English Brief History of the Baptist Movement in Poland (1858-2008)
wrzesień 2017
P W Ś C Pt S N
28 29 30 31 1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 1
Śr Wrz 20 @18:00 - 19:00
Nabożeństwo środowe
N Wrz 24 @10:00 - 12:00
Nabożeństwo niedzielne
Śr Wrz 27 @18:00 - 19:00
Nabożeństwo środowe
N Paź 01 @10:00 - 12:00
Nabożeństwo niedzielne

Brief History of the Baptist Movement in Poland (1858-2008)

Author: Andrzej Seweryn
November 2007

The history of the Baptist movement in Poland has reached 150 years. Baptists appeared as a new religious movement during the times of the partitions, when Poland for 123 years did not appear on the maps of Europe. Talking of its origins, one needs to point to the previous activities of the Baptist center in Hamburg in Germany, under Johann Gerhard Oncken’s leadership, which included as its mission field the territories of Prussia. The congregations planted there in the middle of the 19th century, as well as the missionary activities undertaken by Oncken himself, soon began to impact the German-speaking people inhabiting the Russian partition.

 

 

The beginnings of the Polish Baptist movement in the former Congressional Kingdom of Poland are inseparably related to a country teacher and a Lutheran who lived in the village Adamów, not far from the town of Pułtusk, named Gotfryd Fryderyk Alf (1831-1898) . Alf experienced spiritual rebirth through reading the Bible for himself. With the support of Baptist missionaries from Eastern Prussia, he was baptized along with a group of other believers according to Biblical teaching on the 28th of November 1858. This date marks the beginning of the Baptist movement on native Polish territories, and it is also the day of planting the church in Adamów (the first church in the Russian partition).

Through the missionary activity of G. F. Alf and his co-workers, a grassroots and spontaneous revival movement resulted in planting of the new churches: in Kurówek near Łask (1870), in Zezulin near Lublin (1873), in Warsaw (1875), Żyrardów (1875) and Łódź on Nawrot Street (1878). The Baptist movement was illegal and thus considered a separatist cult and despite strong repression from the official church and the state, kept growing in a dynamic way. New churches and missionary outposts were planted in which more and more believers gathered. After Poland regained independence in 1918, the Baptists living on the territory of the Polish state organized themselves within the following unions: The Evangelical Union Christians and Baptists in Poland (1923 – legalized in 1927), The Union of Slavic Baptist Churches in Poland (1925), and The Baptist Union of German Speaking Churches in Poland .

Also, at the times of Second Polish Republic, the Baptists – like many other denominations (including evangelical ones) – were not legalized by the state. In spite of this limitation and of the policy of „neutral unfriendliness”, the Baptist movement kept up its dynamic growth rate, especially in the rural areas of Wołyń, Polesie, Eastern Galicia, Białystok and Vilnius, and the German speaking Baptists in the areas of Łódź, Warsaw and Lublin.

Baptists, while involved in missionary work, ran their own Theological Seminary, at first in Radość near Warsaw (1923), then in Łódź (since 1924), where up until 1938 four subsequent courses took place . Moreover, the Baptists had their own publishing house named Kompas and the Betlejem hospital in Łódź, an orphanage for children in Brześć Litewski and a home for the aged in Narewka near Białystok. Since 1925 they started publishing church monthly periodical Słowo Prawdy (Word of Truth) – one of the oldest and still existing denominational monthlies in Poland.

Summing up the information on the period between the two wars, one must note that in 1938 – shortly before World War II – the Slavic Union numbered 7015 members, whereas both unions and independent churches numbered 16,084 members, or 31,242 – when counting also their family members (based on 1938 statistical report). There were 234 Sunday schools, attended by 5,400 children; and 132 youth groups . Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II drastically slowed the growth of the Baptist movement in Poland, and caused the tragic loss of human lives, among whom were many members of the Church .

