By Curtis Pugh
of Bocsa, Romania
Our neighbors tell us to our faces that we Landmarkers are a “cult” or a “sect” and some probably cry out behind our backs that we are worse than that. They say we are some new aberration having an origin only in the 1800’s with J.R. Graves, etc. From time to time, some of our own depart to another camp, saying that ours cannot be true Baptist Churches because our Churches have been organized by “mother Churches,” and that it is wrong to require letters of dismission and permission from previously existing Churches of which we were members in order to constitute a new Church. Some may read the title of this present article and immediately say that no such thing as Landmarkism existed in the colonial days of North America. But I submit that this present article will demonstrate beyond a doubt to the candid reader that The Earliest Baptist Churches in America were Independent Sovereign Grace Landmark Missionary Baptist Churches.
The first Baptist Churches in Colonial America were indeed practicing Landmarkers, although of course they had no knowledge of that term as it had not been coined at that early date. This present article will also indicate to the thoughtful reader that the Welsh Churches – from whence these Colonial Baptist Churches immediately succeeded – had practiced Landmarkism in their Churches in that island nation prior to the coming of the Welsh Baptists to North America. And those who know Welsh Baptist history will be aware of the fact that these Welsh Baptist Churches must have learned these practices from the apostle to Wales, for they have a valid claim to having been planted by no less personage than Paul himself when he made his visit to Britain in connection with Claudia and Pudens (mentioned in 2 Tim. 4:21). Thus Landmarkism may with historical evidence logically be seen to be the Scriptural practice of early Welsh Churches planted by Paul and we dare suggest that these Churches must have imbibed Landmark principles from that apostle who first taught them the Word of God.
Before going further let these things be noted: (1) Quotations will be from the book titled, MINUTES OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAPTIST ASSOCIATION FROM A.D. 1707 TO A.D. 1807 BEING THE FIRST ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF ITS EXISTENCE1 I have with diligence copied these several quotations and published book of minutes without any changes made to them except that I have highlighted some things for emphasis. (2) This writer does not approve of the formation of any kind of supra-church or para-church organization whether it is called an association or something else. (3) It is with the early days of the Colonial Baptists of North America that we concern ourselves in this article and not with what this association may have become at a later date – in fact there is evidence that during the second fifty years of the association’s existence compromise and a rejection of their earlier principles took place. (4) The Churches making up this earliest Baptist association in North America were, I believe, inconsistent in some of their practices: They practiced denominational communion and they believed in the laying on of hands after baptism as a requisite for Church membership. There may have been other idiosyncrasies practiced by them as well. But I believe that it will be demonstrated that these earliest of Baptists in North America were not only practicing Landmarkers, but that they were independent, sovereign grace, missionary Baptists as well and worthy ancestors of independent, sovereign grace, Landmark, missionary Baptist Churches that exist today both in North America and around the world and that have descended from them.
INTRODUCTORY CONSIDERATIONS: First of all, let us consider some interesting and revealing information given about these earliest Baptist Churches in North America as found in excerpts from the “PREFACE” to the “MINUTES...” by H. G. Jones. “The Philadelphia Association originated with churches planted by members from Wales. Attracted by the freedom of religious opinion established by Penn, they purchased and settled large tracts of land as early as 1683. ...It” (i.e. the association – CAP ) “has been favored with the services of many distinguished ministers – men of eminent piety, solid judgment and finished education. Among these are found the names of Morgan Edwards, Abel Morgan, John Gano, Samuel Jones, David Jones, Keach, Griffith, Rogers, Ustic, Holcombe, Staughton, Brantly and others, who have gloriously fought the good fight” (pp. 3, 4). Notice that those who were organized into these Churches had been members of Baptist Churches in Wales prior to their coming to North America. Attracted by the freedom of religion in William Penn’s colony, able and educated ordained ministers journeyed with non-ordained members to this wilderness region and settled themselves and were organized into Baptist Churches. In at least one instance a Baptist Church was organized in Wales for the express purpose of immigrating to North America together as a Church.
