Frequently Asked Questions.
What is the relationship between the Free Church of England and the Church of England?
The Free Church of England and the Church of England have a long relationship. At times there have been formal contacts between us, as in 1920 when the Lambeth Conference issued its ‘Appeal to all Christian People’ and during the 1990s when the two Churches had official conversations.
The Canons of the Church of England permit clergy and laity of the Free Church of England to perform certain liturgical functions within Church of England worship, subject to necessary permissions being granted. Church of England Canons also permit a congregation to enter into a Local Ecumenical Project or Partnership (LEP) with a Free Church of England congregation.
Nationally, the two Churches relate in the wider inter-church context, via the Free Churches Group and Churches Together in England.
Locally, Free Church of England and Church of England clergy and congregations co-operate in a range of activities.
Does The Church of England Recognise the Orders of The Free Church of England?
Yes. In December 2012 the Archbishops of Canterbury and York recognised the Orders of the Free Church of England under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967.
This Parliamentary Measure gives the Archbishops authority to determine whether the Orders of any Church are ‘recognised and accepted’ by the Church of England. In the case of the Free Church of England, this recognition followed approximately three years of contact between the bishops of the Free Church of England, the Council for Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission, which unanimously recommended that the Orders of the Free Church of England be recognised. That recommendation was subsequently endorsed by the Standing Committee of the Church of England’s House of Bishops.
Under the Measure clergy of the Free Church of England may be given permission by the Archbishop of the relevant Province to officiate in the Church of England, either permanently or for a specified period, with all such rights, advantages, duties and liabilities as they would have possessed or been subject to if they had been ordained by a bishop of the Church of England. In other words, they do not need to be ‘re-ordained’ (whether absolutely or conditionally).
Section 4 of the Measure also permits bishops of the Free Church of England to ordain and perform other episcopal functions at the request of a Church of England Diocesan bishop, subject to the consent of the relevant Archbishop.
Is the Free Church of England an Anglican Church?
The Free Church of England is required by its Constitution to ‘conform to the ancient laws and customs of the Church of England’. Our doctrinal basis, structures, organisation, worship, ministry and ethos are therefore recognisably ‘Anglican’. Anyone coming from an Anglican background would find much that was familiar to him or her – including the layout of our Churches, robes, churchwardens, church councils and the like. Our worship is that of the Book of Common Prayer or conservative modern-language forms that belong to the Anglican tradition.
The Free Church of England is not a member of the Anglican Communion – though we are not the only Anglican Church to be in that position. Since the 1870s the Free Church of England has been in full communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States and Canada. The REC is a full member of the recently-formed Anglican Church in North America. The Free Church of England was represented at the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK & Ireland) in 2009 (part of the follow-up to the Global Anglican Future Conference – GAFCON – in Jerusalem the previous year). One of its bishops has represented the Church on the FCA steering group since then. In October 2013 the Bishop Primus attended GAFCON 2 in Nairobi.
Are you an Evangelical Church?
Most definitely, Yes – in the sense that we believe that the Church is brought into being by the Evangel – the Gospel – and is commanded to share that Good News with others so that they might come to know Christ and be added to the Church which is His Body.
Many of the emphases in our theology and preaching we share with Christians and Churches that are designated ‘Evangelical’. We believe that salvation – being brought into an eternal relationship with God – is only possible through repentance and faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. We believe that the Bible is God’s reliable record of His dealings with mankind, to make it possible for us to return to Him. We believe that the Holy Spirit is given to Christians so that they may offer back to God spiritual sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and sanctified lives. This, we believe, is the Catholic faith.
We also believe that it is possible to preach and live this ‘evangelical and catholic’ faith in a Church which is itself part of God’s gracious provision. Locally and nationally the Christian community is to be a place where Christ is made known through preaching, sacraments, prayer, pastoral care, teaching and acts of witness and service. The ministry of our bishops, presbyters and deacons is to lead and equip the local Churches in all these tasks.
What is the Free Church of England’s position on sexual relations?
We recognise that all of us are sinners, and that the only true hope for sinful people – whether homosexual or heterosexual – is in Jesus Christ. The Free Church of England teaches that that monogamous heterosexual marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for full sexual relations today. Holy Matrimony is the exclusive commitment of a man and woman to each other in conjugal love (Genesis 2:20-25; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5). It is intended to be a life-long union (Matthew 19:3-12), in which children may be born and nurtured (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). A pattern for marriage is shown in Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). This understanding of marriage is based on the plain teaching of Scripture and is enshrined in the Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer and in the authorised Catechism of this Church. Convocation does not consent to any premises of the Free Church of England being used for the registration or blessing of same-sex unions, nor are the clergy of this Church permitted to take part in such ceremonies.
At the same time we deeply regret the hurt caused to homosexual men and women by the Church’s past and present attitudes towards them. We wish in particular to offer pastoral support to Christians struggling with same-sex temptation who remain celibate in obedience to Christ and affirm them in their faithfulness.
What is the Free Church of England’s position on Freemasonry?
It is a matter of genuine surprise and concern that from time to time the Free Church of England is accused of ‘being riddled with Freemasonry’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Until a few decades ago in most Protestant Churches in this country it was thought possible to be both a good Mason and good Christian and to hold high office in the Church. In the 1950s and 60s Archbishop Fisher of Canterbury, for example, was a Freemason. At the same time so was the Bishop Primus of the Free Church of England. However, from the 1980s the Free Church of England has shared the Church of England’s growing doubts about the compatibility of Masonic practice with Christian profession. In 1986 when a presbyter who was a Freemason was elected as bishop, the degree of disquiet within the Free Church of England was such that he resigned as a Mason before consecration as a bishop (as the Revd Jonathan Baker did in 2011 prior to his consecration as Bishop of Ebbsfleet). That, we think, gives an accurate insight into the Free Church of England’s position on the matter.
None of the current bishops of the Free Church of England is a Freemason. As far as we are aware, there are today only a few Masons among our members, most of them elderly, who joined at a time when it was not thought to be inconsistent with loyal Church membership. Many of them have given years of valuable service. It is for the electors at local Annual Church Meetings to decide whether Freemasons should serve on the Church Council or hold any other office. The Diocesan Bishops are guided by the view expressed by the General Synod of the Church of England that ‘There are a number of very fundamental reasons to question the compatibility of Freemasonry with Christianity’.
What is the ‘Evangelical Connexion’?
The Free Church of England is required by its Declaration of Principles to ‘maintain communion with all Christian Churches’ and to ‘set forward, so far as in it lieth, quietness, peace and love among all Christian people’. How that is given expression will obviously vary according to place and circumstances. In the present situation in the UK we believe that we can fulfil these requirements by engaging with other Churches and in the current Churches Together instruments. However, we do not believe that this involves doctrinal compromise; on the contrary, we see it as an opportunity to witness to others who profess to be Christians concerning the centrality of the Cross and the supreme authority and sufficiency of Scripture as the Word of God.
In 2003 a number of clergy (most of them relatively new to the Free Church of England) left – giving as their reason their objection to the outward-looking stance that the Church was taking. They formed a group of congregations calling themselves ‘The Evangelical Connexion’. Since then, of the group of churches that left, three have returned to the Free Church of England. Four congregations, however, remain institutionally separate. Since 2003, through prayer and dialogue, we have sought reconciliation and reintegration and earnestly hope that God will soon bring this about for our mutual encouragement and for the sake of the witness of his Church.