An epithet given to an antinomian movement during the time of the English Commonwealth (mid-seventeenth century). They were part of the effort of the time to restore primitive, apostolic Christianity. This involved a repudiation of the Church of England in its established form and much greater emphasis on individual thought and action. The individualism of the movement tended to produce a great variety of groups around prominent leaders so that England appeared to “swarm with sects.” The Ranters, so far as they can be differentiated from this general ferment, showed two marked characteristics: they were pantheistic and antinomian. Joseph Salmon and Jacob Bauthumley represent two characteristic examples of Ranter leaders. Bauthumley wrote The Light and Dark Sides of God (1650) which develops an extreme doctrine of the Inner Light. Salmon authored a strange tract recounting his experience with God and teaching an extreme pantheism. Contemporary writers agreed in the opinion that the Ranters led morally disordered lives and that they considered themselves above the usual distinction of right and wrong. George Fox* wrote against them and converted many to Quakerism. Richard Baxter* also denounced the Ranters. Many of them were severely punished for their immoral and blasphemous acts; thus the movement was suppressed.
See R.M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (1909), pp. 467-81, and N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1970), pp. 287-330.