Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Landmarkism and the Arkansas Baptist Convention

During the past couple of years, there has been a good bit of debate regarding the influence of Landmarkism within the SBC. Although I am a pretty far cry from being a political pundit, I believe the recent vote at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention may well have been a pretty good referendum on this question (read about it here). I was not there, but here are a few of my observations based on what I have read on the internet:

1. The proposed amendment was to strike from the ABSC constitution the statement: “The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion.”

While, as I understand it, state conventions are officially autonomous, and are free to make the doctrinal statements they wish, it is interesting to me that, in addition to approving the Baptist Faith and Message, the ABSC has officially gone on record as interpreting it. The problem is that the terms “open communion” and “alien immersion” are open to interpretation themselves. I had always assumed that the phrase “Being a church ordinance, [baptism] is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper” precluded the option of “open communion.” Inasmuch as, strictly speaking, my personal view is not that of “open communion,” but what some (such as Nathan Finn) have called “modified open communion,” I may not have needed to sign the Baptist Faith and Message with a caveat after all. At least not, according to the way many Arkansas Baptists apparently interpret it.

I don’t have a clue where they get that the BF & M says anything one way or another about “alien immersion,” though.

2. The vote total in favor of the amendment was 383 votes (63%) to 225 votes (37%) against. However, that was not enough, since the constitution requires a 2/3 majority (67%) in two consecutive conventions in order to pass.

It is difficult to know for sure how many of the people who voted in favor of the amendment actually believe in and/or practice “open communion” and the admission of “alien immersion.” However, it seems significant to me that a pretty clear majority appear to at least be open to this possibility. This is in Arkansas, a state that is generally considered to be a stronghold of Landmarkism within the SBC. It is also significant to me, at the same time, that 37% appear to favor an interpretation more in line with Landmarkist views. This is evidence that what Timothy George once called “the ghost of Landmarkism” is still with us, and is something to be taken into account.

From what I read into these statistics, there is a very real possibility, or even probability, that the majority of rank and file Southern Baptists do not expect SBC denominational employees and missionaries to hold to “closed communion” or reject “alien immersion.” At the same time, it is evident there is a real division within the SBC (if the ABSC is representative of the rest) over these issues. That would not be so much of a problem if Landmarkism did not carry along with it the tendency to exclude those who do not give assent to its tenets.

I doubt the authors of the ABSC constitution contemplated this particular situation when they came up with the 2/3-majority, 2-convention clause. However, I think it is ironic, and somewhat ominous, for the SBC at large, that a Landmarkist-leaning minority was able to hold sway in this particular situation.

3. By in large, the people who voted in favor of this amendment were, no doubt, solid conservative Southern Baptists who are supportive of the Conservative Resurgence in general.

Greg Addison, chairman of the committee that presented the amendment, is a personal friend, who grew up with me in the youth department of Bellevue Baptist Church, under the pastoral leadership of my father, Adrian Rogers. He was a staff member of Bellevue for several years, a frequent preacher in the Bellevue pulpit, and someone of whom I know, beyond a shadow of any doubt, my father thought very highly.

It is significant to me, as well, that Ronnie Floyd, Senior Pastor of FBC Springdale & the Church at Pinnacle Hills, as well as candidate for the presidency of the SBC in 2006, publicly supported the amendment. According to his blog, his church practices “open communion,” and handles cases of “alien immersion” on an individual basis.

Pretty good evidence to me that this is not, as some would have us believe, a matter of compromising with the authority of the Word of God. As Floyd says, “Yes, our commitment is to doctrinal purity. We hold the line tight, even to the point of losing possible members to our church. However, we are to be a biblically grounded, Christ-centered people of God. We cannot negotiate away the precious doctrine of salvation as well as other doctrines.”

At the same time, I think it is significant that Floyd defends the right of his church to dissent with decisions they feel are not biblically correct: “Please understand that while we do associate with the Arkansas Baptist Convention, we are an autonomous body of Christ. No convention office dictates to our church how to practice our faith. As a local body of Christ, we have the liberty to interpret Scripture as we believe is right and prayerfully historically accurate.”


  1. Bro. David,

    Interesting article. Please allow me to shed a few additional thoughts on the situation in Arkansas.

    1. I'm not sure the recent vote at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention was a good referendum on the question on Landmarkism in the SBC or even the ordinances in Arkansas. Only 833 ballots were cast in the vote on the ASBC by-laws. I would guess there are at least 1500+ Southern Baptist churches in Arkansas with perhaps as many as 2000 or more. Each church gets around 3+ messengers, so only a small percentage of churches were represented in the vote. Also the smaller churches and rural pastors are often biovocational and most do not get to attend the annual meetings. These men tend to be much more landmark than larger city churches. So the results of the vote do not tell an accurate picture of Arkansas Southern Baptist beliefs.

    2. I think the Baptist Faith and Message already teaches that alien immersion and open communion should be rejected and I'm sure the authors of ASBC by-laws agreed. However these men knew that people can often twist documents to mean anything they want them to mean. Therefore they added the helpful statement "The Baptist Faith and Message shall not be interpreted as to permit open communion and/or alien immersion" so there would be no question where Arkansas Southern Baptists stood.

    3. Back in the 1960's when this statement was added to the by-laws there was nearly 100% unanimity among Arkansas Southern Baptists that alien immersion and open communion should be rejected. However the men who voted to put this statement into the by-laws could see the changing views creeping into Southern Baptist churches, even in a few places in Arkansas. So that changed the by-laws to try and hold back the tide of open communion and alien immersion in Arkansas. They were so strong on this, they made it where the by-laws could only be changed on a 2/3 majority vote.

  2. David,

    Great observations, especially as they regard the tendency of Landmarkists to "over-reach" their bounds.

