FREE CHURCH FEDERATION:
Origin. A union of free churches for Evangelical work. The federation was initiated at a congress of members of free churches in the city of Manchester in November, 1892. That congress was an outward and visible sign of the growth of the inward and spiritual grace of Christian unity, which had been proceeding for at least the two preceding decades. The causes of that development were: (1) the return of the churches to Christ Jesus as the sole and exclusive authority in the life of the soul and in the activities of the churches; (2) the separation between the greater and the lesser truths of revelation effected by the providence of God in these later years; (3) the growth of sacerdotalism within the Anglican Church, and the total inability of Parliament to control and check it; (4) the consequent necessity for a united resistance to this sacerdotalism by Evangelical Protestantism; and (5) the need for more sustained and enthusiastic efforts to carry the Gospel to the people of the large towns and cities. The Congress formed itself into a Federation in 1896. It embraced all the Evangelical denominations claiming spiritual autonomy and refusing to recognize the patronage and control of Parliament. It was the creation of a new organization in which Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and others met, not as denominationalists, but simply as Evangelical Free Churchmen. It was a wider basis of union and fellowship than any hitherto recognized. The sectarian element was totally excluded. It was the Free Church of England, with hopes of becoming the Church of England of the future.
Membership and Statistics. The denominations embraced within this federation are as follows: Baptists, Calvinistic Methodists, Churches of Christ, Congregationalists, Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, Independent Methodists, Moravian, Presbyterians, Primitive Methodists, Reformed Episcopal Church, Salvation Army, Society of Friends, United Methodist Church (formed in 1907 by the union of Bible Christians, Methodist Free Connexion and United Methodist Free Churches), Wesleyan Methodists, and Wesleyan Reform Union. In England and Wales the councils number 915, and the federations 53. The movement is spreading in other countries. In the United States a plan has been adopted for the organization of a Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America representing an aggregate membership of over 17,000,000. The movement is also advancing in South Africa, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Japan, Korea, India, Germany, France, and Italy. The statistics for England and Wales (1907) are: Sitting accommodation in places of worship, 8,483,925; communicants, 2,183,914; Sunday-school teachers, 405,391; Sunday-school scholars, 3,471,276. These figures will be better understood if they are compared with the statistics of the Anglican Church: viz., sitting accommodation, 7,240,136; communicants, 2,053,455; Sunday-school teachers, 206,873; Sunday-school scholars, 2,558,240. The international figures (1906) are: Free Church members, 21,731,713; Anglican communicants, 3,830,866.
Objects and Work. The objects of the national council are: (1) to facilitate fraternal intercourse and cooperation among the Evangelical Free Churches; (2) to assist in the organization of local councils; (3) to encourage devotional fellowship and mutual counsel concerning the spiritual life and religious activities of the churches; (4) to advocate the New Testament doctrine of the Church, and to defend the rights of the associated churches; and (5) to promote the application of the law of Christ in every relation of human life. But the chief work of the Council from the beginning has been directed to the proclamation of the Gospel outside all churches. The Council has employed a body of missioners, of which the chief members are Gipsy Smith, W. R. Lane, and Tolfree Parr, to visit the large centers of population and to organize the churches for mission work: and more recently the Rev. F. B. Meyer has been set apart for the ministry at large of the churches in England and Wales. Conventions for quickening and nourishing the spiritual life have been held, and a system of parochial visitation has been carried out. Social purity has been promoted, social institutes created, and Girls' Gilds, Auxiliary Societies for Young Free Churchmen have been formed. The Council has also been compelled to devote its energies to the solution of the problem of state education on exclusively civic lines. It has resisted the encroachments of Roman Catholicism through legislation upon the rights of the people; and though it has not formally adopted "passive resistance," yet many of the leaders of the National Council have given that movement their personal support. It has also led crusades against gambling and intemperance. It supports a publication department, from which it has issued The Free Church Year Book (1896 sqq.); The Free Church Catechism (1899); a series of thirteen volumes on Eras of Nonconformity (1904 sqq.); Little Books on the Devout Life, ed. F. B. Meyer (1904 sqq.); The Free Church Council Hymnal (1906); The Work of the Free Church Council; a Manual for Secretaries and others (1906); various biographies, including those of Dr. Clifford and Gipsy Smith, with miscellaneous literature bearing on the work; and The Free Church Chronicle, the official organ of the movement.