The Landmark movement "sought to identify, restore, defend, and preserve distinctive, historic Baptist doctrines — the "old landmarks."1 Landmarkism as an identifiable development began in 1851 when a group of Baptist pastors gathered south of Nashville, TN and wrote out some principles which they said went back to the earliest Baptists who settled in this country; and to the early Baptists in England as well. LeRoy B. Hogue states that "Landmarkism represented, at every major point, simply the logical extension of practices and beliefs widely held among Baptists in the one hundred year period preceding the rise of the movement." He goes on to say that the leaders of the Landmark movement in the mid-1800s "were building on a foundation in Baptist life which was already laid."2
Bill Dickens, in his history of the Nothern Kentucky Baptist Association says that Landmarkism made inroads in Kentucky and this is shown locally by a Circular Letter written in 1873 (Campbell County Baptist Association) that teaches closed communion. Additionally, the old North Bend Association in 1897 voted resolutions in favor of dismissing William Whitsitt, the President of Southern Baptist Seminary at that time, because of his views of Baptist origins.3 There had also previously been a Circular Letter written by John Waller and published by the Campbell County Association in 1845 on Close Communion.
These were indeed indications of Landmark doctrine, but Dickens gives just two instances showing the churches of this area held to Landmark teaching. A study of the early churches' records indicate all the Baptist churches in northern Kentucky believed and practiced closed communion from their beginning. James A. Kirtley, who for several decades was the main spokesman for the Baptists of northern Kentucky, preached a sermon many times in the churches of Boone County in the year preceding the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence. His sermon was entitled "A Good Confession;" in it he followed the doctrines which Baptists preached at that time all the way back to the New Testament and identified the groups who were persecuted during the Middle Ages as being the fore-runners of Baptists. This sermon was twelve pages in length and was published at the request of the churches in the associational Minutes in 1875.4
J. A. Kirtley wrote a Circular Letter in 1859 entitled "The Lord's Supper," in which he shows that Baptists believe that Christ taught a "closed Communion" to His first church which consisted of His apostles. Note a portion of Kirtley's argument:"Now we have seen that regeneration and baptism are the Scripture terms of admission into a Gospel Church. For the most part this in conceded by the advocates of open communion. The question, therefore, in debate, is narrowed down to what is Scripture baptism. And in the decision of this question is involved the grave and weighty matters of Church existence, and fealty to the King in Zion. 'Where there is no baptism, there are no visible Churches,' (says Dr. Griffin, a distinguished Paedobaptist,) and so say we. 'If nothing but immersion is baptism,' (he adds,) 'there is no visible Church except among the Baptists.' His conclusion is perfectly legitimate. And believing, as we do, that the rite of Infant Baptism, and the institution of sprinkling and pouring for immersion, are founded in tradition and human authority, (of which we have the most abundant proof in the concessions of Paedobaptists themselves,) we regard this violation of a positive law of Christ, as a practical denial of his sovereignty, and so far a renunciation of allegiance to him, and hence an absolute disqualification for celebrating the supper. Here then, is the Head and front of all our offending. It is not our exclusiveness at the Lord's table which calls forth so much 'holy horror' and brings down upon our heads the not very amiable epithets of bigoted, illiberal, selfish; but the exclusive principles which the exclusive legislation of the King of Zion has made it our duty to abide, and from which we cannot deviate either to the right or left. And it is to avert the edge of that rebuke, which these principles, silently and kindly, but emphatically administer, that our opponents would avail themselves of this popular appeal to the prejudices and passions of the multitude.
"Let them meet us upon the real issues. This would be candid and Christian-like. They have erected the barriers to a joint celebration of the supper with us, by assuming to legislate other terms of admission to Church membership than those established by Christ. They alone can take down these barriers by submitting to "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."5
In 1873, James A. Kirtley wrote a 211 page hardback book entitled Design of Baptism. He said he studied the subject during the winters of 1858 and 1859. In it he quotes from nearly all of the prominent theologians of that day: John Gill, Andrew Fuller, Francis Wayland, J. M. Pendleton and many others. Concerning proper Scriptural baptism Kirtley wrote,In the uniform practice of our Baptist churches the vote of the church approving an applicant for baptism (upon the presumption that he desires membership in the church, and for the sake of convenience) is at the same time a vote approving him for full membership and fellowship when baptized. His baptism is professionally declarative of the fact that he is in the kingdom of Christ, and is an approved candidate for admission into any local gospel church. No gospel church can, upon scriptural principles, receive any into her membership who has not professed Christ in baptism. Each church, therefore, is charged with the responsibility of judging of the fact whether an applicant for membership has scripturally professed Christ in baptism. And here arises the inexorable law of so-called "anabaptism," alias "right baptism" — namely, the duty of churches to see that such as are received into membership with them are scripturally baptized; that is, in the right way, and for the proper object.6
Robert E. Kirtley, of Bullittsburg Baptist wrote the Circular Letter in 1866 entitled "Church Discipine," in which he shows that the churches not only held to closed communion, but they would not let an unruly church member remain a member. He said,"the only effectual way of avoiding their company as fellow-church members, and refraining from a joint participation with them in the solemnities of the Lord's Supper, is to exclude them from the fellowship of the church." This was not an unusual position, but was the belief of the churches at that time. He concluded the Letter with, "Brethren, we can not be too jealous of the honor and dignity of our Master, in maintaining the purity of His churches."The purity of the Lord's Church which they considered the body of Christ was an important matter.
