Johann Oncken was brought up in the Lutheran church in Germany and was confirmed 200 years ago this year at the age of 13. Later that year, new and dynamic spiritual influences were brought to bear upon his young heart when he was taken to Scotland to begin his working life. He would spend the next nine years in Scotland and then England.
After arriving in Leith, Scotland (near Edinburgh) he was given a Bible which he began to read. When arriving in London, he lodged with a family who attended an Independent chapel in Blackheath. There he heard the gospel of God’s grace and was converted.
In 1823, he returned to Germany as a missionary. In 1829, he was convinced by Scripture that the church of Christ can only be composed of converted persons who have made a confession of their faith in His death by being baptised. He would have to wait five years until in 1834, an American pastor baptised him and recognized Oncken as the pastor of the first German Baptist Church in Hamburg.
This European Baptist ‘pioneer’ would go on to baptise thousands of new converts and to plant hundreds of churches in as many as fourteen different countries. Two things strike me as important in this brief account of Oncken’s life and ministry.
One, real change takes time. The process of Oncken hearing the gospel, coming to faith, being Scripturally baptised and entering what would be one of the most fruitful periods of local church ministry in church history took 21 years. What an encouragement to patience and perseverance in ministering to people.
Secondly, many people played a role in the spiritual growth of Oncken and the success of his later ministry. The person who gave him a Bible in Edinburgh, the family with whom he lodged in London, the pastor who preached the gospel faithfully at Blackheath, the American pastor who baptised him in Hamburg, and many others beside, all played their role.
I would like to thank each of you for playing your role in our efforts to grow leaders and plant churches in England and beyond this past year. May I also remind you, though, that the work continues and so the need for your patient and persistent support remains? I trust you will be able to continue to stand alongside us in this important work in the coming year.
Do remember to pray for us.