Evangelical Church in Germany

   The Evangelical Church in Germany, by far the largest Protestant church in the country, embodies the legacy of Martin Luther, tracing its roots to the very beginning of the Reformation in 1517.
   Most of the early German Protestants attended one of a large number of state churches that were gradually brought together as Germany united. Eventually, 24 Protestant state churches came into being, one for each of the 24 states that currently constitute the Federal German Republic. The orientation was primarily Lutheran, with some admixture of Reformed ideas that came into Germany along with supporters of John Calvin of Geneva.
   In 1613, the ruler of Prussia adopted the Reformed faith, and a number Reformed congregations were organized, some of them made up of French Protestants fleeing persecution. In 1817, the Prussian king forced a merger of the Reformed and Lutheran churches into what became known as the Evangelical Church. In the state of Lippe, the Reformed church became the dominant body.
   In 1918, SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE was proclaimed, and authority over the established churches passed from political rulers to synods in each church. All 24 autonomous churches, the majority of them Lutheran and a minority Reformed, adopted new constitutions. They also continued to receive financial support from the government. Four years later, they banded together into the German Evangelical Church Federation. The preexisting German Evangelical Lutheran Conference continued to manage relationships with other Lutheran churches around the world.
   One force uniting the German churches was the missionary work performed by several agencies that arose in the 19th century. Among the most productive were the Leipzig, Gossmer, and North German missionary societies, the Rhenish Mission, and the Bethel Mission. In 1971, the latter two merged to form the United Evangelical Mission-Community of Churches on Three Continents.
   The rise of Nazism in the 1930s split the leadership between those more or less supportive of the government and the Confessing Church that opposed Nazism. Church leaders who supported the government worked to create a united German Evangelical Church. World War II left the German church in disarray. The surviving leadership of the Confessing Church, most notably Pastor Martin Niemoller, emerged to lead in the formation of a reorganized Evangelical Church in Germany. Within that church, the Lutheran majority formed a fellowship, the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.
   When Germany divided into two hostile states in the 1940s, both the Evangelical Church and the Lutheran fellowship split along national boundaries. These two factions were reunited following the country's unification in 1990.
   Today, the Evangelical Church in Germany exists as a federation of the 24 autonomous churches, each of which has considerable latitude in doctrine, administration, and local programming. The national church carries out a variety of functions, especially the representation of the churches within various ecumenical bodies such as the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
   The Evangelical Church in Germany has approximately 27 million members. Its member churches are the parents of a number of German Lutheran, Reformed, and Evangelical (united Lutheran/Reformed) churches around the world. Among these are the United Church of Christ (USA), which includes within it the former Evangelical and Reformed Church.
   Further reading:
   ■ E. Theodore Bachmann and Mercia Brenne Bachmann, Lutheran Churches in the World: A Handbook (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Press, 1989)
   ■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds., The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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