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Fellowship in the gospel: Scottish Baptists and their relationships with other Baptist churches, 1900 to 1945: Scottish Baptists began the twentieth century in good heart after sustained growth in numbers of both members and churches following the formation of the Baptist Union of Scotland (BUS) in 1869 (1).

This study will examine one aspect of the collective life of this group of Baptist congregations, namely, its relationships with other Baptist churches, primarily but not exclusively with other Baptists in the United Kingdom, Europe, and North America. Of necessity this study can, at best, provide only an overview of this subject. The unfortunate paucity of personal diaries and other private sources requires greater dependence on institutional records such as the minutes of various Baptist union bodies, but an alternative, though complementary, account from the period comes from the independently controlled periodical, the Scottish Baptist Magazine (SBM).

Relations with Other British Baptists

The strongest ties of the BUS in this period were with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland (BUGBI). One constant irritation to Scottish Baptists was the assumption on the part of the larger body that the smaller Baptist unions in Scotland and Wales were formally affiliated to it. There were consistent references to BUGBI as the "English Union," (2) with the exception of formal citations from documents. One source of grievance arose over plans for a scheme of Ministerial Recognition. The BUS was interested in participating in the scheme established by BUGBI but sought a number of changes in its regulations prior to recommending the proposals to its own constituency. The BUS was determined to retain control over the accreditation of its own ministers and to avoid being swallowed up by a numerically larger body. Preservation of a distinctive Scottish identity, within a British Baptist context, was a recurring theme in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The confidence of the BUS appeared to grow in the next few decades as a sense of apparent "inferiority" to the larger body diminished. A significant contributing factor to this favorable development was the regular movement of ministers between congregations in England and Scotland. This activity was possibly the strongest factor in strengthening ties between these two denominations. Ownership of the link between BUGBI and BUS had to be in the hands of the members of local churches. By the middle of the twentieth century, mutual respect and confidence in their respective identities characterized the relationship between these two Baptist unions.

The overwhelming number of references to other Baptists in the minutes of BUS committees and in the pages of the SBM concerned the largest of the British Baptist unions. Some references were made, however, to the bodies in Wales and Ireland. The Baptist Union of Wales received the least attention with only a handful of references, mainly to the movement of ministers between Scotland and Wales; but there was also an article in 1906 on the Welsh Revival's impact on the statistics of the Baptist churches in that land. The attention given to Irish Baptists was mainly restricted to reports on the Annual Assembly of the Baptist Union of Ireland in the SBM, although an article in 1910, with favorable comments, reported protests by Irish Baptists to their South African colleagues over a proposed ecumenical venture, in which the Baptist Union of South Africa was intending to participate. Since all the references to these two sister unions were favorable, their affairs presumably were not prominent in the list of priorities of Scottish Baptists.

One Baptist body around which most British Baptists united was the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). A consistent record of generous financial giving for its overseas mission activities was maintained even in the darkest days of World War II. Regular features on the work of this mission agency also appeared in the SBM. China received the most attention with fourteen major stories between 1900 and 1945. These accounts tended to focus on particular Scottish missionaries, including the Moir Duncans who served mainly in the province of Shensi. The SBM contained short biographical sketches of distinguished native Christians such as Hannah Liu, the daughter of a Chinese Baptist pastor, who was one of the first women, in 1931, to be elected to the Chinese parliament.

India also featured prominently with stories about medical mission activities, including stories about the Moorshead Memorial Hospital, Kond Hills, North India, and stories about Christian education at the Serampore College, later University, founded by William Carey. The magazine gave limited attention to the indigenous Baptist work in India. It reported on the formation of the All-India Baptist Union, comprising Baptist work in India, Ceylon, and Burma, a body established to unite the existing Baptist unions in that part of the world. The activities of the Baptist Zenana Mission, established for females to reach Muslim and Hindu women, principally in India, though also operating in China, were also promoted.

Baptist work in Africa focused on the Congo and on the Baptist Industrial Mission's work in Blantyre, Malawi, of which the medical service associated with Church of Scotland missionaries. Interest in and support for the work in the West Indies was also evident. The work of the BMS and its associated societies received unrivaled prominence amongst Scottish Baptists through the pages of the SBM, in this period, in contrast to the multiplicity of evangelical mission organizations that would seek the support of Scottish Baptists, and the resultant publicity, in the second half of the twentieth century.

