The Philadelphia Association – Proverbs 22:28

I am not a friend of Baptist denominations, associations or fellowships. I have learned from personal experience that it is hard for a group of independent Baptist preachers to call themselves a “fellowship” before they start behaving like an entity unto themselves. It does not have to be that way, but it’s a fact of life that once a fellowship begins to organize, then it begins to take some of the authority of the churches and claim it for itself – de facto, if not de jure.

Fellowships and associations are not necessary in order to have schools, support missions or combat the government. I have personally experienced the destructive power of an independent Baptist Fellowship.

But it is a fact that Baptists have often formed fellowships and associations. And as I say, they don’t have to be hurtful to the cause of Christ; they don’t necessarily rob the churches of their God-given authority. Two weeks ago, I referred to the Warren Association of Baptist churches in New England.

And today we focus on the Philadelphia Association of Baptist Churches.
The Philadelphia Association was organized, A.D. 1707, and is, therefore, the oldest such group on the American continent. It could originally be found in all the Middle States along with some churches in Virginia. The purpose of this first Baptist association was to assist in communication between the churches. They wanted to present, as much as possible, a unified front to their pedobaptist neighbors. Those associations had no intention of controlling or manipulating the churches. They constantly declared that each church was independent, and the thought of an hierarchy among them was reprehensible.

The correspondence of the Philadelphia Association basically touched every Baptist church in the Americas, and from her, advice was widely sought by dozens of independent Baptist Churches. It was through missionaries sent out from Philadelphia churches that the first churches in Virginia and North Carolina were formed. Her doctrinal sentiments and denominational policy, were stamped upon nearly all early Baptists in America. If statements by the Philadelphia Association or by the leading churches in that Association show sentiments either for or against Landmarkism, then we must assume that most of the Baptists in America also held to those views. And if the Philadelphia Association held to Landmark doctrines, then we should call those doctrines “Old Landmarks” in contrast to “New Landmarks.”

As I say, the Philadelphia Association began in 1707. It was originally composed of five churches: Pennepeck, Middletown, Piscataqua, Cahansey and Welsh Tract Baptist churches. And it needs to be kept in mind that according to John Comer, who became pastor the First Baptist Church in Newport, R.I. in 1725, Twenty-five years later there were only 26 Baptist churches from North Carolina to Boston – with 2,110 members. So the influence of the Philadelphia Association was probably very strong.

What did the Philadelphia Association believe? From the minutes of this Association, covering the first century of its existence, the question touching the validity of immersions by unbaptized and unauthorized administrators came up before the body six times, and was unanimously voted down every time. In other words, the question was whether or not the Protestant and pedobaptizers had authority from God to serve Him. Throughout the 18th century the Philadelphia Association denied that they did.

When this was discussed in 1788, and the same conclusion was made, these reasons were recorded: “First, because a person that has not been baptized must be disqualified to administer baptism to others, and especially if he be unordained. “Second, because to admit such baptism as valid, would make void the ordinances of Christ; throw contempt on His authority, and tend to confusion – for if baptism be not necessary for an administrator of it, neither can it be for church communion, which is an inferior act; and if such baptism be valid, then ordination is unnecessary, contrary to Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5; and our Confession of Faith, Chapter 27.”

How many churches did the Lord Jesus start? What was the promise of the Lord concerning the continued existence of that church? If other religious societies started by men preach doctrines contrary to the scriptures, what should we conclude about their right to call themselves “churches of Christ?” What happens when “Baptist” churches accept those other societies’ baptism or communion as scriptural? The Baptists of America from 1707-1807, did not regard pedobaptist societies as scriptural churches, or their ministers as ordained or even as baptized.

The 1845 statement of Spencer Cone, pastor the First Baptist Church, New York City.
“Dear Brethren: The question you ask was presented to me in July by Brother J. Tripp, Jr., of your church. I replied that, in my opinion, valid baptism could only be administered by a duly authorized minister; and stated my impression also that the “regular Baptist Churches of England and the United States” had long held the same sentiments. I wrote in the midst of numerous calls, and without dreaming that the hasty line was to appear in print, but make no complaint. My Baptist sentiments are public property, for in things pertaining to faith and practice I have no secrets.

“First, then, what has been the sentiment of “regular Baptist Churches” in England and the United States upon this subject? The ministers and messengers of more than one hundred baptized congregations of England and Wales met in London, July 3-11, A.D. 1689, and published what they call “The Confession of our Faith,” and recommended its perusal not only to the members of our churches, but to all other Christians who differ from us. Among these ministers you have the names of Knollys, Kiffin, Keach, Collins, Harris, Gifford, Vaux, Price, Finch and a host of others, whose praise was in all the regular Baptist Churches – viz., such as was opposed to “general redemption and open communion.” Under the head of “Baptism,” among other things, they stated that “it is to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called.”

“The Philadelphia Assoc. was formed in 1708 (sic.), and adopted, with alteration, the London Confession of 1689; so that in this country it has gone by the name of the “Philadelphia Confession of Faith;” and since that time most of the associations in the Middle States have been formed upon the same platform. The New York Association, organized in 1791, has always held the views I advocate. In 1821, the particular point before us was discussed and settled, in answer to a “query” from one of the churches similar to that contained in your letter. Mr. Parkinson was appointed to write a circular letter on baptism, in which he maintained the immersion of professing believers, by a baptized minister, as essential to gospel baptism.”

“After the adoption of this circular, a resolution was passed, stating that although they considered the query sufficiently answered in the circular, nevertheless they record the opinion of the Association, that Baptist Churches had better never receive persons, either as members, or even as transient communicants upon such baptism – viz., by unimmersed administrators. Many reasons are embodied in the resolution to sustain the opinion given, as “the disunion, inconvenience, uneasiness, etc., which have always arisen in churches receiving such members.” But the basis of their opinion is thus set down in plain words – “Pedobaptist administrators, as far as we can see, are unknown in the Holy Scriptures.” And that is just as far as I can see, and no farther.

