I’m sure I’ll post more thoughts soon … but I’m still slightly fried from the mission trips and all the buildup to them! The above is a slideshow I threw together late Saturday night (technically, early Sunday morning) giving a little bit of a taste of our three student ministry mission trips to Maine, North Carolina, and Nicaragua, which we shared during our reports Sunday. We got to take over both services Sunday morning and the congregation heard from all of the teens and leaders over the course of the two hours! It was a blast!
We completed a five week series on the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, depending on your Bible) the other week which ended up being a lot more fascinating to me than I originally expected. It’s an interesting book, with a lot more complexity to it than it may seem at first glance. One of the reoccurring themes in our series centered around the three Hebrew words that are translated ‘love’ in our English translations; they refer to friendship, commitment, and the physical. I had a few different sources to lean on, but Tremper Longman’s commentary is my favorite.
If you’re curious, you can find the audio from the five weeks on either our podcast page or the iTunes podcast section. And yes, we were reading graphic passages from Song of Songs, so there is some giggling in the audio …
The following is a Theology of Missions paper I wrote recently for a missions class I am taking. It was an interesting challenge; on the one hand, missions is close to my heart and something I enjoy writing about. At the same time, I had to follow some structure guidelines so while it definitely reflects my opinions, with more freedom, and no word count limits (technically, I went over as it is …), it may have turned out slightly different (not in theology, but in format) than what you see here.
THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS
A theology of missions is a critical need for any ministry leader, and ultimately, every believer. Every believer is called to live out the Great Commission, a reality too often missed. While missions is often thought of something done by a few in a foreign land, every believer is actually called to be a missionary – some in foreign lands, some in their neighborhoods, communities, schools and workplaces.
Missions in Scripture
The message of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that of hope and salvation. The gospel message weaves in and out of both the Old and New Testaments, creating one unified narrative through many authors over the centuries that details God’s heart for His lost children, the call to missions. Decades ago, New Tribes Mission learned this lesson first hand. Initially in their mission to reach primitive people groups that had not been contacted before, their goal was simple. To immerse themselves in the tribe, learn the language and culture, and then share the message of Christ. However, they were caught off guard by either the lack of response to the New Testament teachings, or the very lukewarm, loose commitment that did occasionally happen.
They went back to the drawing board and developed a one year curriculum, called Firm Foundations, that takes the students from creation to Christ. Over the course of the year, the narrative is built up from Genesis to the New Testament, laying out the foundations for why a Savior is needed. The change in response was dramatic; listeners finally understood why Christ was necessary! Over the decades this material has been used in people group after people group, including the Manjui tribe of Paraguay that the author of this paper lived with as a teen.
It is no wonder then that the message of missions saturates both the Old and New Testaments. Genesis 3:15 plants the seeds of this theme with the promise of offspring that will wound the serpent, a prophecy pointing to Christ’s arrival and provision of salvation. This was a direct result of the separation between man and God that was caused by Adam and Eve’s sin, sin that could only be healed through Christ’s death and resurrection.
Another clear moment of mission in the Old Testament is found in Genesis 12:1-3, when Abraham is set apart and given his calling. While he was specifically called to be the beginnings of a great nation, it was a setting apart that symbolized Christ one day setting apart His church. Through Abraham’s actions, God promised in verse three that “all peoples on earth will be blessed.” All peoples! Abraham was being commissioned for mission, a mission to reach and bless the world with Christ. Hebrews 11 affirms that it was Abraham’s faith that saved and guided him, not his actions. The same faith that is tied so vitally to the mission of reaching a lost world.
The gospels build on what the Old Testament began, revealing the God’s plan for salvation, and ultimately building up to the Great Commission – the command to spread the word to all the world about Christ and the salvation found in Him, the fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve thousands of years before. From there, the rest of the New Testament gives the believer practical advice on how to live out that calling to worship God and reach the lost.
Christ consistently pointed His followers to the need and our role in being a part of the plan to meet that need. In Matthew 9:38, He told His disciples that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” Borthwick points out that there is an undercurrent in scripture that mission is an ongoing task, pointing out that “the command we translate as ‘go’ in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15 is actually a participle: ‘as you are going.’”
Mark 6 and Luke 10 both record instances where Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs of two to preach repentance wherever they could be heard. Before they fully understood the reality of who Christ was, before His death and resurrection, Jesus was already sending them out into the world to pave the way for the promise made to Abraham to be fulfilled at long last. Throughout the gospels, the disciples time and again had the misperception that Jesus was a political messiah for the Jews, while Christ demonstrated over and over His love for all people, regardless of nationality, gender or age, and His desire to see people connected to God.
