A dissenter (from the Latin dissentire, "to disagree") is one who disagrees in opinion, belief and other matters. English Dissenters opposed state interference in religious matters, founded their own churches, educational establishments and communities. Some emigrated to the New World, especially to the Thirteen Colonies and Canada. Brownists founded the Plymouth colony. English dissenters played a pivotal role in spiritual development of the United States and greatly diversified the religious landscape. They originally agitated for a wide-reaching Protestant Reformation of the established Church of England, and they flourished briefly during the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell.
King James VI of Scotland, I of England and Ireland, had said "no bishop, no king", emphasising the role of the clergy in justifying royal legitimacy. Cromwell capitalised on that phrase, abolishing both upon founding the Commonwealth of England. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the episcopacy was reinstalled and the rights of the Dissenters were limited: the Act of Uniformity 1662 required Anglican ordination for all clergy, and many instead withdrew from the state church. These ministers and their followers came to be known as Nonconformists, though originally this term referred to refusal to use certain vestments and ceremonies of the Church of England, rather than separation from it.
In existence during the English Interregnum (1649–1660):
It is generally assumed that during the Interregnum, the Baptists and other dissenting groups absorbed the British Anabaptists. Despite this, evidence suggests that the early relations between Baptists and Anabaptists were quite strained. In 1624, the then five existing Baptist churches of London issued an anathema against the Anabaptists. Even today there is still very little dialogue between Anabaptist organisations (such as the Mennonite World Conference) and the Baptist bodies.
Henry Barrowe maintained the right and duty of the Church to carry out necessary reforms without awaiting the permission of the civil power; and advocated congregational independence. He regarded the whole established church order as polluted by the relics of Roman Catholicism, and insisted on separation as essential to pure worship and discipline.
The Behmenists religious movement began on continental Europe and took its ideas from the writings of Jakob Böhme (Behmen being one of the adaptations of his name used in England), a German mystic and theosopher who claimed Divine Revelation. In the 1640s, his works appeared in England and English Behmenists developed. Eventually, some of these merged with the Quakers of the time.
Böhme's writings primarily concerned the nature of sin, evil and redemption. Consistent with Lutheran theology, Böhme believed that humanity had fallen from a state of divine grace into a state of sin and suffering, that the forces of evil included fallen angels who had rebelled against God, and subsequently that God's goal was to restore the world to a state of grace.
By 1580, Robert Browne had become a leader in the movement for a congregational form of organisation for the Church of England and attempted to set up a separate Congregational Church in Norwich, Norfolk, England. He was arrested but released on the advice of William Cecil, his kinsman. Browne and his companions moved to Middelburg in the Netherlands in 1581. He returned to England in 1585 and to the Church of England, being employed as a schoolmaster and parish priest.
Their original name came from their belief in economic equality based upon a specific passage in the Book of Acts. The Diggers tried (by "levelling" real property) to reform the existing social order with an agrarian lifestyle based on their ideas for the creation of small egalitarian rural communities. They were one of a number of nonconformist dissenting groups that emerged around this time.
Several Protestant sects of the 16th and 17th centuries were called Enthusiastic. During the years that immediately followed the Glorious Revolution, "enthusiasm" was a British pejorative term for advocacy of any political or religious cause in public. Such "enthusiasm" was seen in the time around 1700 as the cause of the previous century's civil war and its attendant atrocities, and thus it was an absolute social sin to remind others of the war by engaging in enthusiasm. During the 18th century, popular Methodists such as John Wesley or George Whitefield were accused of blind enthusiasm (i.e., fanaticism), a charge against which they defended themselves by distinguishing fanaticism from "religion of the heart".
The Familia Caritatis ("Family of Love", or the "Familists"), were a religious sect that began in continental Europe in the 16th century. Members of this religious group were devout followers of a Dutch mystic named Hendrik Niclaes. The Familists believed that Niclaes was the only person who truly knew how to achieve a state of perfection, and his texts attracted followers in Germany, France, and England.
