Religious dissent

What is Protestant religious dissent?

Modern religious dissent in England stems from the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, and more particularly from those who, by dissenting from the 1662 Act of Uniformity, were labelled nonconformists. The Act of Uniformity insisted that all men in holy orders, every minister, teacher, lecturer or university fellow, must submit to Anglican authority and to the bishops, as if they were appointed by God. If such ministers were unable or unwilling to conform they were ejected from their livings. They were required, by St Bartholomew's Day (24 August) 1662, to give their 'unfeigned assent and consent' to the newly revised Book of Common Prayer, including some ceremonies which the puritans had long found objectionable, such as kneeling to receive communion and the use of the sign of the cross in baptisms. All clergymen were to be ordained by a bishop. Although most clergymen conformed to the Church of England, a sizeable minority refused to do so. Nearly a thousand (almost a sixth of the total) lost their livings, and approximately two thousand clergymen and teachers suffered in England and Wales between 1660 and 1662, creating a permanent split in national religious life. Yet often the nonconformists had powerful lay support. Most were moderate puritans or Presbyterians because Baptists, Quakers, and most Congregationalists were already worshipping outside the national church.

Differences between the denominations

Although the term religious dissenters is applied to all the Protestants who chose not to conform to the Church of England, they often had little in common. Major differences existed between the denominations in doctrine, church government, worship and ministry. The denominations experienced changes in the eighteenth century, with the evangelical revival, which transformed most denominations and led to the Methodists breaking away from the Church of England.

The term Old Dissent refers to Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers, among others, whereas New Dissent is often applied to the various Methodist bodies.