Free Christians, sometimes known as "Non-Subscribing" Protestants or "Non-Creedal" Dissenters, are Christians willing to consider new theological ideas. Free Christians do not subscribe to any officially imposed doctrine or creed. However, far more conservative groups also are non-creedal but for different reasons. By and large, conservative Christendom also diminishes the importance of creedal symbols.
|“||As a matter of fact, many non-creedalists do not dismiss creeds simply as unimportant to the maintenance of biblical Christianity, they deem them to be positively antithetical to it. Such a position would better be termed 'anti-creedal.'||”|
Free Christians are often positioned at the opposite end of the theological spectrum to Fundamentalist Christianity. Because of their history of dissent, and their historical association with 'heresies' such as Unitarianism, they may even be regarded by some Christians as theologically 'unorthodox'.
Free Christian groups would typically also welcome those believers who personally adhere to more orthodox beliefs (such as the Trinity) as the emphasis is on inclusivity rather than non-conformity per se.
In mainland Britain, Free Christians who profess a denominational allegiance can be found primarily within the ranks of the Unitarians, and to a lesser extent within the Quakers. Today, Free Christians in both denominations co-exist, sometimes controversially, with those who consider themselves Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan, Buddhist, or Nontheist, or do not accept a religious label of any description. In Ireland, Free Christians associate themselves primarily with the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
In recent years, there has been a noticeable emergence of what could be termed as 'unofficial Free Christianity' within mainline Protestant churches including the Anglican Communion, United Reformed Church, Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ—evident in theologically open-minded networks such as Free to Believe and The Center for Progressive Christianity.
As a result, Free Christianity is often directly associated with Liberal Christianity and the Progressive Christian movement. Such comparisons are generally valid but this should not detract from viewing Free Christianity as a distinct theological trend /tradition in its own right.
Free Christians, Free Churches, and Arminianism
(1) Free Christians are Free church but most Free Churches are not Free Christian. Free Church is another way of describing Non-Conformists and Free Christians are a minority grouping within non-conformity.
The majority of non-conformists have subscribed to their denominational creed and, since the late nineteenth century, most of these denominations have been able to agree common ground in the form of a new shared creed. The Doctrinal Statement of the current Free Churches Group (successor to the Free Church Federal Council, and, before the 1940s, the Federal Council of the Evangelical Free Churches of England and the National Council of Evangelical Free Churches) is based on the Declaratory Statement of Common Faith and Practice, adopted on 26 March 1917 as a doctrinal basis of the former Federal Council of Evangelical Free Churches of England.
Most non-conformist denominations, including the Quakers, have now joined Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the successor organisation to the British Council of Churches.
The use of official creeds amongst Free Churches—and their growing links with traditional doctrine-centered denominations such as Anglicanism—naturally leads to the continued marginalization of Free Christians.
(2) Traditionally, most Free Christians have been Arminian but, again, most Arminians are not Free Christian. The Methodists have their own creeds. Whilst the Arminians within the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and the Old Baptist Union are traditionally non-creedal their theological orthodoxy sets them apart from the unorthodox Free Christians. In seventeenth century many of Quakerism's earliest converts were drawn from Baptist ranks. The following century many General Baptists joined forces with their liberal English Presbyterian counterparts in unorthodox congregations. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Rev. Joseph Cooke was just one of those Free Christians expelled from the Wesleyan Methodists for doctrinal reasons. His supporters, the "Cookites," went on to form the Methodist Unitarian movement.
Many modern-day Arminians would subscribe to the creed of the Evangelical Union. This too would obviously exclude Free Christians.
Other uses of the 'Free Christian' term
'Free Christians', as independent old-line Pentecostals, surfaced after World War II when a resurging group of Pentecostal ministers formed the Freie Christen Gemeinde (Free Christian Congregation) of post-war Germany in 1948. Pentecostal groups had been banned during the reign of the Nazi Party. This group eventually renamed itself to Bund der Freie Pfingstgemeinden (BFP) in Germany during the 1980s. However, some of their churches throughout Germany still carry the founding name.
One of the original founders, Rev. Emanuel Frit, (b. 1910 in Posen, Prussia), relocated to Milwaukee, WI in the USA. In 1956 he formed a religious organization that used Freie Christen Gemeinde (Free Christian Congregation) as its name. This denomination functioned primarily as a ministry outreach to German immigrants until 1987, having churches in the USA and Canada. (Rev. E. Fritz died in August 2010; his last residence was in Wisconsin Dells, WI)
Because of declining memberships, the denomination discontinued its work in 1989 as an exclusive church ministry body. It reorganized as a missions outreach with Rev. Harry Fritz as its President and, although still existent today, now only supports other missions organizations and ministers. In 2007, the ministry began adding other language groups into its outreach as it works with church leaderships of various Christian denominations in establishing home missions for incoming cultures. The organization remains officially headquartered in Wisconsin, but currently the business office is in Tacoma, WA where Rev. Harry Fritz serves as Senior Pastor of Valley View Christian Fellowship, a German-American congregation in Tacoma. (VVCF is a member church of the International Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God.)
Free Christian theology and practice
However, it is distinguished by its assertion that Christianity should be free from an imposed doctrine or creed. Instead, Free Christians seek to develop and express an open-minded, experiential form of faith that encourages followers to think for themselves and remain open to new insights—be it from scholarship, science, philosophy, recently discovered scripture and other religions.
Because of their focus on a non-creedal form of Christianity, Free Christians do not have a set list of unifying beliefs beyond a reverence for God and a commitment to studying and following the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth.
