Reformed churches

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Reformed churches is the name generally given to those Protestant churches that subscribe to Reformed theology or Calvinism. It usually only includes those churches that have historic roots in the continental European denominations that followed John Calvin's teachings, particularly in Switzerland and the Netherlands. There is, however, no doctrinal difference between Reformed churches proper and the Presbyterian churches that originated in the British Isles, particularly under the leadership of John Knox, and the distinction in name merely reflects these national origins and the use of different doctrinal documents that enshrine their beliefs. The most popular Reformed doctrinal standards are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort, which together are called the "Three Forms of Unity", while many Presbyterian churches hold to the so-called Westminster Standards, i.e. the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Both branches of Calvinism recognize all of these documents as accurate descriptions of Biblical doctrine.

Reformed and Presbyterian Churches around the World


The Netherlands


The Swiss Reformed Churches were started in Zurich by Huldrych Zwingli and spread within a few years to Basle (Johannes Oecolampadius), Berne (Berchtold Haller and Niklaus Manuel), St. Gall (Joachim Vadian), to cities in Southern Germany and via Alsace (Martin Bucer) to France. After the early death of Zwingli 1531, his work was continued by Heinrich Bullinger, the author of the Second Helvetic Confession. The French-speaking cities Neuchatel, Geneva and Lausanne changed to the Reformation ten years later under William Farel and John Calvin coming from France. The Zwingli and Calvin branches had each their theological distinctions, but in 1549 under the lead of Bullinger and Calvin they came to a common agreement in the Consensus Tigurinus (Zurich Consent), and 1566 in the Second Helvetic Confession. Organizationally, the Reformed Churches in Switzerland remained separate units until today (the Reformed Church of the Canton Zurich, the Reformed Church of the Canton Berne, etc.), the German part more in the Zwingli tradition, in the French part more in the Calvin tradition. They are governed synodically and their relation to the respective canton (in Switzerland, there are no church-state regulations on country-level) ranges from independent to close collaboration, depending on historical developments. A distinctive of the Swiss Reformed churches in Zwingli tradition is their historically almost symbiotic link to the state (cantons) which is only loosening gradually in the present.

There is an English-speaking reformed church in Lausanne, Switzerland, called Lausanne Free Church. See under external links.

A total of 2.4 million Swiss are member of a Reformed church, according to the 2000 census, which corresponds with 33% of the population. The past decades show a rapid decline in this proportion, coming from 46% in 1970.

Hungary and surroundings

The Reformed Church in Hungary, Transylvania and southern Slovakia is one of the largest branches of the Reformed movement, and the only one of the national Reformed churches to survive without division since the Reformation to the present time. The Hungarian Reformed Church has adopted the Heidelberg Catechism and the Second Helvetic Confession as a definition of their teaching, together the Ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church: Athanasian Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedon, and the common creed ("Apostles' Creed"). Regional churches may also adopt the Canons of Dordt, and in Transylvania Luther's Small Catechism is adopted.

In 2001, more than 1.6 million people in Hungary were member of the Hungarian Reformed Church. In Romania, 700,000 people were Reformed, nearly all of them ethnic Hungarians living in Transylvania. In Slovakia, 110,000 Calvinists were recorded.


The German Reformed Church (Reformierte Kirche) forms, together with the German Lutheran Church, the Evangelic Church of Germany, which is the - formerly - established Protestant Church, forming, together with Catholicism, Germany's "mainstream" religion. The German Reformed Church is unusual because it does not trace its changes back to Zwingli or Calvin, but rather to Philipp Melanchthon, Luther's best friend and closest ally. Only after his death, his successors in the "Philippist" cause were attacked of Crypto-Calvinism and mercilessly persecuted and partially killed, by the extremist Lutherans, from whom Luther had previously distanced himself, in several states, especially Saxony. Other states, such as Hesse, were openly Philippist and Reformed. Only during the time of Calvin himself did genuinely Calvinist influences enter German Reformer faith; even today, it is more Philippist than Calvinist. In the German Empire, further on some states were Lutheran, some Reformed. Both confessions were united by the King of Prussia in 1848, but this was not followed in most other states. The German Reformed Church's finest hour was perhaps during Nazi times, because, while by far not all Reformed clergy and members were opposed to the Nazis, the Bekennende Kirche resistance against the Nazis was dominated by the Reformed Church - partially, it has been said, because of its much less hierarchy- and state-centered perspectives than the Lutherans.

Today, there are four kinds of German Protestantism, all under one national umbrella, but differentiated by region (usually smaller than the states):

1. Lutheran
2. Reformed
3. Administration-United - in these churches, the Parish is either Lutheran or Reformed, and so is the congregation and the Pastor, but the administration is the same for all
4. Consensus-United - there is no difference even on the Parish level

In Germany today, roughly 25 million (about less than one-third) of Germans are Protestant. Of these, less than 2 million are Reformed. The main co-ordinating body for Reformed churches in Germany is the Reformed Alliance in Germany.


In France, the Reformed Protestants were called Huguenots. The Reformed Church of France survived under persecution from 1559 until the Edict of Nantes (1598), the effect of which was to establish regions in which Protestants could live unmolested. These areas became centers of political resistance under which the Reformed church was protected until 1628, when La Rochelle, the Protestant center of resistance to Louis XIII, was overrun by a French army blockade. After the Protestant resistance failed, the Reformed Church of France reorganized, and was guaranteed toleration under the Edict of Nantes until the final revocation of toleration in 1685 (Edict of Fontainebleau). The periods of persecution scattered French Reformed refugees to England, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Africa (especially South Africa) and America. A free (meaning, not state controlled) synod of the Reformed Church emerged in 1848 and survives in small numbers to the present time. The French refugees established French Reformed churches in the Latin countries and in America.

The first Reformed churches in France produced the Gallic Confession and French Reformed confession of faith, which served as models for the Belgic Confession of Faith (1563).

Today, about 350,000 people are participating in the Reformed Church of France.

Britain and Ireland

Other countries

This network of churches recover the reformed tradition of Italian Reformers like Pietro Martire Vermigli, Girolamo Zanchi et al.
Originally founded by Peter Waldo in the 12th century, the Waldensian church adopted the Reformed doctrines under the influence of William Farel.

North America


United States of America

Reformed Churches
Presbyterian Churches

South America & the Caribbean

Africa & the Middle East