Germany's Christian Heritage

Brief History of Germany

Germany has quite an unsettled history. It is a country much influenced by God, but sadly also much used by Satan.

Throughout the migration period, starting in about 300 AD, tribes of Israelite origin like the Goths, Scyths, Angles and Saxons (descendants from the Israelite tribes of Gad, Dan, Judah and Ephraim), Franks (Reuben), Jutes (Judah), and others moved into and through central Europe, and settled within what is called Germany today. From 500 to 900 AD other tribes flowed into the same area from the East, amongst them the Huns, who are from Assyrian and Gomerian descent. While there was (and is) a majority of descendants of pagan tribes such as Hittites and Assur in the South, the North was mostly of Israelite descent.

Throughout the centuries most of the people of ancient Israelite origin moved on, up to Scandinavia, the British Isles and later to North America and left only remnants, mainly in north and central Germany. But in history, particularly on flags and the coats of arms of German cities and provinces the Israelite heritage can still be seen.

Coat of arms of Lower Saxony Coat of arms of Bremen Coat of arms of Thuringia

 Coat of arms of the German states of Lower Saxony, Bremen and Thuringia

A few of them are shown here, e.g. the sign of the tribe of Gad was the horse which is seen in the coat of Arms of Lower Saxony. In heraldry, the lion represents the tribe of Judah and, often with a crown, the Lord Himself (as seen in the British coat of arms). You can see both of these in the coats of arms of Bremen and Thuringia. The origin of the key in the coat of arms of Bremen is not clear, but might be linked with the scripture in REVELATION 3:7.

Another example of proof of Israelite heritage in history can be seen in the close family ties between relations of the European royal houses. The personal union of the British and German kings from 1714 (George I) until 1837 (Victoria) and their blood line of Israelite desendency can be followed straight back to the Kings of Israel. (See the article ‘The Remnant of Judah Found in Germany’ for more information).

As Germany was not made up of a single homogenous people, it also wasn’t unified under a single political unit until the late 19th Century. The Germans exerted, however, a tremendous influence upon western civilisation from its very beginnings. Basically, there were three ‘German Empires’. The most well known was called the ‘Third Reich’, where Germany was under the infamous Nazi rule, between 1933 and 1945. The ‘Holy Roman Empire’, dating from the 8th Century AD until 1806 AD, was the first German empire. The territory of the empire originally included what is now modern day Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, eastern France, the low countries, and parts of northern and central Italy. After the mid-15th Century, it was known as the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation". It was ruled by the Roman Catholic popes of Rome with the German emperors as their henchmen. It was Martin Luther who broke up the absolute power of the Catholic Church, starting with the translation of the Word of God into German.

The time between 1871 and 1918 was known as the ‘Second Reich’. It was a short period where Germany was united through unsteady times of industrialisation, colonialism and huge economic problems. There was a significant increase in the population during this time. In 1914 she went to war and was destroyed. It was also the time of the rise and fall of independent Christian groups who left the State Churches and became part of the worldwide revivals.

Roman Catholicism in Germany

The history of the Catholic Church in Germany began in the 3rd Century A.D. with the founding of dioceses in Trier, Cologne and Mainz. After a short period, due to the decline of the Roman Empire, there was a gradual rising of power by the Roman popes and new dioceses and missions were founded. By the 12th Century the Catholic Church had spread through the whole of Germany and held absolute religious and political power. There were no Bibles available in the language of the common people and therefore the church was able to suppress the continent into a dark age of superstition and brutality. A very powerful instrument which the church used to oppress the masses, even after the Reformation, was the “Holy Office” or the Inquisition. It had begun in the 11th Century after apparent “heretics” like the Waldenses, Albigenses, Baptists and others revealed the lies of the religious system of the papal church. The inquisition rose to such an extent that it is estimated to have caused the death of up to seventy million people in Europe. The German emperors and kings proved to be amongst the most devoted followers of the Catholic barbarism and the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” political power was depending on the grace and mercy of the pope. Heinrich IV, for example, was forced to walk from Speyer in Germany to Canossa in Italy in January of 1077 to show his repentance and devotion to Pope Gregor VII, after he had dared to nominate bishops. The pope banned him for this heresy and part of the journey he travelled bare foot through the icy Alps, which clearly illustrates the power of the papal system of that time.

It was mainly Martin Luther, who broke up hundreds of years of rigid and absolute power of the Roman Catholic system through his courageous teachings.

Martin Luther and the Reformation

Luther (1483-1546 AD) is one of the most prominent notabilities in Germany’s history. After his dramatic conversion, he became an Augustin monk. From 1514 Luther was a professor of theology at Wittenberg University and was also the priest at the city church. During this time Luther observed that many people in Wittenberg were not coming to him for confession and were going to other towns nearby to buy ‘indulgences’. The practice of buying indulgences replaced confession and allowed people to buy their salvation, this completely repulsed Luther. Contrary to the Roman Catholic dogmas, Luther believed that man receives grace from God without works according to ROMANS 3:24.

