J.R. Graves


J(ames) R(obinson) Graves (1820-1893), Baptist preacher, editor and leader of the Landmark Movement, was born in Vermont to a poor Congregationalist farming family. He was converted and joined a Baptist church in his teens and was ordained in his twenties. Though having little opportunity for formal education, Graves was a self-taught, voluminous reader. After short tenures as a schoolteacher in Ohio and Kentucky, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1845 where he taught school and pastored a Baptist church. Impressing his local clerical peers, Graves was appointed the editor of the Tennessee Baptist in 1848. By 1860 he had made the paper the largest circulating religious magazine in the South, serving as not only the official organ of the Tennessee Baptist State Convention but as the Baptist paper of record for Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas as well.

As early as 1851 Graves was a prominent figure within the emerging “Landmark” movement among Southern Baptist Churches that touted the role of Baptist churches as the true, unbroken continuation of the New Testament Church, argued for “closed communion” (i.e. communion only to be taken in one’s home church), and criticized the existence of formal Baptist missionary boards and committees–a mission the Landmarkers felt was to be taken up by individual churches and associations of churches. Graves’ writings and influence proved to be a major factor in promoting Landmark views within the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly in the mid-South regions and in Texas and set an abiding precedent within Baptist churches in the South for separatist inclinations when questions of doctrinal and associational purity come into play.

For further reading see James E. Tull, Shapers of Baptist Thought (Mercer, 1972). 

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