The members of the Protestant Reformed Churches believe with their hearts and confess each week “an holy catholic church.” In order to put this firm faith into practice, their denomination through her synod has established a standing committee, the Contact Committee, and given that committee the responsibility to seek and develop unity in the truth with those who share the pure Reformed faith with them. This responsibility is stated in the preamble of the Constitution of the Committee for Contact with Other Churches (on p. 42 of The Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, or on the PRC website—prca.org).
The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, in obedience to Scripture as interpreted in our Three Forms of Unity, confess that there is one holy, catholic church. They believe, further, that it is their sacred duty to manifest the true unity and catholicity of the Church on earth in as far as that is possible, not only in their denominational fellowship but also in conjunction with all churches which have obtained like precious faith with us, both domestic and foreign.
One of the ways the Contact Committee carries out its mandate is to have discussions with churches with which the PRC are exploring the possibility of an official relationship. Currently, one of the congregations with which the Contact Committee is in regular communication is the Bekennende Evangelisch-Reformierte Gemeinde, or BERG. In English, that is the Confessing Protestant Reformed Congregation of Giessen, Germany. Our contacts with the BERG have become a regular part of the work of the Contact Committee and of our reports to synod. For that reason the Contact Committee would like to re-call this faithful congregation to the attention of our people and to encourage readers of the Standard Bearer to remember the members of the BERG in their prayers.
The BERG is a Reformed congregation that was founded in 1999 in Giessen, Germany. Giessen is about a one-hour drive north of Frankfurt in the German province of Hessia. The congregation took its name, Confessing Protestant Reformed Congregation, not in emulation of the PRCA, but for much the same reasons as our forefathers took the name that we bear. They wanted to confess that they are a congregation that is based on and that testifies to the Reformed confessions, and that they are the spiritual heirs of the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The congregation began in the living room of Dr. Jurgen-Burkhard Klautke and his wife, Ute, with one other family. Since then the congregation has grown to about 12 families and regular visitors in addition to that, with approximately 40 people at each worship service. The congregation consists of families with children as well as of individuals. They now have a regular meeting place in an office building in Giessen.
The preaching of the BERG is deliberately Reformed and free of any sort of conditionalism. The sermons expound God’s Word and apply it to the lives of its members. Their preaching is also antithetical, refuting the errors that its members encounter in twenty-first century Europe. The congregation uses the Reformed forms for baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The congregation’s worship is simple, orderly, and biblical. The BERG uses the German translation of the Geneva Psalter with organ accompaniment and some hymns. The Consistory of the BERG has adopted a church order that is an adaptation of many of the Reformed principles of church polity to an individual congregation. It is the prayer of the congregation, and the focus of much of their efforts at outreach, that there may be again a confessional, Reformed denomination in the land in which the Reformation began.
After its morning worship service, the BERG has a service to teach her creeds to the members and to help them comprehend and apply the truths that their creeds contain. In addition there are weekly Bible studies for the members. The Consistory of the BERG testifies and preaches the truths that are contained in the Three Forms of Unity. The creeds that have been adopted by the Consistory of the BERG are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Berlin Declaration against Pentecostalism , the Chicago Declaration on the Infallibility of the Bible , and the Theological Declaration of the Kamen Initiative .
The last three are statements that were written in the twentieth-century and that address errors that have afflicted the church of Christ in Germany during the twentieth-century and into the twenty-first. They spell out the broad outline of the Reformed faith and assert the infallibility of Scripture, the truths concerning the church and the Holy Spirit over against Pentecostalism, and the truths related to justification by grace alone through faith alone. The three latter statements are unfamiliar to most members of the PRCA. The Contact Committee has spent some time studying these statements and discussing them with the consistory of the BERG. The Chicago Declaration on the Infallibility of the Bible and the Theological Declaration of the Kamen Initiative can be found in English on the Internet.
The contacts with members of the BERG go back to 2004 or 2005, and began with personal visits. One of the members of the BERG had found the website of the PRCA and asked permission to translate into German some of the sermons that appear on our website for his own website. This member persuaded the two elders of the congregation, Dr. Jurgen-Burkhard Klautke and Mr. Thomas Tanetschek, to initiate personal contacts in the PRCA. Since then, there have been both official and unofficial visits between members of the two churches. Also, some young people from the BERG have come to Grand Rapids at different times to stay with some Protestant Reformed families. While these teenagers were here, they sat in on classes at Covenant Christian High, visited our seminary, or attended the Young People’s Convention.
Official contacts began in 2006, when Dr. Klautke met with the Contact Committee and spoke to Grand Rapids area PRC pastors on the state of the Reformed faith in Germany. This speech was published in the November 2007 edition of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (available online at the Seminary’s website—prca.org). In our meeting we discussed each other’s understandings of the Canons of Dordt; and it became apparent that there was a common interpretation of this basic creed of the Reformed faith. Since then, there have been exchanges of visits in 2007, 2011, 2012, and 2014 as well as a conference call. Dr. Klautke spoke again for Grand Rapids area pastors at the PRC seminary in 2011. That speech appears in the April 2012 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (also available online). Readers of the Standard Bearer who attended the Heidelberg Catechism conference in 2013 will remember the speech that Dr. Klautke gave on the history of the Catechism.
