He defined an entire era

He was one of the greatest in the history of the New Apostolic Church. But sometimes greatness harbours danger. If he had lived, he would be 120 years old now: District Apostle Gottfried Rockenfelder.

Until recently, he was still often quoted from the altar in the district that he had overseen. When he was cited, it was always introduced with, “As the old District Apostle used to say ...” Even after several generations of new District Apostles, it was immediately clear who was meant: Gottfried Rockenfelder, born on 30 April 1904 in Mainz (Germany).

He was baptised by the rector of his parent’s congregation, a certain Johann Gottfried Bischoff. He received almost all ministries from the hands of the later Chief Apostle: he was ordained as a Deacon by him in 1927, as an Apostle in 1950, and as a District Apostle in 1952.

Every Tuesday from the 1930s to the 1950s, the two men met behind closed doors: the editor Rockenfelder and the publisher Bischoff, responsible for the publications New Apostolic Review, Word of Life, and Youth Guide. Not even Friedrich Bischoff, the son of Chief Apostle Bischoff who ran the publishing company, knew exactly what they talked about.

A man of God with great gifts

They became a tradition: the ornate communion chalices that still stand on some of the altars today. They illustrate how the District Apostle took over what he had inherited from his forefathers.

He was very familiar with the writings of the Catholic Apostolic and early New Apostolic Apostles. He referred to them and built his teaching on them. The four winged creatures from Revelation 4 were among his favourite motifs.

Gottfried Rockenfelder knew his Bible in and out and was knowledgeable about history. He was eloquent and empathetic. As an inspiring preacher and an energetically helpful minister, he was appreciated, loved, and revered—and more.

Prolific writer at work

Almost every minister had one in his bookcase, the so-called Golden Book. It was a book containing letters to the brothers and sisters in the missionary regions, and it was by no means the only work from the pen of the District Apostle. He wrote Trostworte (“Words of comfort”), Gedanken zur Evangelisation (“Thoughts on Evangelisation”) to mention just two. There are many more.

He is best known for his Geschichte der Neuapostolischen Kirche (“History of the New Apostolic Church”). His interpretation of the book of Revelation was passed on underhand. He was also a fervent advocate of Chief Apostle Bischoff’s message and remained strongly end-time orientated in his preaching even after its non-fulfilment.

His own priorities

A formal day suit with black and grey pin-striped trousers and a morning coat: in secular life, this was the dress code for formal occasions such as state receptions and banquets. In the New Apostolic Church in the province of Hesse at the time, this was the dress code for ministers in divine services with Apostles.

To mark special occasions a song was composed for him that described him as “royal by majesty”. Celebrations were held in large concert and event halls with speeches by all district leaders and songs by choirs from congregations all over the province.

And then there was the biography written by his son in the official publisher’s collection Apostles of the End-time. Apostle Hermann-Gottfried Rockenfelder wrote about his father, “The happiness of my life is finding my District Apostle in the Chief Apostle’s activity!”

His death

One day before his eightieth birthday, Gottfried Rockenfelder was retired. His son’s behaviour was to overshadow the years that followed: the Apostle was dismissed from ministry and was expelled from the Church.

“Although we were always bound by brotherly love in your active time, we have become even closer in the time that has passed,” Chief Apostle Richard Fehr wrote to the District Apostle on his eighty-fifth birthday. “For me, this is a reason for special joy and gratitude.”

Gottfried Rockenfelder died on 1 May 1989. Chief Apostle Fehr concluded the funeral service with the following words, “Your book of life is now closed, as far as the chapter that is written here on earth is concerned. And on the last page it now says: he followed faithfully and died in God’s grace!”

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Andreas Rother
District Apostle, People/Personalities