committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER XXV

BAPTISTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES

MEN still living can remember the beginning of a new Baptist history in Europe. In 1832 the Triennial Convention established a mission in France, under he direction of Prof. Irah Chase, of the Newton Theological Institution. A Baptist chapel was opened in Paris by Rev. J. C. Rostan, a Frenchman who had for some years been a resident of the United States. He died of cholera the following year, and Rev. Isaac Willmarth, recent graduate of Newton Theological Institution, was sent out to take charge of the work. Before the coming of these men, there were a few earnest persons who had learned the truth from the New Testament and sought to follow its teachings, ignorant that any people in the world held similar views. A church was organized in 1835, of six members, and the following year the first native pastor, Rev. Joseph Thieffry, was ordained.  He labored in the north of France until his death, at an advanced age, choosing that field of labor because there were in existence there churches holding substantially the principles of Baptists, though often defective in organization, and holding various errors of doctrine. By 1838 there were seven churches and one hundred and forty-two members connected with the mission.

When the mission was begun, the opportunity was thought to be especially favorable. The revolution that had placed Louis Philippe on the throne had done much to lessen the hold of the Church of Rome on the French people, it was believed. But it soon turned out that the “ citizen king” was as thoroughly priestridden as any Bourbon, and the Baptists met with continued and bitter persecution. At Genlis, where a member had built a church on his own estate, the magistrate would not permit it to be opened for eleven years. Every preacher or colporter was liable to arrest, and punishment by fine or imprisonment; and against many of them the law was rigorously enforced. The legislative chambers made it a penal offense for any association of more than twenty persons to meet for religious worship without the consent of the government, and punished any one who permitted his house to be used for such an assemblage, by a fine of sixteen to two hundred francs. Wealthy friends in New York paid these fines, and for several years it was found expedient to print reports from the mission with blank spaces for names and places, to spare these brethren persecution. The revolution of 1848 drove Louis Philippe from the throne and established a republic. The new constitution declared religious liberty, though this principle was qualified by the proviso that such liberty could be allowed only to organizations recognized by law. Toleration, however, speedily became an accomplished fact, and serious persecution has never since been known.

The church first formed in Paris was scattered during these times of civil turmoil and religious persecution. It was reorganized by Rev. T. T. Devan in 1850 with four members, and in spite of many obstacles, continued to grow until, in 1863, it numbered eighty-four members. In 1872 the church built, with generous assistance from England and America, a neat and commodious chapel. Mr. Devan also organized a church in Lyons, in 1852, and other churches were gradually added. The establishment of the McAll mission in France greatly helped the growth of the Baptist churches, and at length one of the best workers of that mission, Rev. Reuben Saillens, withdrew and devoted himself to the Baptist ministry. The second church in Paris was founded by him, and his evangelistic labors in many parts of the country have been and still are very fruitful.

The only American workers since 1856 have been those connected with the establishment of the theological school in Paris, which was begun in 1879 by Rev. Edward C. Mitchell, and continued after 1883 by Rev. Henri Artdru. Quite a number of the younger French Baptist ministers are graduates of this school, and their labors should be of the greatest aid in the future growth of the Baptists of France. In the last report available there are said to be forty-five churches, with thirty-five ordained ministers, and two thousand and forty-eight members; and two hundred and eighty were baptized during the year.

The name Baptist has been an epithet of scorn and contempt in Germany for centuries. The German people have never been able or willing to forget the disorders at M?hausen and M?ster during the sixteenth century, the blame for which was unjustly laid upon the Anabaptists of that period. For a man to profess himself a Baptist in that country is, therefore, to suggest that he is likely to believe in propagating the kingdom of Christ by the sword, in communism, polygamy, and various other horrifying things. In spite of this deep-seated prejudice, Germany is precisely the county of Europe where Baptists have during the past century made their most rapid, most healthful, and most permanent advances. This is because the movement originated on German soil and with German people—not by the agency of a foreign missionary.

The leader in this work was Johann Gerhardt Oncken. who was born at Varel, in Oldenburg, in 1800. In his fourteenth year a Scottish merchant took him to Great Britain, and there he was converted, after which he joined a Congregational church. The Continental Society was founded in London in 1819, for the propagation of evangelical religion in Europe. Mr. Oncken had a great desire to preach the gospel among his own people, and in 1823 he was sent to Germany as a missionary of this Society. He began to preach the gospel in Hamburg and Bremen with great success. Many were converted, but the bitter hostility of the State Church was aroused against him and his work.

