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.
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.