The Landmark movement grew out of a philosophical movement of the nineteenth century where churches desired to show apostolic authenticity. The need to show historic roots of a group going back to the time of Christ springs from the fact that churches are often in competition with each other, and the Catholic church is such a large entity smaller denominations wanted to prove they were more rooted in the teachings of Christ. This philosophy, called by some the Restoration Movement or Christian primitivism, can be seen springing up through different periods of history.
Apostolic succession begins with the words of Paul, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you,” (1 Timothy 4:14) as he encourages Timothy in the work to which Paul appointed him. Clement of Rome wrote in 94 A.D. that apostles appointed bishops as successors and directed these bishops should in turn appoint their own successors. Hegesippus (180?) and Irenaeus (180) introduce explicitly the idea of the bishop’s succession in office as a guarantee of the truth that could be traced back to the apostles. Bishops in future ages used these statements to maintain church purity, excommunicating bishops who strayed from the faith.
John Wesley appealed to apostolic succession in 1745 when he said, “We believe it would not be right for us to administer either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops whom we apprehend to be in a succession from the Apostles.” Alexander Campbell in 1837 debated Roman catholic Bishop Purcell in Cincinnati, Ohio on the topic stating “The notion of Apostolic succession is without foundation in the Bible and reason.” He also stated, “The Catholic Church is not now nor was she ever Catholic, Apostolic, or Holy, but is a sect in the fair import of the word, older than the sects now existing, not the Mother and Mistress of Churches, but an apostasy from the Church of Christ.”
It is through this climate that the movement called landmarkism began in the Southern United States in 1851, Landmarkism attributes an unbroken continuity and legitimacy to the Baptist Church since Apostolic times. It includes the belief in the exclusive validity of Baptist churches and invalidity of non-Baptist churchly acts. James Robinson Graves of Tennessee, J. M. Pendleton of Kentucky, J. N. Hall also of Kentucky and Ben M. Bogard of Arkansas were two of the original proponents who often spoke on the legitimacy of the Baptist Church and apostolic succession gathering followers. Landmark Baptists maintain the true church has existed throughout history, passing through the “Montanists, Novatians, Patarenes, Bogomils, Paulicians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses”, were persecuted for their faith. These groups baptized by immersion, a practice these Baptists maintain to be “grand distinguishing mark of the true church”
James Milton Carroll wrote a book entitled “The Trail of Blood -: Following the Christians Down through the Centuries” in 1931, which details how Apostolic succession passes through baptism from one person to another through church history. This book covers the history of the Baptists from the time of Christ to the present day. It includes an excellent chart in the back showing not only the origin of the Baptists, but also the rise of the Roman Catholic Church and the origin of Protestantism.
In time Landmark churches formed a denomination called the American Baptist Association in 1924 with headquarters in Texarkana, Texas. They describe themselves as a fellowship of Baptist churches who have elected to associate with each other for the furtherance of the cause of Christ on earth. Through associated effort these churches send and support missionaries in many parts of the world. They publish a full curriculum to train their members in fundamentals of the Christian faith as found in the Bible, especially the New Testament. These churches also help each other in ministries to the poor and homeless people through children’s homes and other projects.
A split in the American Baptist Association resulted in the formation of two new national associations – the Baptist Missionary Association of America of Conway, Arkansas (formerly North American Baptist Association) and the Interstate and Foreign Landmark Missionary Baptist Association. All three of these associations adhere to the Landmark principle of a succession of Baptist churches from the time of Christ to the present. Many landmark churches also exist within the Southern Baptist Convention, Bible Baptist Fellowship, and independent Baptist churches.
Landmark Baptists place great importance on apostolic succession, this comes out clearest in the two sacraments of the church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is always by full immersion and must be performed by a minister who has been baptized and is recognized within the Landmark movement. Any method otherwise is called alien immersion. Only members in good standing who have been baptized properly can partake in communion.
Landmark Baptists believe the fundamental doctrines of Christianity such as: salvation by grace apart from works or ceremonies, the virgin birth, literal Creation, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, his incarnation and sinless humanity, security of the believer, substitutionary atonement, the divine inspiration of the original autographs and the preservation of the Scriptures in all native languages (especially the KJV in English), the indwelling of the Spirit in all believers from the point of saving faith.
They also hold to the cessation of the miraculous, spiritual manifestation gifts excluding only faith, hope, and charity with the close of New Testament revelation. They believe in the literal, premillenial, personal, bodily return of Christ and the bodily resurrection of all those dead in Christ as well as the Great White Throne judgment of the lost at the expiration of Christ’s thousand year reign. Most Landmark churches will be Calvinistic in theology. Many churches will use only the King James Bible. Churches are strict in their theology and try to follow the Biblical admonition: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.” (Proverbs 22:28)