Baptists and 1662: the Effect of the Act of Uniformity on Baptists and its Ecumenical Significance for Baptists today

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The Act of Uniformity of 1662 had a much greater impact on the lives of Baptists in England and Wales than is indicated by the number of about 22 ejected from livings, since the Act was the symbolic focus of an attempt to impose religious uniformity more widely in society than merely in the practice of the clergy of the state church. Even before the Conventicle Act of 1664 (replaced by the second Conventicle Act of 1670), the 1662 Act encouraged revival and application of the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity of 1559, reinforced by the Religion Act of 1592, resulting in fines, imprisonment, threat of transportation and deaths in the unhealthy conditions of prison. The purpose of this article is not, however, to chronicle in detail the miseries caused by the series of Acts commonly called the ‘Clarendon Code’, but to explore the theological reasons why Baptists resisted the uniformity that was being attempted, drawing on two Baptist Confessions of faith written in the period. Uniformity is considered with regard to resistance to the Prayer Book, the requirement for reception of the Anglican eucharist as qualification for public office, and episcopacy. It is argued that the central theological reason for refusal of conformity in all these areas was an honouring of the rule of Christ in the congregation. Comparison is made in each of these areas with the life of the church today and especially with the ecumenical situation. The speculative suggestion is thus made that, had obedience to the rule of Christ been seen to be satisfied, Baptists could in principle have been drawn with other Nonconformists into a comprehensive national church. Less speculatively, it is urged that there are implications for ecumenical relations today.


The Journal for Ministry, Mission and Unity




Roger Hayden (ed.), The Records of a Church of Christ in Bristol, 1640-1687 (Bristol: Bristol Record Society, 1974), p. 62.


Edward Bagshaw, Life and Death of Mr Vavasor Powell (London: n.p., 1671), p. 136.


Bagshaw, Life and Death, p. 43.


Hayden (ed.), Records of a Church of Christ, p. 64.


Hayden (ed.), Records of a Church of Christ, pp. 155-65.


 See Appleby, ‘From Ejectment to Toleration’, p. 69; John Spurr, The Restoration Church of England 1646-1689 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p. 42. Also see above, note 9.


Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity ( n.p., 1612), p. 46.


Helwys, Short Declaration, p. 61.


Helwys, Short Declaration, pp. 63-4.


 See Christopher J. Ellis, Gathering. A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in Free Church Tradition (London: SCM Press, 2004), p. 119.


Bunyan, I Will Pray, p. 237.


Bunyan, Relation of the Imprisonment, p. 114.


 See Christopher Durston, ‘By the Book or with the Spirit: the Debate over Liturgical Prayer during the English Revolution’, Historical Research 79 (2006), pp. 50-73.


 In July 1662. See Hayden (ed.), Records of a Church of Christ, p. 33.


Sell, ‘The Doctrinal and Ecumenical Significance of the Great Ejectment’, p. 187.


Daniel Defoe, An Enquiry into the Occasional Conformity of Dissenters in Cases of Preferment (London: n.p., 1697), p. 17.


 See e.g. Joseph Stennett, ‘Letter to Mr. J. B., November 27, 1710’, in Works, Five Volumes (London: J. Darby, 1731-2), vol. 4, pp. 339, 346-9: ‘so great a prostitution of this ordinance to sinister ends … a profanation of the holy Supper.’ The practice was forbidden by the Occasional Conformity Act of 1711.


Stennett, ‘Letter to Mr. J.B.’, p. 346.


Lumpkin (ed.), Baptist Confessions, pp. 317, 321. These phrases again echo the Westminster Confession (see Chapters XXVIII.1, XXIX.1). My emphasis.


William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist. Theology, Politics and the Body of Christ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), p. 229.


Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p. 231.


Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist, p. 232.


Chapter XXVI.8, in Lumpkin (ed.), Baptist Confessions, p. 287.


 See Peter Shepherd, The Making of a Modern Denomination. John Howard Shakespeare and the English Baptists 1898-1924 (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2001), pp. 79-81.


 See Hayden, Records of a Church of Christ, p. 33.


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