What do you associate with Germany when you think about it—if you do? What do you associate with our history, specifically as a Christian? The Reformation? Martin Luther, perhaps? Or the Heidelberg Catechism? Surely, with such a history, Germany would be the place of thriving Reformed churches, right? The truth is, there are hardly any—not anymore and not for quite some time. There has not been a true confessional Reformed church since about the 19th century.
Let me tell you where we are, in my home country, in terms of a Christian presence. Germany is a country of about 85 million inhabitants, the largest economy in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Germany is a country that in many ways has a big and shaping influence within Europe in how things go economically, politically, but also in terms of worldview. Lots of history! Fifty to sixty percent of Germans still call themselves “Christians,” but it has virtually no meaning at all. It is simply a cultural thing. Less than five percent of the total population still go to any kind of church, and many of these are old. Therefore, churches are dying. Mention the Reformation and it is something many in Germany are actually embarrassed about. Mention Christianity, the basic facts (such as those found in the Apostles’ Creed) and that you actually believe in them or that you attend a church for more than just Easter and Christmas, and there will be more embarrassment. Now, the Enlightenment—that’s a different story than the Reformation. We are actually still proud of the Enlightenment and our Enlightenment philosophers .
All of that to say, there is currently no solid embodiment of Christianity. Far less than one percent of the total population would consider themselves Evangelicals, mostly of the charismatic variety. And there are, of course, still Roman Catholics and Protestants in the so completely liberal Protestant State churches. All in all, we have a good two handfuls of so-called Reformed Baptist congregations, and three or four individual Reformed congregations. Churches are dying out. The state churches are losing members at the rate of 200,000 per year. Church buildings are being decommissioned and converted for secular use. These are dark times, and there are even darker times ahead
You think the 16th century was a time when the Reformation was greatly needed? Think again! At least there was a church to be Reformed. At least there were Christians flocking to churches. Now, Germany is just dead and dry—a spiritual wasteland. When I say there is no solid embodiment of Christianity, I mean confessional Christianity. Churches and Christians with a Biblical (i.e. Reformed) confession who know it, believe it, and are willing to die for it. After all, is that not the only form of Christianity that will survive this crisis and the persecution that is already mounting?
So what do we do?
What is our vision for this country?
When we set out 15 years ago, we knew what our vision was. It was simple, and immensely big. Humanly impossible! Our vision is nothing less than a new work of reformation. We call it “Reformation 2 Germany.”
What was the Reformation all about in the 16th century? Much could be said, of course, but it certainly was not a people-driven movement, but a movement of going back to the Bible, back to the confessions, back to the theology and practice of the ancient church. It was a thoroughly churchly movement, bringing the church back to her biblical foundations: the clear and unadulterated preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ, pure Biblical worship, the right administration of the sacraments and church discipline.
The Reformation did three things which, humanly speaking, made it successful under God’s blessing and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit: (1) the faithful ministry of the word and sacraments; (2) providing resources—utilizing, for example, the newly invented printing press to produce Bibles, pamphlets, books, commentaries, confessions and catechisms; (3) training new pastors and missionaries.
Given these marching orders, it was easy for us to know what to do: exactly the same three things. We knew church planting would have to be the primary work. Pastors would need to be willing to sacrifice (and believe me, every work of church planting is sacrifice, for the church planter and for the church planter’s family) and willing to engage in a life-long, even multi-generational work.
We knew we would have to start a training center, eventually a seminary that would produce one solid Reformed pastor at a time.
And we would have to provide resources for a new reformation: confessions, catechisms, solid books for pastors, elders and laypeople; new media, as well (websites, brochures, podcasts). An entire infrastructure of resources would be needed to sustain such a work—just like the Reformation! That is what we set out to do, small and humbly, twelve years ago.
What have we done so far?
In the three strategic areas mentioned, this is what has happened by God’s grace:
- Church planting: In 2010, we planted the church in Heidelberg.1 It has been hard work! It is one convert at a time, one member or family at a time. Almost no one who has come to our church had any idea what it really means to be Reformed. Inadvertently, this has involved us in a process of intense catechesis. Since the inception, it has been very important to us that all of our members understand and have a solid grasp on what it means to be Reformed (i.e. Biblical). Of course, this comes with the challenge of finding seasoned, mature believers and training them as future church officers. Currently, we have close to 50 members, especially young families, committed to staying in the church long-term and who have become pillars of the church. Several years ago, a group of believers in Hannover (Northern Germany) asked us to come alongside them, send a pastor and plant a confessional Reformed church. They have since become established, with a session of elders and their own pastor. The two churches have started working as a tiny proto-denomination (federation) with Classis meetings where we do the work of the larger church in our context, where we hold each other accountable, where we do exams for licensures and ordinations, and strategize for the future.
- Theological education: A handful of graduates from our still small seminary2 in the last few years are now in full-time ministry as pastors, three in Reformed churches, one in Hannover doing solid work, one as an intern in Heidelberg. Several more will be approaching graduation in due time and will be ready to go into full-time ministry as well. And then there are a number of younger students in earlier levels of training.
