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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Landmark Baptist survey

Several years ago, I conducted an "unaffiliated Landmark Baptist Church survey". I worked on it and finally quit - there is really no end to something like this. After weeding out duplicates and/or churches for which I discovered some denominational affiliation, I came up with a total of 1283 churches.** I compiled no actual membership statistics for these churches, but, based on the average size of churches from known landmark Baptist statistics (ABA, BMAA, etc.) the membership of these churches should be approximately 200,000. (155 is the number I used for the average)

I have also identified 35 associations that hold Landmark ecclesiology - 3 general associations, 1 state association, and 31 unaffiliated local associations (the 3 general and 1 state also have local associations affiliated with them). In these 35 associations I have identified 3657 churches with 569,338 members. Most of these statistics are from the year 2000, but, for 8 or 10 of the local associations, the latest stats I could find were early 1990's. If these numbers are combined with the independent churches, there are almost 5000 churches that hold Landmark ecclesiology, representing about 770,000 members. I am of the opinion that there are probably twice as many unaffiliated independent landmark Baptists as I have been able to identify.

Add to these facts, that the groups of Baptists often identified as Primitivistic (Central Baptists, Duck River/Kindred Baptists, Old Regular Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Regular Baptists, and United Baptists) usually hold an ecclesiology in practice like landmarkism (they do not accept baptisms from other orders, do not use ministers from other orders, and practice closed communion), churches in the United States holding this form of ecclesiology probably number 8000 to 10,000 with over 1,000,000 members. These churches are not identified as Landmark Baptists because the term is usually limited to missionary Baptists.

This also does not consider that some churches in the Baptist Bible Fellowship, Southwide Baptist Fellowship, World Baptist Fellowship, and even the Southern Baptist Convention would identify with this doctrine and practice. This shows that, while still a small grouping compared to the total number of Baptists in the United States, landmark-type Baptist ecclesiology does have an important place in American Baptist life.

In my attempt to make sense of the 1283 unaffiliated independent landmark Baptist churches on my list, I developed seven categories to note some of the differences between the churches - Covenant Landmark, Direct Mission, Independent Fundamental, Old Time Missionary Baptist, Sovereign Grace, Unregistered Baptists, and Unknown. These categories are somewhat arbitrary (I place the churches in the categories rather the churches placing themselves) and fluid (many of the churches could legitimately be placed in two or more categories). The decision to place a church in a category was based on what I thought seemed to be her primary emphasis that made her stand out and/or seemed to guide her in her choice of fellowship with other churches. I am listing below the total number of churches placed in each category. It is possible that some of the churches in a category would fellowship with churches that I have placed in another category. Another possiblity is that some churches placed in a category might not fellowship with other churches I placed in the same category.

Covenant Landmark - 28 churches. These churches might be described as believing that only Christians in landmark Baptist churches are part of the New Covenant. They might not choose to describe themselves this way.

Direct Mission - 61 churches. Many of these churches have an historical connection to the gospel mission movement of missionary to China T. P. Crawford. I placed these in a separate category because I felt that their landmark principles of mission work was the chief reason they choose not to participate in associations or fellowships.

Independent Fundamental - 379 churches. These churches are very much heirs of the traits developed from the fundamentalist/modernist controversies of the early 1900's. They are the same as others commonly thought of independent fundamental Baptists, but with a stronger local church emphasis on baptism, Lord's supper, and pulpit affiliation, etc.

Old Time Missionary Baptist - 171 churches. These churches place a strong emphasis on a definite salvation experience, and usually have a mourner's bench in or near the front of the church. They tend to usually not have as strong objections to associations and fellowships as some unaffiliated Baptists, and are often found closely fellowshipping with other Old Time Missionary Baptists that are in associations.

Sovereign Grace - 417 churches. These churches place a strong emphasis on the doctrines of grace, usually known as TULIP or five-point Calvinism. I think most of these churches would not fellowship with other churches that do not hold the doctrines of grace.

Unregistered Baptist - 29 churches. These churches could probably all be placed in the independent fundamentalist category. But I found a strain of Landmarkers that are asserting that churches should not incorporate or otherwise cooperate with certain requirements of the government (e.g. Indianapolis Baptist Temple). Some of these believe that the registration and cooperation with governmental tax laws, etc. causes a church to lose its candlestick (no longer be recognized as a true church).

