The making of the New Apostolic Church (15): From apostolic congregations to the New Apostolic Church

09.12.2013 By: Manfred Henke

Apostle Johann August Ludwig Boesecke (1821-1886)

Apostle Ernst Traugott Hallmann

Seal "Apostolische Gemeinde"

After our church had begun in 1863, its leaders used a variety names for it which reflected designations that had also been in use among the German “apostolic congregations” before 1863. So outsiders found it hard to decide if a congregation belonged to the “old” or the “new order”. Clarity was achieved through the designation “New Apostolic” which was first used in the German kingdom of Saxony.

In 1862 there were 24 “apostolic congregations” in the kingdom of Prussia, which was the largest German state. There they had to conform to the “Ordinance to prevent all danger to the legal freedom and order by a misuse of the right of assembly and association” of 11 March 1850. To assemble legally, each congregation was considered an association and had to hand in its statutes and a list of members to the local police. In addition, the place and time of all meetings had to be reported in advance.

Confusion about “apostolic congregations”

In the model statutes delivered to the central authorities in 1862, it said: “The members of the congregations only claim the name ‘Christians’ for themselves and all the baptised, but because of outward circumstances they make use of the name apostolic congregation.” Consequently, the number of places increased where associations known as apostolic congregations were registered. Some of those congregations obeyed the Apostle Woodhouse, others followed the newly called Apostles. In Berlin in the 1890s apostolic congregations of both denominations even used stamps with an identical design. In the centre one could see the Lamb with a banner of victory, one was captioned “Apostolic congregation Berlin-Wedding”, another “First Apostolic congregation of Berlin” – in the first case the stamp belonged to the Catholic Apostolic congregation, in the second to the New Apostolic congregation.

The Catholic Apostolic Church

The churches following the Apostles were regarded as one of a number of Christian denominations. According to contemporary opinion they had been founded by Edward Irving (who had, however, already died in December 1834) and so they were usually called “Irvingites”. To counter this designation, the Apostles asserted that those who had been gathered to follow their teaching were members of “the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” as defined in the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople (AD 381).

In 1847 the Apostles had decreed that the central church in London was a church (or congregation) belonging to “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church”. Beginning in 1849 a sign reading “Catholic Apostolic Church” was affixed to all places where the faithful assembled.

The universal apostolic Church

In Germany the ministers hesitated to speak of their church as a “Catholic” Apostolic Church. Even the north German church leaders were unfamiliar with that term – as is demonstrated by the fact that even in an official document directed to Prussian state authorities in 1862 they sometimes called their communion “Catholic Apostolic” and sometimes “Apostolic Catholic”. The term “Catholic” was liable to arouse prejudice in Protestant surroundings. In 1850, the lawyer Wagener and the former Pastor Koeppen, two representatives of the Catholic Apostolic Church whose social standing made it possible to correspond with highly placed officials, tried to evade the problem by simply using the wording of the creed as it was used among German Protestants. They spoke of their community as the “Allgemeine apostolische Kirche” (Universal Apostolic Church) rather than the Catholic Apostolic Church.

In 1864 the congregation in Hamburg, from which the New Apostolic Church originated, took up this tradition in calling itself the „allgemeine apostolische Gemeinde“ (universal apostolic congregation).

“Home mission” under Apostles

In the nineteenth century the population in Europe exploded and large numbers of people migrated to the big cities in hope of employment. Children grew up neglected, and the traditional churches failed to reach the slum population. Appalled, conscientious Christians founded asylums to save children from a dissolute life and teach them the gospel. In 1848 delegates met for a first all-German Protestant convention. There Johann Christian Wichern, the founder of an asylum in Hamburg, managed to convince them to found a Central Committee for Home Missions to coordinate and intensify those efforts. Educated and wealthy sponsors of this project hoped to alleviate the social evils and simultaneously to teach the poor to obey the authorities and abstain from revolutionary activities. The poor were to be addressed by trained missionaries from the working classes who seemed better able to win them over than the upper middle class clergy.

Many pioneers of the Catholic Apostolic Church were familiar with the home missions and sympathised with them. Like the Protestant missionaries the Catholic Apostolic ministers were recruited from the skilled workforce. The leaders of the Catholic Apostolic congregation in Frankfurt an der Oder referred to this in 1850 when they wrote in a letter to the Prussian minister of the interior that their outreach was that of a home mission whose central committee was composed of men they acknowledged as being sent by God.

This letter distinguishes between a gathered apostolic congregation and missionary activities to reach more people. In 1864 the congregation in Hamburg under the Apostle Preuss followed this pattern in calling itself a “universal apostolic congregation” which published a “Message to all Christians” signed by “the central committee of the universal Christian apostolic Mission in Hamburg”, which Geyer had composed. The “Basic principles of the Universal apostolic congregation in Hamburg”, published in 1864, were followed by the “Statutes of the Universal Christian apostolic mission” published in 1866.

A confusing variety of names

As shown before, Geyer had lived in Berlin and gathered some like-minded persons there. The Apostle Ludwig Boesecke, called to the Apostleship in Hamburg in 1864, had probably belonged to that circle. Trained as a shoemaker, he had lived in Berlin since 1856 to trade with household goods before moving to the Prussian province of Silesia in 1872. There he founded a congregation in a place called Schoenau (now ´Swierzawa in Poland). Seeing that hardly a member of the Catholic Apostolic community in Berlin had followed the newly called Apostles, a new start was made there using the name of “Universal Christian apostolic mission”. In 1878 Boesecke came back to Berlin for some time to gather the members after the congregation had disbanded on account of Geyer choosing to go his own way. Soon Boesecke could entrust that congregation to Ernst Hallmann, a native of Schoenau, who became an Apostle in 1897.

