Landmark Movement

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Founder
James Robinson Graves, James Madison Pendleton, and Amos Cooper Dayton.
Time Period
1851
Description
The Landmark Movement is a term identifying a party of Baptists who believe that only Baptists have a succession back to the time of Jesus Christ. Led by the trio of James Robinson Graves, James Madison Pendleton, and Amos Cooper Dayton, Landmark Baptists denied the authority of non-Baptist churches, ministers, and ordinances. These three prominent Landmark Baptist brought the movement to the forefront in the 1850s through various publications and sermons. By the 1880s, Graves was boasting that the majority of the Baptist denominational papers were endorsing and advocating Landmarkism, particularly in the American South.

Though controversial, the Landmarkers were very influential with some Baptists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Several religious groups formed as a result of the movement’s principles, including the General Association of Landmark Baptists in 1905 (i.e., American Baptist Association).
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Narrative
Landmarkism is a term identifying a party of Baptists who believe that only Baptists have a succession back to the time of Jesus Christ. The Landmarkers were very influential with some Baptists in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were three prominent leaders and advocates involved in the movement. One dynamic leader and expositor of the movement was James Robinson (J.R.) Graves, who was the editor of The Tennessee Baptist, beginning in 1846. The second, James Madison Pendleton contributed the name for this movement in a tract he wrote answering the question "Ought Baptists to invite pedobaptists to preach in their pulpits?" that Graves in publishing titled An Old Landmark Reset. A third prominent figure in the movement was Amos Cooper (A. C.) Dayton who authored the religious novel he titled Theodosia Ernest or The Heroine of Faith (1856).

A controversy arose when an editorial appeared in the Western Baptist Review by John Lightfoot Waller arguing that a baptism performed upon a profession of faith by a pedobaptist minister was valid and in the tradition of the New Testament. J. R. Graves responded to this statement saying that it was wrong and that he opposed it. Then in 1851, Graves, Pendleton, Dayton and others gathered in Cotton Grove, Tenn., for a meeting from which they issued a statement repudiating the authority of non-Baptist churches, ministers and ordinances.

In the subsequent years, Graves and his supporters through newspaper articles, tracts, sermons, debates and books convincingly expounded Landmark doctrines and views. Many Baptists refused to accept this position, but a large number in the new Southwest and Southern churches agreed. By the 1880s, Graves was boasting that the majority of the Baptist denominational papers were endorsing and advocating Landmarkism.

The basic tenets of Landmarkism focus on ecclesiology, emphasizing the succession of these Baptist principles centering around the primacy of the local church. The Landmarkers argue that a valid church can only be achieved by those who come from an assembly of baptized (immersed) believers, which naturally result in pedobaptist groups that are not true churches. Such groups are only religious societies having no authority to preach, baptize or practice the New Testament ordinance of communion.

Graves and his colleagues also introduced the idea explaining the kingdom-church concept. According to Landmarkers, Jesus Christ established a visible kingdom and determined its perpetuity. The kingdom was composed of all true (Baptist) churches assuring a continuous existence of such local churches back to the first century. Historically, the Landmarkers seek to use such dissenting sects as the Montanists, Paulicians and Waldenses, as well as others, to provide the linkage in this successionist system.

This kind of thinking involved distinctive consideration of ecclesiastical associations and the practice of Christian baptism and communion. Landmark churches refuse to recognize the baptism of any "church" or organization outside the Baptist movements, sometimes even refusing to recognize or accept other Baptist groups. As far as the "Lord’s Supper," the Landmark churches practice "closed communion" which allows only qualifying members of a local congregation to partake of communion.

Historically, the Landmark movement was widely debated in the 19th century. It was only in the opening of the 20th century that specific Baptist groups would form around these principles resulting in two separate organizations -- the Hayden movement, resulting in the Baptist Missionary Association, and then Ben M. Bogard’s 1905 gathering of Baptists in Texarkana, Ark., to form the General Association of Landmark Baptists, which became in 1924 the American Baptist Association. Many individual churches in the Southern Baptist Convention would remain informally allied theologically with the Landmark movement, but would not become formal members of either dissenting group or identify as "independent Baptists."

Photographs

James Robinson Graves- Internet Archive- from Pillars of Orthodoxy, or Defenders of the Faith by Ben M. Bogard

James Madison Pendleton- Internet Archive- from Reminiscences of a Long Life by J. M. Pendleton

The Trail of Blood, showing Baptist succession- Wikimedia Commons

Ben M Bogard- Hathi Trust- from History of the Arkansas Press for a Hundred Years and More by Fred W. Allsopp

Theodosia Ernest or The Heroine of Faith, title page- Hathi Trust
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Jerry Hopkins

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