The Young Reformation Movement

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The Young Reformation movement was a group Protestant pastors and theologians, which came together in Berlin on May 9, 1933 in response to the “German Christian Faith Movement”. Among others, Hanns Lilje, Walter Künneth and Friedrich Gogarten signed the appeal for the establishment of this theologically extremely diversely oriented group. Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer also joined the movement later.

The Young Reformation movement saw itself as the adversary of the German Christian Faith Movement and combatted it and its ecclesio-political objectives. Nonetheless, they also turned out to agree on points, for instance on the goal of a unified German Protestant church with a Reich Bishop at its head, anti-liberal views and the affirmation of the “new German state”, i.e. National Socialism.

The Young Reformation movement clearly differed from the German Christians on the issue of a Reich Bishop. As they saw it, he ought to be “appointed” by the so-called triumvirate (as opposed to a “direct election”). The Young Reformation movement demanded the church’s freedom to act without any political interference and rejected the application of the “Aryan paragraph” to church institutions.

A power struggle with the German Christians ensued in May of 1933 during the election of the Reich Bishop, which the Young Reformation movement was able to decide for itself, albeit only briefly. The Young Reformation movement ran against the German Christians in the July 1933 church elections. They were soundly defeated however, not least because the German Christians received massive support for their campaign from the NSDAP. The Nazi press defamed the Young Reformation movement.

The significance of the Young Reformation movement lies in its efforts to keep the church out of Nazi policy’s of sphere influence. Although the Young Reformation movement was admittedly unable to achieve its primary ecclesio-political objectives, it was however able to establish a clear position counter to the German Christian Faith Movement. The group thus functioned at an early stage of the Nazi regime as a gathering place for many of the ecclesiastical and theological forces, which were instrumental in forming the “Confessing Church” only a few months later, and as a source of theological impetuses.

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  • ©Evangelische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, A 1.4

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