Prior to coming to the actual minutes of the association meetings, some histories of the Churches are given: some in detail, others are not so specific, but the information about the Welsh Tract Church is most interesting. “THE CHURCH AT THE WELSH TRACT, in the County of Newcastle Upon Delaware. This church was constituted in Pembrokeshire, in South Wales, in the year 1701, at which time the first members of this church were about to come over into Pennsylvania; they then, by the advice and counsel of the churches they came from, in Pembrokeshire and Camathenshire, entered into a church covenant, and state their number was sixteen persons; and among them was the Rev. Mr. Thomas Griffith, to be their minister.” (p.15). So here we have a congregation of Baptists along with their pastor moving together in Church capacity to Penn’s colony. Other Churches were organized among these Welsh emigrants after their arrival in the colony.
1. THESE CHURCHES WERE INDEPENDENT BAPTIST CHURCHES: We doubt that any association can long exist without eventually growing into a monster that uses political machinations to exercise unscriptural influence or outright control over the Churches that make up the association, but at least in the first several years of this association it was clear that these Baptist Churches were independent and proclaimed this in both word and deed. In an “Essay” written for the Churches we read: “That an Association is not a superior judicature, having such superior power over the churches concerned; but that each particular church hath a complete power and authority from Jesus Christ, to administer all gospel ordinances, provided they have a sufficiency of officers duly qualified, or that they be supplied by the officers of another sister church or churches, as baptism , and the Lord’s supper , &c.; and to receive in and cast out, and also to try and ordain their own officers, and to exercise every part of gospel discipline and church government, independent of any other church or assembly whatever...” (pp. 60, 61). Again they state in the minutes of “1768” the following: “Some jealousy arising on account of an appeal to the Association, mentioned pages 100 and 101, it was agreed that the word appeal was not quite proper, as the Association claims no jurisdiction, nor a power to repeal any thing settled by any church; but if, before settlement, parties agree to refer matters to the Association, then to give their advice” (p. 105).
This independence is further seen in the entry for “1771” where we read: “3. The church of Newtown desired the Association to appoint time and ministers to ordain Mr. Nicholas Cox; the Association reply, that the appointment of both properly belongs to his church.” (p. 119). Both the selection of ordained men to help the Church in the work of ordination – i.e. to serve as a presbytery – and the other details of the proposed ordination were within the authority of the Church meeting in that place. The association had no authority or right to do this for the Church! Awful Landmarkism! Surely it shall be sufficient to quote one more example to show that in “1775” they still maintained individual Church independence and autonomy. We read as follows: “In consequence of two letters received from the church at Coram: the first lamenting their loss of a worthy pastor, Rev. Noah Hammond, requested our assistance and prayers: the second was expressive of their great satisfaction in Brother Ebenezer Ward’s visits, and edification under his ministry, which concludes by desiring this Association to ordain him as an itinerant. Agreed, That this Association claim no such right, and therefore, resolved to encourage Mr. Ward to assist said church in all that he consistently can, until either the church, whereof he is a member, chooses to have him ordained, or he first becoming a member at Coram, and they should continue in the same mind, which, if they do, and write for assistance, we make no doubt our brethren will duly attend to it.” Ordination was the right of the Churches and not the association. The polity of these Churches consistently shows them to be independent Baptist Churches!
2. THESE CHURCHES WERE SOVEREIGN GRACE BAPTIST CHURCHES: It should also be noted that these Baptists stood strongly for the doctrines of sovereign grace and in that connection regarded themselves to be doctrinally in agreement with Baptists of earlier times and diverse locations. H.G. Jones testifies to this fact as follows: “To let the world know how we understand the teachings of the Holy Ghost in these inspired books, the Association published, in 1742, its Confession of faith and discipline. This is in substance the same as that of the ancient Baptists in Poland and Bohemia; and of the Mennonites in Holland, and the early English and Welsh churches.” (p.4). Again he writes: “In every period of its existence the Association has firmly maintained the soundest form of Scripture doctrine; nor could any church have been admitted, at any period, which denied or concealed any of the doctrines of grace” (p. 4). I note that either denying or “concealing” the doctrines of grace would equally disqualify a Church from this association – would to God that some of our Brethren who “believe the doctrines” but who do not openly preach and teach them were so inclined as these old Brothers were! I include next a question sent to the association for their opinion regarding whether or not an Arminian could be admitted to the fellowship of a Baptist Church along with the pertinent parts of the answer given. These are not the words of some biographer, but minutes of their own meeting and thus the strongest of testimony. “1752- Query from the church at Kingwood: Whether a person denying unconditional election, the doctrine of original sin, and the final perseverance of the saints, and striving to affect as many as he can, may have full communion with the church? Answer: That the very consequence of it opposeth the absolute sovereignty of God... ...Upon which fundamental doctrines of Christianity, next to the belief of an eternal God, our faith must rest; and we adopt, and would that all the churches belonging to the Baptist Association be well grounded in accordance to our Confession of faith and catechism, and cannot allow that any are true members of our churches who deny the said principles, be their conversation outward what it will.” (pp. 68, 69).
