Introduction and Preface to Old Landmarkism

I’m going to start something which is contrary to my contrary nature. I have striven throughout my ministry to make sure that my Sunday School Class studied the Bible. 90% of my lessons for the past 30+ years have been a direct examination of the Holy Scriptures. You could say that they expositional studies. The remaining 10% have been studies like our last two: topical studies of Biblical doctrine with heavy reference to the scriptures.

This morning, however, we are going begin something new, and it should last for several weeks. We are going to examine a term which we use to describe our church. We call ourselves a “Landmark” Baptist church. This is a word which is probably unfamiliar to 98% of Christendom, and, unfortunately, to most Baptists. And that is just the reason for our brief study.

Now, here is where these lessons chafe against my better judgment as a Baptist pastor. Our lessons will be based on this little book: “Old Landmarkism; What Is It,” by J. R. Graves. Much that I will be teaching over the next few weeks will come directly from this book. We won’t confine our thoughts to this entirely, but I have to warn you that this will be our “text.” If you have a copy of “Old Landmarkism” at home, you are welcome to read ahead and even to bring it to class – just so long as you also bring your Bibles. I won’t be asking lots of questions, but as time permits, I’ll let you ask a few. Unfortunately, Bro. Graves isn’t able to be with us, so some of your questions may go unanswered.

Let’s begin with a little biography about J. R. Graves.
I have yet to learn what the initials J.R. stand for, so don’t ask me.

He was born in 1820 in Chester, Vermont, so I guess that would make him a Yankee. His name is associated with the early days of the Southern Baptist Convention, but he probably didn’t speak with the proverbial southern drawl. He was born-again when he was 15 and he was baptized into the Baptist church at North Springfield, Vermont.

When Graves was only 19 he became president of the Kingsfield academy, which I believe was in Ohio. In other words, he became a school-teacher. When bad health drove him towards warmer weather, he became president of the Clear Creek Academy in Kentucky. If you know your geography, Kentucky is separated from Ohio by nothing more than the Ohio river, which makes me wonder where exactly Kingsfield is. During this time he taught for 6 hours a day and studied for 8, taking college courses without a teacher. The man was perhaps a genius, mastering one modern language every year for several years. In those days a school teacher did not specialize in just one subject.

J.R. Graves was probably familiar with Arts and Sciences, Philosophy and Religion. Eventually he had a well-rounded general education. But he was also being well-taught in the Word of God.

The Kentucky church of which Graves was a member recognized the gifts that the Lord had given him, and decided to ordain him to the gospel ministry. This was not something which he sought. It probably wouldn’t be fair to say that he was reluctant to become a Baptist preacher, but it was not an office to which he deliberately chose.

When he was 25 years old, J.R. became pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee. Shortly after that he became editor of the “Tennessee Baptist,” which I think was a weekly newspaper. This paper attained the largest circulation of any Baptist publication in the World. Graves also edited a monthly Baptist magazine and a quarterly journal. This made J.R. Graves, at the time of the Civil War, one of the most influential Baptists in the world. He pastored a growing church in the heart of the American “Bible belt.” He wrote a multitude of books, edited many others and had many important Baptist books from other parts of the world republished here.

Thus J.R. Graves is one of the key figures in Baptist history in the United States. And if you’d like to know more about him, I encourage you to read Grave’s article in Cathcart’s “Baptist Encyclopedia.” I wish that some energetic, talented, young person would do the research and the work to write a proper, full-length biography of this great man. Not only does Graves deserve it, but I think that Baptists today need it.

The preface of this book is subtitled: The origin of the appellation “Old Landmarkism”
It begins by saying that when he was 12-years-old, three years before his conversion, Graves witnessed the immersion of his mother and sister by a Pedobaptist minister.

A “pedobaptist” is someone who baptizes babies – “pedo” is a suffix for “child.” Some pedobaptists immerse babies; the orthodox religions, like the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches immerse small babies. But most pedobaptists sprinkle water on those babies and foolishly call it “baptism.” I say “foolish” because the word “baptism” originally meant “immerse, dip or plunge.”

Graves wrote that he witnessed the immersion of his mother and sister by a non-Baptist, who regularly baptized babies. In addition to his mother and sister, on that occasion the man “baptized” several others. He immersed another person face forward. He poured water on one person and sprinkled water on another, both who were kneeling in the stream. And then he sprinkled several others who were standing on the bank, and poured some water out of a pitcher on yet another back at the church building. Apparently this preacher would follow the wishes of each candidate.

Those different acts all claiming to be “one baptism” made an indelible impression on young Graves. Especially since the minister was obviously angry about having to immerse some of them. And so the questions started: If that man did not believe in immersion, was the act of immersion at his hands valid baptism? And if ”what is not of faith is sin,” could his sin be an act acceptable to God?”

Twenty-two years later, Graves’ mother applied to the Second Baptist Church in Nashville for membership. At that time he was its pastor, and the whole matter came up afresh as a practical question for serious examination. He was in a spiritual, ecclesiastical and family dilemma. He said, “Being quite young and this my first pastorate, I referred the whole matter and responsibility to Bro. Howell, then pastor of the First Baptist Church, telling him that I was in serious doubt about the validity of my mother’s baptism.” Howell promptly decided that it was fine, according to the standard usage of the Baptist denomination.

So in the mid-1800’s some Southern Baptists were already accepting “alien immersion.” When I refer to “alien immersion” I’m talking about immersion administered by a religious society other than a fundamental Baptist church.

Graves went on: From this time I commenced a careful study of the question, “Can an unbaptized man administer baptism?” Reason said, No; and I found no example of it in the New Testament after a church had been organized.

