HOW MANY LANDMARKERS ARE THERE? MORE THAN MANY THINK.
Don Winkelman, Editor
I was reading a Christian blog some days ago and a young lady asked the question “Does anyone know much about the Landmark Baptists? I just got married and my husband’s friend is trying to get us to go to their church...”
The answers that came back to her were about what I expected. She received a lot of feed back, but very little of it was accurate. Some thought we were Campbellites and others said we were Calvinists. Because of what they called “exclusivity” several questioned whether we were even Christian, and of course there were a number who made the tired old accusation that we believed in baptismal regeneration. Still other respondents just thought that we had gone extinct. I do not say they lied, they just showed their near complete lack of knowledge about us. The misinformation out there is staggering and very judgmental. But I am here to say that we Landmarkers are alive and well…for the most part.
I recently read a survey of Landmark Baptist posted by R.L.Vaughn in which the author suggests that there are more than 200,000 independent Landmarkers, and another 570,000 “associational” Landmarkers in the United States. He reports a total of 5,000 churches with 770,000 members. But he believes that, based on his research, there are probably twice that many independents in the U.S. overall. I agree.
That number does not take into consideration all those Baptists who embrace and hold to the same beliefs as we Landmarkers but who do not call themselves by the name. He estimates the number of these churches to be 8,000 to 10,000 with over 1,000,000 members. Nor does he include the substantial number of Landmarkers from all around the world, or the increasing resurgence of Landmarkism in the Southern Baptist Convention. In other research, the author estimates the number of Landmark churches in the SBC to be between 1,000 and 2,000 churches. This number is not substantiated; however, the influence of Conservative and Landmark churches is clearly being seen in Convention politics and is a constant source of irritation to the liberals.
In any case, when taken all together, our number is quite substantial. We may not consider all of these churches to be true Landmarkers on every point, but the greater Baptist community certainly does. We would probably be considered Landmark Purists by many.
When a church does not accept the Universal Church theory, and they get the local church right, we will agree with them more often than not and almost without exception they are correct on the ordinances. Their views on the local church will guide them to the positions they take on all the matters of ecclesiology which are at the heart of Landmarkism.
It is easy to fall prey to what I call the “Elijah Complex”. He felt that he was the lone servant of God, when in fact there were many thousands of others who were faithful as well. So don’t think that you are all alone and that there are just a few of us scattered here and there. This is a hurtful mind-set. There are millions of us, and even more who believe as we do but who do not have the Landmark name.
We know and understand that victory will not be based on the numbers. They are irrelevant to God. The Lord is our strength and the victory will be His. But it is re-assuring to know that there are so many people of like faith and order; good brethren who have not “bowed their knee to Baal.” These are people we can fellowship with at a time when fellowship is so important.
Another hurtful tendency is for some of our brethren to become so fellowship restrictive that it comes down to “It’s me and you, and I’m not so sure about you!” That has the effect of making a church think that they are the last of a dying breed, which is far from the truth, and I would think that it would be quite discouraging for them as well.
I was raised in a Landmark Baptist church, as were many of you, and by way of experience I know little of anything else. But I do know a Landmarker when I meet one, and all around the world I have found that we are essentially the same. I also know that there are some among us who have the name and wear the uniform as it were, but who are not convinced that we are correct in our beliefs or practices. They are Landmark on the outside but Universal on the inside. This is not intended as an insult, but I believe that it is an accurate observation. It is our hope that they will become Landmark through and through.
There is great pressure being brought to bear on us every day by our liberal Baptist brethren and by the human need that is felt by many of our members to “be like all the nations.” This is a strong urge and should not be underestimated. To be a Landmarker, one must be convicted about the issues that make us who we are. Those with a passive attitude will go looking for bread in Moab. It’s just a matter of time.
Most sources identify Landmarkism as a four point movement of the second half of the 19th century and try to leave their readers with the impression that we are nearly gone now and a mere page in Baptist history. Perpetuity of the church, closed communion, rejection of alien immersion and non-pulpit affiliation are the seals they have put on our coffin. These four issues are landmarks for sure, but we are so much more than these.
Our good brethren, J.R. Graves, J.M. Pendleton and A.C. Dayton did not simply form a new movement built only on the four points already mentioned. They drew their convictions from a vast array of ecclesiastical precepts and doctrines that had been believed and practiced for more than 1800 years. The brethren were reacting to an infiltration of liberalism into the churches. Those particular four points were merely the hot items of their day and were the issues that came to the forefront of the debate. The battlefield topics of the late 1800’s certainly did not represent the full scope of their beliefs and convictions.
The overwhelming acceptance of those “landmark” positions among the Baptists of that time is proof enough that these were convictions already deeply imbedded in the churches. The groundswell of support they received was inevitable and was an expression of a general acceptance of those New Testament principals among the churches of their day.
I have stated before that Landmarkism is necessarily conservative, as the name suggests, and is built on the premise that truth is absolute and does not change from time to time or from place to place. What was true in the past remains true today. Therefore, the truths upon which Jesus established His church must remain fundamentally unchanged down to the present time. Those who would call themselves a true church must have that requisite DNA and be connected to it, both doctrinally and historically.
We believe that God knew exactly what He was doing, both then and now. Man does not know better than God how a church should be constituted, what it should believe, how it should practice and observe the ordinances, or what its mission and its destiny are. These things have been set in stone in the New Testament. Man will only take a perfect and divine institution and corrupt it by doing things in what they believe is “a better way”; a way that is right in their own eyes. This is demonstrated by the fact that there are now more than 1,200 “Christian” sects in the U.S. alone, largely spawned as a result of the prevalence of the Universal Church theory believed by liberals. Almost all of these have come from that one single kind of church that Christ established and they have been born by the mind set that man has a better idea for his time and place.
Landmarkism is so much more than a four point religious movement. It is a way of Bible interpretation and application of Scripture based on the immutability of God and the infallibility of His Word. It is a way of life rooted and grounded in the New Testament. Landmarkism is much more sophisticated than many people seem to know and there are many more of us than they can imagine. I have a sort of Godly pride to be one of those kinds of Baptist.