The issues discussed in these chapters on Hardshell Landmarkism are important in light of Hardshell claims about themselves. They claim to be churches of Christ and deny that any other churches are such. One of the proofs that they offer to prove their assertion is the fact that they have existed in visible form since the days of the Apostles in a succession of churches and deny this to be the case with all other churches. They view themselves as being the only kingdom of God that exists on earth, and this, as has been shown, makes them a cult. They see themselves as the "simon pures" of Christianity and the only ones who have valid churches and baptisms. Exclusivism is a key characteristic of the "Primitive Baptist Church."
It is an error for the Hardshells to refuse to recognize the baptism of other Baptists and groups that practice scriptural baptism (immersion). It is no error to refuse to recognize the baptism of infants or baptism that is by sprinkling or pouring, but it is not right to refuse baptism that is in all points proper except that it was done by the authority of non Hardshell churches. It is the error of the Landmarkers to think that baptism requires a valid administrator, one that is appointed by their particular fellowship of churches.
At least one Hardshell elder has come to see the truth of this. Donnie Halbgewachs Jr., in a 2005 Internet article titled "The True Church is Not Limited to Primitive Baptists," wrote an article giving his reasons for leaving the Hardshell church. He began the article with the following note of introduction. (all emphasis mine - SG)
"The following is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion about the ‘one true church’ principle. It is simply a brief explanation for those who may be wondering why I am moving to a non-Primitive Baptist church. My heart felt desire is let you know that I love Primitive Baptists. Karma and my decision is not based in anger or resentment. We hope to continue to fellowship with Primitive Baptists as much as possible. I believe the church we are moving to is being blessed with the Lord’s candlestick. And it is my prayer that all of our Lord’s churches, whether Primitive Baptists or not, will be blessed to be salt and light for a dark and dieing world. The Lord has His candlestick in many Primitive Baptist Churches, but His true Church is not limited to the Primitive Baptists. My simple belief is; the Son of God decides where He places His candlestick. There is not a single church in the world that is perfect. Why God deals with any group certainly is based more in mercy and longsuffering than flawless doctrine or an impeccable format of worship. I am by no means saying that anything goes, and many difficult decisions must be made that aren’t spelled out precisely in Scripture. The correct way to deal with things like closed communion or re-baptism is to let each church stand on its own. Each pastor is responsible to God for the decisions he makes, and each local body answers ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ."
It would be good if today's Hardshells would follow the example of Halbgewachs and acknowledge that they are not the only ones who are to be judged as churches of Christ. Halbgewachs next gives his reasons for his leaving the Hardshells and for the views he has expressed. He wrote:
"Networks and fellowships are a natural development of churches in any region or time period. The New Testament mentions various dealings between churches; members traveling from one place to another and money being sent from one church to another. The early churches had to deal with various inter-church issues like evangelism to the Gentiles, circumcision, keeping the traditions from the Law of Moses, etc. But, when it comes to interchurch dealings I see more latitude in Scripture than currently being practiced among most Primitive Baptists. I don’t say this to criticize, I just think we all ought to re-examine this. Based on my understanding of Scriptures I have seen the Lord’s presence in churches that are not Primitive Baptists."
All I can say is "amen" to such testimony. Again, it would be desirable if other Hardshells could come to see the same truth.
"We ought to be very careful we don’t slip into the attitude of John in Luke 9:49 “And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. 50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Just because a group doesn’t follow a certain way does not necessarily mean they are in disobedience. We should always be diligently seeking to worship in spirit and in truth but, no one has a corner on all truth. I am thankful that I was raised Primitive Baptist, but I have learned much from other churches. The Lord has revealed himself to me powerfully in prayer meetings, worship services and outreach ministries affiliated with other churches. Some of these blessings are greater and more Biblical than anything I have seen among Primitive Baptists."
Again, Halbgewachs is correct, though the Hardshells do believe that they have "a corner on all truth," which is the cultic mentality I have often pinpointed as characteristic of them.
"Being part of a Godly church heritage can be a marvelous blessing. Many of the non-Primitive Baptist Christians I have worked with have been blessed by my heritage. But may we remember the dangerous trap the Pharisees plunged into by saying only someone within a certain lineage can be accepted of God. Luke 3:8 says, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Acts 10:35 tells us the joyous truth of our day “…in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” May we not get the cart before the horse. Fearing God and working righteousness creates a Godly heritage. But a historical lineage doesn’t guarantee that we fear God or work righteousness."
In these words Halbgewachs shows the errors of Landmarkism and an awareness of the arrogance and cult mentality that such a view promotes. It is the attitude that says "we be the only ones," that we only are the simon pures, the only ones the Lord recognizes as valid churches of Christ.
"When we hold to a strict ‘one true church’ principle some inconsistencies arise. We are forced to draw up detailed lists of what is acceptable doctrine and practice and what is not. Obviously some things are clearly un-Biblical and should not be tolerated in the Lord’s house. But many things are not so clear. For example: how do we determine that feet washing is optional and acapella singing is not. How do we decide when to declare non-fellowship with a group of churches and then some time later drop the bars and receive each other again. If we are true to the ‘one true church’ principle many ordinations, constitutions, and baptisms would have to be re-examined within the ranks of Primitive Baptists."
This is an insightful statement and declares truths that I have presented in this book and in this series on Hardshell Landmarkism.
"Sometimes we say, “That person is not a Primitive Baptist but he is a good Christian.” It seems inconsistent to call non-Primitive Baptist believers ‘truly Christian,’ but when they assemble they are not recognized as ‘true Christian churches.’ Either they are true Christians assembling into true churches or they are not Christian at all."
Another insightful comment! Would to God that many more Hardshells would come to make the same confession!
"Many more issues could be discussed, but it is not my purpose to be exhaustive. The answer is not to drop all standards but, rather to honestly take care of our own congregations while allowing others to take care of theirs. We still must learn from each other, exhort one another, have fellowship with each other and assist each other in official work. But may each individual in every generation seek to re-examine our assumptions, follow Scriptural guidelines and continue to humbly walk in faith." (from Donnie Halbgewachs Jr.s blog of Dec. 31, 2005, - see here)
I am sure that Halbgewachs saw how the teaching of the Hardshells that affirms that they alone are the true churches of Christ led to the "holier than thou" attitude that exists in the minds of Hardshells.
It is a truth that a church may still be a church even though it has errors. This is a truth that Hardshells do not want to acknowledge. Yet, as has been shown, their own acknowledged geneology of churches shows this to be a fact. Who can deny that some of the first churches established by the Apostles held to serious errors? Did not the church at Corinth have those in their membership who denied the resurrection of the body? Did they not abuse the Lord's Supper? Did they not retain immoral members in their communion? Did not the churches of Galatia hold to serious errors regarding justification, even to the extent of embracing "another Gospel"? Did not some of the seven churches of Asia (Rev. chpt. 2-3) hold to serious errors? Did they cease at once to be churches of Christ because of this?
Landmarkism breeds a spirit of non-cooperation with other churches. This has been characteristic of Hardshell churches since their beginning. Landmarkism severely restricts the right to communion as it does to baptism, which is another error. True, communion is to be restricted to those who have been immersed as believers, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but it should not be restricted simply over disagreements over doctrine. Communion should be open to all baptized believers, to all the children of God who are in good standing with their home churches. It is the Lord's table, not the table of men.
Halbgewachs was right to see the harm that the Hardshells have done to themselves in cutting themselves off from the fellowship of other Christians.