Landmarkism in embryo form?

I think we can safely say that one of the marks of Landmarkism is the “local-only” view of the church. When we say that we are NOT saying that everyone who holds this view is a Landmarker, but those who hold to Landmark views would hold to a local-only view.

Would that be stating things correctly? Duncan’s article and Dr. Moritz’ article seem to bear this out.

I’d like to think about the historical record a bit more in this post.

One of my correspondents in the earlier post made this comment on Kent’s blog (hopefully that link is correct, I’m a little unclear on how to link to comments on a Google blog):

New England Separate Baptists had the same beliefs of a local only church designation in the Scriptures. They were most likely where Graves learned of this doctrine, but men like Isaac Backus and John Leland were well before the time of Graves.

Backus wrote this in 1773. "Christ has instituted none but particular churches." A Discourse, Concerning the Materials, the Manner of Building and Power of Organizing of the Church of Christ (Boston: John Boyles, 1773)

This prompted a question by me and some research into Backus on Google books. My question was, does Backus mean by particular churches the idea of local only or the idea of Calvinist? The word particular has a ‘particular’ meaning in the history of Baptists clearly connected with five point Calvinism, so I wonder at its use. I’d like to see this quote in its context, but the book cited is unavailable to me and, alas, not published on Google books, though it is clearly way out of print. (I realize there may be limited interest in this title, but Google and the internet have taught us that if I want it now, they will make it so.) Backus himself appears to be a thorough five point Calvinist.

Well, looking into Backus turned up some other items of interest in Google books, notably a book called James Robinson Graves: Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity, by James A. Patterson. This is a more modern book and might be an interesting biography by itself. Some pages of this are available for previewing in Google books. I snagged two screen shots. Here is the first from p. 18 of the book:

JamesAPatterson.James Robinson Graves Staking the Boundaries of Baptist Identity.p18

This is interesting in two respects: first, the connection with the mildly Calvinistic New Hampshire Confession, and secondly with the confusion of Church and Kingdom. I wonder if Graves was post-millennial along with his other crack-pot ideas! In any case, here is the New Hampshire Confession on the Church:

We believe that a visible Church of Christ is a congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the ordinances of Christ; governed by his laws, and exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by his Word; that its only scriptural officers are Bishops, or Pastors, and Deacons, whose qualifications, claims, and duties are defined in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.

The same source on Graves also says this on p. 19:


Here are my additional questions about Graves:

  1. Are his positions a development of the New Hampshire/New England positions or is he merely parroting them?
  2. When we talk about New Hampshire “localism” are we talking about the idea of autonomy (as expressed in that last quote) or are we talking about the “local church only” view?

These questions bear further study for those of us who are interested in the topic. I’m interested in tracking down the source for the local only teachings as well as the reason these views are thought important enough to be contentious about.



  1. I can’t speak to question 1. I haven’t seen any evidence either way in that regard.

    As to question 2, there is nothing in the quotes cited here to define New Hampshire “localism” as the local church only view. Wayland was a strong proponent of autonomy, but that does not make him necessarily a proponent of the local church only view. The context for Wayland’s statements was the controversy over whether the Triennial Convention should exercise denominational authority over local churches. Originally Wayland was in favor of centralization, but eventually changed his views and became a proponent of autonomy. This lead to the 1826 reconstitution of the Triennial Convention as a Society that held no authority over the churches. For context on this, see McBeth, pp. 357-361.

    Graves’ local-only view appears to be substantially different from the debates over local church autonomy that characterized Baptists from the 1600s. Particulars were typically concerned to preserve the autonomy of local congregations. Generals were typically less concerned with that.

    In order to prove that the local-only view was the historic Baptist position, proponents need to demonstrate that Baptists from the 17th or 18th centuries insisted (much like Graves) that there is no such thing as the universal church. Simply demonstrating that early Baptists valued independency/autonomy does not mean that they believed that the church is by definition only a local body.

    • I think that’s right, it is reading too much into the fight for autonomy to call it a “local only” view. I have a plan for studying this out more in the coming days, though my sources are limited. There is always the Internet, and we know that’s an infallible source, eh?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • Would “coming days” be as far away as, er, “after Christmas”?

        Since you have a problem of accessing sources… perhaps that could be rectified sometime around then… ? :)

        • Heh, heh, I don’t have any idea what you are talking about!

          In the meantime I should have a few things up and running for people to fuss at me over.

          • OK, well, let’s just say that you should probably stick to internet sources for a while. Then after Christmas you’ll have a nice new one to use. It isn’t infallible either, but primary source research is hard to beat.