The free churches in Germany include about a dozen affiliated but independent churches and congregations that emerged from Protestant renewal movements, primarily in the nineteenth century. Some free churches practice baptism, and others accept a simple public declaration of faith. Prominent among the former are Baptists and Methodists, who set up religious communities in Germany in 1834 and 1849, respectively. Methodism was brought to Germany by immigrants returning from the United States. Since 1854 a third group, the Free Evangelical Congregations, has practiced baptism of believers, without making it a precondition for membership in the congregation.
Although the various free churches follow different practices, they differ from the two main religions in Germany in that they are independent of the state. The free churches, seeing themselves as "free churches in a free country," seek no special treatment from the state and are funded almost exclusively by members' voluntary contributions.
The emergence of these independent churches was accompanied by their persecution and denunciation as sects. For this reason, overcoming prejudice has been a long and arduous process. After World War II, the free churches were cofounders of the Study Group of Christian Churches in West Germany and West Berlin. They used this organization as a forum for fraternal interaction with other churches.
The tenets of the free churches stress the importance of the New Testament, freely expressed belief in Jesus Christ and a life of service devoted to him, personal piety, and the sanctity of human life. Conscientious objection to military service is a part of the teachings of some free churches. Many free churches emphasize the autonomy of the local parish and prefer to be called a community rather than a church.
Since 1926 the original members of the Free Churches in Germany have cooperated with one another through the Meeting of Evangelical Free Churches. These churches are the Association of Evangelical Free Church Congregations, the Association of Free Evangelical Congregations, and the Evangelical Methodist Church. Five additional churches have guest membership status: the Christian Study Group Mülheim/Ruhr, the Sacred Army in Germany, the European-Festland Fraternal Uniate, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Association of German Mennonite Communities. These eight free churches have a combined membership of approximately 195,000, organized in about 1,500 parishes or communities. Almost all these churches are legal corporate bodies.
In recent years, the free churches' interaction and cooperation with the established Protestant churches have intensified. A few such activities include missionary work, Bible groups, and humanitarian efforts such as "Bread for the World."
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