The Familists were extremely secretive and wary of outsiders. For example, they wished death upon those outside of the Family of Love, and re-marriage after the death of a spouse could only take place between men and women of the same Familist congregation. Additionally, they would not discuss their ideas and opinions with outsiders and sought to remain undetected by ordinary members of society: they tended to be members of an established church so as not to attract suspicion and showed respect for authority.
The group were considered heretics in 16th century England. Among their beliefs were that there existed a time before Adam and Eve, Heaven and Hell were both present on Earth, and that all things were ruled by nature and not directed by God.
The Familists continued to exist until the middle of the 17th century, when they were absorbed into the Quaker movement.
The Fifth Monarchists or Fifth Monarchy Men were active from 1649 to 1661 during the Interregnum, following the English Civil Wars of the 17th century. They took their name from a prophecy in the Book of Daniel that four ancient monarchies (Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, and Roman) would precede Christ's return. They also referred to the year 1666 and its relationship to the biblical Number of the Beast indicating the end of earthly rule by carnal human beings. They were one of a number of Nonconformist dissenting groups that emerged around this time.
In a sermon preached at Paul's Cross on 11 February 1627, and published under the title of The White Wolfe, 1627, Stephen Denison, minister of St. Catherine Cree, charges the 'Gringltonian (sic) familists' with holding nine points of an antinomian tendency. These nine points are repeated from Denison by Ephraim Pagitt in his Heresiography (2nd ed. 1645, p. 89), and glanced at by Alexander Ross, Πανσεβεια (2nd ed. 1655, p. 365). In 1635 John Webster, curate at Kildwick, was before a church court charged with being a Grindletonian, and simultaneously in New England John Winthrop thought that Anne Hutchinson was one. The last known Grindletonian died in the 1680s.
The Levellers were a political movement during the English Civil War that emphasised popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance. Levellers tended to hold fast to a notion of "natural rights" that had been violated by the king's side in the civil wars (1642–1651). At the Putney Debates in 1647, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough defended natural rights as coming from the law of God expressed in the Bible.
The Muggletonians, named after Lodowicke Muggleton, was a small Protestant Christian movement which began in 1651 when two London tailors announced they were the last prophets foretold in the biblical Book of Revelation. The group grew out of the Ranters and in opposition to the Quakers. Muggletonian beliefs include a hostility to philosophical reason, a scriptural understanding of how the universe works and a belief that God appeared directly on this earth as Christ Jesus. A consequential belief is that God takes no notice of everyday events on earth and will not generally intervene until it is meet to bring the world to an end.
Muggletonians avoided all forms of worship or preaching and, in the past, met only for discussion and socialising amongst members. The movement was egalitarian, apolitical, and pacifist, and resolutely avoided evangelism. Members attained a degree of public notoriety by cursing those who reviled their faith. This practice, which proved uncannily effective, ceased in the mid-19th century and one of the last to suffer was the novelist Sir Walter Scott.
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England. The designation "Puritan" is often incorrectly used, notably based on the assumption that hedonism and puritanism are antonyms: historically, the word was used to characterise the Protestant group as extremists similar to the Cathari of France, and according to Thomas Fuller in his Church History dated back to 1564. Archbishop Matthew Parker of that time used it and "precisian" with the sense of stickler. T. D. Bozeman therefore uses instead the term precisianist in regard to the historical groups of England and New England.
The Philadelphians, or the Philadelphian Society, were a Protestant 17th-century religious group in England. They were organised around John Pordage (1607–1681), an Anglican priest from Bradfield, Berkshire, who had been ejected from his parish in 1655 because of differing views, but then reinstated in 1660 during the English Restoration. Pordage was attracted to the ideas of Jakob Böhme, a Lutheran theosophist and Christian mystic.
The Quakers were a loosely knit group of teachers that grew out of the Seekers. George Fox's journal attributes the name "Quaker" to a judge in 1650 calling them Quakers "because I bid them tremble before the Lord".
