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This article refers to Protestant Nonconformism. For the general meaning of term, see Wiktionary:nonconformism

Nonconformism (usually capitalized) refers to the Protestant Christians of England and Wales who refused to "conform", or follow the governance and usages of the Church of England.

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Origins and use

Nonconformist was a term used in England after the Act of Uniformity 1662 to refer to an English subject belonging to a non-Christian religion or any non-Anglican church. It may also refer more narrowly to such a person who also advocated religious liberty. The term is also applied retrospectively to English Dissenters (such as Puritans and Presbyterians) who violated the Act of Uniformity 1559, typically by practising or advocating radical, sometimes separatist, dissent with respect to the Established Church.

Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers (founded in 1648), and those less organized were considered Nonconformists at the time of the 1662 Act of Uniformity. Later, as other groups formed, they were also considered Nonconformists. These included Methodists, Unitarians, and members of the Salvation Army.

The religious census of 1851 revealed that total Nonconformist attendance was very close to that of Anglicans.

Today

Nowadays, churches independent of the Anglican Church of England or the Presbyterian Church of Scotland are often called Free Churches. In Scotland, the Anglican Scottish Episcopal Church is considered nonconformist (despite its English counterpart's status) and in England, the Presbyterian United Reformed Church is in a similar position.

In Wales the strong traditions of Nonconformism can be traced back to the Welsh Methodist revival which led to Wales effectively being a Nonconformist country by the mid 19th century. The influence of Nonconformism, boosted by yet another great religious revival in the shape of the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival, in the early part of the 20th century in Wales led to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales via the Welsh Church Act 1914, which created the Church in Wales.

Critics argued the required degree of conformity was quite high, and that members who refused to conform to common standards, conventions, rules, traditions or laws of the Nonconformist church were dealt with far more severely than the Established Church dealt with its members.

The term dissenter came into use, particularly after the Act of Toleration (1689), which exempted Nonconformists who had taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy from penalties for non-attendance at the services of the Church of England. For more on Nonconformists of the 17th and 18th centuries, see English Dissenters.

In England, Nonconformists were restricted from many spheres of public life and were ineligible for many forms of public educational and social benefits, until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the nineteenth century and associated toleration. For example, attendance at an English university had required conformity to the Church of England before University College London (UCL) was founded, compelling Nonconformists to fund their own Dissenting Academies privately.

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