Editor’s note: The Reformed confession has German roots. Heidelberg, the capitol of the Palatinate was one of the most important centers of the Reformed movement in the sixteenth century. It was the Reformed Church in the Palatinate that gave us our Heidelberg Catechism. It was also in Heidelberg where Reformed theology took decisive steps toward the formation of our mature covenant theology. To the Reformed (and Patristic) doctrine of the unity of the substantial covenant of grace in multiple administrations through the history of redemption Zacharias Ursinus (1534–83) and Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) developed the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works before the fall (law) as distinct from the covenant of grace (gospel) after the fall. In Olevianus, we also see some moves that look very much like what will come to be known as the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) between the Father and the Son from all eternity. In Heidelberg, under the Elector Frederick III (1515–76) we saw the institution of Reformed worship and practice. Though the Reformed churches were disrupted by the accession of Ludwig VI (Frederick’s truly-Lutheran son) from 1576–83, the Reformed return under Frederick IV (1583–1610), the Reformed theologians returned to Heidelberg and the Palatinate continued to contribute to the spread of Reformed theology, piety, and practice.
In the Modern period Christianity, let alone Reformed Christianity, has not fared well in Germany or throughout Europe. They entered their post-Christian phase earlier than we have but the faith is not without witnesses in Germany. Longtime readers of this space know that I have been encouraging support for Reformation2Germany since 2009. So I am pleased to have an update from Sebastian. You can learn more about him in the Heidelcast episode linked in the resources below.
Reformation2Germany – Establishing Reformed Churches in Germany
When we began to develop the vision and the work of Reformation2Germany about ten years ago, we knew we had to do two things: Firstly, to rely entirely on the gospel, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16), the ordinary means of grace by which God himself establishes, gathers, protects and nurtures His church, and on “the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11). Secondly, to think strategically about Reformation as a specific set of conditions and infrastructure in a particular place, such as Germany.
Then, and now, the vision of Reformation2Germany has been to re-introduce the faith and the spirit of the Reformation to Germany. Our particular goal is to establish a viable confessional Reformed church (“denomination” or “federation”) along with the necessary infrastructure and resources for its long-term growth and thriving.
The backbone of this infrastructure is three-fold:
- Church Planting: current & future projects, towards an indigenous Reformed church body
- Theological Education: training future indigenous Reformed pastors
- Publishing: books, pamphlets, a magazine and a media outlet providing resources for the church and the seminary
The Free-Reformed Churches in Germany (SERK)
By God’s grace, in the last few years, churches have been planted and formed into an indigenous church body (a Classis which also currently functions as a Synod). The Free-Reformed Churches in Germany (Selbständige evangelisch-reformierte Kirche Deutschland) is the newly-formed denomination that forms the backbone of our ministry in Germany and oversees the infrastructure and the three strategic supporting ministries.
Reformed Theological Seminary Heidelberg
Also, a small seminary has been established – the Reformed Theological Seminary in Heidelberg (not officially affiliated with the U.S. namesake). It has already produced a number of graduates (or near-graduates) who have gone into ordained ministry in Germany or will do so in the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, though we do not have an official publishing house as of yet, we are making plans to centralize and maximize our publishing efforts into Olevian Publishing. One big challenge constantly before our eyes is providing resources for church members and pastors and for the broader public, particularly books, but also websites and printed materials (brochures, magazines etc.). Olevian seeks to fill that strategic gap. One goal of Olevian is to reconnect with the fruitful Reformed past we have, in God’s providence, once had in Germany. One of the first works to be published was our own critical version of the Three Forms of Unity (The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort) – the confessional standards of our churches. This is the first time that these three have been published together in the German language and the two thousand copies printed have long been disseminated. We are currently working on a second edition which will include lirurgical forms and prayers, our church order etc. We are also working on a new edition of the Genevan Psalter in German.
The church in Heidelberg is a vibrant and healthy Reformed congregation that is growing slowly but surely. We constantly have a number of potential members in our membership course. This is especially encouraging as all of them come from either non-Christian or broadly evangelical background. In both cases, they are always very appreciative of the opportunity we provide them to think through their faith by way of catechesis. By the time they become members (and are baptized), they are excited to express their whole-hearted agreement with the faith as it is expressed in our Reformed confessions. Even though growth is slow, we have reached capacity in terms of our current worship space. For future expansion, we sorely need bigger space that is also more centrally located in the city. Recently, a couple of potential spaces have opened up that might work well for future ministry and expansion.
A church in Hannover was established a few years ago and has particularized as the second church in our young federation of churches. However, there are still great financial needs with respect to being able to support the new pastor in his work even as the congregation is not yet financially self-sustaining.
We currently have several very promising candidates for pastoral ministry as part of our federation. Even as these God-sent candidates are preparing for ordination, we have to strategically think through possibilities to provide initial support for their ministry in new church plants in other cities we will target within Germany.
The Reformed Theological Seminary has had a good year with some new students and some exciting courses. It is especially encouraging to see new students who might be future pastors and church planters in our federation. We are currently working on partnering with more experienced Reformed seminaries in the U.S., Canada, and in Europe.
Even though our work is targeting Germany, there are very similar works going on in many other areas and countries within Europe. We are all pretty much doing the same things – working hard to establish indigenous confessional Reformed churches in our countries along with all the necessary infrastructure. Therefore, a few years ago, we srated an endeavor called Reformation Europe. It is a non-ecclesiastical pastoral gathering, loosely representing our own (national) churches. The main goal is to help each other with the establishment not only of church plants (i.e. individual congregations), but also denominational structures and to provide resources for that strategic goal. In our recent gathering, we identified four areas where we are intending to work together more strategically:
- Our annual pastors’ retreat: intended for networking and encouragement, getting to know the respective churches we serve, but also to work on establishing ecumenical/ecclesiastical relations (wherever possible) and withint those structures help each other in churchly matters (such as the examining/ordaining process of ministers etc.)
- Officer Training: Making officer training accessible across churches
- Resources: Helping each other publish books even across the language barrier, providing resources for pastors, officers and the wider church, especially resources for the foundational structures of a denomination (such as church orders, confessional standards, liturgical forms, basic theological resources).
- Theological Education: We are currently thinking through the ramifications and benefits of having one (or several) Reformed seminaries able to serve not just one country but at least some, if not all, the churches represented in Reformation Europe in some way with training future pastors.
All of this is very exciting. All of this is hard and necessary work towards Reformation. And for all of it, we are dependent on the support of like-minded churches, both by way of prayer but also by way of sacrificial financial support. We pray and believe that the strategic nature of the entire work, both in Germany, and in Europe, will – by God’s grace and with His blessing – make a lasting contribution towards Reformation.
As churches world-wide have been hit by the challenges surrounding the Covid-pandemic, so have we. This has led to a severe cut-back in finances, meaning we had to put some of the planned projects on hold for the time being. For the work of Reformation2Germany to continue strongly into the future and in order to see the work of Reformation and of establishing a Reformed church in Germany survive us all, we do need your help!
For more information, please visit the following websites:
- The Free-Reformed Church in Heidelberg
- The Reformed-Theological Seminary in Heidelberg
- Reformation Europe
If you are drawn to support our work, please visit:
The Heidelberger Society (the U.S.-based foundation through which you can support our work). See also our Reformation2Germany website, which is currently being renovated. Please excuse our dust.
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- Heidelcast 30: Taking the Reformation Back To Germany