Synod (Protestant churches)

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Synod ( Greek Σύνοδος, synodos , “assembly”; Σύνοδία, synodia , “travel company, caravan” (partly also as a synonym for “family”)) denotes an assembly in church matters.

In the Protestant churches in Germany , the synods are parliaments of the church's self-government. For the area of ​​individual regional churches one usually speaks of regional synods or church synods (as in Hessen-Nassau), on the middle level of deanery or district synods . In the area of ​​ecclesiastical associations, such as the Evangelical Church in Germany or the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany , there is more talk of general or general synods.

These synods are responsible for legislation and regulation within the church's right to self-determination . In addition, they exercise the church's right to have a say, which is granted to the churches at various state levels by state laws or state treaties (for example, the regulation of religious instruction in state schools and the military parish law).

Synods also make decisions for the whole church and are responsible, alone or in addition to the respective bishops, for formulating the theological guidelines of their church. In Presbyterian , Reformed and United churches the possibilities of the synod to exert influence are particularly pronounced compared to the Lutheran evangelical churches; To a certain extent, they represent an elementary part of the denominational self-image.

Synod is also used (out of date) for the area for which the church parliament is responsible: the church district .


During the Lutheran Reformation, the appreciation of the laity given by Martin Luther's doctrine of the general priesthood of all believers initially had no direct consequences for the church constitution . Instead of a structure of the church from the bottom up, which was initially entirely in Luther's mind (cf. his writing That a Christian assembly or community has the right and power to judge all doctrine and to appoint, appoint and remove teachers from 1523), he later welcomed the sovereign church regiment that the territorial princes and municipal magistrates who had become Protestant exercised in the sense of an emergency order. As a rule, they set consistories , i. H. authorities composed of theologians and lawyers to regulate ecclesiastical affairs.

Where there were synods in Lutheran territories in the 16th century, these were generally in the tradition of the clerical synods of the ancient and medieval churches. They were therefore only composed of pastors, such as the annual diocesan synods introduced during the Reformation of the Duchy of Prussia in 1525 , or even only of superintendents , such as the annual synods in the Landgraviate of Hesse and in the Duchy of Pomerania or the "Synodus" that existed until the 19th century in the Duchy of Württemberg . Their competencies were mostly limited to (in the narrower sense) spiritual matters.

Synods as bodies made up of pastors and “laypeople” go back to the Reformed wing of the Reformation. Even John Calvin argued that the Church can not be solely guided by the clergy, but different by an interaction offices. In the Geneva church ordinance of 1541, he provided for pastors , “ docteurs ” (teachers) and deacons as well as elders (“ anciens ”; presbyters ), who were elected by the city council and were responsible with the pastors for the exercise of church discipline (cf. . Four office apprenticeship ). According to the church ordinance of the Huguenots (confirmed by the National Synod in Paris in 1559 ), which as a persecuted minority church could not rely on secular authorities, the adult male parishioners elected the elders from among their number. Together with the other ministers they formed the presbytery . Each presbytery sent the pastor and an elected elder to the synods at the regional level, which in turn elected the national synod, which was responsible for governing the entire church. This church constitution since 1560 in modified form in Scotland enforced and thus the basis of Presbyterianism (where the governing body on universal level but not usually Synod, but Assembly [ assembly ] is). The Wesel Convent (1568) and the Synod of Emden (1571) adopted the essential features of the Huguenot church order for the persecuted Reformed Church in the Netherlands . With the establishment of British colonies, the combination of synodal and presbyterial structures was transplanted to North America.

In the Reformed churches in Germany governed by the sovereign church regiment, such as B. in the Electoral Palatinate , no synods could be formed. On the other hand, in the 17th century, the synodal order based on the Dutch model was also adopted for the Reformed (and even the Lutheran congregations) in Jülich-Kleve-Berg , because the sovereigns there waived the exercise of church regiment. The Lutherans who immigrated from Germany and Scandinavia also adopted this church order (e.g. Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1839), since there was no sovereign church regiment in the New World.

