Evangelical Covenant

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The Evangelical Bund (founded in 1886) is still one of the largest Protestant associations in Germany . As a denominational and ecumenical work unit of the EKD , it is the sponsor of the denominational institute in Bensheim in southern Hesse .


Commemorative plaque for the foundation of the Evangelical Union at Predigerstrasse 10 in Erfurt

Since the middle of the 19th century, necessary tasks and reforms, which Protestantism , which was split up into 27 regional churches and split by theological and church-political wing struggles, had been recognized and tackled by so-called free associations. The establishment of an "Evangelical League to protect German-Protestant interests" in several stages in 1886/87 must be seen in this context. The Roman Catholic Church offered a theologically clear profile through the dogmas of 1854 and 1870, presented itself through the Fulda Bishops' Conference, which had existed since 1867, and gained increasing political influence through the Center Party. When Catholicism emerged stronger from the Kulturkampf, personalities in churches, schools and universities worried about the preservation of the Reformation heritage. At the Luther anniversary in 1883 the call for an evangelical aid association could already be heard. The commitment of colleagues and students of the Halle theology professor Willibald Beyschlag was decisive . As a representative of the Evangelical Association, often referred to as the “middle party”, he was shaped by the so-called mediation theology and became the most influential founder of EB. In his own words, he wanted to create “an emergency community, an action for evangelical self-help”, which “represent evangelical interests in public”, support and promote “evangelical movements throughout Christendom” as well as “evangelical solidarity” and “evangelical awareness” strengthen the communities.

The founding meeting on October 5, 1886 in Erfurt was preceded by discussions with representatives of all theological groups throughout Germany. The governor of the province of Saxony, Wilko Levin Graf von Wintzingerode-Bodenstein , headed the EB for 18 years, was in charge . The program adopted there became the core of the founding appeal of January 15, 1887, which was printed in 108 daily newspapers. The central concerns are named there: safeguarding Protestant interests in relation to political Catholicism and "the indifferentism and materialism of the time" as well as promoting inner evangelical peace and expanding regional church relationships. The statute addressed “men and women”.

Developments until 1945

The response was overwhelming and the number of members grew by leaps and bounds. At the 1st General Assembly in Frankfurt's Paulskirche in August 1887 there were 10,000, in 1895 already 100,000 and in 1914 the EB was the largest Protestant and third largest German association with more than half a million members. The interest in mixed denominational regions and in cities was stronger than in purely Protestant and rural areas. The educated middle class was better represented than other classes. Local academic and women's groups were specially organized and, like many workers' and journeyman's associations supported by EB, were "affiliated" to it. The proportion of theologians from around 30% at the beginning quickly decreased, so that one could speak of a “lay organization”. The decentralized structure according to local, branch and main associations as well as a central board were chosen based on the Gustav-Adolf-Verein , with which there was a clear division of labor and - which continues to this day - fruitful cooperation. This has proven itself since the turn of the century, especially for Austria, where the “ Los-von-Rom-Movement ” was accompanied by the call “Into the Gospel!” And in 1903 an independent “German-Evangelical Association for the East Markets” was founded. Enormous donations have been raised for sending vicars and for Bibles, hymn books, scholarships and literature. The same applied in Germany to the establishment of deaconess houses, which in 1901 led to the establishment of its own sisterhood based in Dessau. An important pillar of the federal work and a guarantor for its growth were the press services and the publishing work, for which there was a “press committee” since the founding days. Correspondence sheets for the daily press, leaflets, calendars, Wartburg notebooks and other small literature as well as magazines and encyclopedias filled a gap in the market and achieved enormous print runs. It dealt with events and figures from the Reformation period, martyrs and converts, the situation of the evangelical diaspora, problems of mixed marriages and events in Catholicism. There were warnings against “sects”, free thinkers, “neo-paganism” and the “party of revolution”, as the SPD was called in bourgeois circles at the time. Lecture services were arranged, for which "traveling speakers" and "travel preachers" were employed. The main association and general assemblies gave the EB its appeal and consolidation of its work internally and externally. Because of the number of participants and the public response, these “lay meetings” are considered to be the forerunners of Protestant church days . There, as in everyday life, there was no lack of denominational friction surfaces. When the "Borromeo Encyclical" ( Editae saepe ) spoke of the Reformers as the enemies of the cross of Christ, the EB clearly spoke up. However, that time-related language in no way justifies the often flat-rate anti-Catholicism accusation.

