Dissenter - Encyclopedia

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DISSENTER (Lat. dis-sentire, to disagree), one who dissents or disagrees in matters of opinion, belief, &c. The term "dissenter" is, however, practically restricted to the special sense of a member of a religious body in England which has, for one reason or another, separated from the Established Church. Strictly, the term includes the English Roman Catholics, who in the original draft of the Relief Act of 1791 were styled "Protesting Catholic Dissenters." It is in practice, however, restricted to the "Protestant Dissenters" referred to in sec. ii. of the Toleration Act of 1688. The term is not applied to those bodies who dissent from the Established Church of Scotland; and in speaking of members of religious bodies which have seceded from established churches abroad it is usual to employ the term "dissidents" (Lat. dissidere, to dissent). In this connotation the terms "dissenter" and "dissenting," which had acquired a somewhat contemptuous flavour, have tended since the middle of the 19th century to be replaced by "nonconformist," a term which did not originally imply secession, but only refusal to conform in certain particulars (e.g. the wearing of the surplice) with the authorized usages of the Established Church. Still more recently the term "nonconformist" has in its turn, as the political attack on the principle of a state establishment of religion developed, tended to give place to the style of "Free Churches" and "Free Churchman." All three terms are now in use, "nonconformist" being the most usual, as it is the most colourless. (See CONGREGATIONALISM, &C.)

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