4. The Counties of Bentheim, Steinfurt and Tecklenburg

Bentheimer Burg

The County of Tecklenburg became Lutheran in 1541 under Konrad of Tecklenburg. After his death in 1557, the County of Tecklenburg fell to the House of Bentheim, which also possessed the County of Steinfurt, where the Lutheran Reformation had been introduced in 1544. When the Protestant Count Arnold died in 1553, his son Everwin III, who was somewhat more distant from the church, became his successor. He died only at the age of 26 in 1562. In place of his son Arnold, his wife, the Countess Anna of Tecklenburg, took over the regency for her son. Countess Anna was a Lutheran. Arnold married the Reformed Magdalena of Neuenahr in 1573 and took over the rule in Bentheim and Tecklenburg in 1577. The young noble family could be considered Reformed in 1576 at the latest (but probably already in 1573). A Reformed Protestant influence could also be recognised in other places in the County of Bentheim. In the autumn of 1587, Count Arnold II invited Reformed preachers from the county and a few others to Tecklenburg in order to discuss a new Reformed church constitution (modelled on the Reformed Church Constitution of Moers / Lower Rhine). This was settled and officially introduced in Tecklenburg and in the County of Bentheim in 1588, and from 1591 was also valid for Steinfurt. It included, among other things, the abolition of images and altars from the church, the abolition of emergency baptism, and the use of white bread instead of wafers for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper would be held in the future at tables. In the following years, the altars in the church were removed little by little. Thus from 1588, a gradual change from Lutheran to Reformed orientation became generally established in Bentheim and Tecklenburg. In some cases time was allowed to prepare the congregations better for the changes, and the change of confession was concluded about 1598. Arnold II also founded a Latin school in Schuettorf in 1588, which he transferred to Steinfurt in 1591 and then developed into a high school with departments of law, theology, philosophy and (from 1607) medicine. Among those who had an influence on the school were Conrad Vorstius, Johannes Althusius and Johann Heinrich Heidegger.
After the death of Arnold II in 1606, his son Arnold Jobst became the Count of Bentheim. In 1613 he introduced the Higher Church Council as a spiritual authority of supervision, which was directly under him. The Higher Church Council consisted of the (presiding) theologian, a lawyer and two administrative officials. In the same year, a short confession of the Reformed Church of Bentheim was drawn up along with the “twelve articles,” the former of which succinctly sums up the orthodox Reformed doctrine.

From the Bentheim Confession of 1613

VIII. The Effectiveness of the Merit of Christ
Whether you believe that outside Christ no salvation can be had or grasped. Just as the fathers in the Old Testament were justified and saved no less then by faith in the coming Christ, so also are we in the New Testament justified and saved now by faith in the Christ who there is offered.


Questions for further work

Besides the (classic Reformation and Reformed) statements that we are saved by Christ alone, there also stands out in this small article the classification of the Old and New Testaments.

1. Is the Old Testament belittled or seen negatively in relation to the New Testament?

2. Is there salvation only for Christians?

3. In what relation does Christ stand to the Old Testament?


In the year of 1668, Count Ernest William, son and successor of Arnold Jobst, converted to Roman Catholicism after having been more and more influenced by the Bishop of Munster, Bernhard von Galen. As a result, the church in the county was caught in a difficult crisis. For fierce endeavours in opposition to the Reformation began (e.g. the replacement of the court chaplain, expulsion of pastors and the withholding of wages). First, on the basis of negotiations in connection with the succession after the death of Ernest William in 1693, a revision was reached, and in 1701 the County of Bentheim became Reformed again. The regional ruler, Maurice William, a nephew of Ernest William, remained Roman Catholic however, so that the Reformed Church had a Roman Catholic authority.
Already in 1709, a new “Church Constitution of Bentheim” was issued (on the model of the Church Constitution of the County of Lingen of 1678), which lasted officially into the year of 1971. In it are described instructions for the teaching and life of the congregations. The house call stipulated there has to some extent lasted into the present, and the extra church service teaching the catechism well into the second half of the 20th Century.
The Reformed congregations in the County of Bentheim form today a synodal unit inside the “Protestant Reformed Church. Synod of Protestant Reformed churches in Bavaria and North West Germany.”
In the 19th Century there arose above all, as a movement in opposition to the rationalistic theology (influenced by Dutch theologians) in the County of Bentheim, several free Reformed congregations which called themselves the “Separated” or the “Old Reformed” (in the Netherlands there was an widely occurring parallel development). In 1838 the first of these congregations was set up in Uelson, after which further arose. This development led to severe tensions, conflicts and problems, which only ended towards the end of the 20th Century, when the churches came to terms with each other. The “Protestant Old-Reformed Church,” consisting in total of 14 congregations, now has its numerical centre of gravity in the County of Bentheim, where eight congregations exist. Five Old-Reformed congregations are in East Friesland and one in Wuppertal.