Nature of God and Missions
The nature of God is far greater than this paper can adequately describe. Man has created words in an attempt to describe His nature; holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, immutable, love – the list goes far longer. One of the critical aspects of God’s nature is His worthiness of worship. Passages like Isaiah 43:7, Romans 11:36 and Revelation 4:11 all speak of how mankind was created to bring glory to God, to worship Him. At His core, God’s nature demands worship. Meanwhile, mankind’s core purpose is to worship God. Piper said it well when he wrote “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.” Driving that point home, he also observed that “The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.”
Humans were designed to have a relationship with God, given the incredible purpose of bringing glory to Him. This is why Christ’s primary concern was seeing people made right and connected with God. The secondary purpose, why Christ’s closing words before ascending to heaven were the Great Commission, having become right with God, is to in turn help others to be made right and connect with God so that in time all creation will be restored to its purpose of bringing glory to God.
Missions and Theology
“There is no more important question in encountering mission theology than this: How is a solid, biblically based foundation for mission theology constructed?” A theology of missions does not stand in isolation; it is constructed in light of a healthy structure of theology. Theologies of God, humanity, creation, and so on, need to be developed and linked together. Just as God cannot be contained in a few descriptive words, theology needs to be linked to be understood.
Theology of Trinity
The Trinity, while not directly referenced in scripture, is a vital theology, both on its own as well as with regards to missions. “The doctrine of the Trinity is crucial for Christianity. It is concerned with who God is, what He is like, how He works, and how He is to be approached. Moreover, the question of the deity of Jesus Christ, which has historically been a point of great tension, is very much wrapped up with our understanding of the Trinity.”
In understanding the Trinity, believers know both who to worship (God the Father, Son and the Spirit), how God functions, and how He is to be approached. Of particular note in regards to missions is the deity of Christ. Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 1 are two critical passages that affirm the deity of Christ. He was not simply a man. Consequently, His death and resurrection have power for all mankind. His command to mission in the form of the Great Commission, has authority and is relevant to all believers. His approach to mission is an example to both follow and learn from.
Theology of Inerrancy
The authority of scripture to speak into people’s lives is in part based on the theology of inerrancy. This directly impacts the theology of mission as that is shaped by the words of scripture. Why is inerrancy important? The dependability and reliability of scripture is critical both to the integrity of faith, but also to the development of faith practices and theology. The truth of scripture impacts each of the following:
- Truth of scripture frees from Satan; John 8:32, 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
- Truth of scripture mediates grace and peace; 2 Peter 1:2.
- Truth of scripture sanctifies; John 17:17, 2 Peter 1:3-12, 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
- Truth of scripture serves love; Philippians 1:9.
- Truth of scripture protects from error; Ephesians 4:11-15, 2 Peter 3:17-18.
- Truth of scripture saves; 1 Timothy 4:16, Acts 20:26-27, 2 Thessalonians 2:10.
- Truth of scripture is the ideal of heaven; 1 Corinthians 13:12.
- Truth of scripture is approved by God; 2 Timothy 2:15.
If the believers call to mission and support of mission, both locally and globally, is based on scripture, theology of inerrancy is a key part of that call.
Two Themes of Mission Theology
There are a number of themes that are tied to a healthy theology of mission; the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ, contextualization, liberation, justice, mission Dei, and others. Particularly relevant to this paper are the themes of worship and the Great Commission. These two themes drive both the purpose and the scope of missions.
Piper wrote, “Missions is not first and ultimate; God is. This truth is the lifeblood of missionary inspiration and endurance.” Worship defines the theme behind why missions exists. When confronted with even glimpses of God’s glory, the only natural response is worship. Over and over throughout scripture, both the lost and saved, the demons and angels, always respond the same; they drop to the ground in worship and awe. So many behaviors and disciplines have to be learned, compelled, or practiced. In describing His people, God said in Isaiah 43:7, “I created for my glory … I formed and made.” The drive to worship God should motivate all that we do; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Our natural response to God is to worship Him, and that ultimately, when we are faced with His glory in eternity, there will be no other response possible. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, worship, or giving glory to God, is tied to all that we do – even activities as mundane as eating and drinking. How we work in our jobs, how we interact with others, how we serve in our neighborhoods and in our churches, all should bring glory to God. Even Piper’s comment describing the motive behind missions bears relevance; the Great Commission, the calling to reach a lost world is ultimately based on the reality that not all creation worships God.
The Great Commission
The Great Commission, Jesus final words to His followers before ascending into heaven, define the task itself and the method; “Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Luke records these final words slightly different in Acts 1:8, conveying the same theme but with some additional insight to the method; “[Jesus said] you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” From these two passages, we get the Great Commission, the command to reach the world. This is done through making disciples; in other words, creating students of Christ who in turn create students of Christ. The scope? It begins locally, spreads nationally, and ultimately reaches the world.
Practical Mission Theology
Theology of mission is primarily lived out in three contexts; the missionary serving away from home, church leadership in their support and example of mission, and the lay believer not in full time ministry.
