The Federal Republic of Germany
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The modern Federal Republic of Germany was formed in 1990 with the reunification of East and West Germany, a division caused as a result of the Second World War. Previous to that time a united Germany had only been in existence since 1871 when Otto von Bismarck became the first Chancellor of a united Germany. However, German history predates those events by hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
The religious history of Germany is one which has altered the face of religious history around the globe. In the sixteenth century it was German Martin Luther, among others, who gave rise to the Protestant Reformation in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. Today the religious population of Germany includes 45% Protestants, 37% Catholic, and unaffiliated or other religious backgrounds 18%.
As the work begun by Luther and others is seen as the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, so the work begun by the Campbells and Stone in the United States is sometimes called the Reformation of the Nineteenth Century because of its many similar aspects. Such similarities include challenging the “norm” of religious life and traditions within the context of their age and an emphasis on the Scriptures in the life of believers. In Germany, the two reformations came together in the life of Dr. Ludwig von Gerdtell (1872-1954).
Ludwig von Gerdtell was a nobleman by birth, his father and grandfather having each served as commander of the Potsdam Guard, an elite military corps responsible for guarding the Emperor’s palace and grounds. Ludwig was expected to follow in this family tradition but challenged it by his choice to enter the church. Through his study of theology and the New Testament he became aware that the administration of the State Church and the message of the New Testament were quite different. Challenging the position of the Church and his position as a nobleman, Ludwig accepted the teaching of the New Testament and was baptized by immersion.
Following his baptism in about 1901 Ludwig found it increasingly difficult to adhere to the official Church and University positions and he thus began to write pamphlets and lecture to students about the true message of the church and the New Testament. For a time he identified with the Christadelphians, though never formerly joining the group, because they were the closest he could find to what he had come to believe. In the years before the Great War his message began to draw large crowds. Following the war he began to have wider audiences still, particularly among the university settings. Three times von Gerdtell debated a rising political leader named Adolf Hitler.
Having become aware of the work to restore the New Testament being carried out in America through the book TheDisciples an Interpretation by Byrdine Akers Abbott, Ludwig made his first trip to America in about 1929. There Abbott introduced him to many of the leaders of the American Movement, including P.H. Welshimer, W.R. Walker, Edwin Errett, Fred Kershner, Jesse Bader and others. He spoke before the first World Convention in 1930 in Washington D.C., appearing on the platform at least once with Poland’s Konstantine Jaroszewicz. Following the Convention a group of interested American leaders met in Indianapolis at the home of Dr. Dean E. Walker to form the German Evangelistic Society to support von Gerdtell’s work.
Upon returning to Germany Ludwig found himself in an increasingly tenuous position as Hitler’s Nazi Party gained power. Under surveillance by the Gestapo Ludwig managed to escape only an hour before his eventual arrest. Through the work of Kershner and Dean Walker von Gerdtell was eventually brought to America and a position was secured on the faculty of the Butler School of Religion. Because of the Second World War and poor health von Gerdtell never returned to the work of restoring the Church in Germany. In 1946 the German Evangelistic Association was reorganized as the European Evangelistic Association (EES) with Dean E. Walker as President.
In 1944 Earl Stuckenbruck and Ottie Mearl Lawrence, students at the Butler School of Religion, and both set to give their lives to Christian service and missions, were married. The following year Dr. Walker approached them about joining the work the work of the EES and the Stuckenbrucks accepted. Following a period of study under William Robinson at Overdale College in Birmingham, England, and an intensive search for the right opening in Germany, including a time in Basel, the Stuckenbrucks settled in the University town of Tubingen in 1949. Tubingen, with its first class University, would provide an excellent setting to share with German scholars in applying the New Testamant to European culture at the University level. From this effort an indigenous ministry was anticipated.
Over the next years the Stuckenbrucks lent their talents to establishing an Institut for Christian Studies and Origins and separately, a Christliche Gemeinde, a Christian congregation, though both are housed in the same facility. A permanent home was eventually secured near the university center and the relationships between scholar/theologian/student/Christian were encouraged to grow and bear much fruit. Many have come to a relationship with Jesus Christ because of this unique approach to evangelism and ministry. In addition to the Stuckenbrucks the EES was served by several Americans, including the Thurston, Crouch, Norris, Shields, Bartchey, Thompson, Lindsay, and Heine families. Today Scott Caulley is the director of the Institut. (Many of these families, including the Stuckenbruck family, are now centered in east Tennessee as part of the Milligan College/Emmanuel School of Religion community.) The EES is also unique in that it is supported by both the American Christian churches and churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Among other American Christians working in Germany are: Randall and Kathryn Smelser of Northern European Evangelism working in Peine; Bert and Daffal Ott with Christ for Germany in Wurzburg; Don and Janet Bridges, and Dale and Barbara Mallory. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in addition to its support of the EES, supports an ecumenical partnership with the Evangelical Church of the Union through the missionary efforts of Steve and Lisa Smith in Frankfurt (Oder). The American a cappella Churches of Christ have also been active in Germany, particularly through the efforts of U.S. Servicemen. Many organized congregations immediately following the Second World War. The first full-time missionaries, Otis Gatewood and Roy Palmer, arrived in 1947 and began intensive work in the Frankfurt area, where 1,000 people were baptized in the first three years. Bible correspondence courses and the “Let’s Start Talking” program have been successful means of evangelism enrolling several hundred. Today, a number of American churches support several missionary families and two schools, the Academy of Conversational English in Chemnitz and the Ministry for Theological Education in Cologne.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
The European Evangelistic Society: The Establishment of an Institute in Europe, Ron Nutter, paper published by the EES.
Dr. Ludwig von Gerdtell (1872-1954) Founder of the European Evangelistic Society, Alan G. Ahlgrim, paper published by the EES.
Faith in Practice, Studies in the Book of Acts, A Festschrift in Honor of Earl and Ottie Mearl Stuckenbruck, edited by David A. Finesy and William D. Howden, privately published in 1995 by the EES.
Photocopies of Dr. Ludwig von Gerdtell’s personal papers are located in the Restoration Movement Archives of Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee.
Tubingen Christliche Gemeinde
Under the direction of Randy and Kay Smelser and Northern European Evangelism
Web site: http://www.Christusgemeinde-PE.de
Institut zur Erforschung des Urchristenstums (Institue for Christian Origins)