“The First Baptist Church in this city, of which I am pastor, was founded in 1745, and as the Bible has not changed, she still adheres to her original confession of faith. The article on baptism closes thus: ”That nothing is a scriptural administration of baptism, but a total immersion of the subject in water in the name of the Holy Trinity, by a man duly authorized to administer gospel ordinances” (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 2:40-42). The action of this church for one hundred years has been to reject as invalid baptism administered by an “unimmersed administrator.”

“During my residence in Maryland and Virginia, the Baltimore, Columbia, and Ketocton Associations (which I attended for eight or ten years, and was personally acquainted with every minister belonging to them) held the same sentiment. The subject was called up in the Associations while I was pastor of the Alexandria Baptist Church, D.C. – Thus: a Mr. Plummer, from down East, a Free-will Baptist or “Christian,” as he called himself, immersed a number of persons in Virginia, and formed a Baptist Church. He baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet denied the divinity of the Son. In a year or two he departed from our borders – his disciples were scattered. Some of them were really converted, and wished to unite with some Baptist Church in the vicinity. The church and pastor in Alexandria being satisfied with the Christian experience and deportment of two of them, I baptized them into the name of our God, Father, Son, and Spirit – coequal and coeternal – and we no more considered their baptism by Plummer as Christian, than we should if they had been dipped by a Mohammedan into the name of his prophet. These Associations, then, held that valid baptism must be administered, not only by an immersed minister, but also one in good standing in our denomination.

“In the early part of my ministry I was intimately acquainted with Gano, Baldwin, Holcombe, Staughton, Williams, Richards, Fristoe, Mercer and many others, now gone to glory; and I never heard one of them drop a hint, that baptism by a Pedobaptist minister opened the door into a regular Baptist Church.

Indispensable engagements compel me to close. That there are now many pastors and churches opposed to my views, I know – painfully know – but all this does not convince me that our fathers were wrong in this matter. I must be made over again before I count that to be “valid baptism” when neither the administrator nor those who ordained him, believed immersion of believers any part of their commission, and never submitted to it themselves in obedience to the command of the King in Zion. Affectionately, your brother in gospel bonds, S.H. CONE., NEW YORK, September 30, 1845.

Summary thus far:
It is a fact that the churches of the New Testament, covering the entire apostolic age, were instructed to hold the doctrines, and observe the policy now denominated “Old Landmarkism.” The Christians of the first century, then, were “Old Landmarkers.” It is a fact that all those churches, by whatever name called, which were the recognized witnesses of the truth and the preservers of the gospel during all the subsequent ages until the Reformation, were strictly “Old Landmark” Baptists, in faith and practice, and were called Anabaptists. It is a fact that the genuine Baptists, from the rise of Protestantism onward, for centuries following, were “Old Landmarkers” in the strictest acceptation of the term, according to the testimony of Bullinger, Mosheim and Owen.

It is a fact that the Baptists of England and Wales, from the time churches were planted in those countries until a late day, were Anabaptists who refused in any way to recognize the Pedobaptist persecuting sects of that day, as churches of Christ, and were, therefore, “Old Landmarkers.” It is a fact that the first Baptist Church planted in America at Newport. Rhode Island, in 1638: and its pastors, Clark and Holmes, were “Old Landmarkers,” and for this were imprisoned, and the latter cruelly whipped upon Boston Common. It is a fact that the Baptist Churches of America, from 1707-1807, according to the published minutes of the Philadelphia Association, were “Old Landmarkers.”

It is a fact, according to the testimony of Bro. Spencer H. Cone, that from the earliest planting of Baptist Churches in New York, until 1845, the general sentiment and practice of the churches and all the leading ministers was strictly Old Landmark; and, that only in the latter part of his ministry did a looser sentiment and practice commence to prevail through the influence of those ministers, who loved the praise of men more than that of God – which pained the heart of Bro. Cone. The voice of that venerable man, though he sleeps in Jesus, should be heard today.

It is a fact that the venerable Oncken, and all the churches he has planted in Germany, and Prussia, and Russia, comprising tens of thousands of Baptists, are Old Landmark to the core, unless Bro. Oncken and his people have radically changed since I conversed with him, during his last visit to this country. It is a fact that the oldest churches and Associations in Mississippi were Old Landmark, and never affiliated, and do not until this day, with human societies, or their ministers, or accept their ordinances. It is a fact that the oldest and most successful Baptist ministers in Tennessee, as the venerable James Whitsett, and George Young, deceased, and Joseph H. Borum, now living, for forty years a pastor in West Tennessee, never affiliated with Pedobaptists or Campbellites, and they testify that affiliation is a new practice, and the forerunner of open communion.

It is a fact that the attempt of the few influential and. would-be popular ministers, of the early past and of this present time, to carry the denomination into affiliations and alliances of various kinds with Pedobaptists, and to influence it to recognize their societies as evangelical churches, by accepting their immersions, and their preachers as evangelical ministers, by ministerial associations with them, has caused all the strifes, angry discussions and alienations that have afflicted us as a people in this and other states.

And finally – It is a sad fact that in Christ’ s last revelation through John, of what would take place toward the close of the present gospel dispensation, and previous to His second advent. He foretold that laxity of views and practices, general indifferentism and lukewarmness, a state which He denominated as “neither cold nor hot,” would characterize a large number in His churches; and these, He declared, unless they repented and turned from their loose ways, He would spew out of His mouth: but the faithful and zealous few would be approved and presented as the “Bride,” without spot, before the Father.