For many, the traditional missionary defines what missions is. The individual or couple who moves to a different location with the intent of being a witness for Christ to those there. Often times this is accomplished through learning language and culture, building relationships and understanding of the region they are in, and finally as opportunity arises, presenting the message of Christ, planting a church, and eventually moving on once the newly planted body of believers is self-sustaining.
The danger of not having a theology of mission while serving as a missionary is in losing sight of the purpose of missions. A healthy theology guides and directs the missionary, giving them both a plan for action as well as the purpose behind it. It becomes the source of encouragement and endurance as they struggle through the challenges of immersing themselves in a culture not their own, the time and effort it takes to learn languages and preach Christ, and so on.
One of the roles for leadership in the church is that of equipper. Ephesians 4:12 charges pastors and leaders to equip the congregation for acts of service. This is important when it comes to missions; leadership must have both a theology and plan for missions, as they are in the unique role of facilitating every level of the Great Commissions – locally, nationally and globally.
Leadership should provide opportunities for growth, education, understanding and for living out the call to mission in the local environment and community. While not all are called to full time ministry elsewhere, every church should be raising up and sending some. In addition, they should be challenging the congregation in their giving to support missions at every level of the Great Commission financially. Paul frequently touches on this point; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8-9, Philippians 4:10-20, and 1 Timothy 6:17-19.
Finally, lay believers active in the local church live out a healthy theology of mission when they understand that each individual is called to be a missionary in the Great Commission – not just the ones who go to other countries and immerse themselves in other cultures. Believers are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11) called to reach their Jerusalem for Christ. So often, the church prays for God to move in their communities but fail to recognize that He has already placed His missionaries in every community, school, and workplace. Believers truly worship and serve God when they recognize their vital role in both supporting missionaries abroad through prayer and finances, and serving as missionaries to their community.
Borthwick, Paul. Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church? Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3 ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.
Moreau, A. Scott, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission). 2 ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.
Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.
 Paul Borthwick, Western Christians in Global Mission: What’s the Role of the North American Church?, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 112.
 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), Kindle location 547.
 A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission), 2 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), Kindle location 1809.
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 292.
 Moreau, Corwin, McGee, Introducing World Missions, Kindle location 1887.
 Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!, Kindle location 594.
New York Time’s just published an article detailing research performed by the National Institutes of Health on former Biggest Loser contestants over the course of a number of years revealing a significant, ongoing permanent slowdown in metabolism resulting in almost inevitable regaining of the weight loss. I have to be honest, the research really helped me understand my own struggles in the decade since my season wrapped. It does not mean it is impossible to keep the weight off, but it does explain why it seems exponentially harder than it should be. It’s actually a relief in some ways to read; not because it’s an excuse, but it helps me understand. It certainly describes my experience. Definitely read the whole article; here was the quote that really jumped out at me:
Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends. So they were not surprised to see that “The Biggest Loser” contestants had slow metabolisms when the show ended.
What shocked the researchers was what happened next: As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.
Read the whole article here and let me know what you think!
I was surprised at the response to yesterday’s post (find it here) listing my high school teacher’s fifty rules for public speaking, so I thought I would upload a scan of the original document. It was far and a way my favorite class in high school; if you have ever seen the movie “Dead Poet’s Society,” then you know what kind of teacher Tom Jenkins III (or as we knew him, the Colonel) was. He passed away a couple years after I graduated, but left quite a legacy.
The class was a trip. We had to do short speeches with no warning on topics of his choosing, we had to prepare speeches, do devotionals, and most importantly, memorize the fifty rules. He would coach us, challenge us, and show no mercy in challenging us to grow as speakers. My favorite part? He would sit in the back of the auditorium (to make sure we were projecting) and if we broke a rule, he would yell out the number (which meant we lost one percentage point)! It was unnerving at first to have him loudly yelling numbers from the back of the room … but probably the thing that prepared me for working with middle schoolers the most! Ha!
Over the years I’ve taken a few public speaking and/or preaching classes; in Bible school, Gordon College, most recently as part of my course of study through Liberty’s seminary. But my all time favorite class? The one I took back in ’92 or ’93 while I was a junior or senior in high school, taught by Tom Jenkins III, or as we all knew him, the Colonel. I loved the class and the way he taught it. He centered it around fifty rules that he put together that we needed to memorize and were graded by; over the years I’ve thought of them often and wished I still had them … and the other week I found my copy going through an old box of papers! Here they are in all of their early nineties glory:
- The speaker should always be in the most dominant place in a room.
- Never apologize for the speaking situation.
- Do not interrupt a group by saying, “May I have your attention, please?”
- The most important aspect of public speaking is that there must be a message.
- Minimize distractions.
- Your voice is your major instrument but you should use all your instruments.
- Maximize your assets – first find what they are, and then use them.
- Don’t avoid personal illustrations.
