Reformed churches

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Ulrich Zwingli , co-founder of the Reformed Church
John Calvin , one of the thought leaders of the Reformed Church

The Reformed churches (often also Evangelical Reformed churches ) form one of the great Christian denominations in the Reformation tradition, which began in Central Europe. They go back above all to the work of Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich and Johannes Calvin in Geneva ( Calvinism ) in the course of the Reformation .

The Reformed churches, like the Evangelical Lutheran churches, belong to the Protestant churches . Most of the Reformed Churches are now united in the World Fellowship of Reformed Churches . Worldwide, the Presbyterian Churches, originally from Scotland , are the largest group in the Reformed Church family.

In Reformed theology, the Bible , understood as divine revelation, occupies the central position; This is reflected in the simplicity of the church rooms and the worship service, which should be centered on the preaching of the Gospel and contain as few extra-biblical elements as possible. Even the sacraments , namely the Lord's Supper , take a back seat to Catholicism and Lutheranism in the practice of worship and, understood as a purely symbolic act, are placed in the service of proclamation. Another essential characteristic of Reformed theology is the strong emphasis on the doctrine of predestination , the idea of ​​God's election of people destined for salvation (or damnation) without the possibility of human influence.


Today Reformed churches are widespread on all continents, but they only form the majority in a few countries. Countries with mostly Reformed churches are Tuvalu , Vanuatu and Niue ; until the 1950s, Scotland , Northern Ireland , the Netherlands and, until the 1970s, Switzerland were also part of it. The Protestant Church in the Netherlands , founded in 2004 , a church union between Reformed and Lutherans, is the second largest community there today. In Switzerland, the number of members of the Reformed Church is somewhat lower than that of the Catholic Church. Traditional Reformed minorities from the Reformation period can be found in France ( Huguenots ), Poland , Hungary / Romania and Lithuania . There are also larger Reformed churches in North America , which among other things go back to Puritan immigrants from Great Britain. These include the Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ .

In Switzerland all Protestant regional churches are of the Reformed denomination; together with the Methodist Church , they form the Evangelical Reformed Church in Switzerland .

In Austria the Reformed congregations are united in the Evangelical Church HB .

In Germany there are two Reformed regional churches, the Evangelical Reformed Church and the Lippe Regional Church, which together with other Lutheran and United Regional Churches form the Evangelical Church in Germany . In the Evangelical Church in Central Germany and the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia , Reformed congregations are each united in Reformed church districts. Reformed convents exist in the regional churches in the Rhineland and in Hessen-Nassau . In addition, there is the Federation of Evangelical Reformed Churches in Germany and the Evangelical Old Reformed Church in Northwest Germany , which was constituted as a Free Church . The umbrella organization of the approximately two million German Reformed Christians is the Reformed Federation . In addition, there are some free churches with an explicitly reformed denomination, such as the Confessing Evangelical Reformed Congregation in Giessen.

The Reformed Church is particularly in Germany in the Hunsrück , in the Wittgensteiner Land , in Lippe , on the Lower Rhine , in the Bergisches Land ( Wuppertal ), in the Siegerland , in northwest Germany (especially Grafschaft Bentheim , Grafschaft Lingen and Ostfriesland ) and Bremen, in Ravensberger Land , on the Plesse , in Bavaria and in Berlin and Brandenburg.


“Original date” is the sausage meal at the Zurich citizen Christoph Froschauer , a print shop owner, on Invokavit 1522 (March 9th), the first Sunday of the pre-Easter Lent . Zwingli is said not to have eaten himself, but to have been present at the sausage dinner. As a priest, he defended the breaking of the fast: the law of fasting is a human law and therefore not necessarily valid. Man only has to obey divine laws unconditionally. But Zwingli finds the divine laws in the Bible.

Marburg Religious Discussion 1529, detail of the Zwingli portal at the Großmünster in Zurich

The Zwingli Reformation spread over the next few years in other Swiss cities ( Bern , Basel , St. Gallen), in southern Germany and in Alsace. Reformed centers were Strasbourg , Memmingen , Lindau and Konstanz . In contrast to Lutheranism, Zwingli's Reformed Church was associated with the republican cities from its beginnings - the governments elected by the people decided in favor of the Reformation , often on the basis of disputations . A merger with the Lutheran branch of the Reformation did not succeed at the Marburg Religious Discussion in 1529 between Luther and Zwingli, mainly because no agreement could be reached on the question of the Lord's Supper . Luther held fast to the real presence ( real presence ) of the body and blood of Christ in the forms of the meal, while Zwingli understood the Lord's Supper as a symbol.

After Zwingli's death, it was Heinrich Bullinger , his successor as the Zürcher Antistes , who consolidated the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland and, through his extensive correspondence, was the most influential Reformed leader in Europe during his lifetime.

