At the chapel there are a group of people committed to one another and seeking to know God and bring glory to his name in Takeley and to some extent the communities they live in. This might be through prayer meetings during the working week and on Sunday. This is the Takeley Chapel Community which includes the school parents and teachers. This community shares life and prays together regularly; the community is engaged in a shared task, grounded in a shared faith and prayer. How have we got here and how might we proceed?
The buildings were established over 200 years ago to house a Church body of dissenting Christians, that is, those who believed themselves called to dissent from the Anglican Church. The site grew to accommodate the Christian work they were engaged in with: alms houses where the gardens are now; a reading room at the back of the sanctuary; the Recreation Hall; a games room above the current workshop which was a stables and a graveyard.
The Takeley Chapel site is the physical evidence of a Christian community that is at the heart of the village of Takeley, providing a place where people can grow in faith and knowledge and together serve the needs of the village.
The members of the Church that met in the Chapel were part of what was to become the Congregational Denomination. When, in 1972, the Congregational Denomination formed a new denomination with the Presbyterian Denomination, the members of the Congregational Church at Takeley chose not to join and aligned itself with other independent Congregational Churches in an Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches (EFCC) which had been formed for this purpose in 1971 under the direction of congregational leaders including Martin Lloyd Jones of the Westminster Chapel. Affiliation to the EFCC showed continuation with the Congregational Denomination the Trust deed stipulated as being necessary in law.
Takeley Congregational Church however, in a Church Meeting, departed from one of its historic teachings. In Congregational Churches, it was believed that baptism was for believers and the children of believers and this distinctive was stipulation within the trust document of Takeley Congregational Church.
In essence, the teaching is that, if a child’s parents were believers and baptised and they were in the community of faith, babies and children are to be baptised. This is Covenant Theology that sees baptism as a sign of the new covenant of grace; the believer is baptised as a sign of this covenant. If a believer marries a believer and they have children then their whole family is covered by God’s covenant of grace and the children should be baptised. Baptism is in Covenant Theology the Christian replacement of the covenant sign, given to Abraham, of circumcision.
That there is a covenant sign to replace circumcision is a theological position that can be questioned. As with any position on baptism, for the individual, unless they are meeting the criteria for membership of a human institution, it is a profession of faith and a life in keeping with that profession of faith that reveals the reality of the profession of participation in the covenant of grace. Baptism is only the outward sign of grace; it is not the means of grace. The means of grace is the confession of the believer’s heart and an obedience to the commands of God. To say Jesus is Lord publically and to repent of the works of death, is what makes a person a Christian. In scriptural terms it is a circumcision of the heart.
In congregationalism, a credible confession of faith is what enables a person to become a member of a Congregational Church. This confession of faith may be the fulfilment of a child’s baptism or result in an adult being baptised. Rebaptism is not required for membership. In congregationalism, to apply to be a member and not to have been baptised would contradict a person claiming a credible faith.
Adults who were baptised by unbelieving parents or in communities where they were not nurtured, may desire to be baptised, as may those whose consciences cause them to doubt Covenant Theology. Some Congregational Churches, though maintaining their distinction from Baptist Churches, now counsel parents to have a service of dedication for their child rather than baptise them. Parents wanting to celebrate the birth of their child and to entrust them to the care of the church, welcoming them into the benefits of the covenant of grace might choose to find a church where a child is sprinkled or has water poured over them and is baptised.
In our day, the dedication of an infant; the asking for provision, protection and guidance for a child and prayers of welcome into the family of believing parents and the promise of the church to care for a child is considered orderly and appropriate. There is no command in the teaching of the bible to guide us either way.
In Takeley Congregational Church, a meeting of the church decided that they would teach that a profession of faith is not credible if a person has not been baptised and that they would only baptise those who made a credible profession of faith. This excluded infant baptism. If parents who were members asked for their child to be baptised, the minister would support the family in doing this at another church, as, in conscience, he was not able to baptise babies.
The original trust deed from the 1800s does not make any stipulations about baptism but given the history of the Chapel, babies of members were baptised and this was the case until at least 1972. The trust deed applied in 1966 and stated that the building was to be used by those who ‘… according to the principles and usages for the time being of the Congregational (sometimes called Independent) Denomination practising infant baptism under the direction of the Church…’ Any minister had to be of the Congregational Denomination and could not officiate if they ceased to ‘…be of the Congregational Denomination and to practice infant baptism…’
The legal framework put in place when the Congregational Denomination ceased to exist allows congregations which are continuing Congregational churches to occupy the buildings. Takeley Congregational Church is a continuing Congregational Church. EFCC, though not a denomination, was considered a successor to the Congregational (sometimes called Independent) Denomination practising infant baptism.
Latitude is allowed in the trust deed as to doctrine. The church opted to subscribe to the congregational ‘principles and usages’ of EFCC. The EFCC stated about Infant Baptism that,
‘Congregational Churches have generally held to the Paedobaptist position, that baptism is for converts to Christianity and their children. However, there have always been those in membership of Congregational Churches who have held to Believers’ Baptism only. We therefore believe it is right that every church should determine its own practice, provided always that those who conscientiously hold the other position are not excluded from membership of and fellowship within the church.’
(EFCC Statement of Faith, 2012).
Takeley Congregational Church, determined that only Believers’ Baptism is to be offered and the minister is freed from the requirement to Baptise the babies of believers. The tradition of Takeley Congregational Church, as a Congregational Church believing in the autonomy of the local church, is the received practice.
Membership of the Takeley Congregational Church is open to those professing a credible Christian faith and wanting to be subject to the authority of the Church Meeting where every member suffrage is practised in accordance with the principles of congregationalism implemented through the constitution and rules of Takeley Congregational Church.
It is plain that church membership is different from being part of the Takeley Chapel Community. If you are part of the Takeley Chapel Community, not being a member of the church will have no effect on what you do and in no way diminishes your value. However you may not be involved in the Church Meeting which decides the purpose and direction of the church and how the site is to be used, though your input and ideas are valued.
We continue to be a church as long as there are two or three of us who are church members (Matthew 18:15-20); we are ordered according to the principle of every member suffrage; there is a Sunday meeting and one member is able to pastor, as specified in scripture, overseeing the administration of membership, baptism and communion (Ephesians 4:1-14).
It is hoped that there would be more than one member appointed to lead, but the Church Meeting continues to apply the rules on membership; considers how the Church is to be lead especially with regard to baptism; releases members to lead the Church as decided and allows the Holy Spirit to work (Acts 15:22).
We value the prayers of the Takeley Chapel Community in this process. We understand that there are those who will not be able to subscribe to the constitution of the church, its practices or its requirements to attend meetings. This in no way excludes people from participating in the public meetings offered at the church or the use of the site.
Congregationalism is a tradition that seeks to benefit its members and advises against the proliferation of societies of Christians that are not churches. But the Takeley Chapel Community is strong and there is a church at its heart, which will hopefully be fruitful.
If you have been part of the Takeley Chapel Community for more than 6 months, are over 18 and would like to be considered for Church membership, then the Church Meeting is where leadership is confirmed and business transacted.
Potential new members will need to spend time with one of our members to ensure they are clear about what membership means.