Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church)
Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church)
Beginning with the Old Prussian Union of 1817, and existing manly at the national level, united churches have been formed from a combination of Protestant (esp. Reformed, Congregational, Methodist, Evangelical Christian Church, Baptist and and Anglican churches). Reform and Congregational churches entered into what was the largest number of unions recorded. The broadest diversity so far brought into union of the Church of North India (formed in 1970), incorporating Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Congregational, Disciples, Methodist and Presbyterian elements. United churches formed a very diverse group linked not so much by an uniform ecclisiology of church life, but by a commitment to a visible structure of unity of Evangelical Christian Churches within American-Canadian church history.
The Prussian Union (Evangelical Christian Church) (Unionsurkunde) was the merger of the Lutheran Church and the Reformed Church in Prussia, by a series of decrees by King Frederick William III. These decrees were the culmination of the efforts of his predecessors to unify these two churches after John Sigismund declared his conversion from the Lutheran faith to the Reformed faith in 1617. One year after he ascended to the throne in 1798, Frederick William III issued a decree for a new common liturgical agenda (service book) to be published, for use in both the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. To accomplish this, a commission to prepare this common agenda was formed. Major reforms to the administration of Prussia were undertaken after the defeat to Napoleon's army at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. As a part of these reforms the leadership structure of both the Lutheran and Reformed Churches was abolished by the Prussian government. Authority over both of these churches was given to the newly appointed Minister of Religious Affairs and Education.In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon, a consistory was reintroduced for each province. This differed from the old structure in that the new leadership administered the affairs of all faiths; Catholics, Mennonites, Moravians, Jews, the Reformed church, and the Lutheran church. On September 27, 1817, Frederick William announced that on the 300th anniversary of the Reformation the Lutheran and Reformed congregations at Potsdam would unite into one Evangelical Christian church.
Frederick William expressed his desire to see the Protestant congregations around Prussia follow this example, and become “Union” congregations. In the years that followed, many Lutheran and Reformed congregations did follow the example of Potsdam, and became single merged congregations. A number of steps were taken to effect the number of pastors that would become “Union” pastors. Candidates for ministry, from 1820 onwards were required to state whether they would be willing to join the “Union”. All of the theological faculty at the University of Bonn belonged to the “Union”. Also an ecumenical ordination vow was formulated in which the pastor avowed allegiance to the Evangelical Church. In 1821 at Christmas time, a common liturgical agenda was produced, as a result of a great deal of personal work by Frederick William, as well by the commission that Frederick William had appointed many years before in 1798. The agenda was not well received by many Lutherans, as it was seen to compromise in the wording of the Words of Institution, to a point where the Real Presence was not proclaimed. The Protestant congregations were directed in 1822 to use only the newly formulated agenda for worship. This met with strong objections from Lutheran pastors around Prussia. Despite the opposition, 5343 churches out of 7782 were using the new agenda by 1825. Debate and opposition to the new agenda persisted until 1829, when a revised edition of the agenda was produced. This liturgy incorporated a greater level of elements from the Lutheran liturgical tradition. With this introduction, the dissent against the agenda was greatly reduced. In June 1829 Frederick William ordered that all Protestant congregations and clergy in Prussia give up the names ‘Lutheran’ or ‘Reformed’ and take up the name ‘Evangelical’.
The decree was not to enforce a change of belief, but was only a change of nomenclature. In April 1830 Frederick William, in his instructions for the upcoming celebration of the 300th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, ordered all Protestant congregations in Prussia to celebrate the Lord's Supper using the new agenda. Rather than having the unifying effect that Frederick William desired, the decree created a great deal of dissent amongst Lutheran congregations. In a compromise with dissenters, who had now earned the name “Old Lutherans," in 1834, Frederick William issued a decree which stated that Union would only be in the areas of governance, and in the liturgical agenda, and that the respective congregations could retain their confessional identities. In addition to this, dissenters were forbidden from organizing sectarian groups. In defiance of this decree, a number of Lutheran pastors and congregations who believed that they would be acting against the Will of God by obeying the king’s decree, continued to use the old liturgical agenda and sacramental rites of the Lutheran church. Becoming aware of this defiance, officials sought out those who acted against the decree. Pastors who were caught were suspended from their ministry. If suspended pastors were caught acting in a pastoral role, they were imprisoned. By 1835, many dissenting “Old Lutheran” groups were looking to emigration as a means to finding religious freedom. Some groups emigrated to Australia and the United States in the years leading up to 1840. The latter emigration led to the formation of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, today the second largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S.With the death of King Frederick William III in 1840, King Frederick William IV ascended to the throne. Frederick William IV released the pastors who had been imprisoned, and allowed the dissenting groups to form religious organizations in freedom.