Free Christians

The term Free Christian refers specifically to individual members and whole congregations within the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Free Christians do not subscribe to any officially written doctrinal or creedal statement, as found in other churches. Because of their connections with British Unitarianism, they are known particularly for allowing dissent from Trinitarian doctrine. However, Free Christian groups 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.

Brief History & Current Presence

The term Free Christian can be traced back to ministry of James Martineau in the late 19th Century. James Martineau was an advocate of theological inclusivity arguing that explicitly Unitarian churches would 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.

In mainland Britain today, Free Christians who profess a denominational allegiance can be found primarily within the ranks of the Unitarians, and more specifically, the Unitarian Christian Association. Notable Free Christian congregations include Flowery Field Church (Hyde, Greater Manchester), Hyde Chapel (Gee Cross, Greater Manchester) and Brook Street Chapel (Knutsford, Chesire)

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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—including the shared use of theological and ministry training colleges. They also consider themselves to have a shared heritage. As such, they could be viewed as connected to the same ‘Free Christian’ current.

Today, Free Christians remain primarily within the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches co-existing with Unitarians. On occasion this had led to dispute with those Unitarians who consider themselves Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan, Buddhist, or Nontheist, or do not accept a religious label of any description.

Theology / Principles

Because of their focus on a form of Christianity without official written statements of doctrine and creed, 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.

Our faith:

  • 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.”

References

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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