As early as the 19th century, presbyteries (parish councils) and synods were gradually included as additional elements in the church ordinances in many territories. The "mixed system" of consistorial and presbyterial-synodal constitution was shaped by the Rhenish-Westphalian church order of 1835, with which the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. at least partially fulfilled the desire of Protestants from the western provinces to restore their traditional self-government of the church. When the monarchies and with them the sovereign church regiment perished in 1918, the synods were able to completely take over the leadership of the churches.

Composition and management

Synods are made up of delegates from the individual parishes or regional synods, with clergy and lay people participating. The Evangelical Regional Church of Württemberg is the only one in Germany where the synod is directly elected every six years by the church members who are entitled to vote (primary election), which results in a number of important peculiarities of this regional synod. In some regional synods, pastors and lay people are represented in equal numbers, in others a majority of lay people must be given, in still others two non-ordained persons must be represented for each pastor. The synods are presided over by a president, a praeses or a praesidium. In some regional churches (in the Rhineland ) the presidium of the synod is also the church leadership , the synod preses qua office of consistorial president and regional bishop . In the Evangelical Church of Westphalia , the office of leading clergyman is also referred to as President; unlike in the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland , however, the regional synod is chaired by him alone (so there is no synodal presidium). The members of the synod are called synodals .

Important evangelical synods

See also


  • Axel Freiherr von Campenhausen : Synods in the Protestant Church. In: JE Christoph (ed.): Collected writings. Tübingen 1995, pp. 50-55 (= Jus Ecclesiasticum 50).
  • Axel Freiherr von Campenhausen: Synod / Council from a Protestant perspective. In: Peter Eicher (ed.): New manual of theological basic concepts. Vol. 4, 1985, pp. 163-167.
  • Albrecht Geck : Schleiermacher as a church politician. The disputes over the reform of the church constitution in Prussia (1799–1823). Bielefeld 1997 (= Unio et Confessio XX).
  • Albrecht Geck: Church independence movement in Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century. In: Yearbook for Westphalian Church History. 90, 1996, pp. 95-119.
  • Albrecht Geck: Christocracy and Democracy. The presbyteral synodal constitution in the context of constitutional efforts in Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century. In: Helmut Geck (ed.): The church district in the presbyterial-synodal order. LIT-Verlag, Münster 2008, pp. 114–145 (= Recklinghausen Forum on the History of Church Districts 3).
  • Helmut Geck (Ed.): Church circles - District Synods - Superintendents , LIT-Verlag, Münster 2004.
  • Helmut Geck (Hrsg.): Church district history and great politics. Epoch years of German history as reflected in the Rhenish and Westphalian district synodal protocols (1918/19 - 1932/33 - 1945/46) , LIT-Verlag, Münster 2006.
  • Helmut Geck (ed.): The church district in the presbyterial-synodal order , LIT-Verlag, Münster 2008.
  • Wolf-Dieter Hauschild , Reinhard Brandt, Michael Germann : Synod I. – III. In: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart , 7, 2004, Sp. 1970–1976.
  • Joachim Mehlhausen : Presbyterial-synodal church constitution. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia. Vol. 27, 1997, pp. 331-340.
  • Nikolaus Närger: The Synodal Election System in the German Protestant Regional Churches in the 19th and 20th Century. Tübingen 1988, ISBN 978-3-16-345111-7 (= Jus Ecclesiasticum 36).
  • Heinrich de Wall : Synod, I. Evangelical. In: Axel Freiherr von Campenhausen: Lexicon for church and state church law. Vol. 3, 2004, pp. 644-647.

Individual evidence

  1. As an example: Reformation anniversary 1587 or Synod Mülheim am Rhein
  2. Württembergische Landessynod ( Memento of the original from March 6, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. EKvW Landessynode ( Memento of the original from December 17, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /