The Special Need for German Churches
E. E. Hale.
The success of the English colonists in the New World during the seventeenth century stimulated immigration to America in every maritime country of Europe, notably in France, Holland and Sweden, with the result that from the middle of that century a considerable movement of peoples from these countries set in to that Wonder-land of new opportunities. The German "Fatherland" at this time was cut up into many small political divisions with only a nominal unity, and this was shattered by the internal religious dissensions which followed the disastrous Thirty Years War. At the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, Germany was a bleeding, poverty stricken and devastated country, unknown on the high seas and scarcely able to feed its own inhabitants. Early German immigration to America was therefore not to be thought of. The only immigration to America of Teutonic people during the seventeenth century, on a larger scale, was that of a company of Mennonites who, in 1688, made settlements. near Germantown and on the Wissahickon, in the colony of William Penn; and these settlements were made possible by the generous pecuniary assistance of English Quakers and Dutch Anabaptists. German immigration on a larger scale did not begin until the middle of the eighteenth century, when large numbers of Moravians, urged on by Count von Zinzendorf and his co-laborer, Spangenberg, and a colony of "Tunkers," sometimes called "German Baptists," made settlements in the state of Pennsylvania.
This early German immigration, like that of the Puritans in the century preceding, was the result of religious intolerance in their borne environment. They also were "Pilgrims" seeking an opportunity to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. And they were abundantly able to supply their own spiritual wants without any assistance from other groups in their new home, for their Elders had come over with them. It was not so later, when the larger German immigration set in from the more populous centers of Germany, bringing the rank and file of the German people. In but very few cases did a German pastor accompany these later immigrants. Left to themselves in the strenuous labors to found a new home, and scattered over vast areas from the Atlantic seaboard to the plains of the Mississippi river, their religious needs became sadly neglected. In a considerable number of cases the German clergymen who did appear among them, did not measure up to the peculiar conditions obtaining here. This dearth of a sufficient number of capable, spiritual leaders for the immigrated Germans was an outstanding reason for the fact that, about the beginning of the nineteenth century, a number of new religious bodies took their rise here, as for example, the United Brethren in Christ and the Evangelical Association, formerly called "Albrights," in 1800, and the Church of God (Winebrennarians), in 1880. The German Methodists began to found churches in 1885 and the German Baptists in 1840.
The German Baptist Churches in our country are therefore in their inception the result of a larger religious movement in which other evangelical denominations have also participated, the object of which was, and still is, to bring the ever increasing numbers of Germans who have made their permanent home here to accept a personal, vital Christianity in place of the often formal type in which large numbers of them had been trained in the State-churches of their native land. To this end the German language has been employed in this work because it proved the best medium to attain the end sought for.
There was a second reason for the founding of new organizations for the German people in our country, and this reason accounts largely for the type of Christian life which obtained in these churches: the aggressive, evangelistic preaching among the English speaking churches which fol
lowed the successive periods of revivals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This kind of personal appeal in American preaching made a profound impression on nearly all of the German movements planted here. Such a type of religion Germans had scarcely known in their own country outside of Moravian and Pietist circles. And it has not only influenced the "New" denominations, as the German immigrants were wont to designate Baptists and Methodists, it has even made itself felt among the adherents of the Lutheran and Reformed churches to a considerable degree.