After the war, the Baptist Church was decimated. Out of the 16,000 believers only 1,000 survived who by baptism had declared their faith. At that time the Baptists had a very limited number of pastors. In 1946 there were only 36 full-time workers and 62 unpaid workers . Besides this, the changes to our country’s borders weakened the native Baptist movement in a remarkable way, since the greatest centers of Polish Baptists were located in the eastern territories, which were lost by Poland. Moreover, a significant number of the Baptists in the II Polish Republic were German. After the changing of the borders, most of them resettled and their houses of prayer and sanctuaries were confiscated by authorities . Only the Białystok region remained quite unchanged, thus after the war it became the center of Polish Baptist movement. The former vibrant Baptist center in Łódź was completely liquidated (…), almost all its property was taken away. Not only did the number of members drop drastically but another serious problem was the lack of spiritual leaders. Before the war the preachers of German or Ukrainian origin stimulated the dynamics of the Church. Suddenly these people were no longer to be found.

One must certainly note the integrative initiatives of the Baptists, which took place during the middle of the XX century, and resulted in forming, at first, the Union of German Evangelical-Free Churches (Baptists) – Bund Nichtdeutscher Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden (Baptisten), which was born under pressure of Hitler’s occupation, and was legalized by the authorities of occupied Poland in 1943. Later, in May 1945, the Polish Evangelical Church of Baptist Christians was formed (Polski Kościół Ewangelicznych Chrześcijan Baptystów – PKEChB) , which, one year later, on the 4th of May 1946 was granted the status of a public and legal religious confession by the Confession Division of the Department of Public Administration . Baptists were also found among the founding members of the Christian Ecumenical Council (Chrześcijańska Rada Ekumeniczna – later called Polish Ecumenical Council), which has existed since 15 of November 1946.

The Polish Evangelical Church of Baptist Christians did not stand the trial of time, and only two years later the non-Baptist groups abandoned it. Three evangelical groups originating from it in 1947 formed the United Evangelical Church (Zjednoczony Kościół Ewangeliczny – ZKE) , while other groups decided to work independently. For this reason, in May 1948, the Baptists, at the XV Congress of PKEChB, changed its the name to Polish Church of Baptist Christians (Polski Kościół Chrześcijan Baptystów – PKChB) .

For more than a few reasons, The Peoples Republic of Poland (PRL) was not in favor of the growth of Christian Churches, including the Baptist Church. The main reason was the attitude of hostility of authorities towards worldviews other than Marxism and Leninism. The root assumption of PRL authorities was a professed policy of liquidating all Christian Churches and replacing religion with communist ideology.

The hostile policy of the state toward the Roman Catholic Church and other Churches and confessions resulted in Churches gradually loosing their organizational independence. This was caused by subsequent legislative attacks aimed at the churches, including the one issued in February 1953, stating that church officers should be appointed and controlled by the state. Pressure was put on the spiritual leaders to force them to swear allegiance to Peoples Republic of Poland . In the period of Stalinism not only the Catholic Church was persecuted.

The policy of the state toward faiths of the Evangelical-Baptist type was extremely repressive. On the one hand they were considered destructive and anti-social, and on the other their spiritual leaders were blamed to spies on behalf of „Anglo-American imperialism”. In the 1950’s some leaders were arrested, but the long lasting investigations did not prove the charges, therefore churches could continue in their mission and activities.

This was the context in which the Baptist Church, weakened by World War II, was to carry on its mission. It seems that the remark made by a certain historian is valid: during the period of PRL (...) the Baptist fellowships found themselves between the anvil of the Catholicism and the hammer of the official Marxism. The only condition for the survival of the Baptist Church was a complete withdrawal from the public life and exclusive concentration on cultivating and maintaining religious life within the local churches and fellowships. The Baptist Church – on one hand – was to small to risk opposition against the authorities, and – on the other hand – it avoided the temptation of becoming a tool of the communists, who were seeking to find allies in their fight against the Catholic Church. As a result, during the time of PRL, the whole Baptist mission was limited within the four walls of the church sanctuary, without any attempts to work wider in society.

Moreover, after World War II Poland became a homogenous country, both in terms of ethnicity and confession, the strong stereotype of a Pole is a Catholic was reborn. Its general presence in the consciousness of the Polish people did not work in favor of the social acceptance of members of other faiths. Yet another weakening factor was the wave of emigration of many Baptist families from the regions of Mazury and Śląsk to Germany in the 1950’s and 60’s, as well as the emigration of some significant presbyters, who left for Germany and the USA in the 1970’s.