What was later to be labeled elements of "Landmarkism" was practiced by the earliest Baptist church in the county. Churches were constituted with the help of other established churches. Bullitsburg Baptist was constituted from the Great Crossing Baptist Church in Scott County, KY.7 In August 1797 brethren from the Dry Run settlement requested the Bullittsburg Baptist Church "for helps in Constitution." A group from the area in what is now near Edgewood wanted to organize a church. The Bullittsburg church sent five brethren to see if they were "ripe for Constitution." The church minutes do not tell us what they did, but they no doubt believed the group was not not ready to organize, for they did not proceeed with the constitution. Then in July, 1800, the Bullittsburg Church voted that: "agreeable to the request of our brethren at Dry Run, we appointed brethren [John] Taylor, [William] Cave, [Jeremiah] Kirtley and [John] Conner, to attend at Dry Run Meeting house on the third Saturday of this [month] — Instant in order to assist them in a Constitution if to them it may appear Expedient." In this particular case the Bullitsburg Church decided that they would not help organize the church in 1797, but in 1800 they were willing to do so. They did ordain James Lee in September, 1797. He was the preacher for the Dry Run church in its early days. He and his wife Mary had been faithful members of Bullittsburg since July 1796.
The Minutes of the Sand Run Church have the following remarks on April 23 1823. "Bro. L. Robinson requested a letter of dismission for sister Malinda Vickers and informed the Church that she had some idea of joining a society of people not in union with us. The letter was not granted and Bro. W. Montague appointed to inform her of the cause and assertain [sic] her mind and make report."
In 1897 the entire association voted against the position of William Whitsitt, who wrote that immersion as baptism developed in 1641 as a Baptist doctrine. The vote favoring a resolution against Whitsitt's position was nearly unanimous — 61-1.
Though the term "Landmarkism" is never used, from the records they left, it appears that what at the middle of the nineteenth century became known as Landmarkism was practiced by the early Baptists in Boone County, Kentucky.
1Timothy George and David S. Dockery, eds., Baptist Theologians, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990; Harold S. Smith, "J. R. Graves," p. 226.
2LeRoy B. Hogue, "A Study of the Antecedents of Landmarkism," (unpublished Th.D. dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1966), p. v.; James E. Tull's references to Landmarkism as innovative are much better known, but not accurate. See Tull's "A Study of Southern Baptist Landmarkism in the Light of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology" (unpublished Ph.D. Columbia University, 1960), p. vi. Tull also characterizes Landmarkism as "a minority, alien, heterodox element in the denomination" [p. 655]. In 1652, John Spittlehouse and John More wrote "A Vindication of the Continued Succession of the Primitive Church of Jesus Christ (now scandalously termed Anabaptists) from the Apostles unto the Present Time," London: Printed by Gartrude Dawson, in which they present some of the views of Landmarkism.
3Bill Dickens, United On Misson: A History of the Northern Kentucky Association (1803-1995), Erlanger, KY: NKBA, 1995, p. 67-8.
4North Bend Baptist Association Minutes, 1875, pp.
5North Bend Baptist Association Minutes, 1859, pp. 10-11.
6James A. Kirtley, Design of Baptism, Cincinnati: for the author by Geo. E. Stevens & Co., 1873, p. 138. [I am indebted to Mrs. Elizabeth Kirtley for giving me this book. It has recently been republished by The Baptist Standard Bearer Press.]
7Leland Winfield Meyer, editor, "The Great Crossing Church Records, 1795-1801," in The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 1936, Vol. 34, p. 189. This church was organized in 1785. There are a few pages of records from 1793 and 1794 in this collection; among them is the record of the church voting to help constitute what became known as the Bullittsburg Baptist Church. The entire article in The Register is on pages 3-21, 173-195. [Meyer was professor of history at Georgetown College at that time.] (Slightly revised 4.24.05) ===========
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