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Why the Toleration Act proved to be a significant turning point inthe history of Christianity

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Why the Toleration Act proved to be a significant turning point in the history of Christianity Religious intolerance was normal practice throughout the Middle Ages, the Reformation bringing with it much persecution. Christian Anti-Semitism fuelled the religious insecurity prevalent in Europe but by the end of the sixteenth century Poland, the Dutch Republic and France had reached a state of 'tolerance', being in contrast to the religious intolerance still present in England at this time. The passing of the Toleration Act in 1689 appears to have been a close call, coming as it did during a particularly unstable period, making its conception all the more surprising. However, the practical achievement of the Act was remarkable, it being the first time in English history that dissenters such as Quakers, Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists were recognised by law and given a right to free worship. ...read more.


John Prideaux, Archdeacon of Norwich at the time gives us a example of this grievance, writing in 1691 '...more lay hold of it to separate from all manner of Worship to perfect irreligion than goe to them; and although the Act allows no such liberty, the people will take it soe.' As suggested in the passage above, the Act was resolutely against the 'unreligious' who chose to go to the 'alehouse' rather than mass and in fact sect 16 contains a strongly worded condemnation of such behaviour.... 'Provided always and it is the true intent and meaning of this Act, That all the laws made and provided for the frequenting of Divine Service on the Lord's Day....shall still be in Force, and executed against all persons that offend against the said Laws, except such persons that come to some Congregation or Assembly of Religious Worship, allowed or permitted by this Act.' ...read more.


The church had moved form a coercive to a voluntary religion bringing with it the need for powers of persuasion. The Toleration Act had, in a way, 'partially disestablished' the Church of England4 making it need to compete with other religious groups. A remarkable development of this was the rise of devotional groups, with the most significant probably being S.P.C.K (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) founded in 1699, moving the church, in direct response to the changes that it faced, into a far more consciously evangelic era. 1 Spurr. The Restoration Church Of England 1646-1689 pg 104 2 Tyacke. The legalizing of Dissent, 1571-1719 in From Persecution to Toleration ed.Grell pg.44 3 Gregory. The eighteenth century Reformation: the pastoral task of Anglican Clergy after 1689 in The Church of England c.1689-c.1833 ed. J,Walsh pg.69. 4 G.V Bennett Conflict in the church in Britain after the glorious Revolution ed.Holmes pg.155 ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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