- Free Church Federation
Free Church Federation is a voluntary association of British
Nonconformistchurches for cooperation in religious social work. It was the outcome of a unifying tendency displayed during the latter part of the 19th century. About 1890 the proposal that there should be a Nonconformist Church Congress analogous to the AnglicanChurch Congress was seriously considered, and the first was held in Manchesteron 7 November 1892. In the following year it was resolved that the basis of representation should be neither personal (as in the Anglican Church Congress) nor denominational, but territorial. Englandand Waleshave since been completely covered with a network of local councils, each of which elects its due proportion of representatives to the national gathering. This territorial arrangement eliminated all sectarian distinctions, and also the possibility of committing the different churches as such to any particular policy. The representatives of the local councils attend not as denominationalists but as Evangelical Free Churchmen. The name of the organization was changed from Congress to National Council as soon as the assembly consisted of duly appointed representatives from the local councils of every part of England. The local councils consist of representatives of the Congregational and Baptist Churches, the Methodist Churches, the Presbyterian Church of England, the Free EpiscopalChurches, the Society of Friends, and such other Evangelical churches as the National Council may at any time admit. The constitution states the following as the objects of the National Council: (a) To facilitate fraternal intercourse and cooperation among the Evangelical Free Churches; (b) to assist in the organization of local councils; (c) to encourage devotional fellowship and mutual counsel concerning the spiritual life and religious activities of the Churches; (d) to advocate the New Testament doctrineof the Church, and to defend the rights of the associated Churches; (e) to promote the application of the law of Christin every relation of human life. Although the objects of the Free Church councils are thus in their nature and spirit religious rather than political, there are occasions on which action is taken on great national affairs. Thus opposition was offered to the Education Act of 1902,and support accorded to candidates at the general election of 1906 who pledged themselves to altering that measure.
A striking feature of the movement is the adoption of the
parochialsystem for the purpose of local work. Each of the associated churches is requested to look after a parish, not of course with any attempt to exclude other churches, but as having a special responsibility for those in that area who are not already connected with some existing church. Throughout the United Kingdomlocal councils are formed into federations, some fifty in number, which are intermediate between them and the National Council. The local councils do what is possible to prevent overlapping and excessive competition between the churches. They also combine the forces of the local churches for evangelisticand general devotionalwork, open-air services, efforts on behalf of Sunday observance, and the prevention of gambling. Services are arranged in connection with workhouses, hospitals and other public institutions. Social work of a varied character forms a large part of the operations of the local councils, and the Free Church Girls Guild has a function similar to that of the Anglican Girls Friendly Society. The National Council engages in missionarywork on a large scale, and a considerable number of periodicals, hymn-books for special occasions, and works of different kinds explaining the history and ideals of the Evangelical Free Churches have been published. The churches represented in the National Council had 9,966 ministers, 55,828 local preachers, 407,991 Sunday schoolteachers, 3,416,377 Sunday scholars, 2,178,221 communicants, and sitting accommodation for 8,555,460 (as of 1911).
A remarkable manifestation of this unprecedented reunion was the fact that a committee of the associated churches prepared and published a
catechismexpressing the positive and fundamental agreement of all the Evangelical Free Churches on the essential doctrines of Christianity. The catechism represents substantially the creedof not less than 80,000,000 Protestants. It has been widely circulated throughout Great Britain, the British Colonies and the United States of America, and has also been translated into Welsh, French, and Italian.
The movement spread to all parts of
Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica, the U.S., and India. It is perhaps necessary to add that it differs essentially from the Evangelical Alliance, inasmuch as its unit is not as individual, private Christian, but a definitely organized and visible Church. The essential doctrine of the movement is a particular doctrine of churchmanship which, as explained is the catechism, regards the Lord Jesus Christas the sole and Divine Head of every branch of the Holy Catholic Churchthroughout the world. For this reason those who do not accept the deity of Christ are necessarily excluded from the National Council and its local constituent councils.
* [http://www.cte.org.uk/Group/Group.aspx?id=42986 Free Churches Body (UK)]
* [http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/4837 Ekklesia article on Free Churches]
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