Decisive for the entire federal work was the "Reichs office" located in Halle and since 1912 in Berlin. With the entry in the register of associations (1906) a presidium took over the management, where until 1922 the national liberal federal director Otto Everling MdR was decisive. He succeeded in expanding a scientific department with a specialist library and documentation, where scholars such as Hermann Mulert and Leopold Zscharnack worked. The First World War brought an all-round interruption of the controversial denominational work. The EB was dedicated to the dissemination of writings on the Christian faith and sought to strengthen the national will to persevere with "Folk writings on the great war" and "Herold's calls in iron time". Attempts to introduce October 31 as a public holiday in all German states from 1917 onwards failed.

The end of the monarchy in 1918 was a deep turning point for EB as well. The change in social behavior caused by radio and film and the economic hardship of the post-war period led to increasing club fatigue. Regional churches and the German Evangelical Church Federation, which was very much welcomed by EB, took on a number of its tasks, e. B. through new "press associations". Democracy and the republic were widely rejected. Long afterwards there was talk of the “ shame of November 9th ”, which would have “unleashed the powers of the abyss”, and of the “triumph of Marxism, the opponents of Christ and enemies of God”. With the Wartburg program of 1921 the federal work was determined in the next decades: In the Gospel one recognized "the highest, eternal good, the source of strength and the fountain of health of every nation and in the German folk the highest temporal good". In Luther's person and work one saw the "completed covenant between the gospel and the German spirit". The young ecumenical movement was followed critically. In the “International Association for the Defense and Promotion of Protestantism” (later the Protestant World Association) founded in 1923, the EB “as its extended arm” was heavily involved in personnel and organization. In numerous rallies on explosive issues, the party-political neutrality of the EB was emphasized, but at the same time warned about the politics of the left parties and the center before all elections. The vain struggle against the Concordats of that time ended with the call for corresponding Protestant church treaties. Between 1932 and 1935 there were violent struggles for direction when German-Christian orientated around the Rhenish pastor Hermann Kremers (1860-1934) the National Socialism not as a party, but as a "people's movement" and "integral order power" to restore German freedom and strengthen the ecclesiastical influence welcomed. The popular church demand “Collect and not disperse!” Could no longer be communicated under these circumstances.

When the Luther researcher Heinrich Bornkamm (1901–1977), who had already found critical words in the "Academic Council of Friends" that had existed since 1928, took over the office of President in April 1935 (until 1963), the course was set again. Demands for an “Evangelical National Church” were contradicted as well as the “German faith” and “folk neo-paganism”. Attempts to find a so-called middle way, together with other associations through church committees , to be able to positively influence the church struggle, have failed. With the Reich Concordat and the end of political Catholicism, this could become the subject of scientific research "without the polemics of pinpricks". Before and during the Second World War there was an enormous decrease in the number of members: in 1932 about 300,000, in 1943 still 104,000. With the war-related personnel and material restrictions on work and the complete destruction of the Reich office in 1943 and many of the main association buildings, the question of the future was posed.

Developments from 1945 to 1989

While in the western member churches of the EKD the association character of the state associations could be preserved, this became impossible due to GDR laws in the eastern member churches from 1953. There - already before the building of the wall, the "denominational work and research work (EB)" had to continue the advisory and lecture services in close cooperation with the later study department of the "Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR ". An indispensable part of the work there was and remained the observation of the special communities and new religious movements, which in the West has been scientifically carried out in the West since 1960 by the "Evangelical Central Office for Weltanschauungsfragen" (EZW) in Stuttgart (now Berlin), which was founded in consultation with the EB has been.

Historical developments since 1989

After the fall of the Wall in 1989, the separate central and regional associations were quickly merged, the legal status of which was expressly taken into account in the 1992 statutes. The work of the now small sisterhood, whose facilities in Dessau were completely destroyed in 1945, was already in 1950 in the "Association for the establishment of Protestant hospitals" in Berlin. Together with like-minded people in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria, the "Evangelical Working Group for Confessional Studies in Europe" was founded in 1962 to promote exchange on the ecumenical situation in Eastern and Western Europe and used for the acceptance of the Leuenberg Agreement . The path taken after 1945 to "bring the message of the Reformation to bear in the confessional, ideological and social disputes of the present and thereby promote ecumenism" was reflected in the "Evangelical principles for ecumenical dialogue". Under the motto “Evangelical and Ecumenical”, they were the focus of the 1986 anniversary, where there was open talk about ups and downs as well as “culpable aberrations” in federal history. The principles revised in 1993 speak of the EB as the “denominational and ecumenical work of the EKD”: The unification of Protestantism is seen as a priority. The “community of witness and service” agreed in the Leuenberg Agreement is to be “realized in a synodal structure”. "Church fellowship with Protestant Free Churches and with the Anglican Church" is required. The EB sees the goal of the ecumenical dialogue today "in a reconciled diversity of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, not in an administrative unit or a unified world church". “Beyond utopian enthusiasm and paralyzing resignation”, “sober and persistent ecumenical work” is being done, which strives for “a fellowship with, but not under the Pope”. To this end, six scientific employees work with a team in the denominational institute and numerous volunteers in the regional churches. Ecumenical committees and institutions of the EKD and its member churches are advised in cooperation with a scientific advisory board, other scientific institutions and church organizations. The EKD currently bears 65% of the institute's costs, the remainder is provided by three south-west German regional churches, the three thousand individuals and parishes as members, conference contributions, magazine subscribers as well as collections and donations.