Martin LutherMartin Luther After 1507 AD, the trade of indulgences increased enormously because the Papal Court wanted to build a new Cathedral in Rome called the “Dome of St. Peter”. To accumulate the funds required, the Dominican monk, Johann Tetzel, sold indulgences in the region of Wittenberg in a very bold manner. People were even made to believe that Tetzel could redeem the sins of the deceased. A well-known saying of Tetzel was, "As soon as the gold in the casket rings, the rescued soul to heaven springs."

Luther had openly preached against the indulgence trade prior to 31st October, 1517. On that day, however, he hammered his famous ninety-five theses against the abuse of the church power onto the door of Wittenberg's church. He also wrote a letter with the same content to his church superiors. Luther did not expect to receive such a prompt response. By the end of 1517, copies of the theses had been printed in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel. Some humanists and princes passionately approved of the theses, but the Roman Church completely rejected them. The most vehement voice against the theses was the Indulgence Priest Tetzel, who supposedly categorised Luther as a follower of the heretic John Hus and threatened to have him burned at the stake. Luther did not want an open split in the church and tried to calm the clergy down.

Luther remained firmly based on the Word and later clearly considered the Roman Catholic Church to be the harlot of the book of Revelation and the Pope of Rome the Antichrist: "We here are of the conviction that the papacy is the seat of the true and real Antichrist ... Personally I declare that I owe the Pope no other obedience than that to Antichrist."1 (2 THESSALONIANS 2:4) The avalanche was now unstoppable. The Papal Court reacted drastically and named Luther as a heretic and in 1518 the inquisition began in Rome. This quietened down in 1519 during the search for a successor to the deceased Emperor Maximilian. Once Karl V was elected as emperor, the fight against Luther and his followers continued. Luther was banned from the Catholic Church and in 1521 was officially declared an outlaw and a heretic. At that time Luther already had found shelter through King Frederik the Wise and remained at Wartburg Castle. There, Luther started his most influential work: which was the translation of the Bible into German and his translation was soon widely used as a basis for several European Bible translations. Luther’s teachings had an enormous impact on the French and Swiss reformation movement as well.

Martin Luther, who was Spirit-filled with the sign of speaking in new tongues 2 (ACTS 2:4; MARK 16:17), shaped the Protestant Reformation more than any one else preceding him. Thanks to the printing press, another invention of the time, his pamphlets were well-read throughout Germany, influencing many Protestant Reformers and thinkers and giving rise to revival movements in Europe and elsewhere. Through spreading the Word of God in Germany, Luther can also be seen as a major contributor to the development of the German language. Furthermore, he wrote a considerable number of famous hymns which are sung in churches in the world to this day.

On February 18th 1546, Luther died in Eisleben. He left six children with his wife Katharina Von Bora.

The Anabapists of the 16th Century

The Anabaptists' enemies and opponents named them this as the term means "re-baptisers". Unlike Lutheran protestants or Roman Catholics, they did not recognise infant baptism as biblical but baptised people who were repentant according to ACTS 2:38. Because of this and other Biblical principles even protestants called them heretics. Luther himself called them ‘Schwärmer’ (fanatics, enthusiasts) and supported their persecution.

Persecution of AnabaptistsPersecution of Anabaptists Several denominations of today are the successors of the continental Anabaptists including the Amish, Baptists, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites and Bruderhof Communities. The Mennonites, for example, are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations based on the teachings of Menno Simons (1496-1561). The Amish, however, were named after their founder Jakob Amman (1644-1730) (see the Dutch and Swiss Christian history reports).

During the sixteenth century, the Mennonites and other Anabaptists were relentlessly persecuted. Many of them were killed and the survivors often found their way to foreign countries, first within Europe, and then overseas, predominantly to North America.

Today, these denominations still have large communities in the USA and Canada, often still living in the old ways of their forefathers. More important though is their participation in the founding of the most Bible-based nation in the “New World”, the United States of America.

The Counter-Reformation

In 1534, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit order in Spain. As the notorious intelligence service of the Roman Church they had a major influence in the Counter-Reformation, which began at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). They aimed to set up a clear distinction between the Catholic dogmas and the opposing Bible-based protestant teachings of that time. A major “success” was the “Augsburger Religionsfrieden” of 1555 that said that the actual ruler of a region could force the people to follow his religious confession (cuius regio, eius religio). It didn’t take long before massive conflicts took place such as at the House of Habsburg, which was re-converted to Catholicism under Rudolf II, with great brutality as tens of thousands were forced to either convert to Catholicism or die. The people of the Bohemian area started a revolt against the re-conversion to the Roman system which finally escalated into the Thirty Years War in 1618. In the Battle of White Mountain (1620) the protestant confederation under Prince Frederik V was beaten by Ferdinand II and he was forced to either leave the country or convert. From this conflict the war spread into Germany and eventually involved Denmark (1625), Sweden (1630), France (1636) and even England.

After the peace of Westphalia in 1648, the war stopped and it left Europe devastated. Between 15-20 percent of Germany’s population were left dead, starving or suffering from famine and endemic diseases (pestilence, typhus and others) took their toll. An immediate result of the war was the enshrinement of a Germany divided among many territories all of which had de facto sovereignty, despite their continuing membership of the Empire up to its formal dissolution in 1806.

