Have Landmark Baptists made any helpful contributions to the Christian tradition?
By Ben Stratton
Recently Dr. Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the statement, “Whereas Baptists, at times, have made unhelpful contributions to the Christian tradition throughout their history (see the Landmark movement as one example).” This quote was found in the first paragraph of his article “A High View of a Low and Free Church” published on Baptist Press. Is this statement true? Have Landmark Baptists only made “unhelpful contributions” to the Christian tradition? Let’s examine this question:
1. Landmark Baptists have made the helpful contribution of keeping older Baptist histories and theologies in print. One major modern Baptist History publisher even declared that if it wasn’t for the Landmark Baptists, there wouldn’t be much interest in old Baptist books. Who else has reprinted Thomas Armitage or Thomas Crosby’s “History of Baptists”? Indeed it was a Landmark Baptist who first reprinted James P. Boyce’s “Abstract of Systematic Theology” and from which Ernest Reisinger got the idea to distribute the book to seminary graduates.
2. Landmark Baptists have made the helpful contribution of founding dozens of theological schools where pastors and missionaries have been trained. This includes B.H. Carroll’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, John T. Christian at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the Hall-Moody Bible Institute in Tennessee (named after two landmarkers – J.N. Hall and J.B. Moody), and Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College in west Kentucky. Many others could be named.
3. Landmark Baptists have made the helpful contribution of sending out hundreds of missionaries to the far corners of the earth. J.F. Love, former Corresponding Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that the First Baptist Church of Murray, Kentucky (pastored by H. Boyce Taylor, a noted Landmark Baptist) was the greatest missionary church since the New Testament. Taylor sent out dozens of home and foreign missionaries, including the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Peru and Chile.
4. Landmark Baptists have made the helpful contribution of making Christians aware of the Anabaptists. Even today when most think of the Reformation, Calvin, Luther, Knox, and Zwingli get the majority of the attention. Yet historically it has been the Landmark Baptists pointing people to the life and work of men such as Balthasar Hubmaier, Conrad Grebel, Menno Simons, Pilgrim Marpeck, and others. If it were not for the Landmark Baptists, these men would be largely ignored for the magisterial reformers.
5. Landmark Baptists have made the helpful contribution of strengthening the doctrinal convictions of multitudes of Christians. Joseph E. Brown, then Governor of Georgia, said of J.R. Graves, “There is one man who has done more than any fifty men now living to enable the Baptists of America to know their own history and their own principles, and to make the world know them, and that man is the brother on my right.” As one seminary professor says, “Landmarkers put iron into the Baptist blood.” Whatever can be said of Landmark Baptists they believed in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and held their biblical convictions strongly. Even today in the areas where Landmarkism was once dominant, there are fewer CBF churches than in areas where Landmarkism was less prevalent.
However if I had to guess, I would say that Dr. Duesing is primarily referring to the Landmark movement’s insistence on Baptist perpetuity or succession as being their main “unhelpful contribution” to the Christian tradition. Yet even here, his statement has problems. For example:
1. It wasn’t the Landmark movement who invented the idea of Baptist perpetuity. This idea can be found in the writings of men such as Jessie Mercer and Israel Roberds who declared these things when J.R. Graves was just a boy in Vermont. Even the liberal anti-Landmark historian Morgan Patterson admitted that J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists did not invent the idea of Baptist succession.
2. Also it wasn’t solely the Landmark Baptists who defended the idea of Baptist perpetuity. This view of Baptist origins can be found in the writings of Charles Spurgeon (“we are the old apostolic Church that have never bowed to the yoke of princes yet; we, known among men, in all ages, by various names, such as Donatists, Novatians, Paulicians, Petrobrussians, Cathari, Arnoldists, Hussites, Waldenses, Lollards, and Anabaptists, have always contended for the purity of the Church, and her distinctness and separation from human government”), the Primitive Baptists (Hassell’s, “History of the Church of God”), the General Baptists (Ollie Latch, Woods, etc.) and even Northern Baptists such as R.J.W. Buckland. While Landmark Baptists may have been the most vocal in championing Baptist perpetuity, this view was held by the majority of all Baptists from the 17th to the 19th century.
3. While most modern church historians will cast aside the idea of Baptist perpetuity, the idea will not go away. Nor should it without a more thorough investigation. Sadly few are willing to study it. For example while the writings of such English Baptists as Benjamin Keach are being reprinted and rediscovered today, how many Baptists know of Henry D’Anvers? The noted 17th Century English Particular Baptist believed in Baptist perpetuity through the older Anabaptists and authored works teaching this. Yet his writings are largely ignored today.
Outside of his first paragraph, I enjoyed and agreed with Dr. Duesing’s article. However he doesn’t need to carelessly attack Landmark Baptists. One need not be a Landmark Baptist or hold to all of their doctrinal and historical conclusions to agree that they have made many helpful contributions to the Christian tradition.