History

The ideas of the Reformation reached Poland only a few years after Fr. Martin Luther’s plea. The Wittenberg Reformer’s views and writings aroused the public opinion’s interest. First church services conducted according to the reformed order were held in Silesia, Royal Prussia and Wielkopolska regions. 

In the beginning Polish kings officially prohibited spreading Luther’s work and preaching his ideas but when they recognized that Reformation was the vivid movement among nobility and middle-class they started to tolerate it. Although they did not join the Reformation, they protected Lutheranism and let it develop especially in East Prussia where the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, duke Albrecht, having learnt a great deal about the Reformation and under Luther's persuasion, dissolved the Order, announced himself a secular duke. In 1525 in the Krakow Market Square he paid tribute to the Polish king, Sigismund I. In 1569 his son King Sigismund August obliged himself to preserve religion in East Prussia according to the doctrines of The Augsburg Confession.

The nobility started accepting Luther's and Calvin's teachings which was of great political importance. Shortly afterwards the majority of members of Parliament belonged to the Protestant Church which resulted in editing the statute of liberty of the press and worship in 1570 in Sandomierz and also helped to abolish ecclesiastical courts and censorship. It, in turn, led to the introduction of equality of religions in 1573 (Warsaw Confederation).

Reformation made it clear that ordinary people were allowed to and even should read the Bible. So in those first years of Reformation in Poland the educational and printing activities were very important. Protestant schools with high level of teaching were founded, in 1551 the first Gospels in Polish were published and in 1563 the whole Bible.

The characteristic feature of the Polish Reformation was a religious tolerance. Synods, having introduced a democratic system within the Church, also opposed social inequality and defended middle-class and peasants. Poland remained a country without stakes while Europe was covered in blood. Reformation on our territory gave rise to the development of ecumenical movement which might be proved by the unifying synod of the Reformed and the Czech Brethren churches in Kozminek in 1570. During the synod in Sandomierz in 1570 the two unified churches were joined by the Lutheran Church.

But at the turn of the 16th and the 17th centuries the process of closing down of Polish Evangelical congregations began. Religious pogroms, supported by Catholic clergy accompanied by actions of Polish authorities aimed at excluding Protestants from public life led to a significant decrease in the number of believers in the 17th century. Yet, with the faith based on reading the Holy Scriptures and underground se­rvices held in woods (so-called forest churches) Lutherans managed to survive the era of Counter-Reformation in mid-17th and the 18th centuries.
 


The first half of the18th century was marked not only by the political collapse of Poland, but also by a deep religious and cultural crisis. A ban on building evangelical churches in Poland came to effect in 1716; two years later the last evangelical was expelled from the Polish parliament. The Treaty of Warsaw dated 1768 restored freedom of religion and civil rights for evangelicals. However, the guarantees set in the document were not observed in everyday life. 


Later came also some new possibilities. King Stanislaw August Poniatowski was the first to allow members of the Lutheran Church to erect the Holy Trinity church in Warsaw. Emperor Joseph I, after the treaty in Altransztat in 1707, allowed to build six churches on the Silesian territory: in Zagan, Kozuchow, Jelenia Gora, Kamienna Gora, Milicz and Teschen. They were called churches "out of grace" as the monarch was not obliged by the treaty to grant a licence to erect them. The next emperor Joseph II's, tolerance patent made the revival of ecclesiastical life in Teschenian Silesia area possible.


By the end of the 18th century there were around two hundred thousand evangeli­cals – mostly of Lutheran confession – in Poland. The history of evangelical congregations in Poland in the 18th and 19th centuries is highly complex, with significant differences between partitions, as can be clearly seen in the following statistics: in the 19th century Lutherans constituted merely 0.5% of the population of Galicia, 30.9% in the Grand Duchy of Posen, while as much as 45.7% of the inhabitants of Gdansk Pomerania were of Lutheran confession.

World War II hindered the process of gaining stability within the Church. In concentration camps approximately 30% evangelical clergy lost their lives, including the bishop of the Church, pastor Juliusz Bursche.

After the war the policy of the government decreased a number of members of the Church and parishes. Great number of protestants from Masuria and Silesia left Poland being pointed as German and stranger. Due to systematic work and the effort of parishes the Church life gained stability and is developing all the time.

Today Lutherans make up 0.2% of the Polish society; still, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession is the third largest Church in Poland.