At first Boesecke and Hallmann used the accustomed name “universal Christian apostolic mission, but soon this name was used by some men who followed Geyer. So the “apostolic congregation” led by Ernst Hallmann also used the names “allgemeine christliche apostolische Missions-Gemeinde” (“universal Christian apostolic missionary congregation“, 1878, 1880), “allgemeine apostolische Gemeinde” (“universal apostolic congregation”, 1881, 1883, 1888), “apostolisch-christlicher Missions-Verein zu Berlin” (“apostolic Christian missionary association of Berlin”, 1892), “Apostolischer Verein zu Berlin” (“Apostolic association of Berlin”,1895). In the divine services hymns were sung which are still familiar to us, using a booklet published for the home mission movement.

In 1886 a policeman in Berlin was given the task to tell the various “apostolic congregations” of the elder and the later foundation apart.

New Apostolic in Saxony

In the German kingdom of Saxony the “apostolic congregations of the newer kind” were given the right to hold public divine services. This was linked to an entry in a register of “registered associations”. The Catholic Apostolic congregations had been allowed public worship from the 1870s. In the Saxon town of Dresden the rector of the older “apostolic congregation” objected to the newcomers using the same name. In negotiations with the authorities those later apostolic congregations offered to call themselves “altapostolische Gemeinde” (old apostolic congregation) without achieving their end. In 1902 the “New Apostolic congregation Dresden” was at last officially registered – as were all other New Apostolic congregations in the kingdom of Saxony. The older “apostolic congregations” were now registered as “Catholic Apostolic” congregations.

It took a few years before the name New Apostolic was generally accepted. One reason was legal. Where a congregation was already known to the authorities as “apostolic congregation” it did not seem wise to draw attention to it by reporting a change of name. But the members also liked their old name. In the book Alte und neue Wege (Old and new Ways) published in 1912 we read: “The name ‘New Apostolic’ is only meant for outsiders and to distinguish us from others we may be confused with. For the insiders who believe in living Apostles only the term ‘apostolic’ is acceptable.”

Congregation or Church

When corresponding with the German authorities before 1918 it was not possible for the spokesmen of our church to refer to themselves as representatives of a church. The law only gave limited toleration to individual congregations. The term “church” had legal significance and was restricted to Protestants and Catholics. Whoever separated from them was classed as a “dissenter” and entered into a special “register of dissenters”.

On a theological level the ministers of both apostolic churches testified again and again that they considered themselves as representatives of the apostolic church. In 1855 Traugott Geering, Angel of “a congregation of the One, holy, universal and apostolic Church assembling in Basle” addressed the “ministers of the various church parties” only to tell them that they were members of sects who only taught part of the truth – unlike the Catholic Apostolic Church which they ought to join.

In 1918 Germany became a republic and the constitution of 1919 opened up a way for “religious societies” and other societies with a common philosophy (e.g. atheism) to be incorporated. This should have given them the same legal status as the established churches. The New Apostolic Church managed to get that status in two German states – Baden in southwest Germany in 1921 and Hamburg in 1925. The statutes endowing them with that status spoke of a “New Apostolic Church” in both those states. In the years to come other denominations apart from the two established churches came gradually to be accepted as “churches”, but exceptions were still made regarding the New Apostolic Church.

But objections remained. They were stated in no uncertain terms in 1921 when Chief Apostle Niehaus and his advisers tried to get the corporate rights promised in the constitution for the New Apostolic Church in the whole of Germany. Representatives of various regional Protestant churches sent in statements objecting to the use of the term “church” by the New Apostolic Church. In spite of the provisions of the new constitution they still argued in terms of the old distinction between “churches” and “dissenters” or “dissenting associations”. All sorts of arguments were used to bolster up the claim that the “New Irvingites” were a sect. One well-meaning commentator was ready to concede “that sects can propagate the gospel more purely than the churches” and argued that he did not mean to use the term sect in a derogatory sense. “Only do not call them ‘church’ because they are not a church.”

Names used outside Germany

Apostle Schwartz went to Amsterdam to found a congregation. He came as a missionary and so the church was called “Apostolische Zending” which can be translated “Apostolic Mission”. By the end of the nineteenth century the church was called “Herstel Apostolische Zendingskerk” (Restored apostolic missionary church). Some books also refer to it as “apostolische kerk” (apostolic church).

Outside Germany people were more willing to grant the name “church” to religious denominations. In the English Bible the term “church” is even used for individual congregations.

Before the term “New Apostolic” was coined our church appeared in North America as “First General Apostolic Church” (which is one possible way of translating “Erste allgemeine apostolische Gemeinde”). According to a statement published in 1920 the church was registered in South Africa in 1911 as “New Apostolic Church”, that name is used in a brochure published in 1913. In Queensland in Australia in 1908 the church was called by the German name of “Apostolische Einheitskirche” (United Apostolic church).

The author is aware that the information given about the church outside Germany is rather scanty and appeals to readers in those countries to supply him with further information if they can.



When deciding on the names they gave themselves after 1863, the ministers in charge of the congregation in Hamburg continued what they had known when they acted under the Apostles Carlyle and Woodhouse. As a consequence, outsiders could not always be sure which of the two apostolic churches were meant when they were addressed by members of an “apostolic congregation”. In 1902 the “apostolic congregations of the newer kind” were registered in Saxony as “New Apostolic” congregations. For legal reasons the term “New Apostolic Church” could only be used in Germany when the constitution of the Weimar Republic was passed in 1919.

In the Netherlands the idea of a home mission could be found in the name used by our church. In the English speaking countries the term “church” could be used at an earlier date than in Germany.

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