Free Congregations

Free Congregations

(Freie Gemeinden), an organization of advanced. German Rationalists and opponents of Christianity who have formally seceded from the state churches. They arose out of the society of Protestant Friends (Protstantische Freunde), or, as they were called by their opponents, Friends of Light (Lichtfreunde). The first impulse to the organization of Protestant Friends was given by pastor Uhlich, who, on June 29, 1841, presided at Gnadau in the Prussian province of Saxony, at a meeting of 16 theologians and school-teachers. A second meeting, held at Halle on the 20th of September, 1841, was attended by 56 Friends of Prussia, Saxony, and Anhalt, and agreed upon nine fundamental articles. The third meeting, held in Leipsic in 1842, counted about 200 participants, ministers and laymen; the seventh, held in Coethen in 1844, about 150 ministers and 500 laymen. In 1845 the Prussian government deposed two of the leaders of the movement, Uhlich and Dr. Rupp, from their positions as ministers of the State Church. Both at once established Free Congregations Uhlich at Magdeburg and Rupp at Konigsberg. The former, within a few months, numbered 7000 members. Other congregations were soon after established in Halle (by Wislicenus), in Nordhausen (by E. Balzer), in Marburg (by prof. Bayrhofer). In 1847, the first Conference of Free Congregations took place at Nordhausen, to which also the German Catholics (q.v.) were invited. The revolution of 1848 gave to the Free Congregations greater liberty, and consequently a considerable increase of members. At the second Conference, held at Halberstadt in 1849, the way was prepared for a union with the German Catholics; and by the third Conference, held in May, 1850 (it was opened at Leipsic, but, when some members were ordered out of the city, adjourned to Coethen), the union was consummated. At this Conference the Apostles Creed was formally rejected, and the creed of the new organization summarized in the formula "I believe in God and his eternal kingdom as it has been introduced into theworld by Jesus Christ." With regard to baptism, the Lord's Supper, and all forms of divine worship, full liberty was given to individual congregations. After the overthrow of the free political constitutions established in Germany in 1848, the Free Congregations were in most German states again subjected to very oppressive laws. In Saxony they were altogether suppressed. In Bavaria, the baptisms performed by their ministers were declared invalid. At the same time, dissensions broke out among the congregations themselves. Some leaders, like Dr. Rupp, desired to retain the name Christian, and to be regarded as Christians; but the majority wished to drop the name Christian, and even declared against the belief in a personal God. In 1868 the Union of Free Congregationss numbered in Germany 121 congregations, with 25,000 members; and six periodicals advocated their views. Among the Germans of the United States, the Union (Bund) of Free Congregations embraces five congregations, viz. Philadelphia (since 1852); St. Louis (1850); Sank Co., Wisconsin (three branches); Dane County, Wisconsin ; Hoboken (1865). A periodical is published in Philadelphia. The Union acts hand in hand with the "Alliance of Freethinkers" (a German society in New York), and a number of "Free Men's Associations" in different parts of the country. Similar Free Societies exist in France, Italy, Belgium, and Holland. — See Zschiesche, Die protestant. Freunde (Altenburg, 1846); Haym, Krisis unserer relig. Bezwegung (1847); Nippold, Handbuch der neuesten Kirchengesch. (2d edit. Elberfeld, 1868); Schem, American Eccles. Almanac for 1868 (N.Y. 1868). (A.J.S.)

 
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