Relations with Baptists in Continental Europe

The first significant article about European Baptists published in the SBM in the twentieth century appeared in 1905 and surveyed the impact of Baptist witness in different parts of the world. It drew attention to a number of countries in Europe where progress was encouraging, especially Germany, Italy, and Russia, but it also mentioned other places like Norway, where persecution of Baptists had led many families to emigrate to America. (3) There was also an attempt to build relationships between young people in the United Kingdom with others in mainland Europe. "Fellowship Tours" were organized in 1934, so that "Young Baptists of different lands may discuss the new nationalisms--the British and Germans may, without heat or bitterness, speak about war guilt and Hitlerism.... From such fellowship arises such mutual respect and affection that War between them would seem to be madness." (4)

The union's European Committee kept colleagues aware of the changing situation in mainland Europe. Members of this committee urged a November council held in 1939, at the advent of the Second World War, to remember their Baptist colleagues in Europe in prayer. Links between Scottish and European Baptists were not only maintained, but increased in the twentieth century. This pattern was due, in part, to better communications and transport, but it may also be attributed in large measure to a growing desire for fellowship with fellow Baptists living on the same continent.

The majority of references to European Baptist work in the Scottish Baptist literature and minutes of this period, however, referred to events in particular countries. Russia and Romania received the greatest attention with more than twenty articles about the former and fourteen concerning the latter. The principal reason these countries received more attention was that the Baptists and other evangelical Christian bodies there experienced regular waves of persecution. The affliction of these Christians increased greatly with a famine that was brought to the attention of Scottish Baptists in February 1922. An open letter signed by the leaders of the "Baptist Union of All Russia," P. V. Pavloff, M. Timoshenko, and W. G. Pavloff, painted an appalling picture of mass starvation in their homeland. British Baptists, led by J. H. Rushbrooke, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Commissioner for Europe, rallied to the cause providing enough food for "a Baptist Relief Train." Most of the Scottish Baptist churches took collections to assist this effort. (5) At the end of March 1922, Rushbrooke welcomed the relief train into Moscow. It provided food for over 12,000 people until the next harvest. Some good news also came from Russia, including the union of the two Baptist denominations in that country in 1944, and the apparently encouraging evidence of religious freedom in the immediate post-war period. (6)

Romanian Baptism also suffered severe persecution. Their government, at the instigation of the Orthodox Church, began persecuting Baptists in the 1930s. Archbishop Colan, minister of cults and the patriarch of the Orthodox Church, was the Prime Minister. Many bodies recognized that pressure was required to bring about the necessary resolution to these problems. Baptists in Scotland had played a full part, both as a member of the BWA and as an independent union, in seeking to address these problems.

Probably every Baptist union or mission operating in Europe at this time received some form of recognition in the SBM, especially the work in Bohemia, now called the Czech Republic. Scottish Baptists were more closely involved in the work of that country than any other in Europe and were the principal source of external funding for Bohemian Baptists. Regular news came from Baptists in Italy and in Germany, whose Baptists in 1947 received food parcels from Scotland. Also information was included about the Baltic States, Scandinavia, and Spain, with occasional news from Portugal, France, Hungary, Holland, Poland, and Bulgaria. After making allowances for the limited space available each month for European news in this denominational periodical, Scottish Baptists, or at least those individuals in charge of producing the magazine, took a major interest in Baptist work and witness throughout the rest of the continent of Europe.

Relations with the Baptist World Alliance

The measure of support by Scottish Baptists for the BWA can be seen in the fact that between 1900 and 1945 there were more items published in the SBM with reference to this external agency than to any other Baptist body. Detailed articles appeared on a range of BWA activities, including encouragement for people to attend the BWA Congresses and reports from delegates who had attended the meetings. The proceedings of BWA Youth Congresses were also covered and other international Baptist gatherings were noted, in various parts of the world, even some in which Scots had played no part. This latter point indicated a genuine concern for wider Baptist work that went beyond activities and events in which Scots participated. Accusations of parochialism could not have been justifiably leveled at Scottish Baptist leaders in this era. Townley Lord, in his BWA Jubilee history, claimed that by 1955, the time of the writing of his book, "The Alliance could claim to be more deeply rooted than ever in the affections of its constituent Unions and Conventions." (7) This interpretation of BWA history, for the first half of the twentieth century, was certainly true for Baptists in Scotland.