- Providing resources: This is currently still our weakest link. There is so much to do! We have produced the necessary ecclesiastical documents: our confessional Standards (the Three Forms of Unity) are currently being published in their second edition, along with our church order, liturgy, liturgical forms and prayers, a Psalter, and a Hymnal. Every single item is important for such work and takes much effort. We have already produced a few individual books, some translations, a line of booklets about the Reformed faith, a series of professionally done videos, and we are hoping to start a magazine soon. We have also been putting on the “Heidelberg Conference on Reformed Theology,” alternating between an international and a national conference. These conferences have been a wonderful conduit to get people over here, to commemorate the Reformation, and to show who we are, what our foundation, history, and identity are.
What do we plan to do?
We have a long-term, mid-term and a short-term perspective. What do we plan to do in the next 30+ years? You guessed it…three things:
(1) In church planting, we will work towards a denomination that, if the Lord grants the growth, will have enough local churches for any German to attend within a two-hour commute time. If I did my math right, that would require at least ten more churches to be planted. (And yes, we do currently have people making such a long commute weekly on the Lord’s Day! Can you imagine?). Also, we need this kind of “critical mass” as a federation in order to survive in case a church plant might fold or a pastor burn out or leave the ministry.
The more immediate, mid-term plan is to plant three to four more congregations in the next ten years, organize them into two Classes (Classis North and Classis South) which would then be able to do the work of the church and strategize towards more church planting efforts in their part of the country.
(2) What do we want to do with the seminary? We want to go from a small training institution to provide a full and full-time curriculum. For that to happen, we want to add two or three faculty and a staff person to our team. We want our seminary to be positioned, prepared, and to be seen as a true alternative to the liberal university faculties on the left (which are utterly liberal and critical) and to the pietistic, Baptist, non-confessional “Bible schools” to the right. We want to be seen as a solid alternative to study theology in the vein of the Reformation as well as to aggressively recruit students at church assemblies, conferences etc.
(3) What about publishing? We want to go from a haphazard work, having published a handful of titles, to a center providing resources that people recognize and start to trust: both the rich resources of the past in Germany (the Reformation and our Reformed theologians of the 16th century) and modern translations and modern Reformed writers. In thirty years, we want to see a publishing clearing house that can sustain itself and our churches, have a staff, and throw 6–8 titles on the market each year.
Despite how it might sound, all of this is not a case of crazy megalomania. This is the necessary human planning and strategizing for a new Reformation in utter dependence on the Lord. None of it will happen, none of it do we expect to happen without the blessing, the resources, and the power of the Lord at work in Germany! But these are the bare and essential things! This leads me to my final question:
How can you get involved?
There are many different ways to help, but I want to challenge everyone, individual believers and churches interested in getting behind this work, to think about our vision, our thirty or forty-year plan, our willingness to sacrifice and to see it through. Then, commit to making it happen long term, if the Lord so moves you. This is not the kind of work that produces effects as quickly as church planting works in the U.S., but it is not about us! When I go, retire, or die, I want to be able to entrust the work into the hands of others, knowing that there is, humanly speaking, a good and solid structure that the Lord is pleased to use and work through.
What do we need?
We need money. For years to come, our small congregations will not yet be self-sustaining (even though they do give sacrificially). We need Christians and churches with an understanding of the global implications of the kingdom of God. The Reformation in Germany once gave to the world and now, a new Reformation needs to be “given to” or “returned to.” We need individuals who have such a long-term and global vision and see the strategic importance of this work. We need your faithful prayers! We need you to pray for this work, faithfully, because the Lord delights to answer prayers of such kind and magnitude. We also need to know you are praying for us! It does get lonely. We do get discouraged. But knowing you are fighting for us in prayer is a great encouragement!
We want you to visit: plan a vacation, a trip through Germany! Come to Heidelberg; attend our churches; see what it like. Attend our next conference and then go home and spread the word!
Finally, America has been blessed and is still being blessed with an abundance of churches and resources. With great blessing comes great responsibility in the kingdom of God. In order to find, locate and facilitate U.S. churches, foundations, individual supporters, and helpers to get involved, some friends and supporters have started a non-profit organization called “The Heidelberger Society”3 (named after the great Heidelberg Catechism and those who want to see its theology and practice take hold in Germany once again). We want to take this organization to the next level. We want this to be the American arm of our endeavor to bring a new and lasting Reformation. We want this to be a model of how to support the work of missions, from church to church. We want to give you, churches and Christians in the U.S., an opportunity to be a part of this exciting work. If you want to get involved, there is always work to be done: administrative work, communication, support raising, organizing events, etc. We would love to hear from you as we are launching this endeavor as a kind of backbone infrastructure, a clearing house for all things “Reformation 2 Germany.”
In the Spirit of the inspired words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16, where he saw a man of Macedonia urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” I would like to say the same thing to you as a man from Germany: Come over and help us!
©Sebastian Heck. All Rights Reserved.
Editor’s Note: This is an update to an ongoing work in Germany. See RESOURCES below for more information on Reformation2Germany.
1. Reformed church in Heidelberg
2. Reformed seminary in Heidelberg
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Thank you for sharing. I am deeply encouraged to see the spread of the Reformed (Biblical!) “theology, piety, and practice” across the world, both in developing countries and in the spiritual “wasteland” of western Europe. You and the rest of Reformation 2 Germany will be in our prayers.