What is Dissent and Nonconformity?

Nonconformists are members of Protestant religious groups whose predecessors refused to conform to the doctrine, discipline and practices of the established Anglican Church. Their history may be traced to the activities of Puritans who resented the compromises enshrined in the sixteenth-century Elizabethan Settlement, and to the frenetic events and tensions of the first half of the seventeenth century when the earliest Independent / Congregational and Baptist churches were established: those in Wales included the Independent church at Llanvaches, Monmouthshire in 1639 and the Baptist church at Ilston, Gower in 1649.  Independents / Congregationalists emphasise the independence and autonomy of each gathered congregation of believers, and Baptists believe in the baptism, not of infants, but of believers by total immersion. Other groups which also emerged in the seventeenth century included the Unitarians, who reject the doctrine of the Trinity; and the Quakers: the Religious Society of Friends: who do not observe the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. All these groups, also known as Dissenters, were persecuted in the years following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and especially by the 1662 Act of Uniformity.

The ranks of Welsh Nonconformists were further increased in the eighteenth century following the evangelical revival which began as a reform movement within the Anglican Church. Calvinistic Methodists, who were influenced by the emphasis of the sixteenth-century theologian John Calvin on the total sovereignty of God with the elect chosen from the beginning of time, separated from the Church of England in 1811. Their descendants today are members of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, and those of John Wesley’s followers, who formed part of the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion, are members of The Methodist Church.

Huw Owen

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