Dissenters: L


Strictly speaking the 17th century Levellers were a political rather than a religious movement per se, but they deserve mention for their influence and their nonconformist connections.

Their nickname – applied by their enemies, possibly even by Charles I himself – came about from their belief in ‘levelling’ all strata of society, and that all men are equal in God’s sight, or possibly through origins in rebel rural hedge levelling.

As well as numerous social reforms, they campaigned for the separation of Church and state.

They began as natural allies of Oliver Cromwell, many of them members of his New Model Army, but a dispute over back pay for soldiers (and a general disaffection with Cromwell’s authoritarianism) led to rebellion – this was quashed when Cromwell executed three Levellers at Burford, Oxfordshire in 1649.

The citizens of Burford remember the event to this day – see www.levellers.org.uk. Pamphleteer John Lilburne was a prominent founder of the movement – he later became a Quaker.

Liberal Catholic Church

The Liberal Catholic Church www.liberalcatholicchurch.org was effectively founded in the 1910s by James Wedgwood of the renowned china-producing family.

He was ordained into the Old Catholic Church, a German group which split off from Roman Catholicism in the 1970s through a rejection of papal infallibility, and later spread to England.

The life of Christ is the guiding principle of Liberal Catholicism, which also holds that Christ practised certain rites of ‘mysteries’ of the East – thus the movement was closely allied to the mystical theosophy movement of Madam Blavatsky and Charles Leadbeater.

Liberal Catholics, who are found worldwide, maintain there is a common unity and purpose to all religions – though this didn’t stop their own schism in 2003 over the ordination of women, and two movements now use the Liberal Catholic Church name.


The Lollards also blurred boundaries between politics and religion, but with a more specific theological underpinning thanks to their founder John Wycliffe (1320s-1384).

Wycliffe was a theologian who criticised the Church for its corruption, disputed the divine authority of Church leaders, and famously laboured to produce the first English vernacular edition of the Bible.

He even questioned transubstantiation. He was a respected Oxford don, after his death his books were burnt, and although Lollardy persisted in pockets into the 16th century, his followers were persecuted.

The etymology of the Lollard name is disputed, possibly meaning ‘mumbler’ or ‘idler’, but the term more generally came to mean ‘heretic’. The Lollards had no central doctrine, but their anticlerical stance was an early herald of the Reformation.

London Missionary Society

The LMS was founded as the Missionary Society in 1795, then renamed in 1818, with a focus on evangelical missions to Africa and the Pacific islands.

It was non-denominational, Congregationalist (see earlier in this series) in tone and supported by evangelical clergy from both Anglican and Nonconformist churches.

Its first voyage was on The Duff, to Tahiti, where its 17 missionaries received a hostile reception; and on a return voyage the society was financially devastated by The Duff’s capture by French privateers.

In the 1830s and 1840s the LMS was more successful, apart from when missionary John Williams was eaten by cannibals in the New Hebrides.

The society disbanded in the 1970s but was absorbed into what is now the Council for World Mission.