Relations with Baptists in North America

This Scottish denomination also valued transatlantic relationships. The regular news items and comments gleaned from the United States showed the respect with which the larger Baptist bodies in that country were held. J. H. Rushbrooke, then general secretary of the BWA, was invited to write an article in 1930 for the SBM, reviewing the success of the work of American Baptists overseas. The title of the article, "An Impressive Missionary Report," revealed the attitude of the writer, and of the periodical editor, with regard to the subjects under discussion. (8) The underlying attitude of admiration for American Baptists and their success in Christian work would have been evident to most Scottish Baptist readers of their denominational magazine.

Fraternal links with both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Northern Baptist Convention (NBC) in America were sufficiently strong for an exchange of delegates being proposed for annual assemblies or conventions. In October 1920, the SBC sent a delegate to convey greetings to the BUS. This visit had been preceded by an invitation from Dr. Love of the SBC to the BUS. He invited the Scottish Baptists to send a representative to the SBC annum meeting, which was to be held in May of that year. In September 1934, W. G. Lewis, European representative of the NBC, was a guest at the BUS Council. A further means of strengthening fellowship with American Baptists came with the transfer of ministers from Scotland to the United States. When Joseph Kemp moved in 1915 from Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh, to Calvary Baptist Church, New York, and Duncan McNeil of Bridgeton Baptist Church, Glasgow, moved to New York in 1927, letters of commendation were sent to the receiving Baptist associations in New York. Clear fraternal links between American and Scottish Baptists existed throughout the period 1900 to 1945.

Many Baptists in Scotland, however, were probably more closely linked to their Canadian colleagues, due to a greater proportion of Scots choosing to emigrate to Canada rather than to the United States when they moved to North America. Several advertisements appeared in the SBM, encouraging Baptists to emigrate to Canada and promising excellent wages for people who would work hard. The editor of the SBM also included information gleaned from the Canadian Baptist, with a view to seeing "a deeper interest in the Canadian enterprise awakened at home." (9) Other contributions of regular news came from Scottish Baptist ministers who had moved to Canada, including Edward Stobo in Quebec. News was, however, a two-way process as Stobo made plain in his lengthy letter: "For over thirty years I have been kept in touch with Scottish brethren, and largely through the Magazine reaching me once a month." (10) In addition, a regular movement of Baptist ministers from their homeland to Canada ensured that the personal interest of many Baptists in Scotland remained strong.

Relations with Baptists in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa

Occasional reports came from Asian Baptists in China, Japan, and Burma, where a Baptist, Sydney Loo-Nee, had been appointed pro-chancellor of Rangoon University in 1940. Baptists in Central and South America also received some attention, including several reports on the work in Chile, an appeal for aid to help distressed Baptists in Honduras, and two reports about Brazil. The first story related to BMS plans called for Scottish Baptists to consider sending pioneer missionaries to work in the Amazon Valley. A proposal to send Brazilian Baptists to plant churches in Portugal was the other story from that country.

More information came from Africa, principally from South Africa, but at least one article concerned the German Baptist mission in Cameroon. The news from South Africa was offered occasionally from a personal account by a visiting minister, for example, Graham Scroggie in 1932; but more frequently, South African Baptist news was generated through continuing interest in Scottish Baptist ministers who had settled in that country. The January 1943 issue of the SBM, in an article based on a copy of the South African Baptist, referred to the high number of Scots now ministering in that country. A further article in February 1945 told of a Scottish minister, W. Morrow Cook, who had been appointed President of the Baptist Union of South Africa. The minutes of the BUS Council also provided additional information on men who moved to serve churches in South Africa. A. B. Jack, for example, moved from Irvine in 1915 to Cape Town. Jack, like Joseph Kemp mentioned earlier and who had moved from Scotland to New York, was granted personal membership of the BUS.

This determination to retain formal links to the homeland was a significant factor in the retention of the affections of Baptists remaining in Scotland. The more Scottish emigrants became leaders in the Baptist circles in their new country, the more likely they attained significant coverage in the pages of the SBM. Evidence from the high proportion of Scots in the small Baptist presence in South Africa firmly supports this conclusion.