- Don’t admit any weaknesses; i.e., “I didn’t have enough time,” “I didn’t have enough education.”
- Physical rules for delivery:
- The outsides of your feet should be even with the outsides of your shoulders.
- Back should be relaxed.
- Hands should be comfortably by your side.
- Head up with eye contact.
- Don’t lock your knees.
- Put your belt slightly below your navel.
- Your weight should be evenly distributed.
- Avoid “stupid” truisms.
- Don’t violate time limits.
- Avoid vocalized pauses at all costs.
- Use as few scriptural references as possible and then major on a few words or ideas.
- Never say, “I would like to …” Just do it!
- “Suit the action to the word and the word to the action.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
- “Speak the speech … trippingly on the tongue.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare. ARTICULATION!
- “Make your deliverance smooth. You must acquire and beget a temperance which gives it smoothness.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare.
- “Don’t out Herod Herod.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare. Don’t overplay anything.
- When you get finished, quit.
- Organization of a speech is the most important factor in planning a speech.
- “Nothing comes from nothing.” –King Lear, Shakespeare. Choose a good topic.
- Research until you find something interesting.
- Information must be valid, pertinent, reliable, and current.
- Don’t change topics in the middle of your research.
- Audiences have no toleration for bragging. Don’t be the hero of your own story.
- Do not say, “thank you,” except when it is expected and when you can mean it!
- The show must go on. Nothing should stop you from delivering and/or completing your speech.
- Develop a style. It must include articulation, projection, and message.
- Don’t be afraid of emotion.
- A crowd is comprised of individuals. Initiate strong eye contact with the key individuals.
- Eye contact opens doors.
- Handle problems while you’re speaking as if they were planned and you enjoy them.
- Try not to laugh at your own jokes.
- Don’t major on the minors – get organized.
- Reading long passages from other people is dull. Don’t use (carry with you) any books other than the Bible.
- Spend a lot of time preparing beginnings and endings – make them effective, then stick to what you’ve planned.
- Enthusiasm must show.
- Learn or practice using ad-lib.
- Organization must be apparent. It necessitates an outline and the outline forces organization.
- Different types of organization:
- Sequential or chronological.
- Authoritative – scriptural.
- Quotes and references must be specific. Use quotes especially to goose ending.
- Use specific detail and exact numbers.
- Every audience is different.
- Every audience requires adaptation. Don’t try to adapt the audience to you, but adapt yourself to the audience.
- Performance enhances skills more than rehearsal. Practice in front of someone.
- Imitation is no substitute for motivation. Feel it. Never be content with imitations.
- Plan for overreaction of the audience.
- Anticipate every possible reaction from the audience.
- The audience is more important than the speaker – you must believe it!
The highest response for the Christian to God, what we were designed to do and will consume our focus when we are fully united with God in Heaven, is to worship. Philippians 2:9-10 says “Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
John Piper wrote, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.”¹ The drive to worship God should motivate all that we do; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Scriptures point time and again to the idea that our natural response to God is to worship Him, and that ultimately, when we are faced with His glory in eternity, there will be no other response possible. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, worship, or giving glory to God, is tied to all that we do – even activities as mundane as eating and drinking. How we work in our jobs, how we interact with others, how we serve in our neighborhoods and in our churches, all should bring glory to God. Even Piper’s comment bears relevance; the Great Commission, the calling to reach a lost world is ultimately based on the reality that not all creation worships God.
The challenge is our flesh and our sin nature; while we are created to worship God, sin has corrupted our nature. Even as imperfect believers, it is easy for us to lose sight of that high calling. Tozer writes, “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.”² Yet, this is the opposite of worship – creating a (false) god we can control is worship, but it is worship of our own wisdom instead of the Creator.
Boa asks the question, what if you only had one year to live? How would that shape your priorities?³ In our core, we know the things of the Spirit, of the soul, of the eternal are what truly matter. While busyness routinely draws our attention to the temporal, what truly matters is revealed in times of crisis, of sickness, of death. In those moments we find it easy to focus on the spiritual. The challenge is in learning to have that perspective throughout life, not just in the briefest of moments. As believers, we must recognize the temporary nature of our physical lives, that it is just vapor rapidly disappearing (James 4:14). This perspective is not a dark one, it is instead one filled with hope. Letting go of the temporal things to instead pursue worship of God in all areas of life, to challenge others to that same worship, that is the highest calling and one that gives our lives the meaning and purpose they were designed to have. It gives us a taste of the unfettered, perfect worship we will one day experience in eternity with God our Creator.
1. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, Perspectives On the World Christian Movement: Reader and Study Guide, 4 ed. (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013), Kindle location 7313.
2. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: the Attributes of God, Their Meaning in the Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 9.
3. Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), Kindle location 956.
During the month of March my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Sunday, the 27th:
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (NLT)
But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.