Five years after Bullinger took office, John Calvin , the founder of the second branch of Reformed theology, began to work in Geneva . The Reformation of the Geneva direction spread particularly in France, where the Huguenots became the majority of the population in some parts of the country. During the Huguenot Wars , many Huguenots fled abroad, where they founded French Reformed congregations, including in Berlin, Brandenburg, Erlangen, Hamburg, Schwabach and the Netherlands.

While the Geneva direction prevailed in the German, Dutch and Scottish areas, it was Bullinger in England whose theology had a major influence on the Anglican Reformation.

In Switzerland, the German-speaking areas followed the Zwinglischen direction, Geneva and Neuchâtel followed the Calvinist direction. The Vaud took an intermediate position. The Reformation was forcibly introduced in the Bernese subject areas; later the Vaud - as mainly French-speaking territory - came under strong Geneva influence. It essentially retained the imperative theology, but under pressure from Geneva introduced the state-independent Calvinist church model. In 1549 the Consensus Tigurinus of Bullinger and Calvin came to an agreement between the two directions, which is still valid today for the Evangelical Reformed churches in Switzerland .

Protestant Union

In the early 19th century, in a number of federal states of the German Confederation, established in 1815, the Reformed churches were united with the Lutheran churches , in some mainly organizationally, in others also in terms of confession. In practically all of them, Reformed and Lutheran creeds largely merged in the decades that followed. Except in Bremen, one can assume a dominance of Lutheran ideas. Of the countries in which traditionally Reformed territories existed, the Reformed and Lutheran Churches remained separate only in the Kingdom of Hanover . Since there were also no traditionally Reformed areas in Bavaria , but there were many Huguenots who were generally Reformed, the Evangelical Reformed Church , which has the status of a regional church within the Evangelical Church in Germany , essentially comprises parishes in Lower Saxony and Bavaria .

Reformed and Anabaptists

Facsimile of the protective script written by Manz (1524/25) for the City Council of Zurich

The Zurich Reformation was also the nucleus of the Anabaptist movement , which today is also known as the “radical direction of the Reformation”. Her founding fathers - including Konrad Grebel , Felix Manz and Andreas Castelberger  - originally belonged to Ulrich Zwingli's confidants. At the end of 1524 / beginning of 1525 there was a break between him and the later Anabaptists. Reasons for this were, among other things, different ecclesiological views and above all the dispute over the infant baptism, which the Anabaptists regarded as unbiblical and rejected . In his protestation and protective letter to the Zurich councilors written in December 1524 , Felix Manz presented his position and demanded a written discussion based on the Holy Scriptures . The Zurich council did not respond to this demand, but after a public disputation in early 1525 issued a mandate directed against the Anabaptists and made the refusal to baptize children a punishable offense. Manz and Grebel were banned from teaching. The Baptist, the evening of January 21, 1525 for the first time the believers' baptism had taken place, opposed the arrangements.

Other directions of the Anabaptists started from Karlstadt and Strasbourg. The movement spread from Austria to the Netherlands until the 1530s. With the so-called Anabaptist mandate , the Diet of Speyer threatened the Anabaptists with the death penalty in 1529. In the following years they experienced severe persecution, especially because of their critical attitude towards the authorities, to which many followers of the movement fell victim in the 16th and 17th centuries; their co-religionists consider them martyrs .

Later directions of the Anabaptists are about the Hutterites , Mennonites , Melchiorites and Amish .

Today the Reformed see themselves and the Anabaptist movement "as branches of the same Evangelical branch on the great Christian tree". In a divine service in Zurich's Großmünster in June 2004, the Reformed Church confessed “that the persecution at that time was, according to our current conviction, a betrayal of the Gospel and that our Reformed fathers were wrong on this point.” The official statement continues: It is time to accept the history of the Anabaptist movement as part of our own history, to learn from the Anabaptist tradition and to strengthen the common witness of the gospel in dialogue with the Anabaptist congregations. "


The Reformed churches share with the other churches of the Reformation essential principles such as the priesthood of all believers and the four evangelical principles sola scriptura (only the Scriptures) , solus Christ (only Christ) , sola gratia (only through grace) and sola fide (only through Belief) . Like most Protestant churches, the churches of the Reformed tradition recognize two sacraments with baptism and the Lord's Supper .

In contrast to the Lutheran tradition, however, in Reformed churches the Lord's Supper is understood as a mere memorial meal. The idea of ​​a real presence is rejected. Accordingly, bread and wine are regarded as signs of the real presence of Jesus Christ, but not as a materialization of this presence. A change of the elements bread and wine into body and blood is not believed. Instead of an altar, there is usually a communion table in Reformed churches . The Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms is also not taught in Reformed churches. In contrast to some Protestant free churches, the Reformed churches practice infant baptism .