3. THESE CHURCHES WERE LANDMARK BAPTIST CHURCHES: The polity of these Churches was the same as that of today’s Landmarkers as follows: First of all, in order to form themselves into a Church they required letters of dismission from the Churches where their membership lay. (They did not believe that a member could dismiss himself from a Church in order to form a new Church!) In the section titled, “Important Excerpts from ‘A BRIEF NARRATIVE OF THE CHURCHES HOLDING BELIEVERS BAPTISM, IN PENNSYLVANIA AND THE JERSEYS,’” we read regarding “THE CHURCH AT LOWER DUBLIN, in the County of Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania. Mr. Jenkin Jones... was unanimously chosen to be their pastor, and so continued until the year 1746, when the brethren residing in Philadelphia requested a dismission from the church at Pennepek, in order to incorporate a distinct church; which being granted, Mr. Jones was dismissed with the other city members...” (p. 12). Regarding “THE CHURCH AT HOPEWELL. Several persons of the denomination of Baptists settled in and about Hopewell in Jersey; some of them members of the Baptist church of Middletown, and others members at Philadelphia and Pennepek; and being remote from those churches, it was thought more for their benefit to be settled in a church-state by themselves, and accordingly they obtained dismission from the said churches, and the assistance of their ministers and elders, by the name Mr. Abel Morgan, Mr. John Burrows, Mr. Griffith Miles, Mr. Joseph Todd and Mr. William Kinnersly; and on the 22d day of April, 1715, being a day appointed by fasting and prayer, they entered into a church covenant, and were owned a sister church, the number of persons being fifteen or sixteen, as appears by Pennepek Church Book, page 55” (p.17). Awful Landmarkers these! They went to their respective Churches that had authority over them as members and obtained “dismission” – read “permission” and “authority” – and then called upon the ordained ministers and elders of these previously existing Churches to organize them into a new and distinct Church. That’s what Landmarkers insist upon today!
To show that this was no single occurrence but the regular practice of these Baptists we include information regarding “THE CHURCH NEAR BRANDYWINE ...these, on the 14th day of June, Anno Domini 1715, at a meeting for the purpose appointed at the dwelling-house of John Powell, in Providence aforesaid, in the county of Chester, in the province of Pennsylvania, having for their assistance and direction the Rev. Mr. Abel Morgan, of Philadelphia, and some brethren from the church at the Welsh Tract, were constituted and settled in Gospel church, ordered, and owned, and declared as a sister church;...” (p.18). And again we see Landmarkism in the way they started “THE CHURCH AT BEHTLEHEM. Several members of the Baptist church at Hopewell having removed and settled in and about Bethlehem, they the said members, and others added there, requested a dismission from the church at Hopewell; which, being obtained, they appointed the 31st day of July, Anno Domini 1742, to be constituted a distinct church of Jesus Christ, Mr. Joseph Eaton and others assisting.” (p.20). If further proof of their Landmarkism is needed, consider the “1761 MEMORIAL” regarding the Church near Dividing Creek and how it was constituted: “Whereas, a number of persons resided near Dividing Creek, in the county of Cumberland, in the western division of the province of New Jersey, some of whom, members of Cohansie church, some of Cape May church, and some not of any particular church; and whereas these lived at a great distance from the said churches, and at the same time our Rev. brother Samuel Heaton providentially settled at the said creek; Therefore, the above said persons made applications to their respective churches for dismission, and leave to form themselves into a distinct church, both which they obtained. Accordingly, we whose names are under written, being sent by the church of Cohansie, did meet the said people at their meeting house on the day above mentioned; and after sermon, laid hands on such persons as had been baptized, but had not joined themselves to any church: then all gave themselves to the Lord and to each other by a solemn covenant which they signed; and were declared by us to be a regular gospel church; and as such we recommend them to our Association...” (pp. 81, 82). Again, they requested from the Churches of which they were members “dismission” and “leave” (permission) to form themselves into a distinct Church, having been previously considered a “branch Church” or what we would today call a “mission.” Some would argue against Landmarkism saying that they formed themselves into a distinct church. To any thinking person, understanding that a Baptist Church is a voluntary organization, it cannot be than another would do for them what they must do for themselves – and that is voluntarily agree together to walk together as a scriptural Church. But first they showed that they believed in Church authority by each applying to their respective Churches and obtaining permission and authority to do so – and under the direction of those “whose names are under written being sent by the church of Cohansie” even went so far as to sign their Church covenant! Landmarkism in the first degree!
