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James Madison Pendleton


Pendleton’s lasting influence is most clearly seen in the Baptist emphasis on the autonomy of the local church. The administration of ordinances, preaching, discipline, and support of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world are each gospel functions which require faithful and biblical application. Responsibility for the purity of these rites and practices rests on individual believers and is not transferable to other entities without risking the compromise of biblical precedent. Hierarchies through which authority and power are transferred from local churches to administrative representatives dissolve the link between the local church and its ability to supervise the gospel functions it is held accountable for by God. “I affirm with strongest emphasis that the independent form of government cherishes a sense of individual responsibility. These who have to decide great questions by their votes are in a responsible position.”

The historical significance of Pendleton’s theology is closely tied to the impact of Southern Baptist Landmarkism. Graves, Pendleton and Dayton comprised the Landmark “Triumvirate.” Collectively their leadership forged the movement. Pendleton was, however, an independent thinker whose contribution to the movement ceased in 1862 when he moved to the Northern United States. Hence, the “Triumvirate” dissolved before the Civil War ended. Dayton died during the war, leaving Graves to carry on the polemic.

Pendleton believed that the only physical church is a local one, but he was willing to admit the existence of a spiritual church. The aggregate or universal church existed in Pendleton’s system because non-Baptists could indeed be regenerated believers.

J. M. Pendleton was the most logical mind in the “Triumvirate” of Landmark Baptist leadership. He was not an “Old Landmarker,” according to the definition given by Graves. Pendleton’s desire to restrict Landmark ideology to the central issue of the authority and function of the local church, his atypical Southern opinions regarding slavery, and his desire to preserve the union of the United States led to a serious relational breach between Pendleton and the other two leaders, Graves and Dayton. The Southern Baptist Convention owes much of its own self-understanding to the Landmark emphasis on the local church, and consequently, to Pendleton for forming a biblical definition of a local New Testament church and its legitimate functions. Through Pendleton’s indirect influence, therefore, the Southern Baptist Convention gained a sense of identity which issued forth in a strong denominational loyalty.

Taken from “Baptist Theologians”,

Timothy S. George and David S. Dockery


Source [Reformed Reader]

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