I HAVE PASSED IT often, and have long been curious about it, but until today I have not bothered to find out about it. I am referring to a small chapel on the corner of Kensington Place and Newcombe Street, which leads to the south side of a space where a weekly farmers’ market is held (on Saturday mornings). Called the Bethesda Baptist Church, its congregation was established in 1866. The building resembles a style commonly used in the late 18th century. According to a history of Kensington Place (www.hillgatevillage.com/the-facts), the chapel was constructed in about 1824. Over the years, it has been used by various Baptist sects. Currently, it is the home to a congregation, who believe in Restricted Communion and Particular Redemption. This sect was founded in 1866.
Currently, I am reading about a clergyman, Conrad Noel (1869-1942), who believed fervently that the church should be both democratic and all-embracing. So, it was with some interest that I stumbled across a chapel in which people believing in ‘Restricted Communion’ gather to worship. The sect is a branch of the Strict and Particular Baptists, who follow the decrees of High-Calvinism. If you are finding this a bit difficult to follow, then you are not alone. Let me take a stab at giving a simple explanation of what the congregation in the Bethesda Chapel believe: a set of beliefs that are new to me. One website that seemed to clarify them well is www.sbhs.org.uk/membership/strictbapt/, from which I have attempted to extract the following information.
‘Strict’ refers to ‘restricted communion’. Unlike many branches of the Christian Church, which permit anyone who believes and loves Jesus Christ to partake in Holy Communion, the Strict and Particular Baptists believe that Communion should only be offered to those “who have been baptised by immersion as believers”. The above-mentioned website explained:
“Strict Baptists see baptism as a rite by which believers testify to their faith in Christ, and associate it with church membership. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have joined the church in this way.”
As for ‘particular’, this lives up to the common meaning of the word. The Strict and Particular Baptists believe that:
“…Christ died to make certain the salvation of a definite number of people whom he has purposed to save, rather than to make possible the salvation of an indefinite number of people who might choose to believe.”
That is, only the ‘select’ few, known as the ‘Elect’, will be saved. The sect does not accept infant baptism, even by immersion, as being sufficient to become part of the Elect. Another website (www.baptists.net/history/2022/07/the-articles-of-faith-of-the-gospel-standard-churches/) explained what is required to become a member of a Strict and Particular Baptist sect such as that which uses the Bethesda Chapel:
“At a regularly constituted church meeting … the candidate (whether already a member of another church or not) shall make a verbal confession of faith, and declare what he or she believes God has done for his or her soul. If accepted by a vote of the majority of members present and voting, signature in the church book to the Articles of Faith and Rules will be required. Thereafter, at the earliest convenient opportunity, the person shall, unless previously baptised by immersion, be so baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and be formally received into church fellowship at the next observance of the Lord’s Supper.”
The Articles of Faith, and there are many of them, are strict. Thus, despite my oversimplification, it would seem that the Strict and Particular sects are, unlike the open-door church espoused by Conrad Noel, extremely exclusive and restrictive.
PS: A little way west of the Bethesda Chapel, there is an institution that is, unlike the chapel, far from exclusive: it is open to all children regardless of faith, providing they live in its catchment area: Fox Primary School. This state school, which was founded in 1842, is housed in modern buildings. I mention it as a postscript because its walls are decorated with several attractive, colourful mosaics.