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The Free Church of England: Introduction to an Evangelical Catholic Tradition

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The year 2019 saw the 175th anniversary of the planting of the first Free Church of England congregations. It seems appropriate, therefore, to mark the occasion by publishing a second edition of the story of what a reviewer has called ‘the most serious attempt since the Nonjurors to set in motion (in England and elsewhere) a ‘continuing’ Anglican rival to the Church of England and its various colonial offspring’.
The comparison immediately highlights a puzzle: anyone who is reasonably informed about English Church history will have heard of the Nonjurors; they are very unlikely to have heard of the Free Church of England. Why is this? One immediate answer is of course that the Nonjurors were a ‘top down’ secession – led in the first generation by a number of Diocesan Bishops of the Church of England who had been ejected from their sees at a significant moment in British history. Given such a high profile start it is natural that historians have asked ‘What happened next?’ The Free Church of England, by contrast, has been mainly a ‘bottom up’ movement, led by local men and women who were prepared to take a stand for what would now be called traditional biblical Anglicanism. Although the local press has sometimes reported on the activities of its neighbourhood Free Church of England congregation, the Church has been almost invisible at the national and international level. Indeed, it could be argued that at times vested interests have sought to ensure that it remained invisible.