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"So Who Gets To Eat The Cracker?" - Baptists, The Lord's Supper & Landmarkism

I received a question from a friend on Facebook earlier this week regarding the Lord's Supper (or Communion) in her church.  The question had to do with our church's rules on who gets to partake of the remembrance when we as a church observe this ordinance.  She asked "Do you allow only baptized by immersion believers to partake or all believers?"  This set off a discussion regarding Baptist polity, biblical understanding of the Lord's Supper and Landmarkism.

The discussion was good and the questions were honestly asked.  There was a true seeking of guidelines and a question regarding this very important ordinance.

I was reminded of one of my professors back at Southwestern years ago when he said "The most divisive thing happening in Baptist churches nowadays has to do with 'opened' or 'closed Communion.'"  I was shocked.  I had no idea this was such a divisive issue.  I had been a member of numerous churches as a child, being the son of an active Air Force dad, and I had never heard any controversy over this.  Of course, I was just a boy and any controversy would not have hit my ears anyway.

Apparently, the church my friend was attending had just observed the Lord's Supper and the pastor had prefaced the ordinance with the statement that it was only for "baptized by immersion believers."  That caused her to wonder why such an emphasis on immersion to partake.

Now, as a Baptist, I believe in the authority of Scripture and celebrate the autonomy of the local church. So, understand this, I am not saying the pastor was wrong in what he said.  However, in our church I invite all believers (i.e. born again Christians) to partake in the Lord's Supper as a remembrance for what He has done for us.  This would be considered "opened Communion" to some because we do not require partakers to be members of the church.  We do stress that the Lord's Supper is for believers only in that the ordinance is for Christians to "remember" what Christ sacrificed on the cross.  Non-believers do not have the relationship with God through Christ and therefore, do not have anything to remember.  

We do not have the "cracker and juice police" (my non-Baptist friends would have the "bread and wine police") overseeing who gets a cracker and cup.  We instruct people and then leave it to them to be honest.  The Scripture also says not to partake in an unworthy manner and if a believer is led to not partake due to unconfessed sin or failure to attempt to heal personal relationships, he or she may refuse to participate. 

OK, there's more to say about opened and closed Communion, but the question on Facebook led to why some churches would add rules that seemingly aren't Scriptural like this.  I answered that it hearkens back to Landmarkism.  Apparently, most folks do not know what this is, so I thought I'd clear it up a little with some church history.  Rather than restate what has already been written, I have chosen to share from the details of the Landmark movement in Baptist life.

Landmark theology, or heritage theology, is the belief among some independent Baptist churches that only local, independent Baptist congregations can truly be called “churches” in the New Testament sense. They believe that all other groups, and even most other Baptists, are not true churches because they deviate from the essentials of landmarkism.

Those essentials are 1) church succession—a landmark Baptist church traces its “lineage” back to the time of the New Testament, usually to John the Baptist; 2) a visible church—the only church is a local (Baptist) body of believers; there is no such thing as a universal Body of Christ; 3) opposition to “pedobaptism” (sprinkling of infants) and “alien immersion” (any baptism not performed under the auspices of a landmark Baptist church)—all such baptisms are null and void.

Another corollary belief is that only faithful landmark Baptists will comprise the Bride of Christ. Other Christians (non-Baptists) will either be the guests or the servants at the marriage supper of the Lamb. These other Christians are called the “family of God” or sometimes the “kingdom of God.” So, in heaven will be all the redeemed (the “family of God”), but only those who have been duly baptized by immersion (in an independent Baptist church) will have the special honor of being the Bride of Christ. The landmark Baptists use the story of the choosing of Isaac’s wife to illustrate God’s choosing of Christ’s Bride (Genesis 24).

Landmark Baptists consider church membership one of the highest priorities in life; in fact, being a member of a landmark Baptist church is second in importance only to one’s personal relationship with Christ. Because of their emphasis on local church membership (and their denial of the universal Body of Christ), landmark Baptists hold a closed communion; that is, only official members of their own local church are allowed to share in the ordinance of communion. No one, not even a Baptist, can partake of the Lord’s table away from his or her home church.

Landmarkism had its beginning in 1851, when a group of Southern Baptists met to oppose the liberalism creeping into their denomination. At issue was an “open” pulpit vs. a “closed” pulpit. Was it right to welcome non-baptized preachers from other denominations as guests in their pulpits? “Here are men,” they said, “who are not baptized according to the New Testament model, men ordained by churches that do not teach salvation by grace through faith, yet we are inviting them to preach as if they were true Christian ministers of the gospel.” Out of this meeting came the Cotton Grove Resolutions, the first articulation of the tenets of landmarkism.

The term landmarkism comes from Proverbs 22:28, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (KJV). Landmark Baptists also use Leviticus 25:23-34 as support for their doctrine. Just as the Israelites were not to “remove the ancient landmark” or sell, neglect, or give away their property, Baptists today are not to remove the theological “guideposts” that separate the church from the world. “The faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is their heritage. Landmark Baptists see themselves as safeguarding the purity of the church, as originally established in the New Testament. It is this purity which will be rewarded with being selected as the Bride.

The landmark Baptists’ original goal—to stem the tide of encroaching liberalism—was admirable. The problem is that landmarkism, in its attempt to fight error, has fallen into error of a different and more egregious kind—the misinterpretation of Scripture. Here are a few points that landmark theology fails to acknowledge:

1) The “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 is not a water baptism, but a spiritual one.

2) The church did not begin with John the Baptist but with the Spirit’s baptism on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15-16).

3) The baptism of John is not sufficient for the New Testament church (Acts 18:24-28; also Acts 19:1-7).

4) The church is not just a local body but a worldwide entity comprised of all believers, with Christ as their Head (Ephesians 1:21-22).

5) Scripture lists three categories of people: unsaved Jews, unsaved Gentiles, and the church (1 Corinthians 10:32). The “family of God,” therefore, is not separate from the church.

The “Baptist Bride” churches, with their emphasis on the ordinance of baptism, are surely missing the point of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. There, Paul rebukes the church for the schisms arising over who had baptized whom. Paul goes so far as to say, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Strange words, indeed, if water baptism is what makes one part of the Bride of Christ.

I have good friends who fall into the Landmark camp.  They are Christian and I'm confident they love the Lord with all their heart.  However, I would not fall into this group.  Church membership is important. We do stress this.  However, much more important than church membership is membership in God's family.  Salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is paramount.  Let's not miss the message by losing focus of what really matters.

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