After some years of this work, Mr. Oncken, by a faithful study of the Scriptures, became convinced that the baptism of believers only is taught in the New Testament or was practised in apostolic times, and that the only baptism known to the Scriptures is immersion. Concerning this experience he has himself said the following:

It was about this time [1828] that I became fully convinced from the study of the Scriptures (for I was entirely unacquainted with the sentiments of the Baptists) of the truth of believers’ baptism and the nature of a Christian church. I and a few of the converts who had also seen the same truth now only waited for some one who, having himself followed the Lord in his ordinance, should be qualified to baptize us and form us into a church. But for this we had to wait five long years, though we applied to both England and Scotland. . . In 1834 [April 22]  a little company of seven believers were rowed across our beautiful Elbe, in the dead hour of night, to a little island, and there descending into the waters, were buried with Christ in baptism. . . The next day we were formed into a church, of which I was appointed the pastor.1

The man who was led by divine providence to the performing of this service was the Rev. Barnas Sears, then professor in the Hamilton Literary Institution, who was spending some time in Germany in study and had become known to Mr. Oncken as an American Baptist. This was the first Baptist church on German soil in modern times. Two helpers were soon won to the cause. The first, Julius K?ner, a Danish Jew, formerly an engraver, became the poet and hymn-writer of the German Baptists, as well as an ardent preacher. Gottfried Wilhelm Lehmann was the second co-worker; he and five others were baptized by Oncken at Berlin, May 13, 1837, and so the second church was constituted. The memory of this trio of preachers—they have all now gone to their reward—will always he precious to German Baptists, among whom they are known as “the clover-leaf.”

In the following September the Triennial Convention employed Mr. Oncken as a missionary, and the Baptist cause began to make steady, and at times rapid, progress in Germany. He also became agent for the Edinburgh Bible Society, and his colporters went throughout Germany selling Bibles and preaching the truth. By 1838 the Hamburg church had grown to seventy-five members, and three other churches had been established. This success aroused the ire of the Lutheran clergy, and they complained to the Hamburg Senate, who directed the police to suppress the Baptist meetings. For a time German Baptists suffered severe persecution. Mr. Oncken was several times imprisoned and fined. In May, 1840, he was imprisoned four weeks, and on his release all his household goods were sold to pay his fine and costs. He was forbidden to hold religious services at which any except members of his own household attended! Members of Baptist churches were required by law to bring their children to Lutheran ministers for so-called baptism, on pain of imprisonment or fine. Their property was liable to confiscation, and in general they were treated as men who had no rights that others were bound to respect.

These cruelties provoked many indignant remonstrances from England and America, and such expressions of enlightened Christian sentiment were not without their effect on the Hamburg Senate. A great fire in 1844 destroyed a great part of the city, and the efforts of the Baptists to relieve the distress of the suffering caused a great change in public opinion and official action. From this time Qncken and his church were unmolested, but in other parts of Germany the Baptists were less fortunate. The revolution of 1848 brought about changes for the better in most of the Gerniaii States. The new constitution adopted in Prussia in 1850 provides, in article 12: “Freedom of religious confession, of meeting in religious societies, and of the common exercise of religion in private and public is guaranteed.” It was not until 1858, however, that the Hamburg church was recognized by the State as a religious corporation. Even yet the Baptists do not enjoy complete toleration throughout Germany, though interference with them becomes more rare with each successive decade.

In spite of all difficulties, remarkable progress was made from the first. Baptist churches sprang up in all the principal cities, while in the smaller towns they spread even more rapidly. They organized themselves into Associations, after the American plan, and in 1849 the five Associations then existing formed a general Triennial Conference, which since i8~~ has been known as the German Baptist Union, and has held annual meetings. Another great advance was taken when Dr. Philip Bickel, a German by birth, who had been educated in the United States, went to Hamburg in 1878 to take charge of the publication house, begun in 1838 by Mr. Oncken as a private enterprise, and turned over to the German Baptist Union. This has since been removed to Cassel. The jubilee of the German mission and the death of its founder both fell in the year 1884. The seven members with which it began fifty years before had grown into nearly thirty-two thousand, and have since increased to about fifty thousand. These are not all in Germany proper; the German Baptists have been mindful of the Great Commission, and have sent out missionaries to Denmark, Finland, Poland, Holland, Switzerland, Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Africa. Some twenty-three thousand of the members they now report have been gathered as the result of these missionary operations. Their most important enterprise of recent years has been the establishment, in 1880, of a theological school at Hamburg, in part by the aid of American Baptists. In 1888 a new and commodious building was dedicated, that had been erected for the use of the seminary in a suburb of Hamburg. The course of study occupies four years, and the institution is doing much for the training of the German Baptist ministry.

