Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3004

Reformed Church

Reformed churches in France

French Calvinists, or Huguenots, set the pattern for presbyterian organization on a national level at a synod of the Reformed Church of France in 1559. During the religious wars of the next decades they developed a theory of resistance to the unjust state, but the end of effective resistance came with the fall of La Rochelle in 1628. Huguenots remained as a weakened, tolerated minority in France. On Oct. 18, 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted Huguenots limited toleration. At least 250,000 French Protestants emigrated to Prussia, Holland, England, and America. After the suppression of the Camisard (French Protestant peasant) revolt in 1715, Louis XIV announced the end of the practice of Protestantism in France. Yet that very year a group met in Nîmes to plan restoration of the Reformed Church. With the 1789 French Revolution equality under the law came to Protestants. Napoleon placed Reformed congregations under state control, with pastors on state salary.

A national synod did not meet again until 1848. At that time a free Evangelical Synod was organized, separating from the state-recognized church over the issue of state support. In 1905 state support of the old synod was withdrawn, and the two synods were united in 1938.

When Alsace was annexed to France in 1648, a number of Reformed Christians were brought into the French nation. But the Reformed Church in Alsace-Lorraine, whose history has been different from that of the Reformed Church of France, remained a separate organization. Outside of French-speaking Switzerland, French Reformed churches are the largest Protestant group in the Latin countries of Europe, each having a Reformed Church. French Reformed Christians have played a role in the World Council of Churches, in liturgical and theological renewal, in relating the church to technology and urbanization, and in Catholic–Protestant and Communist–Christian dialogue.

Reformed churches in Germany

The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 established the legality of Reformed churches in German states, according to the pleasure of the ruling prince. At the end of the 17th century Reformed Christians in the Palatinate faced an attempt at their destruction. Many fled to the Netherlands, America, and Prussia, where Reformed churches were established. The Hohenzollern Elector of Brandenburg was converted to Calvinism in 1609. Hohenzollern rulers permitted the establishment of Reformed churches among refugees and also continued Reformed churches in territories that came later under Prussian rule.

Frederick William III of Prussia in 1817 proposed a union of Reformed and Lutheran churches. Reformed theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher led ministers in support of this union but shared with them a concern for the loss of Reformed systems of self-government to monarchial absolutism. The union became a pattern for a majority of Protestants in Germany. Distinctively Reformed territorial churches are still to be found in northwestern Germany. The Reformed Church of Anhalt joined in the union Evangelical Church in 1981.

A Reformed Alliance was organized in Germany in 1884 to preserve the Reformed heritage. A synod held in Altona in January 1934 drew up a confession in opposition to Nazi corruption of the Gospel. This led to the Barmen Synod of May 1934, in which Christians of Lutheran, Union, and Reformed background joined in the Barmen Confession of Faith. This confession was the basis for resistance to Hitler by the Confessing Church. After World War II the Confessing Church ceased, but its work continued to be an inspiration to churches in both West and East Germany. The Reformed Alliance remains active in unified Germany.

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