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Lucie Bardiau

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Lilian Bachellerie

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Part 1 : An overview of the history of the Evangelical Free Church


Before the Reformation

The Christian Church was born in the first century (Acts 11:31) and its members transmitted the teaching of Jesus, emphasizing his death and resurrection. In the beginning, there was very little structure, but little by little, rules were put in place and the men, of which it was made up, sought privileges, distorted the initial teaching and that of free salvation. The idea that man must deserve his salvation developed more and more: when he sinned, man must do penance in order to be forgiven by God; otherwise, after his death, he must spend some time in a place called Purgatory, before being admitted to Paradise.

From the first centuries appeared the "Indulgences", which allowed the believer, after acts of charity, to shorten his stay in Purgatory after his death, by a few days, months, even years.

This practice of Indulgences developed more and more until the sixteenth century, when it reached its climax. The Church (we aren’t yet speaking of the Catholic Church) made a real trade by selling Indulgences for money.

On 31 October 1517, the German monk Martin Luther - shocked by the words of another monk, Tetzel (As soon as you drop a coin in the box, a soul in  pergatory will be released ) –  put a poster on the door of the Church of Wittemberg : his famous "95 theses" which condemned in particular the Indulgences. This date of 31 October 1517 is often considered as the beginning of the Reformation (and the foundation of Protestantism). There were other "Reformers" who defended ideas similar to those of Martin Luther: Huldrych Zwingli, then John Calvin in Switzerland (also Calvin for France), John Knox in Scotland, and so on.

It is at this time that the 5 solae were formulated, which are the foundation of Protestantism and separate it from Catholicism:
Sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
Sola fides (faith alone)
Sola Gratia (grace alone)
Solus Christus (Christ alone),  Soli Deo gloria (to God alone glory)


Until the 19th century:
Until the end of the 16th century, Catholicism and Protestantism struggled to coexist (8 wars of religion, massacre of St. Bartholomew, etc.)

The 16th century ended on a note apparently favourable to the Protestants: in 1598, Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, which tolerated Protestantism. In fact, it was a "soft" anti-protestant policy that was applied by the successors of Henri IV. In 1685 the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes took place, it was the Edict of Fontainebleau, signed by Louis XIV, which forbade Protestantism.

It was then the period of the "Church under the Cross", a century (1685-1787) during which clandestine cults sometimes took place in the Desert (allusion to the wandering of the people of Israel in Sinai),  that is to say, often in the wilderness in caves, clearings or isolated valleys).

In 1789 the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen" granted to everyone the freedom to choose his religion. After a few difficult years during the French Revolution, as early as 1802 and throughout the nineteenth century, Protestantism developed.



The Evangelical Churches:
Let us now go back a few centuries, at the time of the Reformation.

Not all the reformers had exactly the same ideas (for example Luther and Zwingli did not have the same interpretation of the sacrament: actual presence or a symbol).

Some also felt that things didn’t change fast enough. In their eyes, baptism was of paramount importance and they wanted everyone to be baptized as an adult, even though he had already been baptized as a child. They were called rebaptizers or anabaptists.

These Anabaptists mainly settled in the Rhine valley, not hesitating to use force. Some of them were nonviolent, including Menno Simmons, who founded the Mennonite Evangelical Church.

Then in 1609, the English pastor John Smith began to preach. Three years later, the first Evangelical Baptist Church was founded.

In the following century, the Anglican pastor John Wesley, being forbidden to preach in the Anglican Church, preached in the open air to crowds of several thousand people. After his death, the Methodist Evangelical Church was founded.

The French Revolution had consequences for the churches. In 1802 Bonaparte promulgated the Organic Articles which defined the status of worship. The Protestant pastors becoming wage-earners of the French State, had to swear an oath of fidelity to the government. The churches were grouped together and (headed by a consistory where the most important citizens sat). The consistory called - therefore named - the pastors.
Liberalism was raging and there was a religious and moral collapse of Protestantism. In the institute of theology of Geneva (which was then French), some students had a Revival and opposed doctrinal liberalism, returning to a church of professants. From this Spiritual Revival at the beginning of the XIXth century (1820-1870), several Evangelical Churches were born.

Birth of the UEEL
In 1849, the Union of the Evangelical Churches of France was created, bringing together former pastors of the Reformed Church and the Independent churches. The term "free" had not yet been added, but it was implied that pastors were no longer paid by the State, or under state influence, but that the Union was free. But the word "Free" was going to evolve ...

The meaning of "Free"
As all the Evangelical Churches themselves pay their pastors (Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc), the addition of the word "Free" can no longer designate the financial side only. Today, it expresses our freedom on secondary matters in order to better edify us on what is essential, recalling the motto of the Union of Free Evangelical Churches: "In essential things, fidelity; in secondary things, liberty; in all things charity. "

Now, in France, there are several groups or unions of Evangelical Churches. They regroup, have an internal structure and organization, a confession of faith. The churches thus united are not totally independent (the full meaning of the word free); they are subject to commonly established rules, which may change over time, as has been the case since the Synod of this spring, when several articles of the Rules of Procedure have been modified and now make place for the development centre : revitalize churches and plant new ones.