Church discipline

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Church discipline is a traditional term in Protestantism , under which diverse efforts to ensure church order and doctrine are summarized. For this purpose, a procedural committee is formed in the member churches of the Protestant church with the rulings chamber according to the teaching objection code. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (originally Congregatio Romanae et universalis Inquisitionis ) can be viewed as the Roman Catholic equivalent .

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Possible measures to ensure church order and doctrine cover a wide range, starting with a warning from a church official to the revocation of church rights, for example exclusion from the Lord's Supper . In practice, however, measures of church discipline are rarely practiced (a rare exception is the conflict over the Göttingen theologian Gerd Lüdemann , which is perceived by a wider public ).

In Protestant free churches , congregational discipline still plays a certain role today; In practice, exclusion from the community is usually only carried out in very clear cases (for example in the case of adultery or homosexuality ). When confessing sin, a return to the church is also open.


In the history of the Protestant church, discipline is particularly important in the Reformed churches. Parts of the Reformed theology see in it (in addition to the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments) a third, mandatory characteristic of a church (a nota ecclesiae). The high esteem for church discipline in Reformed churches goes back in particular to Martin Bucer and Johannes Calvin . Their theological justification is rooted in the New Testament , especially in Matthew 18 : 15-18 LUT : “But if your brother sins against you, go and reprove him between you and him alone ... If he ... does not hear, he should say it Local community. If he does not listen to the congregation either, he will be like a pagan and tax collector for you [...] ”Important impulses also came from 1 Corinthians 5 LUT .

Church discipline is anchored in questions 82–85 of the Heidelberg Catechism .

Impact history

According to its theological justification, the subject of church discipline is the Christian community (cf. Mt 18.17  EU ; 1 Cor 5.13  EU ). “It was church discipline that opened the way for each individual community to become a sanctity congregation.” Due to the lack of separation between church and state in most Protestant territories, the state was able to instrumentalise certain aspects of church discipline for civic notions of order. Church discipline leads to the fact that the reformed social ethics tends “towards a radical moralization of public order”.

Early modern age

In the early modern period , bourgeois morals became generally more restrictive. In many territories, sovereigns tried to use their church regiment to enforce stricter marriage and sexual morals with the help of church discipline. Not only did confessional differences play a role, the relationship between church and government sanctions also fluctuated.

For example, according to an ordinance of 1708, the parents of illegitimate children in the Upper County of Wied- Runkel had to pay 2 guilders church fine and publicly pay church fines at the baptism, which was only allowed to take place three weeks after the birth  . The stately penalty was an additional 6 Reichstaler (equivalent to 9 guilders) for both parents , whereby the mother had to pay the total amount until 1796 if the father could not be identified; in the event of recurrence, additional administrative penalties were promised.


In the 18th century, church fines in many German territories were replaced by increased state fines in a strategy aimed at fiscalizing church discipline. The maintenance of morals and decency was increasingly seen as a task of the public " police " rather than a question of church discipline. This phenomenon of detachment can be understood as the political and social result of absolutism , which aimed at a " social discipline " with the internalization of virtues such as hard work , diligence , self-control , obedience or discipline . This idea continues until criminal offenses such as adultery (§ 172 StGB old version ) and other " indecent acts " in the Federal Republic of Germany only through the First Law on the Reform of Criminal Law of June 25, 1969 or pimping (§ 180 StGB A.F.), for example towards fiancées, were only eliminated by the 4th StrRG of November 23, 1973.

Pastor Schneider, church discipline against Nazi sympathizers, 1937

Pastor Paul Schneider and his congregation in Womrath , which adhered to the Confessing Church during the Nazi era , proceeded against congregation members who adhered to the ideology of the German Christians with a procedure to exclude them from the Lord's Supper. This led to his arrest and ultimately to his martyrdom in Buchenwald concentration camp .

See also


  • Gerhard Oestreich : structural problems of European absolutism. Otto Brunner on his 70th birthday. In: Quarterly for social and economic history. Vol. 55, No. 3, 1968, ISSN  0340-8728 , pp. 329-347.
  • John H. Leith, Hans-Jürgen Goertz : Church discipline. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia. Volume 19: Canon Law Sources - Cross. de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1990, ISBN 3-11-012355-X , pp. 173-191.
  • Heinz Schilling (Ed.): Church discipline and social discipline in early modern Europe (= Journal for Historical Research. Supplement 16). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-07981-7 .
  • Frank Konersmann: Church regiment and church discipline in the early modern small state. Studies on the manorial and social foundations of the church regiment of the dukes of Pfalz-Zweibrücken 1410–1793 (= series of publications of the Association for Rhenish Church History. Vol. 121). Rheinland-Verlag et al., Cologne 1996, ISBN 3-7927-1610-0 (also: Bielefeld, University, dissertation, 1995).

Web links

Wiktionary: Church discipline  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Questions 82–85 of the Heidelberg Catechism online
  2. ^ A b Friedrich Wilhelm Graf : The Protestantism. History and present. CH Beck, Munich, 3rd edition, 2017, ISBN 978-3-406-70824-4 , p. 45.
  3. ^ Johann Josef Scotti (ed.): Provincial Laws. Collection 5: Collection of the laws and ordinances, which in the former Wied-Neuwiedischen, Wied-Runkelschen, Sayn-Altenkirchen'schen, Sayn-Hachenburg'schen, Solms-Braunfeldschen, Solms Hohensolms resp. Liehschen, Nassau-Ussingen'schen, Nassau-Weilburg'schen Herzogl. Nassauischen u. Wetzlar'schen (or Princely Primatie, Grand-Ducal Frankfurt'schen etc.) now royal. prussia. Territories, over objects of state sovereignty, constitution, administration and administration of justice have passed, from the time of their effectiveness until that of the royal Prussia. Legislation in the years 1815 and 1816. Part 1: Contains the departments for Wied-Neuwied and Wied-Runkel. Wolf, Düsseldorf 1836, pp. 342, 360, 542.