The German Baptists
By Professor W. J. M'Glothlin, 1902
The eighteenth meeting of the German Convention (Bund) of German Baptists was held in Hamburg August 23, 1901. Besides the German delegates there were present representatives from Switzerland, Bulgaria, Roumania, Austria-Hungary, Holland and Russia. The meeting was a thoroughly harmonious and happy one and revealed substantial program in all parts of the empire.
The Statistics for 1900
revealed the fact that there are 158 churches in Germany proper, divided into eight associations. Of these churches twelve were organized in the year 1900. Most of the older churches had very substantial increase in numbers. There was a total clear gain of 783 members for the year, and this in spite of the fact that emigration effects our churches right seriously. The total number of Baptists was 29,690. The number of preaching stations maintained by these 158 churches aside from the central places of worship were 563. The number of chapels and church houses was 156. The total amount of money given for all purposes was about $150,000, or a little more than $5 a member. When it is remembered that most of these are poor this is seen to be a remarkably fine showing in work and giving.
The New Publishing House
at Cassel had been built since the last meeting of the Bund and occupied much of the time of the meeting. Since their establishment in Germany the Baptists have used the printing press very diligently for the spread of the truth. They have printed and distributed Bibles and tracts by the thousands and hundreds of thousands. Besides these they have published numerous translations from the works of Spurgeon, A. J. Gordon, Moody and others. Until recently this work was done at Hamburg with very inadequate equipment. At the meeting of the Bund in 1897 it was decided to move the business to Cassel and to build a thoroughly equipped publishing house which should be the property of the Bund. This magnificent building costing some $90,000 with its modern equipment is capable of doing an immense business and will meet all the needs of the Baptists for years to come. Unfortunately it is now carrying a considerable debt. Here are published the Sunday-school literature, the one weekly religious paper, "The Witness to the Truth," and all the other regular and occasional publications. The Secretary of the very active and efficient Tract Society, is J. G. Lehmann, son of the founder of the Baptist church in Berlin
at Hamburg reported 31 students. There are five professors, three of whom give instruction to academic studies and two to theological studies. One of the latter is Joseph Lehmann, the other son of G. W. Lehmann. He is also the author of an excellent history of the German Baptists extending to the year 1870. The seminary course covers four years and includes instruction in Greek and English. The whole number of students who have attended the institution since its foundation is about two hundred. Some of the points made by the commission in their report are interesting. It was believed that the students were injuring their health by sitting up too late. Accordingly gas-lighting was put in the building throughout, and now promptly at 11 o'clock the gas is turned off and the good brethren are compelled to cease work. The committee complains that brethren often come in after the opening of the session, that students often leave before the completion of their studies. And there comes a point never heard of in America seminaries. The commission complains that students often become engaged while at school, and express their strong disapproval of this course. They even raise the question whether a student in special cases could not be released from such engagements. In the very lively debate which followed it was emphasized that students should not enter matrimonial engagements before coming to the seminary. What cool hearts and wise heads these Germans have!
Another important point made by the commission was by way of warning to the churches against the recommendation of men who were not known to have the moral and spiritual qualifications for work in the Lord's vineyard. The church should know that a student had these qualifications before the recommendation is given. The Germans need above all else competent and consecrated preachers, and hence they take the greatest interest in their seminary which has already done so much for them. Perhaps no other subject arouses so much interest. The school is still largely helped by the (American) Missionary Union.
The Bund has a fund for the support of invalid missionaries, and the widows and orphans of missionaries. There is a loan fund for the building of chapels. This is a very important part of the work, as many churches have no house and are too weak to build themselves. Naturally they receive no aid from the community in which they live, and hence must depend upon the larger brotherhood.
They have only one weekly paper, the "Wahrheitszuge" (the witness to the truth). It is a large, well-edited paper and is rending excellent service. It is the organ of the Bund. Some 10,000 copies are printed weekly. Copies go to Russia, Roumania, Belgaria, France, England, North and South America, Australia and other countries. There are three monthly publications, "Word and Work," "Tabea" and "Leader." Some two or three copies of these are printed.
The Tract Society does a great work. From April 15, 1899 to July 1, 1900, there were printed 129,850 copies of thirty-two books and tracts. During the year 1899 the society's colporteurs distributed 31,461 copies of books and 302,300 pages of tracts. They visited 66,350 homes and held 1,000 meetings. These figures indicate something of the enormous activity of these German Baptists.
Besides their own work proper they have been instrumental in planting the standard of apostolic Christianity in surrounding nations. They planted the Gospel very early in Denmark. Koebner was a native Dane and made many missionary journeys into his native land. Nilsson, the great Swedish Baptist missionary, was one of the first candidates baptized in the new chapel at Hamburg in 1847. Oncken and others actively supported this work for years. Both of these fields are now independent. The same may be said of Russia. Baptist doctrines were carried to Holland, Switzerland, and very early to Austria, and with these fields more or less intimate relations are still maintained.
One striking feature of the Baptist work, still happily characteristic of it, is the great amount of work done by laymen. When the preachers must be absent laymen take charge of the services. Laymen distribute tracts, conduct Sunday-schools, hold private meetings for prayer, etc. Many of the earlier preachers kept up some trade and also preached, but most of them now give their whole time to the work. A noble band of brethren they are, aggressive, earnest, consecrated. They have already conquered not only freedom to work and worship as they wish, but also the respect of the better part of the community, and they are destined, I believe, to do great things in the Lord's kingdom in the future.
[From The Baptist Argus, January 2, 1902, p. 2. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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