Neither did they believe that a member might capriciously move his membership to a more distant Church while maintaining his residence in the vicinity of another Baptist Church. This is clearly seen in the year “1728” as follows: “2. A query from the church at Montgomery: Whether a church is bound to grant a letter of dismission to any member to go to another church, while his residence is not removed? Answered in the negative, we having neither precept nor precedent for such a practice in Scripture. See Discipline.” (p. 29). My point here is this: it took a letter of dismission for a member to leave one Baptist Church and be joined to another! Landmarkism!
Secondly these Churches show forth their Landmark colors in that they rejected non-ordained men and refused to recognize them or their baptisms, etc., as valid. In the minutes for the year “1732” we are given the following information: “In the year 1732, a question was moved: Whether a person, not being baptized himself, and presuming, in private, to baptize another; whether such pretended baptism be valid or no, or whether it might not be adjudged a nullity? Resolved. We judge such baptism as invalid, and no better than if it had never been done.” (p.33). This is just the thing that makes modern Landmarkers so objectionable to their religious neighbors! We are called narrow and bigoted and proud and worse for taking the very same stand that the first Baptist Churches in North America took – and doubt not that this was the same stand the Welsh Churches learned from their apostle. That position is that the administrations of men not ordained by a scriptural Baptist Church are null and void!
Again in “1744” a similar question was put to the association for their advice: “The Association convened September 22d, 1744. Query from the church of Bethelehem: Suppose a person baptized by a man who takes upon him to preach the gospel, and proceeds to administer the ordinances without a regular call or ordination from any church; whether the person so baptized may be admitted into any orderly church. Yea or nay? Resolved: We cannot encourage such irregular proceedings; because it hath ill consequences every way attending it; it is also opposite to our discipline. We therefore give our sentiments that such administrations are irregular, invalid, and of no effect.” (p.49). Here we see that a person baptized by an un-ordained man was not to be received into one of their Churches. Awful, awful, bigoted Landmarkers!
Five years later in “1749” a similar question was put to the association with the same answer. “A query from the church at the Scotch Plains: Whether a person baptized by one that was not ordained, shall be received into the church, on the baptism already received; or whether he shall be baptized again, or shall such abide without the church’s privileges all their days? In answer, we refer to the solution of the like query, in the year 1744.” (p. 60). Being plagued by free-lance, bogus “ministers,” in the year “1756” the association decided to take action against such un-ordained men as follows: “Concluded, to publish in a public print, a certain William Leaton, for his irregular proceedings, in going about under the name of a Baptist minister, when he neither is, nor ever was, a member in any of our churches, if upon warning given him, he does not desist.” (p. 74).
