Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 5

In relation to recent developments having to do with the International Mission Board, the term "landmarkism" has been getting quite a bit of press. This post will be a bit long, with several different quotes from several different sources. But I believe it is important for understanding issues that we are facing.

In the past month, several bloggers have written from various angles about the topic of "landmarkism", including Wade Burleson, here, here, and here. I do not intend to just rehash what has already been written, but hopefully throw in a few new insights as well.

First of all, here is a quote from J.M. Pendleton's An Old Landmark Reset, the work widely regarded as launching the Landmarkist movement...

In this day of spurious liberality and false charity much is said about evangelical denominations and evangelical churches. What is an evangelical denomination? A denomination whose faith and practice correspond with the gospel. What is an evangelical church? A church formed according to the New Testament model. Pedobaptist denominations, therefore, are not evangelical. Pedobaptist churches, as they are called, are not evangelical. There is supposed to be a wonderful virtue in the epithet evangelical. It is used as a balm for many a wound, as a plaster for many a sore. Its application to a denomination is thought to bring the denomination at once within the pale of respectability and fellowship. It is used with injurious latitude of meaning. It gives currency to many doctrines and practices which deserve emphatic condemnation. "Evangelical Alliances," so called, may, for aught I know, have done some good work; but there is danger lest they infuse greater vitality and energy into the errors of those who enter the co-partnership. The religious nomenclature of the age requires serious revision. It is high time to call things by names expressive of their properties. The language of Ashdod should not be heard within the precincts of Zion. Nor should the language of Zion be employed in describing what belongs to Ashdod. More, perhaps, is meant by "the form of sound words" than most persons imagine. But to return from this apparent parent digression.

It is to be hoped that the day of these Union Meetings is passed away, never to return. It is time for it to be understood that Baptists and Pedobaptists can not "walk together," because they are not "agreed." The impossibility of "walking together" without agreement was recognized in the days of the prophets, and why should there be a vain effort to make an impossibility then a possibility now?
A few comments from me on Pendleton before some other quotes and comments...

In Pendleton's time, the term "evangelical" was not as clearly defined as it is today. Although there is still no universal agreement on what it means to be evangelical, at least we do have some pretty good starting places in the Statements of Faith of organizations such as the World Evangelical Alliance and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. Although perhaps a bit more justified in Pendleton's time as well, we can no longer make a false dichotomy between "Baptists" and "Pedobaptists" (adherents to infant baptism). Today, there are many "evangelicals" who neither adhere to infant baptism nor choose to identify themselves as "Baptists". In any case, I would disagree with Pendleton's main point that doctrinal errors regarding baptism preclude cooperation in evangelism and missions with groups with whom we as Baptists agree on other essential doctrines.

By far, the most influential leader of the Landmark movement was J.R. Graves. Here are some relevant excerpts from his 1880 treatise, Old Landmarkism: What is it?...

Now the work I have undertaken to accomplish by this "little book" is threefold:

1. 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.
2. To establish clearly what are the "Old Landmarks," the characteristic principles and policy, of true Baptists in all these ages.
3. 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" ...

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, viz.: "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? ...

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 ...

First Inference—That 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 Inference—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 Inference from the premise is 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 ...

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; e.g., 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.
My comments on Graves...

The arguments of Graves are so complicated and convoluted, it would not be worthwhile to try to make a coherent refutation of them here. Others have already done that much better than I ever could. The main point I wish to make is that the whole of Graves's reasoning seems to be based upon the assumption that it is possible as humans to come upon a near-infallible interpretation of the infallible biblical text, and that we, as Baptists, happen to be the ones who have come upon it.

There are a lot of things about which I am not sure. But I am sure about one thing. And it is this: I am mistaken about a lot of things. This does not in any way mean I have given up hope of discovering truth. But it does help to keep me humble on my path towards the discovery of truth.

I also strongly disagree with Graves's assertion that there is no such thing as a difference between essential and non-essential biblical truth. If this were the case, I would never be able to cooperate with you on anything, and you would never be able to cooperate with me. None of us, except perhaps a few "human robots" out there, agree on 100% of our interpretation of the Bible. However, there are some points of interpretation for me, about which I will not budge, because I consider them to be the very foundation of my faith. You take those away, and I am essentially left with nothing.

Now, before ending this already lengthy post, I would like to leave with you the following insightful comments regarding Landmarkism made by Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George in an article in the May 1999 edition of First Things Journal entitled "Southern Baptist Ghosts"...
In an age of intense denominational conflict, Landmarkism reinforced Baptist tendencies to isolation and separatism. If Baptist churches were the only true churches, it followed that Baptist ministers were the only true ministers, and Baptist "ordinances" the only true sacraments. This had practical implications. Many Baptist churches refused to practice open communion or accept the "alien immersion" of prospective members even from other credo baptist denominations. Many Baptist pastors also refused to hold "pulpit affiliation" with non–Baptist ministers. All of this ran counter to the historic Baptist doctrine of the universal church, invisible and indivisible, the one Body of Christ scattered throughout time as well as space. In his 1849 manual on Church Polity, J. L. Reynolds defined the church in this wider sense: "It is this community of believers, the household of God, the whole family in Heaven and Earth, that constitutes the Holy Catholic Church, the kingdom of Christ in its internal development."