A special feature of the Reformed churches is the emphasis on the balance between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament also explains the emphasis on the ban on images , which is reflected in the relative sobriety of Reformed church buildings. Crucifixes or larger decorations are usually rejected. The Reformed liturgy is also relatively simple and tailored to preaching or preaching the word of God. Accordingly, the pulpit is attached centrally in most Reformed church buildings. The so-called Geneva Psalter , which are kept simple, are also characteristic . As a rule, there are no alternating chants.

The Reformed churches in German-speaking countries are mostly presbyterial-synodal. The pastoral positions are not filled by church leaders, but directly by the parishes or the parish councils. In accordance with their church constitutions, Presbyterian and Congregational churches developed in the Anglo-American region .

Calvinism , which is characterized, among other things, by the doctrine of predestination and strict church discipline , has a strong impact on the Reformed denomination . In disputes with the doctrine of predestination, opposing positions developed within the Reformed Church, such as the Dutch Remonstrants , who were ultimately excluded from the Reformed Church. The Reformed doctrine of ministries, which also goes back to Calvin, knows the positions of pastor , teacher , elder ( presbyter ) and deacon within the individual congregation .

church service

An external characteristic of Reformed churches is the frugality of church furnishings that began with the elimination of older sculptures in the early days of the Reformation ; often the only decoration inside the church consists of verses from the Bible and the design of the pulpit and baptismal font. Liturgically , the primacy of the word is striking . While Luther kept church music as an element of worship, Zwingli rejected it as a threat to the proclamation and also had the church organs removed. For example, the service in Zurich at the time of Zwingli had no chants; Calvin introduced the chanting of the psalms, which led to the widespread " Geneva Psalter ", a collection of adaptations of the biblical psalms. The tradition of congregational singing and the Reformed hymn began in the early days of the Reformation.

The Lord's Supper is a commemorative celebration and is usually only celebrated a few times a year on major feast days. Following the example of the Zurich tradition of 1525 under Ulrich Zwingli, there are four Lord's Supper celebrations per year in many parishes. The sacrament for “Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and in 'autumn'” was set in the Zurich church ordinance. The usual dates today are Christmas, Maundy Thursday / Good Friday / Easter, Pentecost and Thanksgiving ; Sometimes the Lord's Supper is also celebrated for confirmation .

An essential difference to the Lutherans is the relationship to church tradition, of which Zwingli and Calvin only retained what is explicitly biblically founded, while Luther allowed everything that did not contradict the Bible.


The most important German-language Reformed documents of the 16th century are the Second Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism . This catechism documents the internal reformed split: While in the wake of Zwingli's theology in Zurich, Bern, Basel and other places a very close interlocking of political and spiritual leadership developed, Calvin worked out a biblically based church order in his Institutio Christianae Religionis , which defines the offices knows about presbyters and pastors as church leaders as well as the offices of deacon and teacher ; Moreover, church discipline is emphasized, which is incumbent on the presbyters.

Other significant Reformed creeds are the Dordrecht Doctrines and the Westminster Creed .

Most of the Reformed Churches in Europe participate in the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe and have adopted the Leuenberg Agreement as their own.

Fathers of the Reformed Church

Particularly important Reformed theologians of the 16th century were:

Zurich direction :

Geneva direction :

Electoral Palatinate :

Scotland :

Reformed churches today

Regional churches

Minority churches


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Website of the Confessing Evangelical Reformed Congregation in Giessen. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  2. On the whole see Matthias Reuter: Wurstessen - das Fastenbruch 1522. In: Zwingli-Lexikon von A bis Z. Reformierte Landeskirche des Kantons Zürich, accessed on August 9, 2019 .
  3. 521-3 French Reformed Congregation: Findbuch. (pdf, 31 kB) Hamburg State Archives, September 20, 2009, accessed on August 9, 2019 .
  4. ^ A b Reformed Church of the Canton of Zurich: Reformed and Anabaptists - "Milestones on the Path of Reconciliation". In: . June 30, 2004, accessed August 9, 2019 .
  5. Rea Rother: Music with Zwingli and in the Zurich Reformation. In: Zwingli-Lexikon from A to Z. Reformed Church of the Canton of Zurich, accessed on April 8, 2019 .
  6. ^ Harry Peter Clive: The Calvinist Attitude to Music. In: Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance. (19-20). Geneva 1957-1958.
  7. ^ Edith Weber: Les reformateurs et la musique. In: Encyclopédie des musiques sacrées. Paris 1969, pp. 341-372.
  8. Ulrich Gäbler: Huldrych Zwingli: An introduction to his life and work. C. H. Beck, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-406-09594-1 , pp. 97-98.
  9. Questions 82–85 of the Heidelberg Catechism had important consequences for Paul Schneider ; Klaus Maßmann: The “Heidelberger” had to go to prison with: Paul Schneider and the Heidelberg Catechism. (pdf, 179 kB) In: July 18, 2012, accessed on March 17, 2019 (with an excursus: "Church discipline" in Womrath, according to Question 85 of the Heidelberg Catechism).