The German Baptists


The roots of the German Baptists go back to 1839 when Konrad Anton Fleischmann began work in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with German immigrants. Fleischmann was a Swiss separatist and believed in believer's baptism and regenerate church membership. In 1843, the first German Baptist Church was organized in Philadelphia. More churches were subsequently founded in the late 1840s and early 1850s; the first German Baptist Church in Canada was established by August Rauschenbusch in Ontario in 1851. The churches met in 1851 and organized a "Conference of Ministers and Helpers of German Churches of Baptized Christians, usually called Baptists." The recently opened Rochester Theological Seminary offered that Conference the establishment of a German Department in 1859. As a result of geographical spread and an increase in membership, an Eastern and a Western Conference were set up in 1859.

The General Conference of German Baptist Churches in North America was formed in 1865 in Wilmot, Ontario. It has since changed from originally being a German Baptist conference to ministering primarily in the English language. The Conference adopted its present title—North American Baptist Conference—in 1944, removing the reference to its ethnic identity. [1]

In 1970, the nine regional Conferences of the NABC were restructured into 21 smaller "associations." One of the largest is Alberta Baptist Association with 63 congregations. [2] There are nine Baptist churches in Calgary, 13 in Edmonton, three each in Leduc and Lethbridge, with the remainder spread over the province of Alberta. [3]

The NABC has two schools, a theological seminary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (the continuation of the German Department at Rochester) and Taylor University College and Seminary in Edmonton. In 2002, the NABC had 16,859 members in Canada, and 47,706 members in the U.S. [4]

Settlement in Central and Eastern Europe

The founder of the Baptist churches in Germany was Johann Gerhard Oncken. He returned to Germany from England in 1930 where he had been in contact with different Pietist groups. His study of the Scriptures led him to adopt Baptist views, and he established the first German Baptist Church in Germany in 1834. In spite of opposition from the state religions to his activities, a Baptist theological school was founded in 1881 in Hamburg-Horn. From Germany, the Baptists spread to the neighboring countries, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, and Russia.

Baptist growth among the German settlers in Central and eastern Europe was primarily part of the larger 19th century evangelical movement on the Continent, stirred by Anglo-American evangelism which—by its call to conversion and faith—challenged nominal confession and sought to normalize intentional Christianity. [5] In the second half of the 19th century an evangelical revival took place in the German-speaking colonies in Russia and southeastern regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was through contact with the German Baptists that this emerging movement came to practice baptism by immersion.

Baptist pastors in Volhynia

The first Baptist church in Volhynia was set up in Hortschtschik in 1864, followed by Sorotchin later that year. Other church openings included Neudorf (1866), Cholosno (1875), Toporischtsch (1878), Moisejewka (1883), Nowo-Rudnja (1884), Iwanowitsch (1885), Stawetskaja-Sloboda (1898) and Rutkowsky-Chutor. By 1914, Volhynia had about 40,000 to 50,000 Baptists, served by about a dozen churches. [6]

Settlement and German Baptist churches in Alberta

The founding of Alberta's German Baptist churches occurred in two stages: church plantings as a result of the arrival of pioneer homesteaders from Central and Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1920 and of post-World War II refugees from the same area in the 1950s. German Baptist pioneers in Alberta and the southwestern corner of Saskatchewan organized nearly 25 churches before World War I. [7] The first settlers came to the Heimthal area south of Edmonton in 1889—either directly from drought-stricken Dunmore in southeastern Alberta, from eastern Europe, or the U.S.—and in 1892 a church was built. Pastor F.A. Mueller, a German Baptist missionary in Volhynia, made arrangements for 30 families to settle in the Fredericksheim neighborhood south of Leduc. [8] With the steadily increasing church membership, German Baptist settlers and evangelists organized their churches (BC) throughout the province, from Irvine to Stony Plain, between 1892 and 1917.

1892: Heimthal (Rabbit Hill BC)

1894: Josephburg near Dunmore/Irvine (cf. Medicine Hat, Grace BC)

1894: Leduc (First BC)

1896: Wetaskiwin (Pleasantview BC, Calvary BC)

1900: Edmonton (Central BC)

1901: Bittern Lake (Bethany BC), near Camrose; Century Meadows BC

1903: Knee Hill Creek BC (cf. Olds)

1904: Glory Hills BC (cf. Onoway)

1908: Millet (Wiesenthal BC)

1910: Forestburg (linked with Wetaskiwin and Camrose)

1910: Freudental (Freudental BC)

1911: Irvine (connected with Josephburg)

1911: Richdale

1911: Hilda (originally Germantown: Hilda BC), later supplemented by "stations" in Hoffnungsthal, Friedensfeld and Neuburg (even Estuary and Leader in 1926)

1911: Trochu (Trochu BC)

1912: Calgary (Grace BC)

1913: Medicine Hat (Medicine Hat Grace BC, began as a station of Josephburg/Irvine)

1917: Craigmyle (Craigmyle BC, with Castor BC - "Hand Hills")

