Baptist General Conference
Northern Minnesota farmer Andrew Peterson, in the picture outside his log house,
kept a significant diary for 44 of his pioneer years. That diary became
the principal source of research for author Vilhelm
Moberg's widely-read books, "The Emigrants," "Unto a Good Land" and
"The Last Letter Home". Moberg used Peterson
as his prototype for Karl Oskar, the books' main character. The movies,
"The Immigrants" and "The Good Land," were derived from
Andrew Peterson is important to Conference history. It is believed that his rude cabin was the scene of the organization of Scandia (Waconia, Minn.) Baptist Church in 1855. Minnesota's second Conference church, it is today the oldest with a continuous history. Peterson was a charter member and church leader.
Peterson's 12-volume diary was written in spidery hand in Ostergotland dialect. Every day (except Sundays) he made a note about his life - his farm, his wife and nine children, his cattle and crops, his church life. Probably the most complete existing coverage of a Swedish settler's life, the diary is a prominent item in the University of Minnesota archives. An English translation of the diary is now in the Bethel archives.
What is a Conference Baptist?
While the ideal
Conference Baptist shares the feeling of the Apostle Paul that he is far from
having reached full spiritual maturity, he is pressing on toward that goal in
the light of New Testament standards which constitute a dynamic uplifting influence
upon his life.
His own Christian journey began with God's miracle of the new birth. Awareness of his personal salvation has imparted to him both a sense of certainty and an evangelistic zeal. He has become so genuinely concerned about the need of all men to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of their lives that he participated actively in the world mission of the church and witnesses personally about Christ to those with whom he comes in contact.
His witness is strengthened by a genuine commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in which everything in life has become important to him only in its relationship to Christ and his kingdom. His personal life has a warm contagious quality, reflecting the presence of the Holy Spirit through such characteristics as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith, and self-control.
He has made the Bible his standard for faith and conduct and is growing in his Biblical knowledge, The Affirmation of Faith of the Baptist General Conference is for him a helpful summary of the major teachings of the Word of God which had become the handbook of his life.
He belongs to the whole church of Jesus Christ. While he is a conscientious member of a Baptist General Conference church and participates in its worship, witness, and service with conviction and enthusiasm. he numbers as his brothers and sisters in the Lord all who love Jesus Christ whatever may be their denominational affiliation, racial background, or cultural standing, Consequently, he desires that his work in his church contribute to the whole body of Christ.
Of course, no Conference Baptist completely fulfills this ideal. But the mission of the Baptist General Conference is to lead an increasing number of people throughout the world to begin this journey by personal commitment to Jesus Christ and then to assist all to grow in the achievement of these spiritual goals.
Also read Baptist General Conference Heritage Highlights from 1847 to 1978
On a warm summer day in Rock Island, Illinois, Gustaf Palmquist, a middle-aged
Swedish immigrant, stood in the Mississippi River and, with an emotion laden
voice, baptized a woman and two men, praying for God's blessing in their
lives. Five days later, on August
13, 1852, this same small group
organized the first Swedish Baptist Church in America (see image
to the right) with Gustaf Palmquist as pastor. They began the first
congregation of Swedish Baptists in the US, launching what came to be the
Swedish Baptist General Conference, known today as the Baptist General Conference. Born in
revival and in Bible centered renewal groups, it has been marked throughout its
history by a discipleship that includes both active witnessing and Godly living.
Rooted in the pietistic movement of Sweden, it centered on Swedish immigrants who sought religious freedom in the United States and Canada, Swedish Baptist churches flourished in the upper Midwest and Northeast, and by 1879, when the first annual meeting was held in Village Creek, Iowa, 63 Swedish Baptist churches had been organized going from Maine to the Dakotas and south to Kansas and Missouri.
Nearly a decade before, John Alexis Edgren, and immigrant sea captain, had begun the first Conference publication, Zions Waktare, a forerunner of The Standard, and a theological seminary to provide trained ministers for the Swedish Baptist churches which then included 1,500 believers in seven states.
A revival in Winnipeg in 1894, resulted in the establishment of the first Swedish Baptist church in Canada, Today (1984) Conference churches are located in five provinces, with 69 churches and 5,600 members.
