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Landmarkism Part 2: "The Local Church"

Updated on December 13, 2018
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Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

The Church: Local and Visible

In his book “Old Landmarkism,” Graves has very much to say on the church. He tells the reader that the church is only “visible and local.” It is important that I say "only." Others view the church as visible and local as well. But Graves makes it clear that the church is only local and only visible. It has no other dimensions.

p. 32 “the second mark of a Church of Christ. It is visible.”

p. 33 (3rd) “Its locality is upon the earth…”

p. 34 “The locality of Christ’s church, and therefore kingdom, is this earth; all the subjects of his kingdom are here; all the work of his church is here.”

p. 35 (4th) "It was a local organization, A Single Congregation”-

p.39 “the Holy Spirit selected the Greek word ecclesia itself- which had one possible literal meaning to the Greek- that of a local organization.”

p.40 “Ecclesia is a single city and house. “

Let us take a moment to examine the comments of Graves on the church. Landmarkists throw around the term “visible and local” to describe the church but what they mean by this phrase is not always clear. It is obvious that their view is in direct and conscious opposition to the view that the church is “invisible and universal.” Protestants and others do believe in the "local, visible church" but they say that the local assemble is a part of a larger body. This larger body, referred to as the body of Christ, is composed of all believers. The Landmark position advocates only the “local, visible, independent” church. Perhaps this was developed as a reaction to the Presbyterian form of church government. Being Baptists, they of course reject a general assembly or any other person or organization over the local church.

There is a clear rejection of the Roman Catholic and Refprmed use of the word “catholic” (universal) to describe the church. By catholic or universal, what is meant is what I mentioned previously. That the Body of Christ is the universal church that is composed of all believers. The Landmarkists say that the church is only local.

The Church is Visible

Again, I need to say that those whom Grave was arguing against, believe in a visible church. What Graves and the contemporary Landmarkist want to stress is that the church is only visible. This is made to counter the use of the term “invisible” that was used by Protestants particularly, to stress the spiritual nature of the church. Graves said:

“The church or ekklesia Jesus built was a local and visible institution, not a universal, invisible church, as Rome claims, or a universal, invisible church as the Reformers affirm…All of the redeemed are not the church, but they are like a church or ekklesia in that they are called out.” (1)

Please take special note of the phrase “All of the redeemed are not the church.” Graves fails to explain what he means by this but the inference is that there could be a redeemed person who is not part of the “church.” We can only assume that by “church” (using Graves’s definition) he means the “local visible” assembly. It is confusing that Graves would then go on to say that they are “like a church…in that they are called out.” How can they be called out and redeemed but not be the church? This is curious double-speak.

I can only infer, that Graves might be saying that those people who are in assemblies that are not Baptist are called out in the sense that they are converted but they are not a church because they do not conform to his view that church must be, namely Baptist in doctrine and practice. I confess this is purely speculation, because Graves is not clear and I wish to be as charitable as possible to him and to this view.

One Congregation Per City

Let me take a moment to address Graves’s use and definition of the word “ekklesia." He said “Ecclesia is a single city and house.”.

p.39 “the Holy Spirit selected the Greek word ecclesia itself- which had one possible literal meaning to the Greek- that of a local organization.”

p.40 “Ecclesia is a single city and house. “

Verses like Acts 8:1 are used to define their position of “one” church in each town.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

I am not sure what Grave's had in mind nor the contemporary Landmarkist when they speak of the “church” given that there was no concept of a church building and that it is clear that Christians met in homes at this time. I am not sure the size of the houses that people met in, but certainly they could not have accommodated large numbers of people. Why is this relevant?

Acts 2:5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.

Verse 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Graves would have us to believe that these 3000 people met in the same home. I find that astonishing, to say the least. Furthermore, the definition of the word “ecclesia” would not support Graves’ use of it.

Graves said: “the ‘ecclesia’ of Christ a single congregation- Not universal, natural or provincial- was independent of all other bodies.” (p.35)

Numerous Greek lexicons disagree with him that the word only refers to a single, local meeting place. I will, for the sake of space, quote only a few here.


(1) in a general sense, as a gathering of citizens assembly, meeting (AC 19.32); (2) as the assembled people of Israel congregation (HE 2.12); (3) as the assembled Christian community church, congregation, meeting (RO 16.5); (4) as the totality of Christians living in one place church ( AC 8.1); (5) as the universal body of believers church (EP 1.22)

Liddle- Scott

an assembly of the citizens regularly summoned, the legislative assembly, Thuc., etc.:-at Athens, the ordinary Assemblies were called the call an assembly, Hdt., etc.;to adjourn it, Id.
II. in N.T. the Church, either the body, or the place.

—1. assembly regularly convened for political purposes Ac 19:39; meeting generally 19:32, 40.—2. congregation, assembly of the Israelites Ac 7:38; Hb 2:12.—3. the Christian church or congregation: as a church meeting 1 Cor 11:18; 14:4f; 3 J 6; as a group of Christians living in one place Mt 18:17; Ac 5:11; Ro 16:1, 5; 1 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:22; 1 Th 1:1; Phlm 2; as the church universal, to which all believers belong Mt 16:18; Ac 9:31; 1 Cor 12:28 ; Eph 1:22; 3:10. Church of God or Christ 1 Cor 10:32; 1 Th 2:14; Ro 16:16. [ecclesiastical] [pg 60]

We can see that most Greek scholars recognize that the word "ecclesia" is sometimes used in the New Testament to refer to the "body of Christ," or the universal church that is composed of all believers. Note also, that the word makes no reference to city or town. Graves was either ignorant of the Greek definitions of this word or he chose to ignore them.

CLICK HERE for Part 3


(1) Baptist History: Sermons of the 27th Annual Sovereign Grace Conference August 5-7, 2008, Editors Laurence and Lyndy Justice, Victory Baptist Church, Kansas City, Missouri.


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