Swiss Reformed Church

Distribution of denominations in Switzerland in 2008 (green: Protestant, red: Roman Catholic)

The Swiss Reformed Church (German: Evangelisch-reformierte Kirchen der Schweiz, "Evangelical Reformed Churches of Switzerland") refers to the Reformed branch of Protestantism in Switzerland started in Zürich by Huldrych Zwingli and spread within a few years to Basel (Johannes Oecolampadius), Bern (Berchtold Haller and Niklaus Manuel), St. Gallen (Joachim Vadian), to cities in southern Germany and via Alsace (Martin Bucer) to France.

Since 1920, the Swiss Reformed Churches have been organized in 26 member churches of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches. According to a 2012 Swiss census, 26.9% of Swiss population were reported as registered members of a Reformed cantonal church.

The Swiss Reformed Churches, together, have approximately 2.4 million members.[1]


The Reformation spread primarily in the cities of Switzerland, which was then composed of loosely connected cantons. Breakthrough began in the 1520s in Zurich under Zwingli, in Bern in 1528 under Berchtold Haller, in Basel in 1529 under John Oekolampad. After the early death of Zwingli in 1531, the Reformation continued. The French-speaking cities Neuchâtel, 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 (Zürich Consent), and 1566 in the Second Helvetic Confession. The German Reformed ideological center was Zurich, the French speaking Reformed movement bastion was Geneva.

A distinctive feature of the Swiss Reformed churches in the Zwinglian tradition is their historically almost symbiotic link to the state (cantons), which is only loosening gradually in the present. In cities where the Reformed faith became leading theology, several confessions were written, some of them:

In the mid 19th century, opposition to liberal theology and interventions by the state led to secessions in several cantonal churches. One of these secessionist churches still exists today, the Evangelical Free Church of Geneva, founded in 1849, while a couple of others have reunited with the Swiss Reformed Church in 1943 and 1966.[2] An important issue to liberal theologians was the Apostles' Creed. They questioned its binding character. This caused a heated debate. Until the late 1870s, most cantonal reformed churches stopped prescribing any particular creed.[3]

In 1920 the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (Schweizerischer Evangelischer Kirchenbund, Fédération des Eglises protestantes de Suisse, Federazione delle Chiese evangeliche della Svizzera - SEK-FEPS), with 24 member churches — 22 cantonal churches and 2 free churches (Free Church of Geneva and the Evangelical-Methodist Church of Switzerland), was formed to serve as a legal umbrella before the federal government and represent the church in international relations.

Social Issues

Like many European Protestant denominations, several of the Swiss Reformed churches have openly welcomed gay and lesbian members to celebrate their civil unions within a church context. As early as 1999, the Reformed Churches in St. Gallen, Fribourg, and Lucerne had permitted prayer and celebration services for same-sex couples to recognize their civil unions.[4] Since then, the Reformed Church in Aaargau has also allowed for prayer services to celebrate same-sex couples.[5] To date, seven other Swiss Reformed churches, including Bern-Jura-Solothurn,[6] Graubünden,[7] Schaffhausen, Ticino, Thurgau, Vaud,[8] and Zürich,[9] have allowed prayer or blessing services for same-sex civil unions.[10]

Organization and membership

Organizationally, the Reformed Churches in Switzerland remain separate, cantonal units. The German churches are more in the Zwinglian tradition; the French more in the Calvinist tradition. They are governed synodically and their relation to the respective canton (in Switzerland, there are no church-state regulations at a national level) ranges from independent to close collaboration, depending on historical developments.

Reformed Churches in the Swiss cantons:

The reformed "Landeskirchen" of Switzerland


  1. "Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches — World Council of Churches". Retrieved 2016-10-26.
  2. "Overview of Switzerland". Reformed Online.
  3. Rudolf Gebhard: Apostolikumsstreit in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2011-01-27.
  4. "Service But No Blessing For Homosexual Partners. The Reformed Church". The Tablet UK. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  5. "Segnungsfeiern". Reformed Church in Aargau. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  6. "Gleichgeschlechtliche Paare". Reformed Church in Bern-Jura-Solothurn. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  7. "Eine Frage des Liebesgebotes". Reformiert Info. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  8. "Schwule dürfen keine Eheringe tauschen". Blick. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  9. "Stellungnahme zu Homosexualität". Reformed Church in Zürich. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
  10. Bechtold, Markus. "Homosexuelle mache die Ehe stark". Zeitzeichen. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
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