1927: Leduc (Temple BC)

1927: Wetaskiwin (Westside BC)

1929: Olds (East Olds BC)

1932: Valleview (Emmanuel BC)

1933: Carbon (Bethel BC; organized as a result of a merger of Freudental BC and Bethel BC)

1945: Onoway (Onoway BC)

This list shows that German Baptists settled in Alberta as part of the rural immigration to turn the prairies and bush into farmland. They coalesced into about 20 small congregations that included newly-won members of the Lutheran and Reformed majority. By 1915, two churches with urban constituencies were founded (Edmonton, Calgary); a third was a city plant from a rural base (Medicine Hat); two others served a rural constituency from a building in a small town (Forestburg, Trochu). From 1925 to 1945, two of the country churches planted a sister congregation in small towns (Leduc, Onoway), and farmers around Valleyview built their church in town. Between 1946 and 1960, three more rural congregations built new churches in small towns, and six other churches were closed, due to population changes.

Opposite developments occurred after 1950. On the one hand, the NAB Conference turned from its ethnic focus and addressed the spreading populations of growing cities and towns, founding eight churches in Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat to serve new neighborhoods that only incidentally included Canadian-born children and grandchildren of the founders of the earlier German Baptist congregations.

However, in the aftermath of WW II the number of German Baptists in Alberta increased dramatically. The North American Baptist Immigration and Colonization Society (founded in 1929) made it possible for thousands of displaced persons to come to Canada, and local pastors facilitated their integration into Canadian society. This new immigration in the 1950s re-Germanized the three oldest German Baptist city churches (Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat) and produced seven new congregations of German-speaking new Canadians. Four of these post-war "German" Baptists are extinct (three in Edmonton, one in Lethbridge) as is the "re-Germanized" Medicine Hat Church. The only vestiges of their heritage in these churches are the surnames, the dishes brought to church suppers, and a sparsely attended German worship service of Bible class conducted before the English service each Sunday. Although their German clientele is dwindling, Central Baptist in Edmonton and Temple and Thornhill Baptist in Calgary are still the most German.

The more than 40 new churches begun by the once-German NAB Conference since 1960 (seven of which were not viable) have been focussed on new neighborhoods and growing towns without regard to ethnicity. Their congregations reflect the Canadian multi-ethnic mix; in the Alberta Baptist Association, in fact, there are four churches with a specific ethnic constituency (Korean, Cambodian, and East Indian).


The German Baptists are one of many movements within evangelical Protestantism. The majority view of American historians of religion is that the Baptist tradition is a specific combination of beliefs and doctrines that have become successively more precisely enumerated and elaborated over the centuries. [9]

Although they shared many beliefs with the Mennonites, the English Baptists (in their early 17th-century beginnings) consciously rejected the social and political disengagement that the Dutch and German Mennonites required. The Baptists derived their name from their chief cause of separation from other churches; namely, their emphasis on the importance of making a profession of belief in the Gospel, prior to baptism; consequently, they reject the baptism of infants. For Baptists, only the Bible is the authoritative word of God. Hence, a thorough and careful understanding of the Bible is an essential part of Baptist belief. Another distinctive characteristic is congregationalist government and the auto- nomy of the local church from ecclesiastical or civil coercion (religious liberty).

Baptists share certain emphases with other groups, such as emphasis on evangelism and missions. Since Baptist churches stress the autonomy of the local church and individual accountability, there are some differences of practice or specific beliefs within and among them. But historically, Baptists have defined themselves (apart from issues of conversion and church order) solidly within the classic consensus of Protestant Christian orthodoxy.


[1] North American Baptist Conference, "NAB History," Accessed on April 11, 2004.

[2] Alberta Baptist Association, Accessed on May 3, 2004.

[3] Sturgeon Valley Baptist Church, "North American Baptist Conference," nabc.htm. Accessed on April 11, 2004.

[4] North American Baptist Conference, North_American_Baptist_ Conference.html. Accessed on April 11, 2004.

[5] David T. Priestley, "Ethnicity and Piety among Alberta's 'German' Baptists," Canadian Society of Church History. Historical Papers (Canada: The Society, 1994), p. 145. The compiler is greatly indebted to Dr. Priestley (Taylor Seminary, Edmonton), for his assistance in the compilation of this profile of the German Baptists.

[6] "Volhynian Baptist pastors," Accessed on March 13, 2004.

[7] For a detailed account of the development of German Baptist churches in Alberta, see David T. Priestley, "The effect of Baptist 'home missions' among Alberta's German immigrants," in David T. Priestley (ed.), Memory and Hope. Strands of Canadian Baptist History (Waterloo, ON: Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion, 1996).

[8] Priestley, "Ethnicity and Piety,"  pp. 145-149.

[9] The "Confession of Faith of the German Baptists" (1857) is available at ccc/germanbaptist.htm. Oncken had submitted a similar document in 1847. This text represents a common statement of faith which later became the doctrinal basis for the German Baptist Union. Accessed on February 24, 2004.