The nearest one can find to a list of beliefs is usually a through a statement of uniting principles as seen outlined by the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland:
“We declare allegiance to the principle that:
- the teaching of Christ must take precedence over the doctrines of a later time, and
- Christian unity is to be sought, not in the uniformity of creed but in a common standard of duty and adherence to the commandments set out in the Holy Bible.
- is governed by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible
- asserts and upholds the right of each and every individual to search these scriptural records for themselves and to use reason and personal conscience to discover God’s Divine Truth
- removes Human Tests and Confessions of Faith that restrict private judgement and prevent free enquiry
- upholds the beautiful simplicity of the great commandments as defined by Jesus Christ: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself.”
Historically, many Christians with Unitarian beliefs have sought to establish Free Christian communities in which such beliefs could be welcomed and celebrated. James Martineau, a famous 19th century Unitarian minister, is often remembered as one of the key pioneers in these efforts. However, Free Christianity is not necessarily limited to Unitarian thought and those churches expressing a Free Christian outlook often stress that they are as welcome to Trinitarian thought as they are to Unitarian thought. James Martineau was a passionate advocate of such inclusivity arguing that explicitly Unitarian churches would merely lead to "a different doxy" from orthodoxy. He urged churches not to use the name "Unitarian," and suggested "Free Christian Church" as a more inclusive alternative—going further in 1868 to form the Free Christian Union which he hoped would unite Christians of various beliefs who were opposed to officially imposed doctrine or creeds.
Practice also varies amongst those Christian communities taking a Free Christian approach. Whilst Unitarian Christian churches may follow a more traditional, Anglican-style liturgy, other groups such as the Religious Society of Friends have developed an orthopraxy (based on silent worship) to maintain unity amongst a theologically diverse congregation.
Other closely related groups such as the Progressive Christian movement focus primarily on working towards social justice as a way of maintaining unity.
Modern Free Christian groups and publications
As mentioned previously, Free Christians may be found within mainline Christian denominations—often under different names such as 'Progressive Christian' and/or 'Liberal Christian'. They are most noticeably present within the Anglican Communion, United Reformed Church, Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ. The Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) are also often considered to have a similar liberal theological approach. However, none of these officially identify in their literature as 'Free Christian' or have formal links with the distinct Free Christian tradition pioneered by James Martineau, Joseph Cooke et al.
Those congregations and publications that identify explicitly with a Free Christian approach and have formal links with the Free Christian tradition are generally found within Britain, Ireland and to a lesser extent, in Anglosphere countries such as the United States. They are currently very small in number—often existing as a minority voice within larger pluralist denominations.
Within neighbouring Ireland, similar congregations can be found under the related 'Non-Subscribing Presbyterian' moniker. The Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland has formal links with both the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches and the Unitarian Christian Association—ncluding the shared use of theological / ministry colleges. They also consider themselves to have a shared heritage. As such, they could be viewed as connected to the same 'Free Christian' current.
In the United States, the American Unitarian Conference also expresses, in part, an explicitly Free Christian approach and history. The same can also be said of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship which exists as a minority Free Christian voice within the larger pluralist Unitarian Universalist Association.
In summary, Free Christianity should not be regarded as a distinct denomination or church. Rather it is a theological trend / tradition based primarily in Britain and Ireland, finding expression specifically in congregations with historical ties to Unitarianism. The exception is in Germany, where the Free Christian movement took on overtones of Pentecostalism and has been contained to autonomous local congregations affiliated with a larger association/ denomination of like minded believers.
- General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches
- Liberal Christianity
- Religious Society of Friends
- Unitarian Christian Association
- Unitarian Universalism
- ↑ Nuttall, Geoffrey F. (2002). Studies In English Dissent. Quinta Press. ISBN 1 897856 14 8. ;
- ↑ Gentry, Kenneth L. Jr. "The Usefulness of Creeds." August 25, 2009. <http://www.bible-researcher.com/gentry1.html>
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 See "Notes on Free Christianity" Bridport Chapel, http://www.bridportchapel.org.uk/
- ↑ See "Post-Christian?" Boy in the Bands, http://boyinthebands.com/archives/post-christian/
- ↑ See "Our Faith" NSPCI, http://www.nspresbyterian.org/pages/faith.htm
- ↑ See "Freely Following Jesus: An Introduction to the Free Christians" Free Christian Journal, http://freechristianjournal.blogspot.com/2008/08/freely-following-jesus-introduction-to.html
- ↑ See "James Martineau Biography (paragaph 18)" Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/jamesmartineau.html
- ↑ See "About the College" Unitarian College Manchester,http://www.unitarian-college.org.uk/college.htm
- ↑ See "Free Religion" American Unitarian Conference,http://www.americanunitarian.org/AUCDeist.htm
- ↑ See "What We Believe" Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship,http://www.uuchristian.org/S_Believe.html
- ↑ The Herald
- ↑ The American Unitarian
- ↑ The Christian Compass
- ↑ http://www.bfp.de/pages/wir-ueber-uns.php
- Bridport Chapel (UK)
- Free Faith Fellowship
- American Unitarian Conference
- 'Freely Following Jesus'—Facebook Group
- Free to Believe
- European Liberal Protestant Network
- Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland
- Progressive Christianity Network Britain: Where contemporary thought and understanding matter as much as scripture and tradition
- The Center for Progressive Christianity (USA)
- General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches (UK)
- Unitarian Christian Association (UK)
- Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship
- James Martineau Biography
|This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Free Christian. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.|