Paul the Apostle is one of the church’s greatest missionaries. He knew the scriptures, had a confidence in his calling, and saw tremendous results wherever he went. And yet he had troubles, he had suffering. He was blessed to receive these messages of support and love from the churches.
During my family’s time in South America we loved our calling, but there were times when it was difficult being so far from home. We missed family, friends, and a culture that we understood and could navigate with confidence. One of my favorite memories from those years was the day I discovered our mailbox crammed with letters all addressed to me! My youth group back home in the States had showered me with notes of encouragement, tangible reminders of their prayers and thoughts of me even from so far away. In the words of Paul, it gave me new life and encouragement!
Some are called to serve abroad, others are called to serve in the local church, but we are deeply connected and part of our calling here at home is to be both strong in our faith, and to encourage our brothers and sisters called to serve far from home.
Lord, we pray for our missionaries serving throughout the world, that they would be encouraged, that they would have new life, and that they would know and feel our support and earnest prayers for them. Please give them the strength and wisdom to continue serving You in this way. Amen.
During the month of March my church is doing a 31 days of prayer challenge. The other pastors, myself, and some of the key leadership all contributed short devotionals to form a booklet we’ve been giving to our congregation and emailing daily devotionals from. This is one I wrote for last Friday, the 25th:
Philippians 1:27 (NLT)
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.
It’s amazing when you stop to think about it. The Christian believers in Philippi were experiencing persecution and suffering in a way that we will most likely never fully understand. And yet, over and over throughout his letter to them, Paul drives home the importance of unity. It’s almost as if he is saying, yes, the suffering, the death, the torture – that’s all hard, but the real challenge is putting aside our personal desires and being united!
The easy way out when we disagree, when we are uncomfortable, when we do not get what we want, is to leave. To find a church or other Christians who do line up with us … until they don’t. But on those incredible occasions where a body of believers can truly stand together with one spirit and purpose, it is a thing of beauty! Mother Teresa once said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” God has placed us together for a reason. Our unique gifting and collection of passions combined together in the unity He intends can accomplish great things.
Lord, we ask for unity. We ask for the wisdom and ability to put aside differences and focus on the calling You have given us as a church. Amen.
This is a research paper I wrote a couple weeks ago for a Baptist History class I just finished; it’s an interesting moment of history in the Baptist Church in America.
THE LANDMARK MOVEMENT
The Landmark Movement was an overreaction to the Campbellite controversy, claiming direct Baptist succession through the ages and an exclusive hold on the church, however the movement was based on faulty assumptions instead of actual historical evidence.
The movement erupted in the Southern Baptist Church in the mid-nineteenth century. While its overall impact in the church had varying degrees of influence, it did not spread to northern churches. It began as an overreaction to another extreme theological view, with leaders that had a penchant for controversy but were powerful communicators and effective at convincing others of their views through print and speaking. However, in their zeal they came to theological conclusions and opinions and then tried to find the supporting evidence rather than examining the evidence and letting it shape their theology. This paper will demonstrate this by briefly explaining the Campbellite controversy, recording the primary influences in forming the Landmark Movement and how they did so, the core beliefs of the Landmark Movement, and the resulting controversy and response from the Southern Baptist Church.
The Campbellite Controversy
Originally from a Presbyterian background, Alexander Campbell and his father, joined the Baptist church in 1812. However, while they accepted immersion, it was not long before they were pushing for reforms in the Baptist church as a whole on issues of Old Testament authority, the nature of saving faith, the role of baptism in salvation, and other core beliefs. In addition, they opposed missionary societies, titles, and salaries for ministers. Essentially, they wanted to remove any human traditions from church and bring it back to a “primitive order.” By this they meant core practices found only in scripture.
Over time, his teachings split the denomination, with hundreds of churches leaving with him to form the Church of Christ denomination. His ideas were able to catch momentum because of the combination of a simple approach to scripture and resentment from churches distant from the main offices of the denomination feeling unrepresented or left out. This was the first major internal division for the Baptist church, out of which provided the groundwork for the Landmark Movement’s values of extreme core Baptist theology and traditions being embraced.
The Landmark Movement
With the trauma of a denominational split and the uncertainty cast on Baptist traditions and heritage, the climate in the aftermath of the Campbellite controversy fostered a search for “ecclesiastical certainty.” This climate was ripe for the extreme forms of Baptist theology that were developed in the Landmark Movement. Ultimately, the goal of the Landmark Movement was to establish the Southern Baptist Church as the one true church.
Leaders in the Movement
There were three main leaders in the formation of the movement, referred to by their followers as the “Great Triumvirate”; James Madison Pendleton, Amos Cooper Dayton, and James R. Graves. Of the three, Graves was the primary voice of the movement, providing the initial spark to its formation, and driving it throughout the years.
