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English Dissenters were English Christians who separated from the Church of England. They opposed State interference in religious matters, and founded their own communities in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Having hoped for a more Protestant Reformation in the Church of England, many individuals were disappointed that political decisions were made by the monarchs in order to control the Established Church.

The Dissenters triumphed for a time under Oliver Cromwell. King James I had said "No bishop, no king"; Cromwell made good on that, abolishing both.

After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the episcopacy was reinstalled and the rights of the Dissenters were limited. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 required Anglican ordination for all ministers. Many clergymen instead withdrew from the state church, the Church of England.

These Dissenters were also 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.

Rational Dissenters

In the eighteenth 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.

List of Dissenting groups

Historical Dissenting groups

In existence during the English Interregnum (1649 - 1660):


An illustration of Adamites being rounded up by men with guns
The Adamites took their name and practises from a North African Christian sect that first existed between the 2nd and 4th centuries. The Adamites that emerged in the 17th century had similar beliefs to this sect, believing that they existed in a state of grace, claiming to have regained the innocence that Adam and Eve possessed prior to the Fall.

The Adamites were said to have associated with each other in the nude, professing that a person could reattain the innocence and purity held by Adam through being unburdened by clothing.

Very little is known about these English Adamites, as most information on them comes from their critics, who believed them to be radicals.



Main Article: Henry Barrowe


The Behmenists religious movement began on continental Europe and took its ideas from the writings of Jakob Böhme (Behmen being one of the translations 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.

However, in some ways, Behmenist belief deviated significantly from traditional Lutheran belief,. For example, Böhme rejected the concepts of sola fide and sola gratia.


Early Congregationalists




The 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 Dutchmarker 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.

Fifth Monarchists








The Seekers were not a distinct religion or sect, but instead formed a religious society. Like other Protestant dissenting groups at the time, 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 practises. 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.

Furthermore to this, the Seekers denied the effectiveness of external forms of religion such as the sacraments, baptism, and the Scriptures as a means of salvation.


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.

Present-day Dissenting groups

See also


  1. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church by F. L. Cross (Editor), E. A. Livingstone (Editor) Oxford University Press, USA; 3 edition p.490 (March 13, 1997)
  2. BBC - History - James I, King of England, VI of Scotland (1566 - 1625)
  3. Philip, 36.
  4. Yarb, Samoth fl., (1641). A New Sect of Religion Descryed, called Adamites: deriving their religion from our father Adam. Wherein they hold themselves to be blamelesse at the last day, though they sinne never so egregiously, for they challenge salvation as their due from the innocencie of their second Adam.
  5. Josef Dobrovský, (1978). Dĕjiny českých pikartů a adamitů
  6. Anon., (1641). A Discoverie of 29 Sects Here in London.
  7. Cressy, D., (1999). The Adamites Exposed: Naked Radicals in the English Revolution, in Travesties and Transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England. ISBN 0198207816
  8. Boehme, Jakob. Columbia Encyclopedia
  9. He states: "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."
  10. Marsh, Christopher W. (2005). The Family of Love in English Society, 1550–1630. p1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521020008
  11. Rogers, John (1572). The Displaying of an Horrible Sect pp. 118-130.
  12. Nicholas (or Niclaes), Hendrik. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition.
  13. Hamilton, The Family of Love, p132.
  14. Nicholas (or Niclaes), Hendrik. Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition.
  15. Seekers. ExLibis. 22 Feb 2009.
  16. Seeker. Encyclopedia Britannica. 22 Feb 2009.


  • Fitzpatrick, Martin. "Heretical Religion and Radical Political Ideas in Late Eighteenth-Century England." The Transformation of Political Culture: England and Germany in the Late Eighteenth Century. Ed. Eckhart Hellmuth. Oxford: Oxford University Press; London: German Historical Institute, 1990. ISBN 0199205019.
  • Philip, Mark. "Rational Religion and Political Radicalism." Enlightenment and Dissent 4 (1985): 35–46.
  • Dobrowsky, Josef, (1788). "Geschichte der Bömischen Pikarden und Adamiten", Abhandlungen der königlich böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften.

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