The Ranters were a sect in the time of the Commonwealth (1649–1660) who were regarded as heretical by the established Church of that period. Their central idea was pantheistic, that God is essentially in every creature; this led them to deny the authority of the Church, of scripture, of the current ministry and of services, instead calling on men to hearken to Jesus within them. Many Ranters seem to have rejected a belief in immortality and in a personal God, and in many ways they resemble the Brethren of the Free Spirit in the 14th century. The Ranters revived the Brethren of the Free Spirit's beliefs of amoralism and followed the Brethren's ideals which "stressed the desire to surpass the human condition and become godlike". Further drawing from the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Ranters embraced antinomianism and believed that Christians are freed by grace from the necessity of obeying Mosaic Law. Because they believed that God was present in all living creatures, the Ranters' adherence to antinomianism allowed them to reject the very notion of obedience, thus making them a great threat to the stability of the government.
Sabbatarians were known in England from the time of Elizabeth I (1558–1603). Access to the Bible in English allowed anyone who could read English to study scripture and question Church doctrines, including challenging the Christian day of worship (sabbath) being on Sunday rather than the Judaic and early Christian Saturday. Some Dutch Anabaptists embraced Sabbatarianism, and may have helped to introduce these practices into England. Socinians and Reformed Church members were also known to hold Sabbatarian beliefs. Sabbatarian practitioners were also to be found within the Church of England in one form or another. Even the Puritans were known to harbour Sabbatarian views. English Sabbatarianism is generally associated with John Traske (1585–1636), Theophilus Brabourne (1590–1662) and Dorothy Traske (c. 1585–1645), who also played a major role in keeping the early Traskite congregations growing in numbers.
The Seekers were not a distinct religion or sect, but instead formed a religious society. Like other Protestant dissenting groups, they believed the Roman Catholic Church to be corrupt, which subsequently applied to the Church of England as well through its common heritage.
Seekers considered all churches and denominations to be in error, and believed that only a new church established by Christ upon his return could possess his grace. Their anticipation of this event was found in their practices. For example, Seekers held meetings as opposed to religious services, and as such had no clergy or hierarchy. During these gatherings they would wait in silence and speak only when felt that God had inspired them to do so.
The followers of Socinianism were Unitarian or Nontrinitarian in theology and influenced by the Polish Brethren. The Socinians of 17th century England influenced the development of the English Presbyterians, the English Unitarians and the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
In the 18th century, one group of Dissenters became known as "Rational Dissenters". In many respects they were closer to the Anglicanism of their day than other Dissenting sects; however, they believed that state religions impinged on the freedom of conscience. They were fiercely opposed to the hierarchical structure of the Established Church and the financial ties between it and the government. Like moderate Anglicans, they desired an educated ministry and an orderly church, but they based their opinions on reason and the Bible rather than on appeals to tradition and authority. They rejected doctrines such as the Trinity and original sin, arguing that they were irrational. Rational Dissenters believed that Christianity and faith could be dissected and evaluated using the newly emerging discipline of science, and that a stronger belief in God would be the result.
Another significant dissenting tradition that emerged at the end of the 18th century is the Swedenborgian church, which continues today in several branches around the world, though originating in London in 1780. Beginning as reading groups of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) composed largely of Methodists, Baptists, and Anglicans, some of the Swedenborgian enthusiasts became disillusioned with the prospects for thorough Swedenborgian theological reform within their respective traditions, and these separated from their traditions to form the General Conference of the New Jerusalem, often called simply the New Church. Other Swedenborgian converts, such as Anglican Rev. John Clowes and Rev. Thomas Hartley, argued for remaining within existing traditions. Swedenborg himself did not call for a new organization, but for profound theological reform for the existing churches. At the end of his life he endured a rare Swedish heresy inquiry by the Swedish Lutheran Consistory. He died before it was concluded, and the matter was quietly shelved with no decision. Swedenborg's primary critiques of orthodox theology centred on tri-personal constructions of the Trinity, the idea of salvation by faith alone, and the vicarious atonement. He reprised the allegorical tradition of reading scripture, which he believed was composed in correspondences, a theory of symbolic values in the literal text that produced an inner sense wherein one could lay hold of the new theology.
