Both the Baptist Union and the United Reformed Church are 'Non-conformist' Churches, a term which indicates their historical refusal to conform to a state supported system of religious practice. For many years Non-conformists, along with Roman Catholics and Jews, were persecuted and discriminated against to varying extents. Usually this was at the level of minor irritation and social disadvantage (such as exclusion from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge), but in earlier periods it could lead to imprisonment or even the death penalty for members and ministers.
A number of Congregationalists including Henry Barrow and John Greenwood were imprisoned in the Fleet prison in London for the best part of seven years in the 1580's, with occasional trips out, sometimes to conduct services, sometimes to do other things. Eventually they were found guilty of attacking the ecclesiastical supremacy of the Queen and of the Church of England. The substance of the charges were that they did not agree with episcopacy in general, with the 'Prayer Book' in particular, and especially with the canons under which the Church of England was governed.
They were found guilty on 23rd March 1593 and after a reprieve of seven days were taken to the place of execution, and ropes were placed around their necks. They spoke to the crowd who gathered to witness the execution - and they were then reprieved again. Finally on 6th April 1593, they were taken out early in the morning, and hanged at Tyburn - now Hyde Park Corner.
John Bunyan (1628 - 1688), a preacher and writer, spent some twelve years in Bedford gaol, for his refusal to stop preaching. At a later date he served a further six months imprisonment, where he wrote one of the classics of English literature 'The Pilgrim's Progress'. He would probably be considered a Baptist today - though he made it clear that he had little time for denominational labels.
Thomas Helwys, a founder of the Baptist denomination, published 'A Short declaration of the mystery of iniquity', one of the first books to call for religious liberty. In the 17th century Baptists refused to conform and be members of the Church of England, arguing that Christ, and not the King (or Queen) was head of the church and were persecuted for their beliefs.
Every Baptist church is independent and autonomous and beliefs may vary; respect for the individual's conscience has always been important to Baptists.
The Basis of the Baptist Union is:
That our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, is the sole and absolute authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and that each Church has liberty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and administer His laws.
That Christian Baptism is the immersion in water into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of those who have professed repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who 'died for our sins according to the Scriptures; was buried, and rose again the third day'
That it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world.
The United Reformed Church was initially formed in 1972 by the union of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England. In 1981 the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ joined the URC, followed in 2000 by the Congregational Union of Scotland.
The URC stands in the Reformed tradition of Christian faith, and
believes in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
finds the supreme authority for faith and conduct by the guidance of the Spirit in the Word of God in the Bible;
looks to be continually renewed and reformed so as to fulfil its mission of witness and service in the name of Jesus Christ;
practises both infant and believer's baptism and celebrates the Lord's Supper;
recognises the ministry of God's people: all the members serving in the world and through the church, in particular: ministers of Word and Sacrament, elders, lay preachers, church related community workers (CRCWs), and workers from partner churches.
We no longer fear arrest or civil persecution for our beliefs - at least not in the UK - but non-conformist Christians still value their heritage of speaking out against injustice and intolerance. Although we respect the law, we value liberty of conscience and may peacefully resist laws which we believe to be unjust or oppressive to individuals or communities.
For example ...
Some years ago Chorlton Central Church offered sanctuary at the Church to a Bangaldeshi muslim teenager who had remained at home to nurse her dying grandmother, while the rest of her family emigrated (legally) to the UK. When her grandmother died she travelled without the correct documentation to England to join her parents and the rest of her family, but was threatened by the Immigration Service with deportation back to Bangaldesh to start the whole application process again from the beginning. This would have left her alone and vulnerable in Bangladesh for up to two years for purely administrative reasons. The congregation collectively considered this to be unjust and morally indefensible (whatever the legal position), and in making the offer of sanctuary 'helped' the Immigration Service to reconsider their position.
Subsequently members have been involved in the Chorlton 'Stop the War Campaign' (and the Church has provided accomodation for public meetings), and have travelled throughout the UK and to Germany to take part in in mass protests at G8 summits. Members support asylum seekers, and lobby for changes to immigration legislation.
rev 7 March 2020