As a teenager, the Lutheran Johann Oncken left his native Germany and moved to England for an education and vocation. He served an apprenticeship under a Presbyterian Scot, where he not only learned a trade but also learned to love God’s Word. But it wasn’t until a near-fatal accident that Oncken became sensitive to his spiritual needs. When he was well enough to leave his house, he visited a Methodist church where he came to understand what it was to trust the finished work of Christ. Immediately he began to witness of his faith, and determined that God wanted him to become a missionary to his own people back home. With the help of an English Reformed church he set out for Hamburg. Since missionary work by Reformed Presbyterian Methodists was disapproved by the German government, Brother Oncken was limited to distributing Bibles. It is said that at the end of his life, he had given away more than two million copies of the Scriptures.
When a baby was born into the Oncken home, Johann began to wonder about having the child christened. As he studied the Bible, he couldn’t find any authority for the sprinkling of infants, and he began to wonder about his own “baptism.” For five years he could find no one who baptized by immersion, until he ran into an ordained Baptist, an American, who was studying in Germany. Barnas Sears, investigated the faith of Oncken, and on April 22, 1834 he baptized seven people, and the next day they were organized into the first Baptist church in Germany, with Johann Oncken ordained as their pastor.
From that moment on, the biography of Oncken appears almost miraculous. Within four years churches were started in Berlin, Oldenburg, and Stuttgart. That is when Brother Oncken began to be arrested for carrying out the Lord’s work, but with his release the Lord blessed even more. Churches were started in Denmark and the Netherlands, and the gospel was preached in Lithuania, Switzerland, Poland and Russia. When a law was finally passed “granting” religious liberty in Germany, the church in Hamburg began a building program, erecting an edifice seating 1,400 people.
After having accomplished much for the Lord throughout Europe, the earthly life of Johann Oncken came to an end on this day in 1884.