In the United States as well, the early decades were marked by almost perennial revival in Swedish Baptist churches. The lives of pastors and lay people were characterized by personal evangelism. In the early days the work of church growth, publications, and education were more closely related, often through the same individual. Captain Edgren had his own Double in a Decade program asking for 1,000 souls. Through the work of Bethel students, that goal was surpassed with 2,000 converts, 55 churches, 25 Sunday schools organized, and 27 churches built.
By 1902, after a period of "more or less perennial revival," almost every facet of Conference life showed striking growth with 324 churches and nearly 22,000 members fed by large scale immigration, devout faith, and repeated revivals. The Lord has continued to bless us with growth. The membership has grown from 34,000 in 1927 and 40,000in 1945, to 135,000 in 1989.
Throughout our history Christian education has played an important part. The Conference educational enterprise continued to expand during successive decades. Bethel added a Bible and Missionary Training School in 1922, and during the 1930's and 1940's, gradually phased out the Academy in favor of a junior college. In turn that became a four year college program b 1947. In 1957, a third institution was added--Vancouver Bible Institute--an an extension of the Seminary in San Diego was begun in 1977.
The young people's organization was actively involved with Conference Advance in 1944, which centered in world missions. It was inaugurated by the establishment of our own Conference foreign missions board. In 1944, the Conference voted to create such a board and to adopt goals far beyond anything the churches had previously attempted. This launched an era of growth that some have judged to be "the greatest in the history of the denomination," As had been the case in earlier steps of faith, what had seemed most difficult goals were soon reached and surpassed, and in the process a major period of expansion was launched. The initial goals--a fund of $50,000 within nine months and a contingent of 52 missionaries on the field by the centennial year of 1952,--were met and exceeded.
The first constitution (1880) made missions one of the main objectives of Swedish Baptists, and the first decision made by the Conference in that year was the commissioning of missionary Christopher Silene. Similarly, the district conferences placed missions and evangelism at the center of their programs.
Conference Baptists have served all over the world, but the field that has held interest and support by the greatest majority of churches began with Burma, and continued into China, India, Japan, Ethiopia, Philippines, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and on to the new fields of today in France and Thailand.
Developments, enhanced by an awareness of our spiritual heritage, led to new goal-setting as in Double in a Decade, Missions: USA and Decade of Vision. The richness of our heritage can certainly provide both direction and confidence for today.
A balancing of doctrinal conservatism with irenic spirit.
A holding to a conversion-centered experiential faith under the stabilizing guidance and authority of the Scriptures.
A spirit of both missionary and charitable outreach.
A matching of enriching evangelistic passion with a stress on growth and Christian holiness that conserves the results of soul-winning.
Surely these are timeless values for our generation.
Because of that kind of heritage, the words of Adolf Olson, professor at Bethel for nearly four decades, are as appropriate for our time as they were for his."....the Bible at the center as the eternally sure and dependable Word of God, the message of redeeming grace and deliverance from the guilt and power of sin by means of the new birth, the glorious possibility of a consecrated and Spirit-filled life, and the privilege and responsibility to tell the story of Jesus to all nations...."
Believing that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of each church, as His body we call upon each member church to discover and fulfill its mission in worldwide church growth. Our objective is to lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ, with baptism as a confession of their faith and obedience to Him, and with a growing experience of true discipleship and partnership in a global strategy of outreach for Him.
Copied from the article "Our Heritage" from the Publication "Committed for Tomorrow" from the 106th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Conference held in Portland, Oregon. June 20-24, 1984. Images taken from the Baptist General Conference Website.
NOTES ABOUT THE FOUNDERS
Fredrick Olaus Nilsson, most
often mentioned as first of the men who founded the Baptist General Conference,
was born July 29, 1809, on the west coast of Sweden. He received little
formal education because his parents were poor, but he made up for it by being a
voracious ( excessively eager) reader.
Frederick was converted during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras. Arriving in New York, in 1835, he went to the Mariners' Baptist Church, where Henry Chase counseled him and led him into the assurance of full salvation.
