The Baptists early felt the necessity of providing an educated ministry for their congregations. Some of their leading pastors had been educated in one or other of the English universities. Others had by their own efforts obtained a large amount of learning, amongst whom Dr John Gill was eminent for his knowledge of Hebrew, as shown in his Exposition of the Holy Scriptures, a work in 9 vols. folio, 1746-1766. Edward Terrill, who died in 1685, left a considerable part of his estate for the instruction of young men desiring to be trained for the ministry, under the superintendence of the pastor of the Broadmead Church, Bristol, of which he was a member. Other bequests for the same purpose were made, and from the year 1720 the Baptist Academy, as it was then called, received young men as students for the ministry among the Baptists. In 1770 the Bristol Education Society was formed to enlarge this academy; and about the year 1811 the present Bristol Baptist College was erected. In the north of England a similar education society was formed in 1804 at Bradford, Yorkshire, which has since been removed to Rawdon, near Leeds. In London another college was formed in 1810 at Stepney; it was removed to Regent's Park in 1856. The Pastors' College in connexion with the Metropolitan Tabernacle was instituted in 1856, and in 1866 the present Baptist College at Manchester was instituted at Bury in the interests of the "Strict" Baptist views.
Besides these, which were voluntary colleges not under denominational control, the General Baptists maintained a college since 1797, which, since the amalgamation of the two Baptist bodies, has become also a voluntary institution, though previously supported by the General Baptist Association. It is called the "Midland Baptist College," and is situated in Nottingham. There is also a Baptist theological college in Glasgow, and there are two colleges in Wales and one in Ireland. The total number of students in these institutions is about 210.
The Baptists were the first denomination of British Christians to undertake in a systematic way that work of missions to the heathen, which became so prominent a feature in the religious activity of the 19th century. As early as the year 1784 the Northamptonshire Association of Baptist churches resolved to recommend that the first Monday of every month should be set apart for prayer for the spread of the gospel. Shortly after, in 1792, the Baptist Missionary Society was formed at Kettering in Northamptonshire, after a sermon on Isaiah lii. 2, 3, preached by William Carey (1761-1834), the prime mover in the work, in which he urged two points: "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." In the course of the following year Carey sailed for India, where he was joined a few years later by Marshman and Ward, and the mission was established at Serampore. The great work of Dr Carey's life was the translation of the Bible into the various languages and dialects of India. The society's operations are now carried on, not only in the East, but in the West Indies, China, Africa (chiefly on the Congo river), and Europe.
In regard to church government, the Baptists agree with the Congregationalists that each separate church is complete in itself, and has, therefore, power to choose its own ministers and to make such regulations as it deems to be most in accordance with the purpose of its existence, that is, the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. A comparatively small section of the denomination maintain that a "plurality of elders" or pastors is required for the complete organization of every separate church. This is the distinctive peculiarity of those churches in Scotland and the north of England which are known as Scotch Baptists. The largest church of this section, consisting of approximately 500 members, originated in Edinburgh in 1765, before which date only one Baptist church - that of Keiss in Caithness, formed about 1750 - appears to have existed in Scotland. The greater number of the churches are united in association voluntarily formed, all of them determined by geographical limits. The associations, as well as the churches not in connexion with them, are united together in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, formed in 1813 by the Particular Baptists. This union, however, exerts no authoritative action over the separate churches.
One important part of the work of the union is the collection of information in which all the churches are interested. In 1909 there were in the United Kingdom: Baptist churches, 3046; chapels, 4124; sittings, 1,450,352; members, 424,008; Sunday school teachers, 58,687; Sunday scholars, 578,344; local preachers, 5615; and pastors in charge, 2078.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Baptist Union collected a "Twentieth Century Fund" of £250,000, which has largely assisted the formation of new churches, and gives an indication of the unity and virility of the denomination. A still stronger evidence to the same effect was given by the Religious Census taken in 1904. While this only applied to London, its results are valuable as showing the comparative strength of the Baptist Church. These results are to the effect that in all respects the Baptists come second to the Anglicans in the following three particulars: - (1) Percentage of attendances at public worship contributed by Baptists, 10.81 (London County), 10.70 (Greater London); (2) aggregate of attendances, 54,597; (3) number of places of worship, 443.
2. The Continent of Europe. - During the 19th century what we have called the modern Baptist movement made its appearance in nearly every European country. In Roman Catholic countries Baptist churches were formed by missionaries coming from either England or America: work in France began in 1832, in Italy missions were started in 1866 (Spezia Mission) and in 1884 (Baptist Missionary Society, which also has a mission in Brittany), and in Spain in 1888. In Protestant countries and in Russia the Baptist movement began without missionary intervention from England or America. J. G. Oncken (1800-1884) formed the first church in Hamburg in 1834, and thereafter Baptist churches were formed in other countries as follows: - Denmark (1839), Holland and Sweden (1848), Switzerland (1849), Norway (1860), Austria and Rumania (1869), Hungary (1871), and Bulgaria (1884). Baptist churches also began to be formed in Russia and Finland in the 'fifties and 'sixties.
3. British Colonies. - In every colony the Baptists have a considerable place. There are unions of Baptist churches in the following colonies: - New South Wales, Victoria, S. Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, New Zealand, Tasmania, Canada (four Unions) and S. Africa. The work in S. Africa is assisted by the Baptist South African Missionary and Colonial Aid Society, having its seat in London.
The Baptist World Alliance was formed in 1905, when the first Baptist World Congress was held in London. The preamble of the constitution of this Alliance sufficiently indicates its nature: "Whereas, in the providence of God, the time has come when it seems fitting more fully to manifest the essential oneness in the Lord Jesus Christ, as their God and Saviour, of the churches of the Baptist order and faith throughout the world, and to promote the spirit of fellowship, service and co-operation among them, while recognizing the independence of each particular church and not assuming the functions of any existing organization, it is agreed to form a Baptist alliance, extending over every part of the world." This alliance does in fact include Baptists in every quarter of the globe, as will be seen from the following statistics: -
United States -
National Baptist Convention
Southern Baptist Convention
"Disciples of Christ"
Thirty-five Northern States
Fourteen other Bodies
Mexico and Central America
Rumania and Bulgaria
Russia and Poland
In 1909 the comparative totals were roughly: - 72,988 churches; 7,480,940 members. In both sets of figures the Disciples of Christ (U.S.A.) are included.