Christianity in Germany During the 18th Century

ZinsendorfA very influential Christian leader in the 18th century was the Dresden born Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf (1700-1760). Zinzendorf wanted to awaken people by preaching, by tract distributing, books and by practical benevolence, as the Lutheran Church of his time had become fairly paralysed. He believed that true Christianity could be best promoted by free associations of Christians, which in the course of time might grow into churches with no state connection. These thoughts could be put into practice through his connection with the Bohemian or Moravian Brethren. Zinzendorf offered asylum to wanderers from Moravia, who fled from the massive Catholic persecution and built the village of Herrnhut for them on a corner of his estate. The brethren who had come from various countries to Herrnhut were united and they all received the Holy Ghost and started a prayer chain which lasted a hundred years!

Although the political and religious scene in Saxony was more relaxed as Herrnhut was surrounded by Protestant communities, these very Lutherans began to regard him as a nuisance and a heretic because he was a disturber of the peace. He was accused of many crimes such as founding a new sect and of holding strange opinions opposing the teachings of the Lutheran Church. Nevertheless, he was able to prove through his testimony that the brethren in Herrnhut were as orthodox as Luther. His methods were bold and straightforward. At one time a Lutheran commission was sent out to find reasons for banning Zinzendorf. Coming back, they stated: “His doctrine is as pure as ours, but we do not possess his discipline!”

However, it was due to the fact that the Assembly in Herrnhut did not join the Lutheran Church, that Zinzendorf was finally banned from Saxony in 1636. He took this as an opportunity to firstly open a new community in Hesse (Herrnhaag) and later start his most influential world-wide mission work.

Missionaries were sent out to the most remote areas in the world, for example, amongst slaves in the Danish-governed West Indies and to the Inuit in Greenland. His contacts with the court of Denmark and King Christian VI facilitated such missionary endeavours. He saw with delight the spread of this Protestant “family order” in Germany, Denmark, Russia and England. He travelled widely in its interests, visiting America in 1741-42 and spending a long time in London in 1750. Missionary colonies had by this time been settled in the West Indies (1732), in Greenland (1733), and amongst the North American Indians (1735). Before Zinzendorf's death the Brethren had been sent from Herrnhut as missionary colonialists to Livonia; to the northern shores of the Baltic; to the slaves of North Carolina; to Suriname; to the Negro slaves in several parts of South America; to Travancore in the East Indies; to the Copts in Egypt; to the Inuit of Labrador and to the west coast of South Africa. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, received great inspiration from Zinzendorf’s mission for his own worldwide missionary work. Zinzendorf also wrote a large number of hymns, including the well known "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness," and "Jesus, Still Lead On".

Pietism, Pentecostalism and the Berlin Declaration

Sadly, by the 17th century the Lutheran Church had become a creed-bound theological and sacramentarian institution and some orthodox theologians ruled with almost the absolutism of the papacy. During that time the Pietism movement arose which also inspired Zinzendorf. The name of “Pietism” (like that of "Methodists" in England) was a term of ridicule, given to the adherents of the movement by its enemies.

As a distinct movement in the German Church, Pietism originated mainly through the work of Philipp Jakob Spener (born 1635). Meetings were held at his house (collegia pietatis) where he performed a new kind of service by inducing those present to join in conversation. His work made a deep impression throughout Germany and while many pastors adopted Spener’s proposals, large numbers of the orthodox Lutheran theologians were deeply offended by Spener's teachings, although its content was purely Biblically based.

The German revivals of the 20th Century started mainly within the official protestant churches following the teachings of Spener and Zinzendorf, as well as those of the revivals in San Francisco (W. J. Seymour) and Topeka (C. Parham) (see Christian History of the USA). These movements originated as a “Heiligungsbewegung” (Holiness Movement) and independent churches arose alongside the Lutheran and Protestant churches. This movement led to great tension within the German churches and culminated in the ‘Berlin Declaration’ of 1909, when the Protestant church accused the Pentecostal movement of being lead by satanic spirits! Subsequently, speaking in tongues and healing through the laying on of hands were forbidden. Shortly thereafter Germany’s troubled history included: two devastating world wars; the satanic regime of the National Socialists, who could openly perform their “new” evil religion; and the dividing of the country with one half under Communist rule for forty years. Lastly, the spiritual decline which can be seen and felt in the country today has occurred as a direct result of quenching the Spirit and turning away from God.

Hope For Our Future If We Turn To God

Today in Germany, Bible-based, Pentecostal and other non-mainstream churches are in the clear minority and are still regarded with great suspicion and hostility. Many Bible-based churches are labelled as “sects” and “cults”. The Lutheran and Protestant Churches have almost forgotten their history and are visibly returning to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church under the ecumenical movement.

Only going back to the Word of God can rekindle the fire that spread in the times of Martin Luther, Count Zinzendorf and others. Many of them were martyred or went through great tribulations so that we could have a German Bible and not live in the Dark Ages. It is only if we remember our history, turn to the Word of God and live by God’s law that we, as a Nation, can be blessed again.

HOSEA 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”

JOB 8:8 “For enquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers …”