Dissenter (Lat. dissentire), a term properly applied to those who, in a country where a certain Church (or certain churches) is established or recognized by the state, disagree with that religion. In England, the term Dissenters appears to have come into use in the 17th century, as synonymous with Nonconformists; and from England its use was transferred to Scotland in the 18th century, after the Secession (q.v.) Church had been founded in that country. It is usually applied to those who agree with the established Church in the most essential doctrines, but differ from it on some minor point, or on questions of Church government, relation to the state, rites, etc. as in England to Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists. The title is accepted by several of the Free churches in England (e.g. Congregationalists, Presbyterians); but the English Wesleyans do not call themselves Dissenters, as they do not share in the views above stated as the grounds of dissent. Yet they are separated, in fact, from the Church of England. SEE METHODISTS.
"The term Dissenters is not strictly legal or ecclesiastical, those to whom it applies being usually described in legal language by a periphrasis. It may be said to be a convenient term to designate those Protestant denominations which have dissented from the doctrine and practice of the Church as by law established. Immediately after the Reformation, Dissenters, or Nonconformists, as they were then called, were subjected to 'severe restrictions and penalties. 'During the Rebellion the laws against Protestant sectaries were repealed; but they revived at the Restoration, and the Parliament of Charles II proceeded to enforce systematically, by new 'measures' of vigor, the principle of universal conformity to the established Church (Stephen's Com. 3:53). By 1 Will. and Mary, c. 18, the restrictions on Dissenters were first relaxed, and certain denominations were suffered to exercise their own religious observances. From that period various statutes have been passed, each extending in some degree the free exercise of religious opinion. At the present time, Dissenters of all denominations are allowed to practice without restraint their own system of religious worship and discipline. They are entitled to their own places of worship, and to maintain schools for instruction in their own opinions. They are also permitted, in their character as householders, to sit and vote in the parish vestries. A Dissenter, if a patron of a church, may also exercise his own judgment in appointing a clergyman of the Church of England to a vacant living. See on this subject Stephen's Ecclesiastes Law. A similar amount of religious liberty is enjoyed in Scotland, not so much derived from or guarded by special statute; fully recognized, however, by decisions of courts, as belonging to the law of the country. Since the beginning of the 18th century, the Presbyterian, Independent or Congregationalist, and Baptist denominations in England, have been associated under the name of the Three Denominations. This association was fully organized in 1727, and enjoys — like the established clergy of London and the two great universities — the remarkable privilege of approaching the sovereign on the throne. Notwithstanding much weakness, arising from doctrinal and other differences, this association has contributed much to promote toleration and religious liberty in England" (Chambers, Encyclopaedia, s.v.). SEE DENOMINATIONS (THE THREE).
Dissenters object to the Church of England on such grounds as the following:
1. That the Church, as by law established, is the mere creature of the state, as much as the army.
2. That many of her offices and dignities are utterly at variance with the simplicity of apostolic times.
3. That the repetitions in the Liturgy are numberless and vain.
4. That the Apocrypha is read as a part of the public service.
5. That her creeds contain unwarrantable metaphysical representations relative to the doctrine of the Trinity.
6. That every baptized person is considered as regenerated.
7. That the baptismal and confirmation services, etc. have a tendency to deceive and ruin the souls of men.
8. That no distinction is made between the holy and profane, the sacraments being administered without discrimination to all who present themselves. Accounts of the origin and history of the different dissenting bodies will be found under the heads SEE BAPTISTS; SEE CONGREGATIONALISTS; SEE INDEPENDENTS; SEE QUAKERS; SEE UNITARIANS, etc. See Bogue and Bennett, History of the Dissenters (Lond. 2 volumes, 8vo); Neal, History of the Puritans; Pierce, Defense of the Dissenters of England (1817, 8vo).