A Dictionary of Dissent: M, N & O
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Date: 6 May, 2010

'Its message that most of them were not true Christians and needed to be born again seemed disruptive and dangerous.'



Steve Tomkins continues the series about British and Irish sects and schisms with a look at the letters M, N & O


Hard to imagine now, but the Methodist movement terrified British people from magistrates to miners when it erupted in the 1730s.

Its message that most of them were not true Christians and needed to be born again seemed disruptive and dangerous.

Preachers like Wesley abandoned the pulpit to preach to crowds of thousands daily in fields and market squares, which looked like a revolution brewing.

The Methodists wanted to reform the Church of England, but some branches of the movement, notably Wesley's, ended up leaving to form independent churches.

A hundred years after his death, Methodist numbers peaked at six million throughout the English speaking world.

Today there are 25 million in the world, the strongest concentrations being in the US and South Africa.

John Milton

Best known for all that poetry, Milton was also a religious and political radical, and this calling was as important to him as literature.

He called for the abolition of the state church and its powerful bishops, arguing for freedom of religion and free speech. he also rejected orthodox views of the Trinity.

Come the puritan revolution after the civil war, he was Cromwell's main spin doctor, though he became disillusioned by its retreat from republicanism.

After the return of the King, Milton devoted himself to finishing Paradise Lost, from which he made £10.

New Connexion

Methodism was sixty years old when Wesley's followers split from the Church of England in 1795. It took just two years for them to split up from each other.

The Methodist preacher Alexander Kilham strongly criticised Wesley's successors for giving too much power to ordained ministers, and they in turn complained of his democratic politics.

Kilham was expelled in 1795, and formed the Methodist New Connexion.

This more egalitarian version of Methodism spread throughout Britain and overseas, and had 45,000 members when it merged with other groups to forth United Methodist Church in 1907 – which in turn merged with the mainstream Methodist church in 1932.


Most splits in British church history have involved radicals rejecting the conservative mainstream, but the Non-Jurors did it the other way round.

When the Catholic James II was overthrown by Parliament in 1688, and replaced with the Protestant William III, nine Anglican bishops and 400 clergy refused to swear allegiance to William, believing it contradicted their oath of allegiance to James.

The bishops were deposed by the Church, but refused to recognise their dismissal and appointed successors.

The movement declined in the 18th century, especially after a Scottish invasion failed to restore the Stuart monarchy.

Sir John Oldcastle

John Oldcastle was a 15th-century leader of the Lollards, followers of John Wyclif.

He was arrested by his old friend King Henry V for disputing Catholic ideas of the Mass, confession and images, but escaped from the Tower of London and raised an army to overthrown Henry.

Defeated, he hid for four years before being captured, hanged and burned.

Improbably, for a thin, devout, moralistic man, Oldcastle was immortalised by Shakespeare as the fat, debauched, godless robber, Falstaff in Henry IV and Henry V.

Read the introduction to this series, and the previous part

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