EISENACH CONFERENCE (KONFERENZ, EVANGELISCH-KIRCHLICHE): Origin and Purpose. A gathering of German Protestants which has met at Eisenach, usually every other year shortly after Whitsuntide, since 1852, forming at present the only official bond between the Evangelical State Churches of Germany. The corporate name of the conference is Evangelisch-Kirchliche Konferenz. As early as 1846 at the instance of the king of Württemberg a conference of delegates from the German State Churches met in Berlin to find ways and means for establishing a more intimate connection. Owing to the disturbances of 1848, the cause made little progress, but it was revived in 1850 and 1851. The church authorities agreed upon an order of business for a periodically recurring conference of delegates "to discuss freely, upon the basis of the Confession, the more important questions of church life and to form a bond of union, without interfering with the independence of each individual State Church, and to promote the uniform development of their conditions." The conference met for the first time at Eisenach June 3, 1852, under the presidency of Court Preacher Carl (von Grüneisen q.v.) of Stuttgart to whose efforts chiefly it owed its existence. Twenty-four church governments were presented. In later meetings the authorities of all German State Churches have taken part, including Austria. The conference lasts about eight days and is usually opened on Thursday in Trinity week by a service in the chapel of the Wartburg. The archives used to be in the Luther room of the Wartburg, but are now in the grand-ducal castle in Eisenach. The expenses are met by contributions from the different states which take part.
Topics of Discussion. Although originally the purpose of the conference was to aim at harmony in principles of church administration by purely advisory measures, in the course of time it has undertaken executive functions with the tacit approval of the church authorities. A revision of the liturgies was advocated as early as 1852, but was found impracticable on a large scale owing to the difference of confession. Questions which touch the church service were discussed, however, as the introduction of passion-services in Lent (1855) and the restitution and revival of catechization (1865). Attention was also given to the education of clergymen and the administration of their office, as in the discussions concerning the order of promotion in 1857 and 1859, pastors' colloquies in 1863, and other similar questions. Consultations were also held on the inspection of the administration and life of clergymen (1852 and 1853), the secret of the confessional (1857 and 1859), and the cooperation of congregations in filling clerical positions (1855). Other subjects of discussion have been: the advisability of supplementing the episcopal form of government with presbyteries and synods (1852, 1874, 1878, 1880); the question of marriages between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics (1853); marriage and divorce (1855, 1857, 1868); the attitude of the church authorities to the protectorate of the nobility (1861); the taxation of congregations (1874); church discipline (1857); the treatment of sects (1852, 1855, 1884); religious instruction in secondary schools (1868); the introduction of a Biblical text-book instead of the whole Bible in primary and secondary schools (1898); and the inspection of religious instruction in secondary schools (1900). The topic of Christian charity was brought up in discussions on aid for emigrants (1855, 1872, and 1894), the organization of charities (1865), Christian work in war (1868 and 1870), furtherance of foreign and home missions (1872), and care of dismissed prisoners (1892). As a result of a recommendation of the conference a collection for German Evangelicals in foreign countries is now taken up every other year in most of the German State churches.
Practical Results. The resolutions following all these discussions were, of course, not legally binding; but the opinions of the most prominent theologians and jurists, as expressed in the papers and reports of the conference, had a permanent value; and still more valuable was the personal intercourse of men charged with church administration from all parts of the country. And the conference was not satisfied with mere theoretical discussions; it was drawn by an inner necessity to productive work for the common interests of Evangelical Germany. In this connection may be mentioned the practical impulse given in 1859 to the organization of associations for the cultivation of religious art, the regulations for the building of Evangelical churches (1861 and 1898), the propositions for getting up a uniform almanac for the German Evangelical Church (1868, 1870) and selecting daily lectionaries from the Bible for use at home and in the Church (1868). Deutsches Evangelisches Institut in Jerusalem, an enterprise of the German Evangelical Churches that had its inception in the conference of 1900, may also be mentioned.
The desire to publish the results of its discussions soon led to the founding of the Allgemeines Kirchenblatt für das evangelische Deutschland, which, besides the protocols of the conference, compiles the laws and regulations of general interest enacted by the German Evangelical Church authorities. It forms the most complete collection of documents for modern church law in the German Evangelical Church. The question of church statistics was discussed in 1859, and resulted in the volume Zur kirchlichen Statistik des evangelischen Deutschlands im Jahre 1862 (Stuttgart, 1865). Since 1880 such statistics have been published regularly. In 1861 the revision of Luther's translation of the Bible was advocated. It was decided to procure a uniform text on the basis of a received text of the Canstein Bible Institute, with due regard to the original editions of Luther's Bible, and to modern scholarship. The revised New Testament appeared in 1867 and was approved by the conference in 1868. In 1870 the revision of the Old Testament was undertaken and in 1883 appeared the so-called Probebibel. The entire work was completed and accepted by the conference in 1892. At its first meeting the conference decided upon a selection of the best hymns, and the execution of the plan was entrusted to such hymnologists as Vilmar, Bahr, Wackernagel, Daniel, and Geffken. Their work, consisting of 150 Kernlieder, was approved by the conference in 1853, and generally appreciated, but the hymns have not come into common use, principally because the selection confined itself too exclusively to older periods. In 1878 the conference again took up the matter and appointed a committee to revise the Prussian Militär-Kirchenbuch. This revision, which was finished in 1880, has contributed greatly to uniformity in the use of hymns in the church, in the school, and in the home. It has been introduced in the army and navy. In 1880 a committee was appointed to collate and revise the melodies. Their work was published in 1890. Another committee was appointed to revise the old pericopes and to supplement them by a second series of Epistles and Gospels. Its work was finished and approved in 1896. In 1880 the conference took up the discussion of Luther's smaller catechism which was then used in sixty different versions, and in 1884 there appeared a revision that quickly supplanted earlier imperfect editions.
Unification of the National Churches. The work of the conference has proved that the need of a closer connection between the German State churches is steadily growing, and that this need may be met without interfering with the independence of the individual State churches, either in confession and order of worship, or in constitution and government. A permanent commission of six members was appointed in 1900, with the president of the conference as chairman, to further a uniform development in the different State churches. The commission, which was increased to fifteen members in 1903, is empowered to communicate directly with the church authorities and to report its communications to the conference. It will depend upon further developments whether this conference offers the proper basis for the effective unification of the German State churches. The Eisenach Conference must either be entrusted with greater authority by the church governments, or it must make way for some new body to be agreed upon by the state rulers and empowered with sufficient initiative and executive power for the fulfillment of its duties.
(H. VON DER GOLTZ †.)
Bibliography: The organ is the Allgemeines Kirchenblatt für das evangelische Deutschland, Stuttgart, 1852 sqq. For statistical material consult: P. Pieper, Kirchliche Statistik Deutschlands, Tübingen, 1899; J. Schneider, Kirchliches Jahrbuch, 1907, Gütersloh, 1907.