In spite of these negative conditions and cultural limitations of the PRL period, the Baptist Church slowly but steadily rebuilt its membership. Even at the beginning of 1960’s, there were more than 2 thousand Church members. The migration of young people from the country to cities changed the character of the fellowships from rural to urban, which was particularly strong near academic centers. After the war the Baptist Theological Seminary in Malbork, and later in Warsaw, was re-established, and started preparing new groups of preachers and pastors , most of whom continued their education at the Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw (Chrześcijańska Akademia Teologiczna).

In the 1970’s our Church developed a very active publishing activity, as well as a wide scale work with children and youth at Sunday schools, youth groups, and summer camps for children and youth. This resulted in the conversion of many young people, and their subsequent involvement in the Church. Next, since the Church offered economic help during the time of crisis, related to the introducing of the Marshall Law in Poland. It gained new friends and won more positive opinion in various social circles. This in turn supplied boldness needed for organizing various public mission activities outside the church (in cinemas, cultural centers, tent missions, public concerts, satellite evangelizations, etc.). In this way the active mission was awakened and caused that in the late 1980’s the Baptist Church numbered 3 thousand members, which, along with children and friends, made a confession of 5 thousand people. There were 60 local churches and dozens of missionary outposts in 9 regions, and almost 60 pastors . It is worth adding, that the culmination of interdenominational activity, which put our Church among trustworthy partners on the denominational map, was the evangelistic crusade by Dr. Billy Graham in October 1978. This was the most courageous Baptist missionary activity in the period of PRL. One must not underestimate the access to state radio (since 1981) and some time later, to public television, which furnished the way to present the services and religious programs to wider circles of Polish society.

After the war, in spite of difficulties created by authorities related to international contacts by protestant church members (gaining visas and passports for foreign trips) , Baptists began – in much more active ways than in the past - to participate in the subsequent congresses of the World Baptist Alliance (WBA) and since 1948 in the congresses of the European Baptist Federation– when the EFB was first formed . The Polish Baptist Church was from the beginning a member of both associations, and our members were actively involved in the work in various departments of the WBA and the EFB.

The membership of the Baptist Church in Poland in the WBA also resulted in that Polish Baptists many times received spiritual and material aid from this international organization. Baptists from Europe and from all over the world regularly visited our churches with an evangelistic and missionary purpose. They led lectures during conferences for pastors, at holiday camps for youth and children, at national women conferences and at the seminaries in Warsaw and Malbork.

WBA supported Baptists materially and through them it helped the whole Polish society. Shortly after World War II was over, in the fall of 1946, the WBA Support Action was launched, which lasted until the end of 1949. It was a unique activity – nothing similar has happened – and it was an expression of solidarity of Baptists from all over the world with the Polish nation. In the years to come WBA and European Baptists offered material support to the Baptist Church in Poland, helping in financing the construction of more than 20 new church buildings, among others in Warsaw, Koszalin, Katowice, Białystok, Wrocław and Gdańsk.

In the 1990’s, a church planting movement was initiated in our Church, which was accompanied by the breaking of the mindset that only one local church should exist in one town. This movement made the missionary activities of churches in big cities more dynamic. As a result, in December 1994, the II Baptist Church in Warsaw was planted , and at the break of the millennium, between the years 1999-2007, 16 new local churches were planted (each church had to have at least 25 members) , including second churches in Wrocław, Katowice, Kraków, Poznań and Warsaw.

The legislative act of the Polish parliament on the 30th of June 1995, concerning the relationship between the Polish State and the Polish Baptist Church, has strengthened the Churches’ legal status, and provided framework for missionary and organizational activities. It also provided our denomination with many legal rights and privileges, and put the Baptist Church in a group of churches, whose relationship with the State was regulated by a separate law.

We rejoice over the fact, that in today’s inauguration of the 150th anniversary of the Baptist movement on the Polish territories, we can officially welcome 3 new Baptist churches, which were planted in Otwock, Radom and Rzeszów. Thus today we have 86 churches and almost 5.000 baptized members. Although our church has never experienced revival after World War II, it kept on growing in a slow but gradual way. The newly planted churches and the big potential of our Church as a whole, gives us a well founded hope for an even better future of the Baptist movement in Poland, which rests in the hands of our Lord – Jesus Christ!

Copyright © 2010 www.baptysci.waw.pl. All Rights Reserved.