The Landmark Controversy: A Study In Baptist History And Polity -- By: Fred Moritz

Journal: Maranatha Baptist Theological Journal
Volume: MBTJ 02:1 (Spring 2012)
Article: The Landmark Controversy: A Study In Baptist History And Polity
Author: Fred Moritz


The Landmark Controversy:
A Study In Baptist History And Polity

Fred Moritz1

In the nineteenth century a series of controversies rocked Baptist life and threatened the peace and survival of Baptist churches in the United States. The three controversies were sequentially related. The Campbellite controversy, with its linkage of regeneration to baptism, was the first great disruptive battle. James R. Graves developed his Landmark theory of Baptist succession, and that controversy became the middle battle of those three conflicts. William Heth Whitsitt originally identified himself with Graves, but later reacted against that position. He adopted what was then the new theory that Baptists “rediscovered” immersion in the middle of the seventeenth century. This third controversy eventually cost him his position as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

The purpose of this article is to trace the origins of the Landmark controversy and to see its ramifications for ecclesiology and local church polity. It will be necessary to briefly examine the preceding Campbellite controversy in order to set the stage for it. The later Whitsitt controversy will not be discussed in this article, for that is worthy of a study all its own.

The Campbellite Movement

The Campbellite heresy brought great disruption to churches. “By far the most important schism suffered by the Baptist body in the United States was that of which Alexander Campbell was the occasion and one of the chief agents.”2 Thomas Campbell (1763-1854), father of Alexander (1788-1866), was a Presbyterian pastor in Scotland who came to Pennsylvania in 1807.3 He pastored a Presbyterian church, but stressed unity among Christians of various denominations. In 1809 the Christian Association of Washington (Pennsylvania) was formed in an effort to bring unity across denominational lines.4 In 1811 they “transformed this gathering into the Brush Run Church so they could observe the Lord’s Supper.”5

Alexander was ordained in 1812. Having become persuaded of the truth of baptism by immersion, he was baptized on June 12, 1812, by Matthew Luce, a neighboring Baptist pastor.6 The following year the Brush Run Church united with the Redstone Baptist Association.7 Campbell preached in Kentucky, Ohio, I...

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