Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set. -- Proverbs 22:28

Church Authority & Succession
Of Landmark Baptists

By John Henry

The term Landmarkism is a nickname which refers to ecclesiastical views arranged as a logical system or ecclesiastical order and popularized by the late James Robinson Graves (1820-1893).

"Landmarkism" is also called “Church Truth.”  The doctrines of Church Truth involve 1) the authenticity of a local church, 2) it’s authority as administrator of baptism, 3) it’s authority in the ordination of ministers, and 4) it’s duty as custodian of the Word of God.  It is asserted that a church is unscriptural, baptism is invalid, and ministers are not duly ordained unless there is proper church authority for them. In accordance with the Word of God Landmark Baptists insists that only local Baptist churches have authority of Christ to evangelize, baptize and teach the Bible. There is no authority in the Bible or from the Holy Spirit for doing the work of the Great Commission except by the authority of a local Baptist church.

This Scriptural truth is held by true Baptists in various associations, fellowships and independent churches. It is widely held by Baptists in the fellowship of the American Baptist Association (not to be confused with the liberal American Baptist Convention).  A large number of independent Baptist churches who are not affiliated with conventions, association, or fellowships hold the Doctrine of Church Truth.  Usually, these churches do not believe there is scriptural authority for anything other than the local church, although pastors of these churches often attend special conferences and pastoral fellowship meetings sponsored by local churches.

The succession,  continuity, or perpetuity of Christ’s churches through which authority has descended through the ages is a Bible promise (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; John 20:19-23; Eph 3:21).

Landmark Baptists generally believe that it is not necessary to demonstrate the succession of local churches. However, a few churches have traced their succession back to the Apostolic church started personally by Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry.  More easily proven historically is the fact that local churches holding the same Baptist doctrines that the Bible teaches and that we hold today have existed and have perpetuated and propagated themselves in every century since the time of Christ to this day. Church Truth is shown historically factual by a number witnesses, including hostile witnesses, throughout history.  These have admitted to the antiquity and continuity of the Baptists.  Although much of the historical evidence was burned along with the ancient Baptists themselves by the Roman Catholics.  Furthermore, it is the height of absurdity to say that the Lord’s church emerged out of Catholicism in the 1500’s (Job 14:4).

Generally therefore, Landmark Baptists teach that 1) the Scriptural organization of a church, 2) the valid administration of baptism, and 3) the proper ordination of a gospel minister, must be by the authority of a Scriptural sound church, a "mother church,” which was in like manner established and this church propagation continuing back to the original apostolic church of Matthew 28 where "church authority" first "began".

Landmark Baptist also insist that the responsibility for the care of the Scriptures which was originally entrusted by God to the Jews (Rom 3:1-2) was transferred from them to the church.  Christ’s church is the pillar and ground of the Truth.  The Bible says:

“… the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth.” (1 Tim 3:15) 

That “the Truth” here is the Word of God is clearly proven by comparing Scripture with Scripture.  The Bible says of it’s self:

“… ye heard the Word of Truth, the gospel of your salvation …” (Eph 1:13)

“… the Word of the Truth of the gospel.” (Col 1:5)

“… the Word of Truth …” (Psalm 119:43)

“… Thy Law is the Truth.” (Psalm 119:142)

“… all Thy Commandments are Truth.” (Psalm 119:151)

“Of His own will begat He us with the Word of Truth ...” (James 1:18)

“Sanctify them through Thy Truth: Thy Word is Truth.” (John 17:17)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, … rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” (2 Tim 2:15)

The authority which validates salvation is Word of Truth.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8)  “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17)  There is only one way of salvation, that is through Jesus Christ, and this way of salvation is found only in the preserved Word of God.  The depository for the Word of God is the local church.  The local church through the guidance of “the Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13) has insured the Bible’s infallible transmission into many languages through the ages.  There is only one way to be save.  The Baptist way.  That is the Bible way through Christ Jesus. 

Landmark Baptists do not claim exclusive right to win souls (Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49-50), but only exclusive command and commission from God to do so. God used an ass to preach Balaam (Num 22).  However, souls cannot be won without the Word of Truth which has been handed down through the centuries by Baptists.  Landmark Baptists do, however, claim exclusive right to baptize.  Any baptism other that Baptist baptism is invalid.  One can be saved simply by reading a tract, or through Protestant witness, etc., but church membership is obtained by baptism.  It must be understood that baptism is a work of “righteousness” (Matt 3:13-17), and the Bible teaches that salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3:5; cf. Rom 3:19-20; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9).  The only correct candidate for baptism is one who is already saved by faith (Eph 2:8).  The order of events in Acts chapter 2 were: 1) conviction of sin through the Word (v. 37),  2) repentance and faith (v. 38),  3) addition to the apostolic church by baptism (v. 41),  4) stedfastness in the apostles' doctrine and right to partake of the Lord’s Supper (v. 42 ).  They joined the church after they got saved.

The name Landmarkism is new, but the reality of Church Truth Doctrine was started by the Lord Jesus Christ and has run throughout church history for the past 2000 years.