Soon afterward, sent by the New York Tract Society, he went back to Sweden and in four years distributed 50,000 Bibles and millions of tracts. Captain G. W. Schroeder, baptized by immersion in New York. became an influence in Mr. Nilsson's life. Desiring baptism he traveled to Germany to be baptized in the River Elbe by John G. Oncken on August 1, 1847. Mr. Nilsson became the founder of the Baptist movement in Sweden.
He was ordained to the gospel ministry in Hamburg, Germany, by John Oncken on May 6, 1849. Frederick and Gustaf Palmquist organized a Baptist Church of eleven members near Burlington, Iowa. Later he went with others to settle about twenty miles west of Minneapolis, and in 1855 founded the Scandia Baptist Church.
The following is an excerpt from the Jan/Feb, 2002 "Standard"
"F. O. Nilsson, a
seaman" is how Nilsson signed his defense documents in Swedish
courts. A sailor who became a Baptist preacher, in 1848 he arranged the
first believers' immersion and organized the first church that dissented from
the state church (Lutheran) of Sweden. For that, he was charged with
heresy and for nearly three years was arraigned before local, provincial and
kingdom judges. His trials were headline news, especially his appeal to
king Oscar in 1850. While on trial he preached to standing room only
crowds almost every day.
That same year he was ordered out of the country, leaving behind several small Baptist churches along the coast near Gothenburg. They, too, suffered severe persecution. In 1853, Nilsson and 21 other beleaguered Baptists journeyed from Gothenburg to Moline, Illinois, where eight of the group remained.
The others continued up the Mississippi and settled in what is now Houston, Minnesota. On August 18, 1853, the first Swedish Baptist Church in Minnesota was organized at Houston by Fredrick Nilsson and 9 members. Nilsson established several congregations in Minnesota, one of which was the Scandia Church, Its 1857 building now overlooks Bethel Seminary in St. Paul.
Gustaf Palmquist was born on May 26, 1812, in Smaland, Sweden. Gustaf's mother was a pious woman, one of the läesare (readers). He became an instructor at a teachers' college in Stockholm. For years he was a "seeker," but not until he was 32 years old did he find peace with god.
His first parish in America was scattered over three states: Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. He became a Baptist in 1852, one of 106 that were baptized at one time. He was ordained at Galesburg, Illinois, in the American Baptist Church. On August 8, he baptized three fellow Swedish immigrants in the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois. Five days later the new believers, Theodore Mankee, Petter Soderstrom and Fredrika Boberg, organized a Baptist church with Palmquist as founder and pastor.
They became the first congregation of Swedish Baptists in the United States, launching a fellowship of churches that grew to be the Swedish Baptist General Conference. The first Swedish Baptist church in America, with six members, was located at Rock Island Illinois, and Palmquist became its pastor, without salary. Theodore Mankee, A. Boberg, Fredrika Boberg, Peter Sõderstrõm, Karl Johanson and Anders Norelius were the six members present. Rev. Palmquist also started a church in Moline, Illinois from which Marion Bloomquist was a member. Marion eventually became the wife of George Johnson the son of Dr. Linus Johnson our pastor for many years.
The following is a quote from Dr. Frank Peterson:
"Gustaf Palmquist had many qualities that contributed to the making of a successful Preacher. He was a man of medium size and a well-proportioned physique. He had a well-built face of strong but pleasing features. His keen, speaking eyes attracted immediate attention, and his musical voice gave pleasure to his audience as he proceeded with his sermon."
The following paragraph was copied from the book "Seventy-Five Years - Bethel Theological Seminary," page 7 - Introduction.
Because of religious oppression in the homeland a number of people emigrated from northern Sweden to America in search of religious freedom. These people were called "Lutherläsare" or "Hedbergianer," and were noted for their strict observance of the Biblical teachings. Before leaving Sweden they invited a young school teacher from Stockholm, Gustaf Palmquist, to become their spiritual leader. Being detained, Palmquist was compelled to come to America some months after his flock had made passage. At his arrival in 1852, he found his group scattered, but his opportunities for preaching were still good, for his countrymen and by this time located in several communities of the new world. In 1852, Palmquist became a Baptist, and the same year, on the 13th of August, he organized the first Swedish Baptist Church in America in Rock Island, Illinois.
