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Landmarkism Part 1: Origins

Updated on January 24, 2019
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Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. When he arrived in Pennsylvania, he found that his father had left the Presbyterian Church. Thomas Alexander started “The Christian Association of Washington,” named for the county in Pennsylvania where they resided. Thomas rejected infant baptism and was critical of other practices he saw in the Presbyterian Church.

In 1811, Alexander was the pastor of Bull Run Church, a group of Presbyterian refugees. Following after his father, Alexander question the Biblical merits of infant Baptism. He soon came to reject his own Baptism. He and his congregation joined themselves to the Baptist association and were baptized by a local Baptist church minister.

In 1823, he started a monthly paper entitled “The Christian Baptist.” He advocated the rejection of denominational names and creeds and a return to the sole use of the name “Christian.” This was in his mind, a “back to the Bible” movement. He eventually broke with the Baptist altogether to return to "primitive Christianity."

Barton Stone was a Presbyterian minister. He was left the Calvinistic views of his denomination to take on a more Arminian view. He participated in the preaching of the Great Awakening from 1801-1803. He eventually dissolved the presbytery he helped established. In 1826, he started the paper Christian Messenger, in which he advocated the abolition of denominations and Christian unity. Finding similar views with Campbell, the two groups merged in 1832 to form the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church).

Landmarkism was in part, a response to the claim by the Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ that they alone were the only true church

Dr James Robinson Graves

Landmark Baptists

Although there are many differences that exist among the various churches that identify themselves as “Landmark,” there are some fundamental teachings that unite them. The central theme of those who hold to this view is the exclusivity of “Baptist” churches. According to them, only Baptist churches are the true church. Some would even go so far as to say that the non- Baptist are not saved. Others make the distinction between the “true bride of Christ” and “guest” (non-Baptists) in the Kingdom of Heaven. The theme verse from which they take their name is Proverbs 22:28:

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set (KJV).

There are those who would not identify themselves as “Landmark Baptist” but who hold very similar views. I have labeled these as “Perpetuity Baptists.” I am using this label to differentiate between them and the Landmarkist on the basis that they would deny that there is a “trail” leading back to John Baptist but they still hold to the idea that the “Baptist” church has existed since the New Testament. They argue for the “perpetuity” of the Baptist church. In essence, they hold far more in common with the Landmark Baptist than they disagree with them on. They seem to me to be a bit less dogmatic and softer but the underlying beliefs are still there.

Landmarkists advocate the succession of the Baptist church as an apologetic to support the validity of their position. In the same way in which the Roman Catholic Church appeals wrongly to the words of Jesus given to Peter to argue that the RCC is the “true church,” Landmarkists argue that Christ established His church with the preaching of John the Baptist. They go on to say that this is proven by the fact that John the Baptist baptized by immersion. Immersion, according to them, is the Biblical form of baptism and the sign of a “true church.” They deny the fellowship of any denomination that does not hold the same view of baptism. Please note an important point here. According to them, it is baptism by immersion that is the determining factor in weighing the validity of a church. Baptism by immersion is elevated above all other teachings and doctrines.

Because Landmark Baptists believe that their heritage as the true church pre-dates the Roman Catholic Church, they deny that they are “Protestants.” They see the church that came from the Protestant Reformation as “not pure.” In fact, according to them, the only true church is a local, visible, Baptist body of believers. They say this in reaction to and denial of “invisible, universal church”. They believe that anyone who practices "alien emersion" (sprinkling, etc.) is not the true, New Testament church.


The roots of Landmarkism can be traced to a meeting in 1851 of some Baptists over the controversy of “open or closed pulpit.” The meeting was held to address the question should preachers of other denominations be permitted to preach in the pulpits of the Baptist church. One of the organizers of this meeting was James Robinson Graves. The movement seemed to gain popularity through the writings of Graves in his paper the Tennessee Baptist. There were others who shared his concerns and views. The paper served to galvanize them together. This is not to say that such ideas came into existence at the meeting in 1851. These ideas begin to appear in the 1840s but there is no formal organization around them until the 1850s.

In 1851, Graves called a meeting of the like-minded at Grove Baptist Church near Jackson, TN. There were five questions that would be addressed at this meeting. The questions are recorded in the preface of the book Old Landmarkism by J.R. Graves, published in January 1880.

5 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, a different class of members, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as churches of Christ?

2d. Ought they to be 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?"[1]

The five questions were answered in the negative and from this meeting came the “Cotton Grove Resolutions.”

CLICK HERE for Part 2


[1] Old Landmarkism by J.R. Graves, January 1880.


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