James R. Graves
Graves was born in Vermont, was converted at the age of 15 and then baptized in the Baptist church there. While he did not have any formal education, he was hired as a principal for academies in Ohio and Kentucky, and over time demonstrated such a natural talent that a Baptist church in Kentucky licensed him to preach. He committed himself to a self-taught program of study to prepare for the pastorate, covering modern languages and the Bible, and was eventually ordained at the age of 24.
The church he was a part of, and that eventually ordained him, was pastored by Ryland Dillard, a man passionately opposed to the Campbellite teachings and deeply concerned about its spread through his region. From there, Graves moved back to Ohio where he was invited to preach at a church led by what he would later call “a brilliant infidel.” The story goes that with just one sermon, Graves was able to turn the congregation from the Campbellite teaching and would spend the rest of his life committed to protecting others from the Campbellite “infidels.”
From there, Graves moved to Nashville to become a teacher. During that time he also accepted a pastorate, but it was short lived as he became the assistant editor of the Tennessee Baptist in 1846. Two years later, Graves became the editor, a role he would hold for over forty years. Between his influence through the Tennessee Baptist, and his powerful oratory skills, Graves was able to powerfully build momentum and drive the Landmark Movement.
Amos Cooper Dayton
In 1813 Dayton was born in New Jersey to a Presbyterian family, and as such was baptized six months later. He studied medicine in New York City and graduated at 22 years old, however he only practiced medicine for a short period before transitioning to dentistry. During his early twenties, Dayton had a period of doubts, even embracing universalism briefly, but after a severe illness that would impact him the rest of his life, he found himself convinced that “the Bible is of God, and universalism of the Devil.”
Dayton remained a Presbyterian until 1852 when some of the books he was reading finally convinced him of the failings of his current denomination and convinced him to become Baptist. He was baptized and a week later preached his first sermon, eventually becoming ordained in the Baptist church. He began writing for the Tennessee Baptist in 1853 and eventually became an associate editor working with Graves in 1858. While his favorite writing style was fiction, a genre he excelled in, he was most known for the 1858 book Pedobaptist and Campbellite Immersions, in which he powerfully attacked the Campbellite movement and bolstered the credibility of the Landmark Movement.
During his years of association with Graves and his involvement in the Landmark Movement, Dayton was a powerful writer. Because of his connections with the Bible Board where he served first as an agent and then the corresponding secretary, he quickly became known in the Southern Baptist denomination. He eventually became the Southern Baptist Church Sunday School Union president, and then transitioned to the secretary position. Through his prominence, he was positioned well to be part of the trio of leaders in the Landmark Movement.
James Madison Pendleton
Much of Pendleton’s fame came through his crusading to abolish slavery. He was born in 1811 in Virginia, but grew up in Kentucky on a farm. At 26 he took his first pastorate in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he would remain for twenty years. He was known for not just reaching out to the free in his region, but evangelizing the slaves as well. His speaking style was that of reason, not emotionalism, and was an effective communicator with a strong hold on his material. He was powerful in debates, and a strong writer, with each of these skills contributing to his rise in influence. By the 1840’s he was writing for several of the Baptist papers, even ones who disagreed with him but appreciated his ability.
While he never embraced the Landmark Movement to the degree of Graves or Dayton, he did become a compelling advocate for it in the areas he agreed with. His tracts urging Baptist churches to stop participating in pulpit exchanges with non-Baptist churches, and his speaking quickly rose in popularity, causing Graves to reach out to him and begin working together. His greatest influence came through his 1867 book, Church Manual, a guide on Baptist life based on Landmark values, a work that has had a lasting influence in the Southern Baptist Church.
The Landmark Movement’s Tenets
With the Southern Baptist Church still reeling from the Campbellite controversy and its efforts to change the core beliefs of the Baptist church, there was a hunger for the call to a stricter, more defined Baptist theology. Graves led the charge in this, developing much of the Landmark theology, and using his resources and connections through his paper, Dayton, Pendleton, and others to rapidly spread throughout the church, particularly in the Southwest. Most did not think of it as a new movement, but rather a return to what they thought were core Baptist beliefs. However, in actuality, the tenets of Landmarkism were extreme versions of Baptist tradition, loaded with danger for the church.
The name itself, the Landmark Movement, was based on two Old Testament passages; Proverbs 22:28 and Job 24:2, both of which in the King James Version caution against removing the old landmarks set by those who went before. With their intent of preserving historic Baptist practices and theology, the name was a natural one.
Graves wrote in his booklet, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, that for him the issue began to crystalize on the day his mother and sister were baptized by a pastor who also performed infant baptisms. He wrote of his frustration that over the course of one day, this man baptized believers and infants, immersing some, pouring water over others. He writes, “Those different acts for ‘one baptism’ made an indelible impression,” one that was further magnified by the pastor’s seeming disinterest in the whole process. For years he wrestled with these and other issues he saw as problems in the Baptist church, culminating in him, as editor of the Tennessee Baptist presenting to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1851 these five questions:
1st. Can Baptists, consistently with their principles or the Scriptures, recognize those societies not organized according to the pattern of the Jerusalem church, but possessing different governments, different officers, a different class of members, different ordinances, doctrines and practices, as churches of Christ?