Unknown - 198 churches. These are churches which I believe meet the basic requirements to be called "Landmark", and yet I found no outstanding features (or did not have enough information) to classify them. In this group are probably some who themselves observe Landmark practices such as closed baptism, closed communion and non-pulpit affiliation, and yet do not strictly draw the line of fellowship on these issues.

These unaffiliated independent Landmark Baptist churches are scattered throughout the United States, with especially strong areas being in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas. The Sovereign Grace Landmarkers are very strong in Kentucky, but also surprisingly strong in states like West Virginia and Ohio. The Covenant Landmarkers have their strongest base on the west coast. They draw their lines of fellowship on the covenant issue, but not on whether a church is independent. So they are often found fellowshipping with Covenant Landmarkers in the ABA, etc. The Independent Fundamental Landmarkers have great strength in Texas, probably partly because of the influence of J. Frank Norris and Louis Entzminger. Old Time Missionary Baptists have their greatest strength in Tennessee and Kentucky.


** Note: I should have a more up-to-date version of this with a total of slightly over 1300, but I have yet to find it. It may have been destroyed in a past computer crash.

9 comments:

R. L. Vaughn said...

Churches counted in the unaffiliated Landmark survey met the following criteria:

1. The church is not affiliated with any association, conference, convention, or fellowship. [This is added in an attempt to not count churches that are counted elsewhere]
2. The church holds the belief that Jesus organized His church during His personal ministry, promised its continued existence, and that church still exists today.
3. The church holds the belief that baptism is the immersion of a believer in water by the authority of a local new testament church, and will not receive believers who have been immersed by protestant denominations.
4. The church holds the belief that the Lord's supper is restricted to baptised believers who are walking in orderly church capacity.
5. The church holds the belief that the church is a local autonomous body authorized by Jesus Christ to evangelize, baptise, and teach His disciples.

Adrian Neal said...

Interesting stats, Bro. Robert...

Brother Troy said...

Informative survey. I enjoyed the article very much. I would be classified by some as Sov Grace but, I have fellowship with those who at least believe the gospel must be preached and the Spirit of God must draw. If a person goes that far then in essence we would be agreed.

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Troy, thanks for stopping by and posting. Do so as God leads you.

I think you state the heart of the matter. It is our duty to preach the gospel. It is God's work to draw men unto Him. Salvation is of the Lord.

On the Sovereign Grace end, there is often guilt of quibbling over the systematic theological details of just how God does what He does. On the Arminian end, there is the constant guilt and fear that folks don't get saved because Christians don't use the right approach, right formula, right method, right gimmick, ad nauseum.

David said...

Curious. Are you personally Landmark?

Jonathan Melton said...

Interesting. As I have said before, I am more independent thinking than many of my close ABA brethren. IMO, we should look at each Baptist church on a church-by-church basis as to what they believe and practice and not their affiliation or lack thereof. That being said, personally I would reject Covenant Landmarkers and Sovereign Grace Landmarkers because their beliefs affect their soteriology. The former I would classify as Newlighters and the latter I would reject because of their Calvinism. Also, those who do not draw the line of fellowship on Landmark Baptist principles should not be considered Landmark.

Brother Troy said...

Brother Melton,

I am curious how does Sovereign Grace affect Soteriology. Now if you mean by Sovereign Grace what a Primitive/Hardshell would be then I would agree with you. However, the fellas i know that call themselves Sovereign Grace would not hold to the Primitive view at all. Think of Whitfield/Spurgeon. Both of those men called themselves Calvinist (I reject that term since I have never baptized a baby and it gives Calvin way too much credit). One final thought if you look into baptist history very far back at all you will find that the majority believed election and predestination just as Spurgeon did and if that is so (which i believe history proves it out) we will cause ourselves major issues on perpetuity and the like. Not wanting to argue just picking your brain:-)

Have a great day,

Troy

rc2521 said...

I have enjoyed reading your "Landmark Baptist Survey". I belong to one of the "Old Time Missionary Baptist" churches in Tennessee. There are 4 main associations in this area. I can supply you with association minutes if your interested. These churches meet the criteria that you have listed here for Landmark churches. There are many more churches in this area that are not affiliated with associations.
Thank you,
rc2521

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks. Yes, I'd be interested in getting minutes of these associations. If you go to this link you can find my mailing address.

Thanks for your comments.