Series - Landmarkism

Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 5)

(Read the entire series.)

The clear implications of J.R. Graves’ ecclesiology was that local Baptist churches have been the sole repository of biblical faith and practice since the time of Jesus Christ.

On this account the Baptists may be considered the only Christian community which has stood since the apostles, and as a Christian society which has preserved pure the doctrine of the gospel through all ages.1

Moreover, Graves believed that he could not, in good conscience, even recognize non-Baptists as Christian brethren. In July of 1851, one of the adopted “Cotton Grove Resolutions” asked, “Can we consistently address as brethren those professing Christianity, who not only have not the doctrine of Christ and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?”2 Graves was pleased to record that the answer to this question, as well as the other four under consideration, was a resounding, “No!”

On Graves’ view, as we have seen:

4023 reads

Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 4)

Landmarkism and “Apostolic Succession”: a Common Misconception

It is a common charge to say that Landmarkers believe in a chain-link, almost apostolic-like succession of local churches. What saith Graves?

Landmark Baptists very generally believe that for the Word of the Living God to stand, and for the veracity of Jesus Christ to vindicate itself, the kingdom which He set up “in the days of John the Baptist,” has had an unbroken continuity until now.1

This makes good sense, from Graves’ point of view. However, he takes great pains to emphasize he is not speaking of an apostolic succession of churches.2 So, what on earth does he mean?

2214 reads

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:

3936 reads

Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 2)

The Implications of Graves’ Position

Graves’ foundational assumption impacted his entire ecclesiology. Many of Graves’ Landmarker distinctives flowed directly from his peculiar views on the Kingdom of God. Now, to be sure, a Baptist can believe any of the following implications and not care one whit about J.R. Graves. But, for Graves himself, his faulty view on the Kingdom of God was the determining factor.

Implication #1: The True Church Is Only a Local, Visible Institution Located upon this Earth

A kingdom is nothing if not literal and physical. Thus, in Graves’ view, the church is always a local, visible institution. “He has no invisible kingdom or church, and such a thing has no real existence in heaven or earth. It is only an invention employed to bolster up erroneous theories of ecclesiology.”1 Graves lists three possible views on the church:

3877 reads

Graves, Landmarkism and the Kingdom of God (Part 1)

If you’re a Baptist in America, you’ve probably heard of a peculiar brand of Baptist polity called “Landmarkism.” D.A. Carson recently quipped that hyper-Calvinism is a term usually reserved for somebody you don’t like!1 In Baptist circles, this is usually the intent when one uses the term “Landmarker.” That is not the way the term is used here! It is a genuine historical term, and its American founder was proud to call himself a “Landmarker.”

This series is a survey of what the father of American Landmarksim believed about the local church, and why he believed it. It is not a refutation of that position, although I will make some brief remarks along that line. This is an important topic, because I suspect many Baptists who hold to Landmark distinctives don’t actually understand what original Landmarkism actually taught.

A fiery, intelligent and formidable preacher from the mid to late 19th century named J. R. Graves is largely responsible for the development of Landmarkism. He admitted as much in 1880:

7391 reads