For he that will say, I have a Will, and would willingly do Good, but the earthly Flesh which I carry about me, keepeth me back, so that I cannot; yet I shall be saved by Grace, for the Merits of Christ. I comfort myself with his Merit and Sufferings; who will receive me of mere Grace, without any Merits of my own, and forgive me my Sins. Such a one, I say, is like a Man that knoweth what Food is good for his Health, yet will not eat of it, but eateth Poison instead thereof, from whence Sickness and Death, will certainly follow
That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation;
The group of believers was one in mind and heart. No one said that any of his belongings was his own, but they all shared with one another everything they had.
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy
Benjamin Bowring (baptised 17 May 1778 – 1 June 1846) was an English watchmaker, jeweller, and businessman. He was the founder, in 1811, of the Bowring trading, shipping and insurance businesses, later known as Bowring Brothers in Canada and the United States, and C.T. Bowring & Co. in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In 1979, the MV Benjamin Bowring was named after him. C.T. Bowring and Co. was bought by Marsh & McLennan Companies in 1980.Brownist
The Brownists were a group of English Dissenters or early Separatists from the Church of England. They were named after Robert Browne, who was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, in the 1550s. A majority of the Separatists aboard the Mayflower in 1620 were Brownists, and indeed the Pilgrims were known for 200 years as the Brownist Emigration.Congregational church
Congregational churches (also Congregationalist churches; Congregationalism) are Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition practicing congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.
Congregationalism, as defined by the Pew Research Center, is estimated to represent 0.5 per cent of the worldwide Protestant population; though their polity-related customs and other ideas influenced significant parts of Protestantism, as well as other Christian congregations. The report defines it very narrowly, encompassing mainly denominations in the United States and the United Kingdom, which can trace their history back to nonconforming Protestants, Puritans, Separatists, Independents, English religious groups coming out of the English Civil War, and other English dissenters not satisfied with the degree to which the Church of England had been reformed.
Congregationalist tradition has a presence in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and various island nations in the Pacific region. It has been introduced either by immigrant dissenter Protestants or by missionary organization such as the London Missionary Society. A number of evangelical Congregational churches are members of the World Evangelical Congregational Fellowship.
In the United Kingdom, many Congregational churches claim their descent from Protestant denominations formed on a theory of union published by the theologian and English separatist Robert Browne in 1582. Ideas of nonconforming Protestants during the Puritan Reformation of the Church of England laid foundation for these churches. In England, the early Congregationalists were called Separatists or Independents to distinguish them from the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians, whose churches embrace a polity based on the governance of elders. Congregationalists also differed with the Reformed churches using episcopalian church governance, which is usually led by a bishop.
Congregationalism in the United States traces its origins to the Puritans of New England, who wrote the Cambridge Platform of 1648 to describe the autonomy of the church and its association with others. Within the United States, the model of Congregational churches was carried by migrating settlers from New England into New York, then into the Old North West, and further. With their insistence on independent local bodies, they became important in many social reform movements, including abolitionism, temperance, and women's suffrage. Modern Congregationalism in the United States is largely split into three bodies: the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, which is the most theologically conservative.Conversion narrative
Broadly speaking, a conversion narrative is a narrative that relates the operation of conversion, usually religious. As a specific aspect of American literary and religious history, the conversion narrative was an important facet of Puritan sacred and secular society in New England during a period stretching roughly from 1630 to the end of the First Great Awakening.Dissenter
A dissenter (from the Latin dissentire, "to disagree") is one who disagrees in matters of opinion, belief, etc. In the social and religious history of England and Wales, and, by extension, Ireland, however, it refers particularly to a member of a religious body who has, for one reason or another, separated from the Established Church or any other kind of Protestant who refuses to recognise the supremacy of the Established Church in areas where the established Church is or was Anglican.Originally, the term included English and Welsh Roman Catholics whom the original draft of the Nonconformist Relief Act 1779 styled "Protesting Catholic Dissenters". In practice, however, it designates Protestant Dissenters referred to in sec. ii. of the Act of Toleration of 1689 (see English Dissenters). The term recusant, in contrast, came to refer to Roman Catholics rather than Protestant dissenters.
