Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Analysis and Review of Kevin Bauder's "Landmarkism", pt. 7: What Marks a True, Actual Church?

Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six

It's now been a few months since I last wrote in my analysis of one chapter, "Landmarkism," in a book, Baptist Distinctives, by Kevin Bauder.  The next section in this chapter he entitles, "Baptists and Other Denominations."  Bauder sees what he identifies as Landmarkism as having a positive effect for all churches that call themselves Baptist, namely that it forces them to consider how to view other denominations.  He writes, "Much of the debate revolves around the marks of a true church." The rest of this section talks about this subject and is a helpful discussion.

Bauder says that one must judge between what is at least a true church and then what is a healthy church.  What marks distinguish churches from non-churches?  At what point does something that calls itself a church dip below the standard for being an actual church?  Bauder thinks there are at least three characteristics that allow a church still to at least cross the bar of being a church:  (1) "pure preaching of the Word," (2) "correct administration of the ordinances," and (3) church discipline.  I have found myself not calling certain institutions, "church," which self-identify as a church.

For number one above, Bauder sees this as the preaching of a true gospel, not a false gospel.  If a church isn't preaching a true gospel, then it is likely a church full of unsaved people.  He relates number two to the gospel too by saying that a disqualifying administration of the ordinances is observing them in a way that rejects or denies the gospel.  Bauder says number three is gospel related too, in that church discipline disallows members to live in discord with the gospel.  Bauder doesn't prove his three from scripture.  He doesn't mention a single verse, but it is an interesting discussion.

There isn't a chapter or verse in the Bible that says, this is a church and this isn't a church.  However, we know from Revelation 2 and 3, that there is a point where a church slips below Jesus' criteria for a church to be one, because He removes His candlestick from that church.  He threatens that with the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:5) and Jesus Himself isn't in the church of the Laodicians (Rev 3:14-22).

I can't judge what Bauder himself would do.  I am pleased that he has such a high view of church discipline, but many churches, who self-identify as a church, do not practice church discipline.  It is rare to see what calls itself a church still practice church discipline.  I would imagine that there are churches that do not practice church discipline that Bauder still calls a church, since there are so many, including many to possibly most of fundamental Baptist churches.

Bauder argues for his marks of a true church in his next section, "Baptist Definitions of a Church," quoting various historical sources in their definitions of a church.  He parks on a quote by Augustus Strong in his systematic theology in which Strong says that we should call "churches" those which we might not think match up to that designation, such as Presbyterians.  Since they call themselves a church, then it would be a matter of politeness for us to call them that, he posits.  However, Strong continued by saying that Baptists shouldn't call something a "regular church" if that group doesn't follow Christ's laws.  Bauder picks up on this use of "regular," the idea being that it might be a church, but it might not be a "regular church."

Bauder quotes John Dagg as advocating a general use of the word "church," like the Greek word, ekklesia, had a broader meaning.  It might not be a New Testament church, but it is still assembling for some purpose, so it must be an ekklesia, or a church.  Bauder also refers to Hiscox's very generous inclusion of any church within the "catholic church," that is, any evangelical assembly.

It is true, and as Bauder asserts, that Baptist churches through history have denied an institution to be a church if it rejected a true gospel.  This criterion could be actually strict today, because the gospel has become so diminished for various reasons that a near majority of Baptist churches have perverted the gospel to the extent that it is a non-saving message.  Those are still called churches.  There are Baptist churches and their leaders that for sure put more emphasis on closed communion to determine the veracity of a church, than the particular gospel a church preaches.

In is conclusion to the section on "Baptist Definitions of a Church," Bauder writes:
The Landmark approach -- refusing to accept baptism from anything other than a Baptist church -- is surely mistaken.
Bauder admits too though that there isn't unity among Baptists on this subject.  He does know, however, that Baptists are surely mistaken for refusing to accept other than Baptist baptism.

Baptists who were not calling themselves Landmarks, decades before Graves among the 19th century Southern Baptists, would accept only Baptist baptism.  A reason for the exclusion, as has already been discussed in this series, is because someone's baptism did not have proper authority.  Is someone truly baptized without authority?  No.  If you have a group of people then that are not really baptized, because they lack authority, then are they a church?  No.  A church forms through salvation and then baptism.  Without the latter, it still isn't a church.

The issue isn't whether a church is Baptist or not.  The issue is, does the baptism have authority?  Any church that comes out of Rome does not have authority, which leaves only those churches that preached a true gospel and stayed separate from Rome.  Those are the Baptists.

