No to the State “Church Committees”
In October of 1935, Reich Minister of Church Affairs Hanns Kerrl began to appoint “church committees” in the split German Evangelical Church and in some regional churches. These committees were intended to govern the Protestant church until order had been restored.
On December 2, 1935, the Reich Minister of Church Affairs decreed that the exercise of powers of church governments and ecclesiastical authorities by church organizations or groups is prohibited in churches, in which committees had assumed the governance. He thus intended to exclude the church governments formed by the Confessing Church.
The Councils of Brethren in the destroyed regional churches disputed the state’s right to appoint church governments and refused to recognize the church committees as governments.
The National Council of Brethren stated already on October 9, 1935 that the church’s government … is bound to Scripture and Confession and requires a call by the church. Hence, the bodies of the German Evangelical Church and the regional churches appointed out of the Protestant church’s right as a denomination … remain in office. The Confessing Church Synod of Berlin-Brandenburg declared on December 4, 1935 that the Reich Minister of Church Affairs is setting up a government to which the church cannot submit without forsaking obedience to its Lord.
This view was not held by the entire Confessing Church, however. Above all, the intact regional churches of Bavaria, Württemberg and Hannover and a part of the Confessing Church’s highest governing body – the Provisional Church Government under August Marahrens, bishop of the Hannover regional church – were willing to cooperate in state measures conditionally.
The issue of cooperation with the church committees ultimately became a cause for the Confessing Church’s split at the 4th National Synod of the Confessing Church in Bad Oeynhausen in February of 1936. Whereas the bishops of the intact regional churches united in the newly established “Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany”, the Councils of Brethren’s wing of the Confessing Church elected a new Provisional Church Government.
The Councils of Brethren and the Provisional Church Government they had instituted stuck to their “No” to the church committees until their collapse in 1937 and also continued to claim the church government for themselves. At that point, the Nazi state definitely regarded the Provisional Church Government and the Councils of Brethren as illegal organizations, began to criminalize their governance of the church and harassed them with speaking bans, expulsions and arrests.
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- ©Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin, 500/123