The term has also been applied to those bodies who dissent from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which is the national church of Scotland. In this connotation, the terms "dissenter" and "dissenting", which had acquired a somewhat contemptuous flavor, have tended since the middle of the 18th century to be replaced by "nonconformist", a term which did not originally imply secession, but only refusal to conform in certain particulars (for example the wearing of the surplice), with the authorized usages of the Established Church.Still more recently, the term "nonconformist" has in its turn, as the political attack on the principle of a state establishment of religion developed, tended to give way to the style of "free churches" and "Free Churchman". All three terms continue in use, "nonconformist" being the most usual, as it is the most colourless.Free church
A "free church" is a Christian denomination or independent church that is intrinsically separate from government (as opposed to a theocracy, or an "established" or state church). A free church does not define government policy, and a free church does not accept church theology or policy definitions from the government. A free church also does not seek or receive government endorsements or funding to carry out its work. The term is especially relevant in countries with established state churches.Highbury College, London
Highbury College was a dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by English Dissenters. Its most famous student was Christopher Newman Hall. It had a high reputation, and in time it was amalgamated into New College London.Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion
The Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, written by 18th-century English Dissenting minister and polymath Joseph Priestley, is a three-volume work designed for religious education published by Joseph Johnson between 1772 and 1774. Its central argument is that revelation and natural law must coincide.John Harvard (clergyman)
John Harvard (1607–1638) was an English minister in America,
"a godly gentleman and a lover of learning"
bequest to the
"schoale or Colledge"
founded two years earlier by the Massachusetts Bay Colony was so gratefully received that it was consequently ordered
agreed upon formerly to
The institution considers him the most honored of its founders – those whose efforts and contributions in its early days "ensure[d] its permanence," and a statue in his honor is a prominent feature of Harvard Yard.John Pordage
John Pordage (1607–1681) was an Anglican priest, astrologer, alchemist and Christian mystic. He founded the 17th century English Behmenist group which would later become known as the Philadelphian Society when it was led by his disciple and successor, Jane Leade.John Seddon of Warrington
John Seddon (1725–1770) was an English Dissenter and rector of Warrington Academy.Palgrave Academy
Palgrave Academy was an early dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by English Dissenters. It was run from 1774 to 1785 in Palgrave, Suffolk by the married couple Anna Laetitia Barbauld and her husband Rochemont Barbauld, a minister. The academy attracted parents who wished an alternative to traditional education for their sons.Philadelphians
The Philadelphians, or the Philadelphian Society, were a 17th century English dissenter group. They were organized around John Pordage (1607–1681), an Anglican priest from Bradfield, Berkshire, who had been ejected from his parish in 1655 because of differing views, but then reinstated in 1660 during the English Restoration. Pordage was attracted to the ideas of Jakob Böhme, a Lutheran theosophist and Christian mystic.Samuel Chandler
Samuel Chandler (1693 – 8 May 1766) was a British Nonconformist minister, dissenter and polemicist pamphleteer. He energetically engaged with the religious disputes and published many sermons, pamphlets and letters. He translated and expanded the Historia Inquisitionis, of Philipp van Limborch, from Latin into English.Samuel Palmer (biographer)
Samuel Palmer (1741–1813) was an English nonconformist minister, known as a biographer.Seekers
The Seekers, or Legatine-Arians as they were sometimes known, were an English Protestant dissenting group that emerged around the 1620s, probably inspired by the preaching of three brothers – Walter, Thomas, and Bartholomew Legate. Seekers considered all organised churches of their day corrupt and preferred to wait for God's revelation. Many of them subsequently joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).Thomas Walker Horsfield
Rev. Thomas Walker Horsfield FSA (christened 2 December 1792, Sheffield - 26 August 1837, Chowbent, Lancashire), was an English Nonconformist minister, topographer, and historian best known for his works The History and Antiquities of Lewes (1824-26) and The History, Antiquities and Topography of the County of Sussex (1835).Timothy Jollie
Timothy Jollie, (c. 1659–1714), was a nonconformist minister and notable educator in the north of England.William Coward (merchant)
William Coward (1648–1738) was a London merchant in the Jamaica trade, remembered for his support of Dissenters, particularly his educational philanthropy.