Even reading Bauder on this chapter, one can see the contradictions of any other position but the historical Baptist position, what he calls Landmark.  There is no agreement among the non-Landmark churches on the marks that distinguish a true church.  The "catholicity" of these churches revolves around their willingness to accommodate differences.  The unity proceeds from overlooking doctrine and practice.

Is a church a church if it doesn't have baptism?  It can't be. People are baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41).  If someone is not baptized, he is not added to the church.  He is not baptized without proper authority.  The trajectory of proper authority runs through independent, New Testament assemblies separate from the state church.  Those are Baptists.  True churches are Baptist churches.

Are all Baptist churches true churches?  Definitely not.  Many professing Baptist churches are liberal. Some of the churches reject a true gospel.  Church membership is regenerate membership.  A false gospel is not regenerate.  It is apostate.  Those are not true churches.


Tyler Robbins said...

You wrote:

Church membership is regenerate membership. A false gospel is not regenerate. It is apostate. Those are not true churches.

Let me ask these questions: (1) Do you believe (for example) a conservative Presbyterian church (e.g. OPC, PCA) is a Gospel-preaching church? (2) Does (for example) infant baptism rule out a congregation from being a true church? To get down to brass tacks - is Carl Trueman a Christian minister of a Gospel church?

I'm not asking about Lutherans, who have issues with baptismal regeneration. I'm talking about conservative Presbyterians who (allegedly, according to their doctrine) believe baptism places the child into the New Covenant, which they consider to be a mixed multitude - like the Old Covenant was for Israel. They do not believe baptism saves. They're terribly wrong, but I don't think you could accuse them of preaching baptismal regeneration.

I'm trying to see where you draw the line between (1) a church in error, and (2) no church at all.

I'll say more later, once I get home and take a look at Bauder's book. Thanks for this series.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I think I'm being very objective here in going through the following progression. Can someone join a church scripturally without baptism? Do you have a church then without baptism? Is infant sprinkling baptism? If the latter is no, and baptism is necessary to be a church, then a Presbyterian church is in fact not a church. This isn't argument that is difficult, like some Constitutional arguments made from the text of the constitution. Keeping to the four corners of the text (something I wrote about for Monday's post), it isn't a church. That isn't politically/theologically correct, but it is textual.

Kent Brandenburg said...

One more thing,

I think the Presbyterian is an easier call that what I'm (and Bauder) am bringing into play, maybe a Protestant church, such as a Bible church. The Presbyterians don't have a right recipient (a child) or mode (sprinkling). I'm even going to authority, which Bauder would have a hard time with. I think that's what he's criticizing. I'll be writing more about it. I knew I wasn't done with this series or the epistemology series. Sometimes I don't finish series. They are not popular, maybe there is supply and demand law here. There more there is of something, the less people want it. As a series grows longer, people want something else that is new. Coming back to the series can bring fresh perspective.

Anonymous said...

I think I understand what you are saying, and agree very strongly (if this is the case).

You would say that many "Baptist Churches" are neither churches nor baptist because they do not preach the true gospel.

You might call some groups baptist churches, even if they have never taken the formal title "Baptist Church". This would be based on true gospel preaching, scriptural baptism, and a lack of evidence that they came from Catholicism, Protestantism, or any other man's teaching.

In other words, I understand you to emphasize doctrine and practice, not the name that a group calls itself. Is this correct?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

You are correct that the Bible congregation is the less easy call than the Presbyterian congregation--the latter is very easy. I believe the answer is still "no" to the Bible assembly for the reasons from this quote:

3.) All “baptisms” not administered by a true church are invalid. Baptism is a church ordinance—Christ gave the church as an institution, not the Apostles, or Christian individuals as such, the authority to baptize (Matthew 28:19-20).[1] Baptism adds one to the membership of the congregation that authorizes the ordinance (Acts 2:41, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Christ started His church, His assembly of baptized believers, in the first century, and promised that true churches would exist until His return (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 3:21), practicing the ordinances of baptism (Matthew 28:19-20) and communion (1 Corinthians 11:26). Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy did not exist in the first century, and all Protestant denominations did not exist for the first three-fourths of church history. Only Baptist churches have existed from the first century until the present age, in fulfillment of Christ’s promises.[2] Since Catholic and Protestant religious assemblies are not the churches founded by Jesus Christ, they did not receive authority to baptize from Him in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20, and therefore all their baptisms are invalid. Even when religious organizations such as Bible churches, Pentecostal congregations, or non-denominational churches practice the immersion of a believer in water, no Biblical baptism has taken place, as the Bible church, Pentecostal, and non-denominational movements did not exist for the overwhelming majority of church history, and thus their assemblies certainly cannot be the churches founded by Jesus Christ. Since the church was given the authority to baptize, not Christian individuals, the invalidity of non-Baptist baptism remains even if both the individual performing the immersion and the one being dipped are Christians. It is thus clear that all non-Baptist baptisms are invalid, having no Divine authority, and that no one who has not been immersed upon the authority Christ gave to His first church in the first century, and to the Baptist churches that succeeded that first church, has been validly baptized.

Since all non-Baptist baptisms are invalid, all those who have been truly converted should leave all other religious organizations (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14) and be baptized into the membership of a Bible-believing and practicing Baptist church, and faithfully serve the Lord Jesus Christ in His true church, His sole institution for public worship in this age (Acts 2:41-47; Hebrews 10:25). Furthermore, Baptist churches should reject as invalid all non-Baptist baptisms and accept into membership only believers who have been immersed by their own church or by other true Baptist churches.

Thanks for the series and this post in particular.

Anonymous said...

Brother Brandenburg, here's what you wrote:

"I'll be writing more about it. I knew I wasn't done with this series or the epistemology series. Sometimes I don't finish series. They are not popular, maybe there is supply and demand law here. There more there is of something, the less people want it. As a series grows longer, people want something else that is new. Coming back to the series can bring fresh perspective."

I would like to say that just because not many respond does not mean not many are reading. Some of us do read your writings when we can fit it into our schedules. However, not always do we have time to respond. I, for one, really appreciate reading what you write. Thank you.

E. T. Chapman

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't think something with a false gospel is a church, because a church is an assembly of genuine believers.

Thanks. Yes, it's reality I'm basing this on, not just labels.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks. I appreciate it. I don't think I was complaining, just to let you know, just stating what I think happens.

Anonymous said...

This may not be totally relevant to the topic, but speaking of churches and church members, my grandma always told me to invite to Baptists to go fishing with you so you can have all the beer to yourself. If you invite two Baptists, they'll both pretend they've never touched a drop in their lives and look down on those who do. If you invite only one, he will be selfish and drink it all up without sharing.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I printed your comment because it's funny. Is it the first epistle of Grandma? A lot of people call themselves Baptist, who aren't. Did you read the article? It sounds like you didn't.

Baptists as a whole are more teetotalling, actually so, than other denominations. Sure, you've got your Baptists who spit out their chew into the spatoon before they walk into the church building. That doesn't discredit what I've written here.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for your comment.

Larry said...


What would you say about a group of believers who were part of a Presbyterian church who leave it and form a Baptist church?

I recently attended a building dedication for such a group. They were part of a Baptist church that split due to pastoral immorality and the refusal of part of the membership to accept his resignation. This group split off and came under a Presbyterian influence and met as Presbyterians for a while. After a period of several years, they invited a Baptist pastor whom some of them knew to come and teach them. After several years of teaching they constituted as a Baptist church.

Are they a real church? Can they baptize?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I'm just answering the two bottom questions, because that looks like what you wanted.

If they are truly saved and baptized they could be a real church. That's based just on what you wrote. They might not be too. You seem to be saying they were genuinely saved and baptized.

Larry said...

You say they might not be? What would make that so?

You sound like a successionist type of some sort that all true baptisms must come from a true baptism. That's what I am trying to figure out. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

Perhaps a clearer question is this: Can a group of believers constitute as a church for the first time based on studying the NT alone and baptize each other without having someone who was baptized by another church?

Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't know all the facts, but, they could be, answers your question. Just based on what you said, they could be. They aren't inhibited from being a church, based on just what you said.

I believe in succession of the church based on biblical presuppositions. I believe there were always true churches since Christ. I don't believe in total apostasy. I also don't believe the truth was preserved through Roman Catholicism.

My point in this post was that it isn't a church if it doesn't have a true gospel or actual baptism. Salvation and baptism are necessary. I gave a scriptural argument.

Baptism must be authoritative. Jesus traveled 90 miles to be baptized by John the Baptist because he received his baptism from heaven. Baptism is an ordinance of the church. Since it is an ordinance of the church, then it must be a church, someone with authority from a church, that performs the baptism, which means someone who has been actually baptized.