Old Baptist Chapel

History of the Old Baptist Chapel

The Wilderness Years

The church now entered the most barren period of its long history and its survival can only be ascribed to the mercy of God. The last baptisms had taken place in August 1899 and the last additions by transfer in September 1900. There were to be no more additions until November 1937. The Sunday School dwindled and closed in 1912.

From 1912 until 1918 the church received the regular help of William Small who had earlier been pastor of Providence Chapel Cheltenham. He had come to live in the town but never joined the church and so was not pastor.

In 1914 the chapel was redecorated and a new heating system installed, being opened again on 4th November 1914 in the early months of the First World War.

At some point in the nineteenth century the church had been included in the Gospel Standard list of churches although there is no record of the church itself voting to give its approval to this step. Inclusion on this list requires adherence to an extreme statement of Hyper-Calvinism, which includes the denial of the sufficiency of Scripture as a guide for evangelistic preaching.

The church's name was removed from this list at the time the troubles of the early years of the century but was replaced in 1927, when the secretary of the Gospel Standard committee wrote to say 'that the Committee will replace the Church on our List of Churches providing the Church will only admit into the pulpit such Ministers as approve of our 35 Articles of Faith'. Again this action was taken without any formal indication in the records of the church; the negotiations were conducted on behalf of the church by a trustee who was not a church member.

By the 1930s the extinction of the work appeared inevitable. The two remaining deacons were Job Humphries who died in 1932 and Harry Hart who died in 1936. By this time the congregations were tiny, the buildings were in urgent need of renovation and many of the services were being held in the vestry.

Undoubtedly a fatalistic spirit engendered by Hyper-Calvinism underlay the weakness but there had also been a grievous lack of love in church relationships at the time of the difficulties at the beginning of the century and possibly earlier. Together these errors doctrinal and practical brought about this state of near collapse.

It needs to be remembered that what was happening at Bradford on Avon took place against a background of evangelical weakness nationally. Evangelicals were in retreat in all the big denominations in the 1920s and 1930s. While there were churches and ministers who were maintaining the faith in their own churches and in some cases seeing some advance, nationally Evangelicalism suffered a severe slump. In England it had succumbed to Arminianism and the doctrines of the Reformation were hardly grasped and certainly not widely taught.

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