which is another gospel,” there can be no compromise or affiliation.
Less or more, then the gospel is not the gospel, but error - hence the fearful penalty threatened in Revelation 22 against those who add to, or take from, the things revealed. By withholding any of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in our preaching, we can no more preach the gospel of Christ than we can spell the English language without the consonants; and to agree to withhold any part of the gospel, for any length of time, to effect a compromise with those who do not hold it, is manifest treason. Those ministers who hold “union meetings” with those who believe and teach contrary to God’s Word, cannot at the close say: ‘We have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.”
Axiom 5 - compromise, being based upon mutual concessions, when effected between truth and error, truth must always suffer, since error has nothing of truth to surrender.
Axiom 6 - the accessory before or after the fact is equally guilty with the principal.”
For example, if we receive or pass, or encourage others to receive and pass, counterfeit money, we make ourselves equally guilty with those who counterfeit it. Unscriptural systems of religion and churches are counterfeits of Christianity and counterfeit churches. To associate with the teachers of these systems so as to impress them and their followers, and all who witness our acts, that we recognize them as the accredited ministers of God’s truth; we encourage them in their work and thus “bid them God-speed” and make ourselves accessories to, and partakers of their sins.
Now the work I have undertaken to accomplish by this “little book” is threefold:
- To establish the fact in the minds of all, who will give me an impartial hearing, that Baptist churches are the churches of Christ, and that they alone hold, and have alone ever held, and preserved the doctrine of the gospel in all ages since the ascension of Christ.
- To establish clearly what are the “Old Landmarks,” the characteristic principles and policy, of true Baptists in all these ages.
- To demonstrate, by invincible argument, that treating the ministers of other denominations as the accredited ministers of the gospel, and receiving any of their official acts—preaching or immersion—as scriptural, we do proclaim, louder than we can by words, that their societies are evangelical churches, and their teachings and practices orthodox as our own; and that by so doing we do encourage our own families and the world to enter their societies in preference to Baptist churches, because, with them, the offense of “the cross hath ceased.”
1 James R. Graves, Old Landmarkism: What is it? (Memphis, TN: Graves, Mahaffey & Co., 1880; Kindle reprint, n.d.) KL 424-540.