    I'm with you in that landmarkists have every right to refuse what they believe is "alien immersion" and barr those of other denominations from the communion table. If this is their conviction, then they should be afforded every right to believe it, and enforce it--IN THEIR OWN CHURCHES!

    The difference between landmarkists and folks like you and me are that landmarkists want to impose their own narrow interpretations of the BFM2000 on the rest of us (hence the recent baptism guidelines at the IMB)

    Practically speaking, this means that you and I would have no problem with a landmarkist serving as an IMB missionary. Conversely however, those same landmarkists whom we would permit to serve alongside of us would themselves prefer that guys like you were no longer serving under the banner of the SBC.

    This is the sort of exclusion that will be the death-knell of missions, if we aren't careful.

    Thanks again for your keen observations.

  3. David,

    One other thing: where were all the guys like Ronnie Floyd when the IMB passed its overly-restrictive and extra-Biblical baptism guideline?

    We could have sure used the "weight" a guy like Floyd would have given to that conversation. If Floyd's church rejects the new guideline as 'certainly not Biblical,' that says a lot, I think, about where the larger SBC would fall on these issues.
    Again, its time to stop the minority from presuming to speak and act for the rest of us.

  4. Ben,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I don't know enough to weigh in on the validity of your comment #1. You may well be right about this. I don't know. Do you really think the vote was that far off from representing what Arkansas Baptists overall think, though? Do you think Landmarkers are a majority in Arkansas? What percent of churches in the SBC do you think are truly Landmarkist in their convictions?

    2. As I hinted at in my post, I think I agree with you that the BFM does indeed stipulate "closed communion," at least, it limits it to those who have been baptized as believers by immersion. That is the reason I signed with a caveat. However, I don't see how you get a restriction on "alien immersion" out of the BFM. Could you explain that one to me?

    3. That is very interesting what you share regarding the history of the statement back in the 60's. I imagine you have done your homework on that, as you generally show yourself to have done. Are you saying, that, the 2/3 majority clause was added in specifically in relation to the issues of "open communion" and "alien immersion"?

    Also, as an openly confessed Landmarker, I would love to hear your answer to the following question, which is basically the same one I made to Malcolm Yarnell on my last letter to him:

    Do you think it is a good thing that people with views like mine serve as IMB missionaries, and/or in other denominational posts, or would it be better that we seek out other organizations and/or denominations with which to serve?

  5. Joel,

    I totally agree with your first comment. It will be interesting to see what answer Ben gives to the question on my last comment.

    Regarding Ronnie Floyd, I respect his decision to not get publicly involved with the IMB questions. Just as each SBC church is autonomous, I believe each of us as individuals must hear from the Lord, and choose accordingly our battles. Like you, I would love it, though, if more people of the stature of Floyd would speak out more openly on these issues. Especially if they were able to do it in a non-combative, healing, and unifying manner. I am very grateful, for instance, for the leadership of Morris Chapman.

  6. Bro. David,

    I've been out of town, so I apologize for not replying sooner. Let me try and answer briefly.

    1. As to the number of Southern Baptist churches in Arkansas that hold to "Landmarkism" that depends on how you define "Landmarkism". However I would definitely say a majority of Southern Baptist churches in Arkansas reject alien (non-Baptist) immersions and practiced restricted communion.

    2. As you mentioned the BF&M teaches that the Lord's Supper is restricted to scripturally baptized believers. As to alien immersion, the BF&M says baptism is a church ordinance, obviously referring to the local church. Then the BF&M defines a New Testament church as a local body of baptized believers holding to the faith of the New Testament. By that very definition, non-Baptist or non-Baptistic churches do not qualify as New Testament churches and since baptism is a church ordinance, their baptisms should be rejected.

    3. I do wish to see Southern Baptists return to their former convictions and beliefs on ecclesiology and I support the IMB policies. Beyond that . . .

    - Ben Stratton

  7. Ben,

    Thanks for continuing to dialogue about this.

    You may well be right about the majority of churches in Arkansas rejecting "open communion" and "alien immersion." I imagine you have done your homework on this. I imagine you would agree as well, though, that the percentage of Landmarkers, no matter how you define them, is higher in Arkansas than in most states within the SBC. And that, even in Arkansas, there is a significant percentage, even if a minority, of churches that do not reject "open communion" and "alien immersion."

    Also, I understand your reluctance to answer directly my last question. It is indeed awkward. However, if I understand correctly the Landmarker line of reasoning, or even that of many "Neo-Landmarkers," the presence of Baptists with convictions like mine, and of many, many others within the SBC, is, so to speak, a "fly in the ointment."

    I would guess the preferred option, for you (and other Landmarkers) would be for people like me to give in, and go along with what you consider to be historical Baptist distinctives. The problem, however, is my understanding of Scripture, and my sense of integrity, do not allow me to do this. And, among the various denominational options, I consider a non-Landmarkist SBC to be the best match for me doctrinally and philosophically, as I seek to be obedient to the Great Commission.

    At the same time, I realize you (and people like you) have your own understanding of Scripture and corresponding convictions, as well. I respect that. And, as my brother in Christ, I love you, and do not desire to live in tension or conflict over these issues.

    Also, from what I understand of your views, you do not necessarily question my salvation, nor my commitment to obey the Lord, according to my understanding of Scripture. I don't imagine you would really want me to violate my own convictions, either.

    Assuming all this to be the case, I really would like to know what solution you would recommend for all those like me in the SBC. Would it perhaps be best to have 2 different SBC's, one Landmarkist, and the other non-Landmarkist? Or do you see a viable option for people with views like mine and views like yours cooperating together in the same SBC?

  8. Ben,

    One more thing. Do you think a significant percentage of Southern Baptists would feel comfortable saying that non-Baptist or non-Baptistic churches do not qualify as New Testament churches?