2d. Ought they to be called gospel churches, or churches in a religious sense?
3d. Can we consistently recognize the ministers of such irregular and unscriptural bodies as gospel ministers?
4th. Is it not virtually recognizing them as official ministers to invite them into our pulpits, or by any other act that would or could be construed into such a recognition?
5th. Can we consistently address as brethren those professing Christianity, who not only have not the doctrine of Christ and walk not according to his commandments, but are arrayed in direct and bitter opposition to them?
These questions, and the resulting answers came to be known as the Cotton Grove Resolutions. Ultimately, under Grave’s leadership, the tenets of the Landmark Movement came to be:
- Baptist churches are the only true churches in the world. The Landmark Movement was highly exclusive and viewed the Baptist church as the only church bearing all the marks of a true church. As such, they believed that the church Christ founded was a Baptist church, regardless of its name at the time. A further ramification of this belief was the conviction that only Baptist churches have ministers, ordinances, and preaching recognized as authoritative and true in God’s eyes.
- The true church is a local, visible institution. Landmarkism rejects the idea of an invisible, or universal church. Each church is to be self-governing under Christ, maintaining its own discipline.
- The churches and the kingdom of God are coterminous. According to Graves, “church” and “kingdom” are synonymous terms in the Bible. The true churches together form the kingdom, much like the independent states form the United States of America. One of the ramifications of this belief was that if only Baptist churches are true churches, and the kingdom of God is comprised of Baptist churches, then to be saved, or in the Kingdom, one must be Baptist – a point that Graves did deny was his intent.
- There must be no “pulpit affiliation” with non-Baptists. Up until this point, there had been a lot of cross-denominational teamwork and pulpit swaps. Revivals were a popular tool, and often times pastors from different denominations would take turns teaching. However, because Baptist churches were viewed as the only true churches, these preachers from other denominations were viewed as leaders of secular organizations, with unrecognized ordinations, and therefore should not be allowed to have the pulpit in a Baptist church.
- Only a church can do churchly acts. This specifically addressed the doctrines and practices surrounding baptism, communion, preaching, and other church traditions. Because Baptist churches were viewed as the only true church, as a result, baptisms, communion, and other practices were no longer recognized as valid from other churches. This even extended to missionaries; the tasks missionaries engaged in were to be exclusively performed by the Baptist church, and as a result proponents of the Landmark Movement attempted to dismantle the foreign missions program.
- Baptist churches have always existed in every age by an unbroken historical succession. Graves wrote in his booklet, Old Landmarkism: What Is It?, that while they utterly and complete reject the idea of apostolic succession, they are convinced that the true church, the Baptist church, “has had a continuous existence” since Christ founded it “in the days of John the Baptist.” This was a popular teaching point, because it not only validated the traditional Baptist views and practices, it created a strong sense of superiority and accomplishment.
In the late 1850’s, tensions began to explode as Graves continued to push further into the authority and established leadership structures of the Southern Baptist Church. In 1858, Graves established a Southern Baptist Sunday School Union in an attempt to undermine and replace the existing Southern Baptist Publication Society. For some time Graves had criticized the SBPS due to disagreements with its policies, literature, and leadership. Graves’ pastor, Howell, however, disagreed with him and opposed his efforts to take control, triggering a series of personal attacks by Graves at Howell. Over the course of the next year, Graves, and 46 others of his followers, were brought through church discipline and removed from that church.
In 1859, Graves attempted at the Southern Baptist Convention to dismantle the Foreign Mission Board and instead place the control of missions into the individual churches. This created significant tension at the convention, and while the Board was ultimately protected, they did allow for individual churches to run their own missions if that was their conviction. One of the results of this, however, was a growing sense of concern that the Landmark Movement encouraged division and a “rise of denominationalism.” Rather than building the Southern Baptist Church, it was instead distancing them from one another.
In another move that frustrated Graves and his intent to publically confront Howell at the convention, rather than the convention embracing and celebrating Graves’ rise in influence, it instead made Howell the president. While Howell did ultimately step down in an effort to bring unity between the Southern Baptist churches that stood on opposite sides of some of these issues, it was still an undeniable setback to the Landmark Movement.
Between these setbacks, and then the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the Landmark Movement lost a lot of its momentum. Tull writes that “the rising tide of Landmarkism was arrested and subdued by the Civil War.” Much of the rebuilding in the church after the war in the Southern states was carried out by Baptists who were not a part of the Landmark movement, further quelling their influence as others rose to prominence. Dayton passed away towards the end of the war in 1865, and Pendleton moved to Pennsylvania that same year where he would spend the rest of his ministry years.