Anders Wiberg was born in Wi Village, Stora Tuna parish, Sweden, July 17, 1817. For a time as a student in Upsala University he became an atheist, but was converted and continued a true believer. Anders was ordained into the Lutheran clergy and gave himself with youthful enthusiasm to his work. Yet he could not help seeing with dismay that his church was persecuting the saints of God. He could not keep quiet and twice he was called before the consistory to answer for his alleged false doctrine and was suspended for three months. Dean Bostrom, his superior, urged that he be banished. While the case was pending his accuser hanged himself, and the case against Mr. Wiberg was dismissed.
Wiberg resigned: he had no place in the Lutheran stated church. Later at a meeting with Fredrick O. Nilsson, they had a conversation regarding baptism which influenced him to leave for America. Wiberg visited America only twice, each time for a period of three years. On his way the first time, he stopped five days in Copenhagen and was baptized there, in the sea, at the conclusion of a prayer meeting where he had again met Rev. Nilsson.
In America he visited and encouraged Swedish immigrants, preaching and witnessing consistently. He spoke in the recognition service of the Rock Island church in 1853. He also wrote many books and tracts concerning the Baptist faith.
Back in Sweden he served the anxious Baptists through preaching and writing at a time when many underwent persecution and charges of heresy.
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John Alexis Edgren, was born in Alfsbacka, Varmland, Sweden, February 20. 1839. Being reared in a comparatively well-to-do home, Mr. Edgren was afforded a fine education, intellectually, socially and religiously. At the age of twenty he passed the stiff requirements for the rank of Captain in the navigation school of Stockholm.
He went to America early in 1862, joined his brother Hjalmer in the Union Forces and accepted a commission in the Union Navy in the Civil War. He studied theology at Princeton Seminary and after the war sailed to Sweden with his friend Anders Wiberg representing the American Baptist Mission there. While in Sweden these two clergymen opened "Betelseminariet" in Stockholm where Edgren devoted himself to teaching, preaching and pastoral work. In 1870, Mrs. Edgren health prompted their return to the United States. Graduating from Union Theological Seminary in 1872, he saw the need for a seminary for the ministers of the pioneer Baptist churches, he founded our first seminary. He then assumed the pastorate of the First Swedish (now Addison Street) Baptist Church of Chicago in that year. Despite fragile health and the demands of a busy pastorate, he began during the early 1870's both the Swedish Baptist Theological (now Bethel) Seminary and the magazine out of which the present-day Standard has developed.
The church, the school and the paper all were dealt a setback by the great Chicago fire of 1871, but neither that calamity nor Pastor Edgren's poor heath could prevent the realization of his dream. Both the Seminary and paper soon became important factors in Swedish Baptist life.
John Edgren's Home in Morgan Park, Chicago, Illinois
Plaque in front of the house reads: Chicago Landmark Palilser's Cottage Home No. 35, Palilser, Palilser & Co., architects 1882.
The words on the plaque reads as follows: Built by theology professor Rev. Johan Edgren, this Stick-style house is an excellent example of early "pattern book architecture" - building designs sold through the mail, The building's name derives from its plan number (No. 35) in a catalog called Palilser's American Cottage Homes, by one of the nation's most influential pattern book architects of the late-19th century. It is their only documented design in Chicago. Designated on February 18, 2000 Richard M. Daley, Mayor
Pictures used with permission by Mark Johnson - Assistant Pastor, Addison Street Church
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Sea Captain, Gustavus W. Schroeder
is generally considered the first Swedish Baptist. A sailor, he was converted and baptized
Partly through Schroeder's influence, Nilsson became a Baptist
two years later. Captain Schroeder was a strong and willing witness among
the Swedes when he visited his homeland, but in America he kept his membership
in English-speaking churches.
In the läsare (readers) movement believers formed the practice of meeting in homes to read the Bible. The Swedish term läsare is applied even in our own time to people who show signs of a definite religious experience. The läsare tended toward a separation not only from a worldly church organization but also from ungodly personal practices. It is similar to our home bible study today.
This page is made from articles and photos found in Gordon Carlson's book "Seventy Five Years" and a publication written by Dr. Norris Magnuson called "How we Grew" and some excerpts from Mr. Earl Johnson.