The Baptists of Sweden, in a sense, owe their origin to American Baptists, yet no American Baptist has been
directly concerned in the work. A Swedish sailor, Gustaf W. Schroeder, who had been converted in some Methodist meetings at New Orleans in April, 1844, a few months later found his way into the Mariners’ Baptist Church, New York, and on the third of November of that year was baptized in the East River, at the site of the present Corlear’s Hook Park. The following year he met Frederick O. Nilsson, also a Swedish sailor, who had been converted in New York in 1834, and then was a colporter. Led by Captain Schroeder to inquire into the subject of baptism, Nilssoti was brought to a knowledge of the truth, and was baptized in August, 1847, by Oncken in the Elbe, near Hamburg. In September of the following year the first five Swedes who were baptized were, with Mr. Nilsson, constituted a church with the aid of Rev. Mr. Forster, a Danish Baptist minister, and the following year Nilsson was ordained in Hamburg, and began to preach in Sweden. His success was marked, but the persecution that followed was bitter; and in 1851 he was banished from the country. After a short stay at Copenhagen, he headed a colony of emigrants to tbis country, who settled in the State of Minnesota. This is not to be confounded with another colony, sent to this country in 1870 by Captain Schroeder, which went across the State of Maine, “poled in canoes” up the upper St. John, and planted a Baptist church at a place which they named New Sweden, in Aroostook County.

A successor to Nilsson was found in Andreas Wiberg, a Lutheran minister, educated at the University of Upsala who, in 1849, became unable to remain longer with good conscience in the Lutheran Church, where he was obliged to administer the communion to converted and unconverted alike. Meeting Mr. Oncken, and being led to the study of the New Testament anew, he embraced Baptist views. At this time he fell dangerously ill, and partly for the recovery of his health, partly in hope of enlisting the aid of American Baptists, he decided to make a voyage to the United States. The vessel was detained for two days at Copenhagen, and Wiberg sought out Nilsson and was baptized in the Baltic Sea, July 23, 1852. His visit to the United States was successful; much interest in the cause in Sweden was aroused, and he returned to his native land as a colporter of the American Baptist Publication Society, in 1855.  From this time onward the work progressed rapidly. The press was free in Sweden, and much was done for the spread of the truth by the circulation of books and tracts.

In 1861, Captain Schroeder returned to Sweden and soon after bought a lot and built at his own expense a house of worship for the Baptist church at Gothenburg—the first edifice of the kind in the country. Baptists had been accused of doing their works in holes and corners, so Captain Schroeder had a large signboard put along the front of the house, with the legend, “Baptist Meeting Hall.” The pastor of this church was Rev. F. O. Nilsson, who by royal grace had been permitted to return from his banishment. Both he and Captain Schroeder were summoned, at the instigation of Bishop Bjorck, to appear at the police court, after the first public service, and the Captain was fined a sum that with costs finally amounted to fifty dollars. The shame and disgrace of the trial, however, so reacted on the prosecutors that the church was molested no further.

In other places, however, the Baptists were less fortunate. Fines and imprisonments and distraint of property were common. Babes were forcibly taken from their parents and baptized in Lutheran churches. One of their ministers was summoned before the courts sixteen times, was imprisoned six times, and once was shackled for many days and compelled to pay a large fine. These persecutions, in most cases instigated by the State clergy, and in all cases approved by them, aroused much sympathy and indignation in Sweden itself, and also in other countries. Strong representations were made by the Evangelical Alliance; petitions for liberty of worship poured in upon the government; remonstrances were formally made by representatives of England and the United States, and gradually these seventies were relaxed. Such persecutions were the more intolerable, in that they were wholly illegal. The Constitution of Sweden, adopted in 1809, declares: “The king shall not coerce anybody’s conscience or allow it to be coerced, but protect every one in the free exercise of his religion, provided the peace of the community is not disturbed or general scandal caused thereby.” In the midst of the persecutions, King Oscar I. declared, in his opening speech to the Diet, October 17, 1856: “Toleration, founded on individual, immovable conviction, and respect for the religious faith of others, belongs to the essence of the Protestant Church, and ought to be accepted among a people whose heroic king, Gustavus Adolphus, by brilliant victories and the sacrifice of his life, laid the foundation of freedom of thought in Central Europe. Those laws, therefore, which hinder religious liberty and freedom of worship ought to be abolished, and the general law be brought into agreement with the sixteenth section of the constitution” [already quoted above]. These were brave words, yet both the king and his courts went on in the work of persecution, though the king frequently used his royal authority to soften its bitterness. Baptists do not yet enjoy complete toleration. A law was made in behalf of Dissenters in i86o and amended in 1873; but the provisions of this law are so obnoxious and offer so slight advantages that few Baptist churches have ever availed themselves of it. For the most part they continue to be nominally members of the State Church. As such they are conceded the right to meet together, so long as they do not teach anything that may be considered as leading to separation. The enforcement of this restriction has been dropped by general consent.

