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Landmarkism Part 3: The Trail of Blood

Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.


James Milton Carroll

James Milton Carroll was born on January 8, 1852 in Arkansas. His father was a Baptist pastor. James graduated from Baylor University in Texas. He became a pastor and served in various roles in Christian institutions. He was the president of then, Oklahoma Baptist University, Howard Payne College and Baylor College. He also served in the General Baptist Convention of Texas. He published several works but he is best known for his book The Trail of Blood (1931).


Carroll’s booklet is written in a series of very brief lectures which proport to give the true history of the Baptist Church. I say very brief because the booklet itself, including the forward and after materials is less than 30 pages long. He begins by laying out 11 marks which he says constitute a New Testament church. There is nothing remarkable about theses marks and I dare say, any Baptist would be in agreement. The purpose of laying out these marks is to differentiate the Baptists from other denominations.

He then goes on to list various groups that have existed prior to the Reformation as a proof that the true Church (Baptist) has always existed, was not part of the Reformation and did not come as a result of a rebellion in the Roman Catholic Church. He says:

“I want now to call your attention to some of the landmarks, or ear-marks of this religion--the Christian Religion. If you and I are to trace it down through 20 long centuries, and especially down through 1,200 years of midnight darkness, darkened by rivers and seas of martyr blood, then we will need to know well these marks.” (p. IV)

What Carroll wishes his readers to see is that there has always been a church that Christ founded. This church has its origins in John the Baptist. The Apostles were the direct and immediate successors of John the Baptist. He then attempts to develop the second part of his theme, which is vitally important to his argument. Just as John the Baptist was martyred so were the Apostles. And by extension, so were all the Baptist even from their earliest beginnings. Thus, the Baptist Church of today can be traced back to its origin in John the Baptist by a “tail of blood.”

Before we address the chart, I need to say something about the booklet itself. What strikes me first is its briefness. How can one possible expect to make a proof of two thousand years of Church history in a mere 25 pages or so? Secondly, this is by far not a scholarly effort. There are no footnotes or endnotes. In the first part of the booklet, he makes a few references to the “Compendium of Baptist History, Shackelford.” This book was published in 1892. The copy I found[1] contained the same chart that Carroll gives and an explanation of that chart. Carroll lived from 1852 to 1930, so Shackleford was a contemporary of Carroll. While Shackelford’s work is a good deal longer, it did not afford me much more information than Carroll’s brief booklet. The Compendium is scant of references and relying on just a few works (Orchids’ Baptist History” and Jones “Church History”, etc.).

In all fairness, Carroll does give an extensive list of books “used in preparing lectures on "’the Trail of Blood.’" This list composes nearly two pages. Given that there are no references to these sources in Carroll’s booklet, they are of no value. In my opinion, it appears Carroll is giving this list as a pathetic attempt to prove to his reader that he has done his homework. It is glaringly obvious that his material is directly taken from Shackleford’s longer work.

Blood Trail


There are a lot of interesting anomalies in this graphic. I have no idea how it is that the author can place the Puritans in 400 A.D. given that they were English Non-Conformist. The non-conformity was toward the Anglican Church which was not established until1530s. In fact, England does not even exist as England until after 900 AD. I see no need to spend a great deal of time looking at all the inaccuracies of this chart. But please let me also point out that the “red dots” have no labels and do not seem to correspond to anything. They are present merely for effect because they convey no information.

Let us do a brief survey of the beliefs of some of those "ancient Baptists."

Dualists: God has two natures: a good side and a bad side

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Adoptionists: Jesus was not originally deity but was adopted as the son of God at His baptism.

Cathari: Gnostic, dualists

Albidgensians: dualists, denied the humanity of Christ.

Docetic: Gnostic, dualists, denied the humanity of Christ.

Montanists: (circa 150 AD) They were ascetics. They believed that the founder and two prophetesses had the ability to channel messages directly from God and expressed these messages in “ecstatic utterances” while in a trance like-state. Also, they believed women were given authority to teach and prophesize.

Donatists: (early 300s AD) – They taught that the effectiveness of the sacraments was dependent upon the person who was administering them. They left the Roman Catholic Church over this issue. They began to “re-baptize” people in order to ensure that their baptism was legitimately administered

Waldonese: These groups were formed after expulsion or after leaving the RCC. The split occurred over who was sanction to preach (laity or priests alone). Their confession of faith was compatible with the RCC: “We believe one Church, Catholic, Holy, Apostolic and Immaculate, apart from which no one can be saved, and in the sacraments therein administered through the invisible and incomprehensible power of the Holy Spirit, sacraments which may be rightly administered by a sinful priest…” They embraced the worship of Mary & took vows of poverty and practiced infant baptism until their union with the Reformed Church in 1974.

Petro-Brussians: Peter of Bruys was a Roman Catholic Priest. He did deny infant baptism, prayers for the dead and transubstantiation. He further denied the church and the Lord's Supper.

Arnoldists: Ascetics, they rejected Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Paterines- They held to the supremacy of Peter as successor to Jesus and the first “pope” (the same doctrines which ultimately resulted in the Roman Catholic Church).

The groups listed by Shackleford and Carroll were mostly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church and many came out of the RCC. This negates the Pre-Reformation and "perpetuity" arguments. Their teachings are sufficient to label them as heretics and certainly not Baptists. In fact, some of them even reject baptism in toto! Many of those groups listed by them deny the deity of Christ, reject parts of scripture and misunderstand the person of God.

One tactic commonly employed by the Landmarkists is to deny the alleged heresies. They claim that enemies of the Baptist church have wrongly accused these groups of heresies in order to discredit them. However, the problem is that the RCC, Greek Orthodox Church and even secular historians say the very same things about these groups. It would require proof of a grand, global conspiracy taking place over centuries. There is no evidence to support a Baptist church prior to the Reformation and there is not one shred of evidence to support the conspiracy that the truth of pre-Reformation Baptists has been repressed.


[1] J.A. Shackelford, Compendium of Baptist history, 1852. Dec. 04, 2018

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