Soon the question with me assumed a proper form: “Has any organization, save a scriptural church, the right to authorize any one, baptized or unbaptized, to administer church ordinances?” I decided this, by God”s Word, in the negative; and subsequently this additional question came up: “Are immersions administered by the authority of a scriptural church with an unscriptural design valid?” Such immersions I also decided, by the clear light of the Scriptures, to be null and void; and thus I instructed my church, which, from that day to this, has never been troubled about unscriptural baptisms. Shortly after I had the pleasure of seeing my mother and sister observe the ordinance as it was first delivered to the saints.

Graves wrote, “In 1846 I took charge of ‘The Tennessee Baptist,’ and soon commenced agitating the question of the validity of alien immersions, and the propriety of Baptists recognizing, by any act, ecclesiastical or ministerial, Pedobaptist societies or preachers as churches and ministers of Christ. This agitation gave rise to the convention, which met at Cotton Grove, West Tennessee, June 24, 1851, of all Baptists willing to accept and practice the teachings of Christ and his apostles in these matters. In that convention these questions were discussed, and the decisions of that meeting embodied in the famous ‘Cotton Grove Resolutions,’ which attracted the attention of Baptists throughout the South. As a matter of history, I copy them from the minutes, which were offered in the form of queries.

“Rev. J. R. Graves offered the following questions:
“1st. Can Baptists, consistently with their principles or the Scriptures, recognize those societies not organized according to the pattern of the Jerusalem Church, but possessing different governments, different officers, and different class of members, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as churches of Christ?

“2d. Ought they to he called gospel churches, or churches in a religious sense?

“3d. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies as gospel ministers?

“4th. Is it not virtually recognizing them as official ministers to invite them into our pulpits, or by any other act that would or could be construed into such a recognition?

“5th. 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?”

These queries were unanimously answered in the negative, and the Baptists of Tennessee generally, and multitudes all over the South, indorsed the decision.”

The name of Old Landmarkers came in this way.
“In 1854, J. M. Pendleton, of Kentucky, wrote an essay upon this question at my special request, “Ought Baptists to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers?” which I brought out in tract form, and gave it the title, “An Old Landmark Reset.” This calm discussion, which had an immense circulation in the South, was reviewed by many of the leading writers, North and South, and they, by way of reproach called all Baptists “Old Landmarkers” who accepted his conclusions, and the impression was sought to be made that Brother Pendleton and myself were aiming at dividing the denomination and starting a new sect.

From this brief history it will be seen that we, who only deem ourselves “strict Baptists,” are not responsible for the name, but our opposers. But that we have no reason to be ashamed of it will be seen by every one who will read this little book. Why should we object to the name “Old Landmarkers,” when those ancient Anabaptists, whom we alone represent in this age, were content to be called Cathari and Puritans, which terms mean the same thing as Old Landmarkers?

I put forth this publication now, thirty years after inaugurating the reform,
to correct the manifold misrepresentations of those who oppose what they are pleased to call our principles and teachings, and to place before the Baptists of America what “Old Landmarkism” really is. Many believe that simple opposition to inviting ministers into our pulpits is the whole of it, when the title to the tract indicated that that was only one of the landmarks of our fathers. Others have been influenced to believe that we hold to “apostolic succession;” Others, that we hold that baptism is essential to salvation, but its efficacy ineffectual unless we can prove the unbroken connection of the administrator with some apostle; and yet others, that we hold ‘that any flaw in the qualification of the present administrator, or any previous one in the line of his succession, however remote, invalidates all his baptisms and ministerial acts, as marriages, etc., past, present, and future, and necessitates the re-baptisms and re-marriages of all he has ever immersed or married. It is certainly due to those who bear the name to our practice those principles which all true Baptists, in all ages, have professed to believe. Be this as it may, one thing is certainly true, no man in this century has suffered, or is now suffering, more than myself “in the house of my friends,” for a rigid maintenance of them.

In 1846 pulpit affiliations, union meetings, receiving the immersions of Pedobaptists and Campbellites, and inviting Pedobaptists, as “evangelical ministers,” to seats in our associations and conventions, even the Southern Baptist, had become, with but few exceptions, general throughout the South. At the North not only all these customs, but inviting Pedobaptist preachers to assist in the ordinations, and installations, and recognitions of Baptist ministers, was quite as common. I have noticed that in some of these meetings Universalist, if not Unitarian ministers affiliated, and delegates were appointed by Baptist associations to meet Pedobaptist associations and Methodist conferences. A glance at my file for 1856 notes this action by a California association: “Delegates of fraternal courtesy were also appointed, as follows: Bro. Brierly to the Congregational Association of California; Bro. Saxton to the Methodist Conference, North; and Bro. Shuck to the Methodist Conference, South.” Baptist papers made a glowing, pleasing record of all these inconsistencies without a note of disapproval.

At this writing, January, 1880 – and I record it with profound gratitude – there is only one Baptist paper in the South, of the sixteen weeklies, that approve of alien immersion and pulpit affiliation (“The Religious Herald”), while already two papers in the Northern States avow and advocate Landmark principles and practice. I do not believe that there is one association in the whole South that would today indorse an alien immersion as scriptural or valid, and it is a rare thing to see a Pedobaptist or Campbellite in our pulpits, and they are no longer invited to seats in our associations and conventions anywhere South. The heavy drift of sentiment throughout the whole South, and the “Great West” and Northwest, is strongly in favor of Baptist churches doing their own preaching, ordaining, baptizing, and restricting the participation of the Supper to the members of the local church celebrating it.

With these statements, before the reader forms an opinion, a fair and impartial consideration of these chapters is entreated. A Christian man will certainly heed the injunction of the apostle, “Prove all things, and hold fast to that which is good,” i.e., in accordance with the teachings of God”s Word.

J. R. GRAVES.

Memphis, January, 1880