Denominational Institute

At the instigation of the later Federal Director and President Wolfgang Sucker (1905–1968), a new path was broken in 1947 with the establishment of the denominational institute as a scientific workplace of the EB in Bensheim / Bergstrasse: As a work of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), “Protestant self-reflection “Operated in ecumenical responsibility and called the entire Christianity“ to convert to the Gospel ”as“ opponents of an anti-Catholic affect ”. The life and teaching of all Christian denominations, past and present, were researched and evaluated for ecumenical dialogue. Through conferences for various multipliers, through advising church bodies, but especially through the magazine "Materialdienst", which has been published since 1950, through book series and leaflets on current ecumenical issues, the institute gradually achieved scientific, church-wide and ecumenical recognition. A visible sign of this was a rapidly growing EKD grant for the denominational institute and the construction of an office building in 1967. Joachim Lell (1957–1981), Reinhard Frieling (1981–1999), Jörg Haustein (1999 ) served as federal directors and head of the institute since the 1960s –2000), Michael Plathow (2001–2007) and Walter Fleischmann-Bisten (since 2007, only director of the institute). The managing directors were Gerhard Beetz (1947–1984), Walter Fleischmann-Bisten (1984–2006), Alexander Gemeinhardt (2007–2013) and Ksenija Auksutat (2014–2017).


The plant is managed by the President (vacant), Sigurd Rink (Vice President since 2006) and Richard Janus (General Secretary since 2020). Statutory organs of the association are the central board (chairman of the regional associations) as the highest body, the executive board (president, vice-president, general secretary) and the general assembly, which meets on the occasion of the annual general assembly.

Former presidents

EB Austria

EB Austria with approx. 2500 members is a free church work; Birgit Lusche has been chairwoman since September 2015, her predecessors as chairman were Oberkirchenrat Jakob Wolfer and from 1983 to 2015 the Lower Austrian superintendent Paul Weiland .

Confession and Reconciliation Foundation

Since January 1, 2007, the Confession and Reconciliation Foundation of the Evangelical Union has been helping to finance the Institute for Religious Studies. The start-up capital consists of donations from the family of the institute's founder, Wolfgang Sucker, as well as from the Evangelical Federation of Kurhessen-Waldeck, Hesse and Nassau as well as Bavaria and a few individuals.
The Board of Trustees consists of the management of the Denominational Institute, the Deputy Church President Ulrike Scherf and Pastor Dr. Steffen Storck for the central board. The foundation is not a legally independent foundation within the foundation of the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau .


  • Walter Fleischmann-Bisten / Heiner Grote: Protestants on the way , Bensheimer Hefte 65, Göttingen 1986: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, ISBN 3-525-87151-1
  • Walter Fleischmann-Bisten: The Evangelical Union in the Weimar Republic and in the so-called Third Reich , Frankfurt am Main et al. 1989: Lang, ISBN 3-8204-8687-9
  • Walter Fleischmann-Bisten: "... grown into a small academy of its own". The denominational institute as a model of theological research for church practice , in: Jörg Haustein / Harry Oelke (eds.), Reformation und Katholizismus, Festschrift für Gottfried Maron, Hannover 2003, 469-513
  • Gottfried Maron (ed.): Evangelical and Ecumenical. Contributions to the 100th anniversary of the Evangelical Union , Göttingen 1986: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, ISBN 3-525-56528-3
  • Armin Müller-Dreier: Denomination in politics, society and culture of the empire. Der Evangelische Bund 1886-1914 , Gütersloh 1998: Chr. Kaiser / Gütersloher Verlagshaus, ISBN 3-579-02606-2
  • Karl-Reinhart Trauner / Bernd Zimmermann (eds.): 100 Years of the Evangelical Federation in Austria , Bensheimer Hefte 100, Göttingen 2003: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, ISBN 3-525-87191-0
  • Special issue "125 Years of the Evangelical Covenant", Evangelical Orientation 2011, Issue 4

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