Overall, Southern Baptists had grown tired of the constant controversy stirred up by Graves and the Landmark Movement, and were increasingly frustrated with the frequent attacks against their leaders. With only Graves remaining to spearhead the movement, and his influence no longer what it once was, the momentum was gone. Adding to that, McBeth writes, “As the true nature and spirit of Landmarkism became clearer, it lost much of its appeal.” While all of these factors combined to see the Landmark Movement fade in its presence, its influence has not completely disappeared. Some of the beliefs and attitudes continue to this day in some Southern Baptist Churches, but mostly in the form of a general aloofness and reluctance to work with other denominations, and an unwillingness to recognize “alien” baptisms. For the most part, by the time Graves passed away, almost all recognized the faults in Landmarkism’s tenets, with few being able to hold to more than just portions of the beliefs.
The Landmark Movement was initiated and led by individuals who loved God and desired to pursue His kingdom. They were passionate about scripture, and in light of the Campbellite Controversy, it is clear that there was a hunger for a return to the hallmarks, or landmarks, of Baptist faith. While Dayton and Pendleton each played roles in leading the Landmark Movement, it is clear that their influence was under the leadership of Graves.
At its core, the Landmark Movement was a flawed theological system based on an incorrect approach to theology. Graves arrived at his opinions and beliefs based on Baptist tradition, defined his views and then interpreted scripture based on those ideas. The Baptist church, in the span of history, was still relatively young during his time – yet because of his conviction that it is the one true church, he interpreted the previous 1800 years of church history based on that opinion rather than an appropriate historical approach, interpreting records and scripture through his lens. The correct approach would have been to instead try to place himself in the shoes of the New Testament Christian, understanding their culture, their context, and then interpret scriptures as best he could in the way that they would have.
One has to wonder if Graves, clearly a brilliant man, was in some ways limited in his ability to appropriately approach and handle these topics by the limits of his own education. On the one hand, his talents and ability were recognized early on, but at the same time he created his course of self-guided education. Did he unintentionally leave out areas of study that would have given him a more balanced approach? Or did his accomplishments and intelligence create an overconfidence resulting in an arrogance that not only saw his understanding of the church and scripture as correct, but as the one true understanding? Much like the misguided Pharisees and other religious leaders of the gospels?
In conclusion, it is not surprising that the Movement eventually collapsed on itself. While on a surface level it initially appeared to be a Baptist movement, it did not take long for Christians to recognize the faulty assumptions and flawed logic that undergirded the movement, and ultimately, its diversion from Baptist tradition, much like the Campbellite movement before it.
Askew, Thomas A., and Richard V. Pierard. The American Church Experience: A Concise History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
Early, Joseph Jr. Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008.
Hall, C. W. “When orphans became heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists.” Baptist History and Heritage, 37(1) (2002): 112+.
Howard, Victor B. “James Madison Pendleton: A Southern Crusader Against Slavery”. The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 74.3 (1976): 192–215.
McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987.
McBeth, H. Leon. A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1990.
Patterson, James A. “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology.” Baptist History and Heritage 44.1 (2009): 72-83.
Taulman, James E. “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865).” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 36-43.
Torbet, Robert G. History of the Baptists. 3 ed. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Pr, 1978.
Tull, James E. “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal.” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 3-18.
 Robert G. Torbet, History of the Baptists, 3 ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Pr, 1978), 281.
 Thomas A. Askew, The American Church Experience: a Concise History (Grand Rapids: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2008), 187.
 H. Leon McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1990), 241.
 H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1987), 375.
 McBeth, A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage, 241.
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 376.
 C. W. Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage, 37(1) (2002): 112.
 James E. Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 5.
 James A Patterson, “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology,” Baptist History and Heritage, 44.1 (2009): 73.
 Ibid, 74.
 Hall, “When Orphans Became Heirs: J.R. Graves and the Landmark Baptists,” 112.
 Patterson, “James Robinson Graves: History in the Service of Ecclesiology,” 74.
 James E. Taulman, “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865),” Baptist History and Heritage, 10, no. 1 (January 1975): 36.
 Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 5.
 Taulman, “The Life and Writings of Amos Cooper Dayton (1813-1865),” 38.
 Ibid, 39.
 Victor B. Howard, “James Madison Pendleton: A Southern Crusader Against Slavery,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, 74.3 (1976): 192.
 Ibid, 193.
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 449.
 Ibid, 446.
 Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 3.
 Joseph Early Jr., Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 116.
 Ibid, 117.
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 450-452.
 Early, Readings in Baptist History: Four Centuries of Selected Documents, 122.
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 456.
 Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 13.
 Torbet, History of the Baptists, 282.
 Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 13.
 Ibid, 14.
 McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 457.
 Tull, “The Landmark Movement: An Historical and Theological Appraisal,” 17.