The Free Church of England is an Anglican church which separated from the established Church of England in 1844 . The church was founded by evangelical clergy in Devon in response to the Anglo-Catholicism of Henry Phillpotts, the Bishop of Exeter. It was initially supported by Edward Adolphus St Maur, 11th Duke of Somerset, who built the first church in Bridgetown.
In 1927 , the Free Church of England (FCE) entered into full communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, a church through which it had originally received its bishops in historic succession. The Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) was founded in 1873 by Anglican evangelicals in the United States. The name, "Reformed Episcopal Church" is now an alternate name for the Free Church of England.
The Free Church of England regards itself as a Protestant Anglican church body, worshipping in the Low Church tradition and holding to the principles of sola scriptura, sola fide, and salvation only by the Name of Christ. Denied are such teachings as ministers being sacrificing priests and Apostolic Succession (which lineage nonetheless has been maintained in the FCE up to the present) as essential for a valid ministry.
The Free Church of England has two dioceses in England and a church in Russia — The Church of Christ the Saviour, St. Petersburg. Parishes in England total about a dozen and are concentrated in the north and south.
In the first years of the Twenty-first Century, several divisive issues faced FCE conventions. One was the question of church members also holding membership in Masonic Lodges. It was decided that such membership was incompatible with the Christian faith, and a decision was reached to call for all such church members who also hold membership in secret societies to be counselled about the conflicting values of the two. Some current Presbyters and others in the FCE/REC are still active freemasons, and at least one other is heavily involved with British Israelism. The FCE-Evangelical Connexion (see below) says, on the contrary, "In view of the long and sad history of unbiblical, Cultic and secret societies, membership of such bodies is discouraged." (see their wesbite for further details).
Additionally, a proposal for the Church to enter into new ecumenical activities was debated. Some critics insisted that although the FCE had long supported fellowship with other Evangelical churches, the new ecumenical proposal did not limit itself to clearly Evangelical churches. This controversy, along with divisions over other basic issues of doctrine and the issue of Freemasonry, led to a schism within the FCE, with one faction maintaining broader relations with other churches, while the opposing faction (the FCE-Evangelical Connexion, also known as the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England) favours ecumenical relations within a narrower interpretation of historic FCE beliefs. Traditional Vestments, and the word catholic in the prayer book, and other matters of doctrine, are also disavowed by the Connexion, and a few American supporters of the Connexion favour the Reformed Episcopal Church's Thirty-five Articles over the Church of England's traditional Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. In recent times, however, the Thirty-five Articles have been repudiated by the councils of the Reformed Episcopal Church as contrary to the original intent of their Declaration of Principles of 1873, despite their having been written by the founder of the REC, George Cummins.
Since early 2006, it has appeared that the two factions would not be reconciled to each other and might, therefore, become two separate churches at some time in the future. Yet to be resolved legal action has been taken to determine ownership of the assets of dissenting parishes which have affiliated with the Connexion.