Landmarkism posed a serious challenge to interdenominational cooperation between Baptists and other mainline evangelical traditions. Yet Baptists arguably had benefited more than any other group from the First Great Awakening (1740–1760), an inter denominational extravaganza if ever there was one. Interdenominational cooperation bolstered all the arms—education, benevolence, and missions—of the SBC. This sort of evangelical synergism became increasingly difficult with the rise of Landmarkism (which also coincided with the controversy over slavery, the separation of Northern and Southern Baptists, and the Civil War).

Around the turn of the century, the staunchest Landmark advocates separated from the SBC to form their own denominations, which continue to this day, largely centered in Arkansas and Texas. Many congregations within the SBC still practice closed communion and insist on re–baptizing new members who come from non–Baptist traditions. But the greatest influence of Landmarkism in Southern Baptist life is a deep–seated antipathy to anything that smacks of ecumenism.

The Controversy, however, has posed a new challenge to Baptist isolation and anti–ecumenism. Three of the most nationally visible Southern Baptist leaders over the past thirty years, each of them claimed as allies by SBC conservatives, are Billy Graham, Carl F. H. Henry, and Charles Colson. Yet each is primarily identified with the larger evangelical, i.e., interdenominational, constituency, not with internal Southern Baptist structures.

How can Southern Baptists with their strong Landmark suspicions relate to the wider evangelical community? One way to understand The Controversy is to see it, in some measure, as the "evangelicalizing" of the SBC. The evidence for this phenomenon is incontestable: the influx of non–SBC evangelical scholars into Baptist seminaries; the changing of the name of the Baptist Sunday School Board to the more generic LifeWay Christian Resources; the presence and high profile of non–Baptist leaders on SBC platforms, e.g., the closing message at the 1998 SBC delivered by Dr. James Dobson, a Nazarene; the aggressive participation of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as an advocate for the conservative side of the culture wars conflict; new patterns of cooperation between SBC mission boards and evangelical ministries such as Promise Keepers, Campus Crusade for Christ, the National Association of Evangelicals, Prison Fellowship, and World Vision.

The cooperation between Southern Baptists and evangelicals signals a new day, but it may also come with a price, namely, the diminution of Baptist identity and a sense of uprootedness from a particular tradition. This concern has been voiced by some SBC moderates who have long resisted the coopting of the SBC by evangelicals. For example, back in 1976, the "Year of the Evangelical" that witnessed the election of born–again President Jimmy Carter, an SBC moderate leader protested the easy identification of Southern Baptists and evangelicals: "We are not evangelicals. That’s a Yankee word. They want to claim us because we are big and successful and growing every year. But we have our own traditions, our own hymns, and more students in our seminaries than they have in all of theirs put together." While this sounds like simple old–fashioned Southern Baptist brag and strut, it reveals a more deep–rooted concern for an evaporating sense of identity in an increasingly post–denominational world.

The ghost of J. R. Graves still stalks the Southern Baptist Zion, forcing a new generation to face old questions about the marks of the church and the limits of Christian fellowship.
And now my closing comments...

I think Dr. George offers some very important insights. Although there may have been a time when it seemed like the "ghost" of landmarkism was no longer with us as Southern Baptists, it indeed seems to be making a last-ditch effort to rise again. I, for one, am glad for the "evangelicalizing" of the SBC. I believe that Biblical Christian unity is more important than a "deep-rooted concern for an evaporating sense of (denominational) identity." I do not believe in an ecumenism that compromises on essential biblical doctrine. And I do not believe we as Baptists necessarily have to give up our convictions on believers' baptism by immersion in order to cooperate with other conservative evangelicals in world missions. Sometimes the exact way of how to best do this may be a bit tricky to find. Sometimes, along the way, it may get "messy". But I believe the alternative is much worse.


GuyMuse said...

This whole "Historical Documents" series has been most interesting and helpful, especially in light of all that is going on in SBC life today. Since so much work has already gone into the series, it would behoove us all to have the entire series (including any forthcoming Part 6, etc.) into one document (booklet form) and made available to us all as a download.

Thanks again for the good work.

David Rogers said...

Thanks, Guy, for the encouragement. I've still got a few more "Historical Documents" posts up my sleeves, but, when I get done with this, I'll see what I can do to accomodate your request.


Ben Stratton said...

Bro. Rogers,

I enjoy many of Timothy George's articles, but he didn't do his research on this one. For example his quote: "This had practical implications. Many Baptist churches refused to practice open communion or accept the "alien immersion" of prospective members even from other credo baptist denominations. Many Baptist pastors also refused to hold "pulpit affiliation" with non–Baptist ministers. All of this ran counter to the historic Baptist doctrine of the universal church"

Each of these three practices (restricted communion, rejection of alien immersion, and no pulpit affiliation) was quite common before Graves and Pendleton came on the seen. On my website I give numerous quotes from pre-Graves Baptists on these subjects. George is historically wrong.

The ghost of J.R. Graves is still with the Southern Baptist Convention and in some ways is much stronger than it has been in the past few decades.