The project of forming such a society was first broached in connexion with the bicentennial celebration of the battle of Lützen on November 6, 1832; a proposal to collect funds for a monument to Gustavus Adolphus having been agreed to, it was suggested by Superintendent Grossmann that the best memorial to the great champion of Protestantism would be the formation of a union for propagating his ideas.
For some years the society was limited in its area and its operations, being practically confined to Leipzig and Dresden, but at the Reformation festival in 1841 it received a new impulse through the energy and eloquence of Karl Zimmermann (1803-1877), court preacher at Darmstadt, and in 1843 a general meeting was held at Frankfurt-am-Main, where no fewer than twenty-nine branch associations belonging to all parts of Germany except Bavaria and Austria were represented.
The want of a positive creed tended to make many of the stricter Protestant churchmen doubtful of the usefulness of the union, and the stricter Lutherans have always held aloof from it. On the other hand, its negative attitude in relation to Roman Catholicism secured for it the sympathy of the masses. At a general convention held in Berlin in September 1846 a keen dispute arose about the admission of the Königsberg delegate, Julius Rupp (1809-1884), who in 1845 had been deprived for publicly repudiating the Athanasian Creed and became one of the founders of the "Free Congregations"; and at one time it seemed likely that the society would be completely broken up.
Amid the political revolutions of the year 1848 the whole movement fell into stagnation; but in 1849 another general convention (the seventh), held at Breslau, showed that, although the society had lost both in membership and income, it was still possessed of considerable vitality. From that date the Gustav-Adolf-Verein has been more definitely "evangelical" in its tone than formerly; and under the direction of Karl Zimmermann it greatly increased both in numbers and in wealth. It has built over 2000 churches and assisted with some two million pounds over 5000 different communities. Apart from its influence in maintaining Protestantism in hostile areas, there can be no doubt that the union has had a great effect in helping the various Protestant churches of Germany to realize the number and importance of their common interests.
See K Zimmermann, Geschichte des Gustav-Adolf-Vereins (Darmstadt, 1877).