Relations with Baptists in Australia and New Zealand

The final references to Baptist work overseas came from Australia and New Zealand. Once again the emigration of Scottish Baptists provided the basis for building a relationship to sister churches in these countries. Albert Bean moved from Kelvinside Baptist Church, Glasgow, to Tasmania in 1904, closely followed by George Menzies, who moved from Arbroath to Freemantle Baptist Church, Western Australia. Menzies was also helpful in providing reports of Baptist progress in Western Australia for the SBM. James Mursell, who left Dublin Street Baptist Church, Edinburgh, in 1905, for a temporary pastorate in Adelaide, South Australia, was called to the Flinders Street Baptist Church in that city on a permanent basis in 1907. William Allen was another Baptist minister who left Arbroath for Australia. In 1908, he accepted a call to Mount Morgan Baptist Church, Queensland.

Some pastors served for a limited time in Australia before returning to Scotland. One example of this phenomenon was Peter Flemming who left Duncan Street Baptist Church, Edinburgh, in 1908, to replace James Mursell in Adelaide. After distinguished service amongst Australian Baptists for fourteen years, Flemming returned in 1992 to Scotland to become the pastor of Dublin Street Baptist Church, Edinburgh.

In Australia, as was the case of Canada, Baptists were offered incentives so that more of them would immigrate to Australia. A lengthy SBM advertisement in October 1925 appealed for eighty-four Baptist families to move from the United Kingdom under the auspices of the Baptist Colonial Society, a body dedicated to assisting British Baptists move to Commonwealth countries overseas.

References to New Zealand in this Scottish periodical were significantly less than to its larger neighbor. In part, this fact was due to fewer Scottish Baptist ministers choosing to emigrate to that country. William Hay moved from Grantown-on-Spey to Dunedin in 1904 and reported back to Scotland a few years later on the progress of his work. He was replaced in Grantown by James Ings, who ironically had been serving a Baptist congregation in New Zealand. Several obituary notices appeared in the SBM, chronicling the deaths of Scottish Baptists who had moved to New Zealand, but it was evident that Scottish ties with this country were not as strong as were the ties with Australia. The greater number of Scottish emigrants to Australia certainly explains this difference.


In 1900, BUS was a young denomination that had seen healthy growth in the previous decade and was enthusiastic about its prospects in the new century. Confidence in its own identity enabled this body of Christians to maintain and develop strong ties with other Baptists around the world. The building of closer links with other believers was matched by a similar enthusiasm for various forms of mission both in the United Kingdom and overseas. Between 1900 and 1945, Baptists in Scotland increasingly felt able to share with the wider Baptist family a growing sense of fellowship in the gospel.

(1.) A more substantial study of this subject will appear in D. W. Bebbington & A. R. Cross, eds., Global Baptist History (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2005).

(2.) Minutes, BUS Council, October 23 1923, BUS Minute Book, 1915-1926, 530, is a representative example.

(3.) SBM 31, no. 2 (February 1905): 21-22.

(4.) SBM 60, no. 4 (April 1934): 2.

(5.) SBM 48, no. 2 (February 1922): 14; SBM 48, no. 3 (March 1922): 30.

(6.) Caution must be expressed regarding the accuracy of this claim. See "Baptists and Evangelical Christians in the USSR (1919-1991)," in Albert W. Wardin, Baptists Around The World: A Comprehensive Handbook (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995), 216.

(7.) F. T. Lord, Baptist Worm Fellowship: A Short History of the Baptist Worm Alliance (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1955), 153.

(8.) SBM 66, no. 3 (March 1930): 39.

(9.) SBM 31, no. 12 (December 1905): 214. See also SBM 65, no. 8 (August 1939): 6, for a further reference to the Canadian Baptist, implying that the same editorial policy was in place.

(10.) SBM 29, no. 6 (June 1903): 105-06. Another example is the account of Dr. C. C. McLaurin, a pioneer with strong Scottish connections, SBM, 66, no. 6 (June 1940): 3.

Brian Talbot is senior pastor of Cumbernauld Baptist Church, Scotland. He is also the archivist of the Scottish Baptist History Archive in Glasgow.
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Author:Talbot, Brian
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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