This thesis focusses on the changes in the identity of the Polish Baptist community during the twentieth century, and contributes to the wider study of Polish church life in its political and social context during this very turbulent period of Poland's history. The Polish Baptist search for identity is analyzed here from several different perspectives. There is an examination in each of the chapters of external pressure from the changing political systems, the influence of Polish identity, and the place of Baptists in relation to other denominations, particularly the Catholic Church.
The first main chapter of thesis (after the introduction) explores the formation of Baptist life in Poland and developments up to 1918, a period in which German Baptist influence was of great importance in the shaping of identity. In the next chapter the ‘golden age’ of Polish Baptists, the inter-war period, is analyzed. In this period the Union of Slavic Baptists in Poland was increasingly active, together with the Union of the German-language Baptist Churches. Thus identity took on a multinational character, which raised difficult issues. The difficulties intensified during World War II. Chapter 4 shows that World War II, which was a horrific tragedy for the nation of Poland, was a turning point for Baptists in Poland. Almost all the Germans left after the war. The Baptist community did contribute during the war in significant ways to helping others who were suffering, including Jewish people, but after the war only a tiny Baptist community remained.
The period from 1945 onwards was one in which Communist rule was the major political reality in Poland. Chapters 5 and 6 show how Baptists responded to this reality, and seek to understand how their identity was re-shaped. To a large extent they were politically passive, in marked contrast to the Catholic Church, which was a focus of opposition to Communism and was supportive in the 1980s of the Solidarity movement. However, Baptists did begin to grow significantly in that decade, as churches became more active in local mission. The post-Communist period in Poland, with its new challenges, is analyzed in chapters 7 and 8. The rapid changes in this period have meant that Polish Baptist identity has again been under review, and the Baptist churches have struggled with the new national, political, economic and religious context.
Each chapter seeks to evaluate changes in Polish history and culture context, and to look at key markers of Polish Baptist identity—in particular the areas of mission, worship, community life and ecumenical relationships. The thesis does not attempt to deal with all the details of developments in individual Baptist congregations, but explores Baptists as a religious group, demonstrating how the unique features of Polish Baptist life have been affected by external and internal influences and how the Polish Baptist community has responded to the dramatic changes that Poland has experienced over the course of a century. The search for Polish Baptist identity has not previously been analyzed in this way. It is a search which is not over.