For ten years the work in Sweden went on under the direction of the Publication Society, and then it was transferred to the Missionary Union. From nine churches in 1855 they grew by the end of the century to five hundred and sixty-four, and from four hundred and seventy-six members to forty thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine—a truly wonderful increase, which takes no account of their missionary growth. In 1867 they began to preach the truth in Norway, where a church was organized the following year. Progress has been slow in omparison with the work in Sweden, but the century closed with thirty-two Baptist churches and two thouand six hundred and seventy one members in that country. A mission in Finland was begun in 1868, as result of which thirty-one churches and two thousand md thirty members greeted the twentieth century.

The Conference of Swedish churches was formed in 1857, and has done much to promote Baptist progress. It has greatly stimulated the missionary spirit. Throughout their history the Swedish Baptists have been in the forefront of all Christian enterprise. They were the first to establish Sunday-schools in that country, not one being known in 1855, while in 1857 Mr. Wiberg reported eight among the Baptists, with three hundred and thirty-nine scholars. The first Christian Endeavor Society in Sweden was organized in the Baptist church at Orebo, and in work for the young people Baptists are in advance of all other Christians.

In October, 1866, the Bethel Theological Seminary was established in Stockholm, under the care of Rev. Knut O. Broady, D. n., and has since been doing a work of great importance in the education of the Swedish ministry. In 1883 it entered a commodious building erected for its use in Stockholm, and has been more prosperous and useful since that date than before. Baptists have done much to sustain this, as well as the German mission, in the way of contributions of money from time to time; but they have received their reward already. It is said, and doubtless with truth, that ten per cent. of the converts made by Baptists in Sweden go to swell the membership of Baptist churches in this country, and that an equal proportion of the graduates of their seminary become pastors of Swedish churches in America.

The Baptist cause in Denmark, as has already been said, is the result, not of anything done by American Baptists, but of the missionary enthusiasm of our German brethren. A Baptist church was organized in Copenhagen near the close of the year 1839, eleven being then baptized by Mr. Oncken, and ten in July of the following year, when P. C. Moenster was ordained as pastor of the church. Another church of eight members was formed by Mr. Oncken in September, 1840, at Langeland; and in the following October a third church of ten members was formed at Aalberg by Moenster. Rigorous persecutions were almost immediately begun by the government, then an absolute monarchy. King Christian V. promulgated the following law: “That religion alone shall be allowed in the king’s lands and realms which agrees with the Holy Scriptures, the Apostolic and Nicene creeds, the Athanasian creed, and the Augsburg Confession, and with Luther’s Minor Catechism.” Pastor Moenster was imprisoned from about the first of December, 1840, until November of the following year. His brother, Adolph, who took his place, shared his fate in May, 1841. In 1842 Moenster was imprisoned a second time, from January to July. Drs. horatio B. Hackett and Thomas J. Conant, acting in behalf of American Baptists, visited the Denmark brethren in 1843, and attempted to alleviate their condition. High Danish officials, both in Church and in State, bore witness to the blameless character of these persecuted Baptists, and gradually the seventies practised against them were relaxed.

