The beginning: Opposition to the union
In 1817 King Friedrich Wilhelm III. began to work toward uniting Prussia´s two protestant churches, the Evangelical – Reformed Church and the Evangelical – Lutheran Church. The merger took effect on the anniversary of the Reformation in 1830.
While most congregations and pastors agreed with the union, small groups of pastors and congregations on both sides opposed the king’s plan and asked for royal permission to establish churches that would be independent of the state. When the king denied their wish, the dissenting congregations were persecuted and forced to go underground. Some pastors and congregational leaders received long prison terms because of their opposition. When Friedrich Wilhelm IV. ascended to the throne in 1840, the situation changed. Dissenting Lutherans were allowed to establish a church that was separate from the state church. Thus, the Evangelical – Lutheran (Old Lutheran) Church was born in Prussia. Breslau was chosen to be the seat of the new church.
A remarkable feature of the Evangelical Lutheran Church was that, from its very inception, both clergy and laity held positions of leadership in it. This was true of the Synod and of individual congregations. Even today, the highest authority of the church is the Synod, which is made up of pastors and lay people; and the highest authority of a congregation is its voters assembly.
In 1972 the Old Lutheran Church in West Germany united with other Lutheran free churches to form the Independent Lutheran Church (SELK). In 1991 the Old Lutheran Church in the former German Democratic Republic joined with SELK.
To this day, SELK strives to live in accordance with the Lutheran confessions. It does not teach obscure doctrines. Rather, it promulgates the articles of faith that the Reformation reclaimed and preserved.
The following are its fundamental beliefs:
- The teachings of the church and the lives of its members are directed solely by Biblical truths
- The essence of the Christian message is that only faith in Jesus Christ lends meaning to human existence and guarantees eternal salvation. This is in contrast to relying on a life of good works, assuming that human actions can ever be „good.“
- Holy Communion is the essential element of the Christian life because Jesus Christ is present in the Sacrament and invisibly acts on our behalf through it
The SELK today
SELK has about 40.000 members in about 200 congregations that are served at the moment by 130 pastors. The church’s administration is directed by a bishop; its seat is in Hannover. The Synod and the individual congregations are corporations under public law. SELK continues to see itself as a church that must remain independent in order to preserve its doctrine. Its members take responsibility for the doctrinal and financial integrity of the Synod and of the congregations. As an independent church, SELK receives no tax revenue from the government. All expenses, such as the pastors salaries and building maintenance, are paid from the parishioners offerings. In practical terms this means that:
Every parishioner with an income, be it pocket money, a salary, or a pension, is expected to give 3% to 5 % of his earnings to the church. Additional donations are needed to finance special projects like building campaigns.
Every congregation is responsible for the financing of its congregational life and the upkeep of its buildings.
SELK works on ecumenical level with all denominations and takes part in ecumenical church services and events while maintaining its independent doctrinal stance.