It is a fundamental belief of "Primitive Baptists" (Hardshells) that Jesus established a visible church organization and that such would continue in doctrinal and practical purity through the ages, a belief similar to that held to by the Catholics. Hardshells believe that no church organization can be the "one true church" that cannot show that it has existed, uninterrupted and pure, since the day of Pentecost. Again, this is the same claim made by the Catholics.
Hardshells are both Landmarkers and Amillenialists and this combination leads them to identify the church of Christ as being the millenial kingdom, and one that will continually exist without interruption. They believe that this "one true church," or "kingdom of God," is the "bride of Christ."
One well known web site says this about "Landmark" Baptist views.
"Landmark Baptists hold that the NT model for the church is only the local and visible congregation and that it violates NT principles to speak of a universal, spiritual church. They also believe that Communion should be restricted to members of the local assembly and that baptism is valid only when administered in a properly constituted local Baptist congregation. They also believe that a historic "Baptist succession" may be traced from John the Baptist to modern Baptist churches in which believer's baptism and Landmark principles have prevailed."
Hardshells believe this, but with some modification. They believe that the communion ordinance is not restricted to each local church, but that any Hardshell, "in good standing" with his home church, may, upon invitation, partake of communion with another Hardshell church. They practice strict or close communion, but it is restricted to Hardshells who are in good standing with their respective home churches. Further, many Hardshells do not reject the view that the word "church" only refers to the local church, but accept the view that there is a "universal invisible church" made up of all the elect and called. The chief tenet of Landmarkism, that of a "link chain succession" of churches from the days of the apostles, is however, strongly adhered to by the Hardshells.
The problem for the Hardshells, however, is in demonstrating how they have, as a church or denomination, existed back through history to the day of Pentecost. History is against them and shows rather that they came into existence in the 1830s in America. They cannot prove that their particular church, with its core beliefs, have existed prior to the 19th century. All kinds of efforts have been made by the Hardshells to show a link chain succession or geneology of Hardshell churches that go back further than the 1830s. But, it has been a dismal failure. History is against them for the evidence shows that they had no existence prior to the 19th century. They can no more prove their succession, prior to the 19th century, than can the followers of Alexander Campbell.
When one examines the many historical attempts by Hardshells to identify themselves with primitive Baptist groups, he will see how they offer no proof, but seek to write their history into existing history by distorting the historical records or by making claims that are without foundation. Some will say that "we go back through the Welsh Baptists," but they can produce no records that show that the old Welsh Baptists held to core Hardshell beliefs. In fact, today's Hardshells would not even fellowship the ancient Welsh Baptists. Some will say that "we go back through the London Particular Baptists," but again, this is without foundation, and many Hardshells are willing to admit that the old Particular Baptists of England did not hold to Hardshell core beliefs. Some will say that "we go back through the old line AnaBaptists," but they cannot show a group of AnaBaptists who held to their core beliefs. All they can do is to assert such things, like the Campbellites, but they cannot prove their assertions.
One of the other errors of Landmarkism is the idea that only ordained ministers can legitimately baptize. This was not the view, however, of the first London confession Baptists, who stated that any disciple may baptize. This was one of the things that the old Baptists have always had disagreement concerning. Some did believe that only ordained men could baptize. Others thought that the church could appoint any male member to do the baptizing.
Another error of Landmarkism and Hardshellism is the belief that the only valid baptism is that performed by a minister of "the one true church." It is argued that only the one true church can adminster baptism, and that all other baptisms, though administered by a minister to a penitent believer, and though done by immersion, are not valid.
To Hardshells, water baptism is strictly an ordinance of the church. This is interesting because the Hardshells reject the idea that the Great Commission was given to, and is yet binding upon, the church of Christ. The issue of the Great Commission was discussed in a series in my book on "The Hardshell Baptist Cult." If Hardshells were consistent, they would deny that water baptism is an ordinance of the church, and affirm rather that it is strictly an ordinance of the ministry, for this is what they say with regard to the commission itself. The commission, they affirm, was given either to the apostles alone, or to the apostles and the gospel ministry, but not in any sense was it given to the church. But, is not the authority to baptize a major part of the commission? How can they deny that the commission applies to the church when they say that baptism is an ordinance of the church?
The Hardshells also have another problem with denying that the commission was given to the church, or to every disciple. Was the Lord's Supper not given to the apostles as was the Commission? If it is argued that the commission was given only to the apostles and ministers, then how can they claim that water baptism and the Lord's supper are church ordinances? To be consistent, should they not aver that water baptism, and the Lord's supper, like evangelism, is restricted to the apostles or ministers?
Many of the first Hardshell leaders took the view that the Great Commission was fulfilled, and therefore is no longer in force. If so, where does the Hardshell church get its authority to baptize, teach, and administer the Lord's supper?
I have been challenging the Hardshells to produce the evidence that shows their chain link succession of Hardshell churches back through the centuries. They have remained silent as the grave. Their claims to be "primitive" are therefore not valid.
Another interesting fact of history is the fact that the first Hardshell churches, from the 1830s through the 1880s, had in their fellowship men who believed that the gospel was a means in the eternal salvation of the elect. Yet, Hardshells today will not fellowship those who believe in means. How are they then like their forefathers? Did the presence of such believers in means nullify their right to be "true churches"? If fellowshipping Baptists who believed in means was okay with the first Hardshells, why is it not okay with today's Hardshells? Will today's Hardshells say that the presence of means brethren, in the 1800s, put the Hardshell denomination into disorder and out of the chain of succession?