Monday, April 30, 2007

Origin of the term "landmark"

In an earlier post, I defined Landmark ecclesiology as I see it. A reader has brought up the question of the origin of the terms "Landmark", "Landmarkism", "Landmark Baptists". I think the following is basic and fairly accurate.

Baptist minister J. M. Pendleton wrote a series of articles which appeared in The Tennessee Baptist, a periodical whose editor was J. R. Graves. These articles dealt with the "recognition" of Pedobaptist (infant-baptising) ministers, and were later published by Graves as a pamphlet titled
An Old Landmark Re-Set. Pendleton and Graves agreed that Pedobaptist ministers should not be allowed to preach from Baptist pulpits. Evidently, Southern Baptists who disagreed with Graves and Pendleton on the issue of Pedobaptist ministers, took the initiative in labeling those with such convictions "Old Landmarkers". Even if so, Graves had no problem adopting and using it -- and possibly relished it. Read, for example,Graves' preface
to Old Landmarkism, What is it?, a book he wrote in 1880.

From Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopedia: "The origin of the term old-landmarkism was as follows: about the year 1850, Rev. J. R. Graves, editor of the Tennessee Baptist, published at Nashville, Tenn., began to advocate the position that Baptists cannot consistently recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers. For several years he found but few to sympathize with this view. Among the few was Rev. J. M. Pendleton, then of Bowling Green, Ky., who in 1854 was requested by Mr. Graves to write an essay on this question, 'Ought Baptists to recognize Pedobaptist preachers as gospel ministers?' The essay was published in four consecutive numbers of the aforesaid paper, and afterwards in the form of a tract. The title given to it by Mr. Graves was 'An Old Landmark Reset.' The title was considered appropriate, because there had been a time when ministerial recognition and exchange of pulpits between Baptists and Pedobaptists were unknown. This was an old landmark, but in the course of years it had fallen. When it was raised again it was called "an old landmark reset.' Hence the term 'old-landmarkism,' and of late years, by way of abridgment, 'landmarkism'."

Dictionary definitions and Bible verses may also provide context for those unfamiliar with the term as used before its adoption to describe a Baptist ecclesiology.

Landmark: "a prominent or conspicuous object that serves as a guide; something used to mark the boundary of land."

Deut 19:14 - Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Deut 27:17 - Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Prov 22:28 - Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.
Prov 23:10 - Remove not the old landmark; and enter not into the fields of the fatherless:

This question intersects with another point that I want to make about the two previous posts. These historical excerpts do not prove the validity of Landmark ecclesiology. One must turn to the Bible to prove or disprove it. But the excerpts do call in question the oft repeated mantra that "Landmarkism" began with Graves and Pendleton. Certainly the terminology and certain refining points of ecclesiology can be traced to them (particularly Graves), but they did not create something that at least some Baptists before them did not already believe.

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