"My friend, are you saved?"
If you were a Swedish immigrant to America in the 1850s and 1860s and stood near a Swedish Baptist, chances are you would be asked that question. The curious thing about it was that the Swedes came out of the Lutheran tradition rather than the Baptist. Baptist views were not even introduced into Sweden until 1847, and that was by a sailor named Gustavus Schroeder. There was something curious about that fact, too: Schroeder was converted in a Methodist Church in the U.S.! However, before returning home, he encountered a group of Baptists, was convinced by their teaching and baptized by them. He shared his testimony with fellow Swedes.
About the same time, another Swedish sailor, Frederick Olaus Nilsson, became frightened in a storm and vowed to turn his life over to God. In New Orleans, he jumped ship and worked his way across America handing out tracts. Back in Sweden, he met Schroeder who explained Baptist views to him. Nilsson could find no one to baptize him in Sweden, so he traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where he found a Baptist pastor who came with him and baptized his family and a few others one night; persecution was severe so secrecy was essential.
Eventually Sweden's government exiled Nilsson. On his way out of the country, he stopped in Stockholm, and shared his Baptist faith with a school teacher named Gustaf Palmquest. Gustaf served as a Lutheran lay preacher and was deeply affected by the Pietist revival taking place in Scandinavia. The Pietists were trying to restore a living faith to a church that had too often grown cold.
In his capacity as a lay leader, Gustaf traveled to America in 1850 to provide spiritual instruction for a group of Swedish Pietist immigrants. In Galesburg, Illinois, he saw first-hand a Baptist revival. The power of the event convinced him to become a Baptist.
Galesburg is not far from Rock Island, Illinois. Rock Island was a booming town, owing to its strategic location in a shallow stretch of the Mississippi River that allowed flat boats to take on cargo or off load it. Gustaf witnessed and preached in Rock Island and soon formed a small following of converts.
On this day, August 8, 1852, Gustaf baptized three converts in the Mississippi River at Rock Island, thus forming the Swedish Baptist Church which later became known as the Baptist General Conference. They consider this the date at which their denomination came into being.
Gustaf did not remain in America long but when he left, he left behind him a legacy of souls who were fired up to share the gospel. They boldly asked those whom they met if they were saved.
Gustaf also compiled a hymnal which was used on both sides of the Atlantic. Along with Nilsson and a third man named Anders Wilberg, he is considered one of the three most influential founders of the Baptist General Conference. By 1980 it had over 125,000 members.
- "Baptist General Conference." http://www.temple-baptist.com/history/ baptist_general_conference_ex.htm
- "Center Baptist Church, Lansing, Iowa." Baptist General Conference History Center at Bethel. http://www.bethel.edu/bgcarchives/tour/iowa.html
- Mead, Frank S. Handbook of Denominations in the United States, seventh edition. Nashville: Abingdon, 1980, p. 44f.
- "Swedish Baptists Exiled." Baptist General Conference. http://www.bgcworld.org/intro/howwegrew/swedish.htm
Last updated June, 2007.