Defining Terms: Landmarkism

I have been sitting on this post – all but these first two paragraphs – for a couple of weeks for unknown reasons. I have been eager to hear the addresses from the Baptist Identity Conference II, and maybe something associated with that anticipation held me back. A few weeks ago it occurred to me to listen to the audio from the first Baptist Identity Conference, held back in April of 2004, so that I would have something with which to compare when I began listening to this years speakers. Getting a late start, that set me back a good bit on the current conference messages. A few days ago, when I finally heard Dr. Patterson’s address from this year’s conference, I realized that there must be an Anabaptist fixation going on over at Southwestern.

I am not sure what Dr. Patteson’s address, entitled What Contemporary Baptists Can Learn from Anabaptists, was intended to do, but I found nothing noted in the address that we couldn’t, and haven’t learned from our 17th century separatists brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian and Congregational denominations. There was one thing Dr. Patterson didn’t mention that contemporary Baptists can learn from the Anabaptists: how to pour water from a pitcher. Although Anabaptists practiced believer’s baptism, generally the mode was by pouring and not immersion. I just don’t get it. This is nothing more than wishful thinking, a subtle Landmarkism. This address may be Dr. Patterson’s work solely. I don’t know, but this has the smell of Dr. Yarnell all over it. And that is where the rest of this post comes in.

Wade Burleson, in a post late last year got it right when he identified Landmarkism as at least one source of much of the problems that currently ail the internal workings of the International Mission Board and subsequently the Southern Baptist Convention. But what is Landmarkism? As with many words ending in -ism, Landmarkism is not an easy term to nail down. Much like the Hydra of Greek mythology, the one body has many heads, slithering, constantly moving, difficult to get a firm grasp on any of the singular parts. Landmarkism is an elusive term to define, so instead of attempting to define it myself, I am going to rely mainly on definitions and explanations of others. First lets turn to Nathan A. Finn, who is the associate archivist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He also is presently pursuing a doctoral degree in church history at Southeastern and teaches Baptist history and church history adjunctively at Southeastern College, Southeastern’s undergraduate school. You should make Nathan’s web log a regular part of your internet reading, especially if you are interested in Baptist history:

“A second view, which is often called “Landmarkism,” claims that there have always been Baptist (or baptistic) churches. Sometimes this claim is made via a belief that there is an historical succession of churches present through history. This is popularly called the “Trail of Blood” and is basically the Baptist version of apostolic succession. More often the claim is made that there has been a perpetuity of Baptist principles, which cannot necessarily be historical verified by looking at a succession of churches, but nevertheless is accepted by faith. The strength of this view is that it recognizes that immersion baptism was not “forgotten” sometime between 100 and 400, only to be “rediscovered” sometime between 1525 and 1645. The weaknesses of this view include its historical unverifiability, its tendency to “de-church” (and sometimes “de-Christianize”) other traditions, and its tendency to take any immersing group–including some heretical ones–and attempt to make them card-carrying Baptists.” Nathan A. Finn, “The Question of Baptist Origins”

Now add to that a brief bit taken from an address at the Baptist Identy Conference held in 2004 at Union University:

“Those who have sought to trace Baptist succession to John the Baptist and the Jerusalem church have regarded the Anabaptists as an essential link in the claim of succession. . .” James Leo Garrett, Jr., “The Pre-1609 Roots of Baptist Beliefs”.

Moving from these two short quotes, look now at this startling opening comment from a white paper released from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

“Throughout its twenty centuries of history, the Baptist movement has been under attack from numerous directions, from the outside by individuals, both non-Christian and Christian, and by hostile public authorities; and from the inside by those who would compromise the integrity of the Baptist faith.” Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, “The Heart of a Baptist”.

In this same white paper Dr. Yarnell moves on to make the following statement seeking to establish an historical link between the English Baptists of the early seventeenth century and the continental Anabaptists of the same era and just prior to it:

“Of the four Reformation era traditions just mentioned, Baptists come closest to the Anabaptists, for we are their theological heirs, even if we may or may not claim to be their direct historical heirs.”

Concluding Thoughts

Landmarkism is a lot like tracking a deer you have just shot, it doesn’t matter if the drops are ten yards apart, or if there is a steady steam, it is still called a Trail of Blood. Let me conclude this post with the concluding remarks of Nathan Finn’s post that I quoted at the first:

“So I am all for breaking out of the too-simplistic either/or approach to Baptist origins (Anabaptists versus English Separatists). And I am definitely all for breaking away from the “pop history” that desperately wants to believe that Baptists have always been around and are the only “good guys” in a world of ecclesiastical villains. They were English Separatists, under biblical conviction, influenced and encouraged by Anabaptists, aware that they were just the latest group in church history to reject infant baptism and the territorial church.”

In upcoming posts I will comment on some of the other addresses at the Baptist Identity Conference II. Time has been at a premium, as I have taken on a couple of new projects, so please be patient.

This entry was posted in Defining Terms. Bookmark the permalink.