It was, however, not before 1850 that they began to enjoy much toleration; and added to this difficulty they lost many of their members by emigration to a land of greater liberty. They began to form Associations of their churches in 1849, and in 1887 withdrew from the German Baptist Union and formed a union of their own, They had not been unmindful of missionary obligations, and have missionaries on the Congo field. The Danish Baptists now number over four thousand. One of the most interesting of the German Baptist missions is that in Russia. There were already Mennonites in the southern region who were virtually Baptists, while the Stundists and other native sects have close affiliation with Baptist beliefs and practices. But the planting of Baptist churches has gone on steadily for quite a generation. The work began among the numerous German colonies, but has extended among the Russians themselves. There are now some twenty-five thousand members of Baptist churches in Russia proper, and the number would have been greatly increased but for the severe persecutions they have experienced, in common with all dissenters from the State church. Russia professes to grant complete religious liberty, the imperial decree reading as follows: “All the subjects of the Russian empire not belonging to the Established Church, both native Russians and those from abroad who are in the service of the State, are permitted at all times openly to confess their faith and practise their services in accordance with the rite. This freedom of faith is assured not only to Christians of foreign confessions, but also to the Jews, Mohammedans, and heathen, so that all the peoples in Russia may worship God, the Almighty, with different tongues, according to the laws and confessions of their fathers so that they may bless the government of the Russian tsar, and pray for his welfare to the Creator of the world.” This seems like a very liberal provision for freedom of conscience, but most of the concession is interpreted away by other acts. Liberty of worship is secured to men in the faith of their fathers, but they have no liberty to change their religion except by adopting that established by law. Nobody must persuade an orthodox Russian to join another church. He who does so is guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor, forfeits all his legal and civil rights, and is punishable by banishment to Siberia. Thousands of our Baptist brethren are said to have suffered this penalty—in some cases whole churches and their pastors having been deported. Any Russian who leaves the orthodox communion to become a Baptist may be put under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. This means that guardians will be appointed for his children, and an administrator for his estates, until his return to the orthodox faith; his obstinate refusal to return makes these penalties permanent. In spite of such laws and their rigid enforcement, the Baptist cause has continued to prosper in Russia.

A mission to Greece was begun in 1836 by the American Baptist Missionary Union, but very small results followed many years of hard labor. The chief convert of the mission became its leading minister, Rev. Demetrius Z. Sakellarios. The mission was suspended in 1836, but was resumed in 1871, and finally discontinued in 1886. A recent historian of our missions sums up the history of the mission thus: “While the Greeks are of high intelligence and have great interest in religious subjects, they are not open to that influence of religious truth which will enable them to endure separation from their own people and church for the sake of a purer gospel and a more living faith.”2 

A Baptist mission founded in Spain by Rev. W. I. Knapp, has had a history but little more encouraging. At one time it was nearly extinct, but it was revived by the sending of a missionary from this country. There are now several vigorous Baptist churches and active pastors, and it is possible that the Baptist cause in Spain has a future more encouraging than its past. 

The Southern Baptist Convention has maintained a mission in Italy, with varying success, since the year 1870. An independent mission was also for a time maintained in Rome by Rev. W. C. Van Meter, with the help of Baptists and others, but the Missionary Union has sever established an Italian mission. Rev. George B. Taylor, D. D., was the efficient superintendent of the Southern Baptist missionary operations for many years. Thirty years of labor have established sixty-four Baptist churches in the kingdom, from the Alps to the island of Sicily, with one thousand four hundred and thirty members. There has been a good deal of sentimentalism connected with this mission; the idea of having a Baptist church under the very shadow of the Vatican has been most captivating to many minds. As was said at Balaklava, “It is magnificent, but it is not war.” That sort of thing may gratify the remnant of the old Adam in us, but it is not evangelizing the world.

The only cases in which our European work has proved prosperous, or even had the capacity of permanent life, are those in which there has been a self-originating body of Baptists, whom their American brethren have simply aided by counsel and money. Where we have sent out missionaries from this country, or where the work has not been from the first carried on mainly by native Baptists, there has been a succession of mortifying failures. Nor is it difficult to see why this should be the case. Europe is not a pagan country. Its people already have the religion of Christ—in a perverted form, it is true; yet not so perverted but that multitudes find in it the way of salvation. It is inevitable that such people should look with coldness upon foreigners who come to teach them, not a different religion, hut what they have been bred to consider a heretical form of their own.

The belief has therefore become of late years very general that it is unadvisable for American Baptists to maintain missions in European countries by direct support of missionaries or pastors. So soon as churches are formed it is believed to be best that they support their own pastors. Help may well be given from this country for the education of a native ministry, and occasionally for other exceptional forms of work. Whatever is done beyond that, experience seems to show, does not tend to the ultimate stability of the churches or the permanent growth of the cause. Churches, like men, are the better for being self-reliant, and early learning to stand alone. It is an open question whether aiding churches in our own country has not too frequently resulted, like indiscriminate giving to beggars, in pauperizing a large number of bodies that if properly stimulated to self-help might long since have become robust. But this is to leave the domain of the historian and enter that of the social philosopher.

 

1  From “Triumplic of the Gospel,” a tract by Oncken, published at Ramburg (no date).

2 Merriam, “History of American Baptist Missions.” p. 201.

 
 
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