In the third place: they believed in and practiced the ordination of those whom they believed were called to the ministry. This is seen clearly for, “In the year of our Lord 1747, the church at Pennepek made choice of the above named Peter Peterson Vanhorn to officiate among them in the work of the ministry; and accordingly appointed a day of fasting and prayer, being the 18th of June, in the year aforesaid. After solemn prayers to God, and a sermon suitable to the occasion, preached by Mr. Jenkin Jones, they proceeded to the ordination of the said person, having called to their assistance their former minister, Mr. Jenkin Jones, and Benjamin Griffith, John Davis, and Joshua Potts, who, by solemn prayer to God, laid their hands upon him and afterwards gave him the right hand of fellowship as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (p. 12). Notice that the Church chose Bro. Vanhorn to be their minister – not the association or the board of deacons or the pulpit committee or anybody else! Notice also that they fasted and prayed in connection with this ordination. Today, I fear, many Baptists do not fast and pray but proceed with their ordinations in connection with feasting and presumption. But the point is they ordained pastors in the Landmark way with a presbytery of ordained men called to assist the Church in this work!
In the fourth place, they believed that baptized groups should remain in mission status when they were too small to be organized into Churches. They did not use the term “mission” to denote such groups of baptized persons, but called them “branch Churches,” but the intent was obvious. Consider what they did in “1772 The people at Woolwich, in Glouchester, requesting to be constituted into a church, and the ordination of Mr. Locke, were advised from the smallness of their number, as appears by their letter, to join themselves as a branch to a neighboring church, until it shall please the Lord to add to their number.” (pp. 124, 125). Several other instances where “branch Churches” are spoken of could be supplied, but surely one is enough on this point.
In the fifth place, they believed that when a person was baptized, they were baptized into the membership of the Church authorizing the baptism. This is seen in that they did not believe in baptizing a person apart from that person becoming a member of the Church doing the baptizing. We read about this in the minutes from “1740” where we read as follows: “Query 2 from Piscataqua: Whether it is regular to baptize persons proposing for baptism, upon the plea that they may be at liberty to communicate where they please? Answered in the negative. Neimine contra dicente, for these reasons:- ...” and they proceeded to give three reasons for their advice, citing pertinent Scriptures to back up their views. Awful, awful, awful Landmarkism!
The quotations cited, if read carefully and understood are sufficient to prove that these people believed and practiced what modern Landmarkers believe and practice.
4. THESE CHURCHES WERE MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCHES: I understand that the Welsh Tract Baptist Church is now numbered among those who call themselves Primitive or Old School Baptists who are really anti-mission Baptists, but she did not start out that way, for the Churches in this association of which she was a member were properly evangelistic and mission minded as shall be shown by the following quotes, which surely require no comment from me. “By the formation of new churches, this Association extended over Virginia and New York, embracing a distance of about 400 miles...” (p. 4). “It will be seen also that, from the first, it has been an effective missionary body. Hundreds of churches have been gathered by the able and self-denying men, sent out at its expense to regions where no religious privileges had before been enjoyed.” (p. 5). “This was the first Baptist Association formed in the United States. From its earliest history it has been forward in the work of Domestic Missions. The pastors were requested and the churches urged, to be liberal in aiding them to visit destitute churches and settlements. Morgan Edwards, in 1771, and John Gano, afterwards, were appointed ‘EVANGELISTS ’ and sent into remote regions, especially South, to preach the gospel, and counsel the feeble churches, and instruct the scattered disciples of Christ.” (p.6). “With the growth of the body, evangelical efforts have correspondingly increased, till the world has become its field...” (p.8).
Surely this article has set forth sufficient evidence to prove that the first Baptists in North America were independent, sovereign grace, Landmark, missionary Baptists properly organized into New Testament Churches. That being the case, we ask that those who have left our position and those who disagree with our position at least be honest enough to admit that today’s independent, sovereign grace, Landmark, missionary Baptist Churches are only following in the footsteps of their spiritual forefathers who lived both in North America and in Wales. Hate and despise us if you will: argue against our position all you wish: but admit it – Today’s independent, sovereign grace, Landmark, missionary Baptist Churches continue the faith and practice of their colonial Baptist forefathers. But more importantly, we believe that we are following biblical principles, examples and instructions as we walk in the old paths of our Welsh Baptist forefathers. We think we can do no better than that and that we must so walk according to the New Testament.
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726