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Schwenkfelder Church
RegionUnited States
Pennsylvania, U.S.

The Schwenkfelder Church (listen) is a small American Christian body rooted in the 16th-century Protestant Reformation teachings of Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig (1489–1561).[1]


Although followers have held the teachings of Schwenckfeld since the 16th century, Schwenkfelder Church was not formed until the 20th century, due in large part to Schwenckfeld's emphasis on inner spirituality over outward form. He also labored for a fellowship of all believers and one church.

Originally calling themselves Confessors of the Glory of Christ after Schwenckfeld's 1541 book Great Confession on the Glory of Christ, the group later became known as Schwenkfelders. These Christians often suffered persecution like slavery, prison, and fines at the hands of the government and state churches in Europe.[citation needed] Most of them lived in southern Germany and Lower Silesia.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the remaining Schwenkfelders lived around Harpersdorf in the Duchy of Silesia, which was part of the Bohemian Crown.[2] As the persecution intensified around 1719–1725, they were given refuge in 1726 by Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf in Saxony. When the Elector of Saxony died in 1733, Jesuits petitioned the new ruler to return the Schwenkfelders to Harpersdorf. With their freedom in jeopardy, they decided to look to the New World; toleration was also extended to them in Silesia in 1742 by King Frederick II of Prussia.[citation needed]

The immigrant members of the Schwenkfelder Church brought saffron to the Americas. Schwenkfelders may have grown saffron in Europe; there is some record that at least one member of the group traded in the spice.

In 1731, a group came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and several migrations continued until 1737. The largest group, 180 Schwenkfelders, arrived in 1734.

In 1782, the Society of Schwenkfelders was formed, and in 1909 the Schwenkfelder Church was incorporated. Though the Schwenkfelders thereafter remained largely confined to Pennsylvania, a small number later emigrated to Waterloo County in Ontario, Canada.[3]

Schwenkfelder Church has remained small. As of 2024, there are four congregations in southeastern Pennsylvania.[4] All of these bodies are within a fifty-mile radius of Philadelphia: two in the city itself, and one each in East Norriton, Palm, and Worcester. The Schwenkfelder Church meets annually at a Spring General Conference. Sometimes Conferences are also held in the fall. The Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfeldian Exiles is a related lineage society.[citation needed]


The Church teaches that the Bible is the source of Christian theology. Schwenckfeld drew his theology from the Old Testament and New Testament, and it agrees with the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Confession of Chalcedon.[5]

The Church also recognizes the wisdom of church fathers, particularly those from the Eastern Church and Augustine. Schwenckfeld emphasized the inner work of the Holy Spirit, conversion (which he called the rebirth), and the new man.[6]

The Church also continues his belief that the Lord's Supper is a spiritual partaking representing the body and blood of Christ in open communion.[7] Adult baptism and both infant baptism and consecration of infants is practiced depending on the church.

Adult members are also received into church membership through transfer of memberships from other churches and denominations. Their ecclesiastical tradition is congregational with an ecumenical focus.[8] The Schwenkfelder churches recognize the right of the individual in decisions such as public service, armed combat, etc. Individual, autonomous congregations select ministers by a self-regulated search process. Schwenkfelder Ordination, Licensure and Authorization of Ministry is regulated by the Schwenkfelder Ministerium and the Executive Council of The Schwenkfelder Church.[citation needed]

Schwenkfeldian theology fits broadly within the parameters of Reformed theology today. Each congregation remains autonomous in theology and practice. Historic statements of faith inherited by the Christian Church as a whole, including the Apostles' Creed and other scriptural foundations, remain the best representative statement of Schwenkfeldian theology.[9]

Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfeldian Exiles

The Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfeldian Exiles is a lineage society for descendants of the 209 members of the Schwenkfelder Church who arrived near Penn's Landing between 1731 and 1737 and settled in what then was the colonial-era Province of Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1921 by William Wagener Porter and had an initial membership of 125 individuals.[10] Publications include Exile Herald (1924–1954) [11] and Der Bericht (in English)[citation needed].

Further reading


  1. ^ Caspar Schwenckfeld (1907). Letters and Treaties of Caspar Schwenkfeld Von Ossig ...: A study of the earliest letters. Breitkopf & Härtel. pp. 10–.
  2. ^ Geography
  3. ^ Reaman, George Elmore (1957). The Trail of the Black Walnut. McClelland & Stewart. p. 28. ISBN 0-7710-7351-8.
  4. ^ "Churches". n.d. Retrieved 2024-02-16.
  5. ^ Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Beliefs. Edited by H. H. Drake Williams III. Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2006; E. S. Gerhard, translator and editor, A Vindication of Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: An Elucidation of his doctrine and the vicissitudes of his followers from the German of Christopher Schultz (1769). Allentown, PA: Edward Schlechter, 1942.
  6. ^ P. B. Eberlein, Ketzer oder Heiliger: Caspar von Schwenckfeld der schlesische Reformator und seine Botschaft. Studien zur Schlesischen und Oberlausitzer Kirchenggeschichte 6. Metzinger: Ernst Franz, 1998; E. J. Furcha, Schwenckfeld's Concept of the New Man: A Study in the Anthropology of Caspar von Schwenckfeld as Set Forth in His Major Theological Writings. Pennsburg: Board of Publication, 1970
  7. ^ M. Kriebel, Schwenkfelders and the Sacraments. Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication of the Schwenkfelder Church, 1968.
  8. ^ J. Rothenberger, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig and the Ecumenical Ideal. Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1967.
  9. ^ Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Beliefs
  10. ^ Society of the Descendants of the Schwenkfeldian Exiles website
  11. ^ Exile Herald website