PROTESTANT UNION (GERMAN): Aims and Origin. An association of German Protestants for the revival of Protestantism in the spirit of Evangelical freedom and in harmony with the demands of modern civilization. The statutes of the society set forth its aims as follows: the development of German Protestant churches upon a congregational basis according to the special conditions governing the various countries containing a German population, as well as preparations for a combination of the national Churches; resistance to all hierarchic and un-Protestant tendencies within the different churches, and the preservation of the rights, the honor, and the liberty of German Protestantism; the maintenance and furtherance of Christian respect between the various denominations and their members; and the stimulation and furtherance of Christian life, as well as of all Christian undertakings that concern the morality and welfare of the people. The establishment of the association, in 1863, was due primarily to the alienation of both masses and whole classes from the Church, although in the majority of cases this was in no sense a denial of Christianity, still less of all religious faith. The chief reason for this estrangement was to be sought in the failure of the Church to adapt itself to modern culture; the efforts made in this direction in the early part of the nineteenth century were abandoned in the twenties, because it seemed as though the historic foundations of belief were being endangered, and a religious reaction set in which was afterward strengthened by political reaction. It was, however, held to be absolutely essential that the Church should be a friendly ally of modern civilization, on condition that this civilization should submit to the educational influence of the spirit of Christ. There must be unrestrained historical criticism of the sources of revelation; the Church must cease to be an organization of theologians and must concede all possible freedom to the work of laymen. On the other hand, those estranged from the Church must overcome their indifference and clearly recognize the real power of religion, of Christianity, and of the Church; they must understand that morality is based on Christianity.
To arouse the Church to the necessity for this reform was the task proposed by the Protestant Union. Various conflicts in the matter of church government and administration, as well as in reference to theological teaching, preceded the foundation of the Union and helped to explain its existence. In 1862 Daniel Schenkel (q.v.) issued a call to all liberal Christians to form a German Protestant party, and at the Durlach conference of Aug. 3, 1863, he urged still more earnestly the institution of a German Protestant congress to prepare the way for a general representation of all the German Churches, such as could not be offered by the Eisenach Conference (q.v.) or by the Church Congress. The Durlach conference unanimously accepted this proposition and invited a number of the most prominent men of the various German Churches to a meeting which was held Sept. 30, 1863, at Frankfort. Here the Protestant Union was founded. Any reputable person belonging to a Protestant church may become a member. It was originally provided that a congress should assemble each year, or as often as might be necessary; but since political events interfered several times, it was determined in 1883 that the general assemblies should be held biennially. Later, in 1901, it was decided that they should meet at least every three years. In 1904 the union had twenty branches with about 25,000 members, of whom 20,000 belonged to the Protestant Union of the Bavarian Palatinate. Headquarters are now in Berlin.
Activity and Results. The activity of the Protestant Union has consisted principally in the stand taken in regard to certain ecclesiastical questions and in the reaffirmation and defense of the principles of the society; and its entire course has been marked by opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1896 a petition was presented to the Reichstag opposing the abrogation of the law regarding the Jesuits; in 1886, at Wiesbaden an attack was made on contemporary efforts to separate the Church completely from State control, and it was held that the sanctioning of ecclesiastical laws should still remain the prerogative of the State. The right of the State to have the chief direction of the schools was also emphasized in 1869, and obligatory civil marriage was demanded in 1865, any confirmation of such marriage by the Church being condemned by the union as illegal in 1875. The principle of the union of all the Protestant Churches has always been maintained, the final aim being the organization of a German national Church which shall in no way exclude the preservation of the individuality of the provincial churches.
The sole periodical expressly designated as published under the auspices of the Protestant Union is the monthly Protestantische Flugblätter, founded 1866 at Elberfeld, now appearing at SchönebergBerlin. A Jahrbuch was issued for four years (Elberfeld, 1869-72); and the society also published the New Testament portion of a Protestantenbibel (ed. P. W. Schmidt and F. von Holtzendorf, Leipsic, 1872), while the Palatine branch sent forth an Andachtsbuch (Neustadt, 1870). A number of minor periodicals are also maintained. Other agencies for the propagation of the interests of the association, such as traveling lecturers, have also been employed; and in 1899 a fund was established for clergy deposed for heterodoxy.
The Protestant Union has been violently assailed both by individual pastors and by conferences of clergymen. The Prussian Supreme Church Council declared against it in 1865 and again in 1871, and clergymen who represented its principles were excluded from church offices, dismissed, or threatened with dismissal; and the members of the union were excluded from the district synods of Hanover. At the same time, though many of the members of the union have been destructive in tendency, the constructive spirit has often been manifested, as in the refusal, in 1882, to sanction the establishment of a "People's Church," and in the protests against the religious indifference and hostility of German liberalism. The union has at least partially aided in the introduction of synodal and presbyterial organization in several of the national churches of the German states and in securing equal rights for Lutherans and Reformed, and has succeeded in reviving religious interest and trust in many formerly estranged both from faith and from the Church.