The New International Encyclopædia/Free Congregations

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FREE CONGREGATIONS (Ger. freie Gemeinden). An association of German rationalists. It originated in Saxony, in 1841, where the members were called ‘Protestant Friends’ and ‘Friends of Light.’ The immediate occasion was an attempt to discipline a Magdeburg preacher who had expressed heretical views. Early leaders in the movement were Leberecht Uhlich (q.v.) and Gustav Adolf Wislicenus (q.v.), both of whom were forced out of the Evangelical Church for expressing liberal views. In like manner, independent congregations arose in a number of places, and in 1847 a union was effected between them on the basis of a simple profession of faith in God. By this time their gatherings, held symbolically in the open air, had come to number more than two thousand, including delegates from England and America. In 1850 they were united with the German Catholics (q.v.), and in the same year and the years immediately following some forty congregations were established in the United States, but had a short existence. After the revolutionary movements of the middle of the century several of the German governments undertook to suppress them, partly for political reasons. Many congregations were broken up. Those still in existence in 1859, about fifty in number, under Uhlich's leadership, formed a ‘Union of Free Congregations in Germany,’ upon a highly rationalistic basis. Inasmuch as the fullest individual liberty is allowed, the belief of members and congregations varies greatly. There has been a tendency toward radical free thought and some even deny the existence of a personal deity. The association is strongest in Berlin, Breslau, and Magdeburg. Its numbers and influence have gradually diminished. Consult: Uhlich, Handbüchlein der freien Religion (Magdeburg, 1859); Kampe, Geschichte der religiösen Bewegung der neuern Zeit (Leipzig, 1852-60); Freidenker-Almanach (Gotha, annually).