Two things will be seen from this history of interaction between the BERG and the PRCA. First, both the consistory of the BERG and the Contact Committee are content with the fact that it takes time and effort to develop true and lasting unity in the Reformed faith. This is particularly true with two churches that have grown up in different nations and under different circumstances. The two bodies have made real efforts to get to know each other and to understand each other’s standpoints and emphases. Second, our relationship up to this point has been informal. That is, no official relationship has been established between our synod and their consistory. But it has been an active friendship in which each side has helped the other in the ways that each group is able.
In all of our reading of the BERG’s materials, listening to its preaching, and our meetings together, the Contact Committee has found a soundly Reformed group, whose leaders are able and willing to assert the Reformed faith, the infallibility of the Scriptures, and the antithetical life, and to refute the errors of doctrine and life that they encounter in their country. The preaching of the BERG assumes the unconditional nature of God’s sovereign work of salvation. There is extensive agreement on the doctrine of the covenant.
The members of the BERG are active in spreading the Reformed faith in the German-speaking nations (these are Germany, Switzerland, and Austria). Along with some other Reformed believers in Germany, they publish a journal called The Confessing Church—in German, Bekennende Kirche. Their journal is published quarterly and has a circulation of about 3,700 hard copies and 8,500 Internet downloads per issue. They also maintain a small seminary, the Academy for Reformed Theology, or ART. A pastor of a neighboring Reformed congregation recently completed his thesis for his Master’s Degree in Theology from the ART. Dr. Klautke currently instructs four young men in a less formal manner in Reformed doctrine and in the application of the Reformed faith to practical questions. It is hoped that some of these young men will be able to begin formal seminary instruction in the near future.
The leadership of the BERG and some other German Reformed believers had maintained the ART for some years, with support from Reformed theologians and Reformed denominations in the Netherlands. Within the past few years, the faithfulness of the elders of the BERG to the inerrancy of Scripture, their consistency in the Reformed faith, their willingness to refute error publicly, and their growing friendship with the PRCA have resulted in the nearly complete loss of the seminary’s support from the Netherlands. For that reason, for the past few years our Faith, Jenison (MI) congregation has been taking collections for their seminary and their journal.
The four men referred to above, all in their twenties and recent college graduates, along with another Reformed believer from Switzerland, have recently formed an organization to apply the Reformed faith to questions of life and walk for young German believers. They call their organization “Josia.” The young men wrote and published their own book, whose title, in English, is Living to the Glory of God, and set up a website and weekly blog for their organization—www.josiablog.de. “Josia” has held two conferences in Giessen within the past eighteen months, with each conference having more than 200 attendees.
Several members of the PRCA have visited the worship services of the BERG during their trips to Germany. There is normally at least one member of the congregation who will translate the sermon for English-speaking guests. For readers of the Standard Bearer who can read German, or who are willing to copy and paste German text into Google-translate, the website of the BERG is www.berg-giessen.de; of The Confessing Church, www.bekennende-kirche.de; and of the ART, www.reformatio.de.
The PRC Acts of Synod of 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014 contain a good deal of information about the BERG and our discussions with its consistory. The Contact Committee plans to report to the Synod of 2015 on the current state of our discussions over doctrine and practice. Interested readers will want to consult these Acts for more information than we can provide in this article.
The BERG has borne her cross for her confession and for her faithfulness. The willingness of the elders of the congregation publically to criticize errors related to Scripture and to women in office has cost them the loss of friends in other Reformed churches in Europe. The consistory knows that compromises in the areas of the covenant, infant baptism, and marriage would also have allowed them to retain members and enjoy greater numerical growth; but the elders were not willing to make compromises that in today’s church world would be considered only small concessions.
Our contacts to date have been beneficial for the members of both the PRCA and the BERG. Members of the BERG have said that they are thankful for the faithfulness of the PRCA, especially in the truths of the infallibility of the Bible. When her young people come to Grand Rapids, they enjoy visiting the services of as many Protestant Reformed Churches as they can; and they always say how good it is to get to know so many Reformed young people. Members of the PRCA have been encouraged and edified by the material that the leadership of the BERG has produced, by their testimony and by their faithfulness, as they live their lives as Reformed believers in a spiritual wilderness that is even more desolate than the wilderness in which many members of the PRCA find themselves. During each of the Contact Committee’s visits to Giessen, the elders have told us, “You don’t know how much it means to us to know that Protestant Reformed people pray for us.” And so we want to ask the readers of the Standard Bearer, again, to remember the BERG in your prayers.