East London Tabernacle Baptist Church was founded in 1861 (originally in Stepney until moving to its present site, Burdett Road, in 1871). When looking for a minister the church consulted the well-known Victorian preacher CH Spurgeon who recommended a young man named Archibald Brown. Brown had been pastoring a church he had started in Bromley in Kent. Within a few years of coming to Stepney the number of people joining and attending the church had grown so much that it was necessary to build a larger building.
The site on Burdett Road was purchased and a new building was constructed that was able to seat 2,500 people. The church that met in the East London Tabernacle was modelled on Spurgeon’s church at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Elephant and Castle. By the end of the 19th century ELT had the second largest congregation in the United Kingdom after the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Doctrinally and spiritually Brown was at one with Spurgeon and during the Downgrade controversy in the Baptist Union ELT was one of few churches that withdrew with Spurgeon from the union. Brown’s preaching was expository and firmly rooted in a Calvinistic evangelical faith. The church was very active in evangelism and undertook a number of social ministries in what was and still is one of the most socially deprived areas of London. These included orphanages, soup kitchens and even a holiday home in Herne Bay in Kent. Key to the life of the church was its well-known weekly prayer meeting on Saturday afternoons when 1,000 people would gather.
Brown retired in 1898 in order to become minister at Chatsworth Road Baptist Church in West Norwood. Later he was minister at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. As is often the case after a notable ministry the church found it difficult find a successor. But eventually John Scroggie, brother of the well-known preacher Graham Scroggie, became minister. He was succeeded by D.H. Moore. Moore’s successor in 1934 was Geoffrey King who built up the congregation and led the church during the difficult years of the Second World War. He was succeeded by Paul Tucker in 1954. Tucker was well known for his expository preaching and towards the end of his ministry the church saw considerable growth. In 1974 he was called as minister of the Baptist Church in Portadown in Northern Ireland and was followed four years later by Steve Brady. Brady also was well-known as a preacher and was particularly concerned to strengthen the church evangelistically. During the last two years of Brady’s ministry the church called Kenneth Brownell as associate minister. When Brady was called to Lansdowne Baptist Church in Bournemouth, Brownell was called as minister.
At various points in its history ELT has belonged to the Baptist Union and the London Baptist Association. A number of years ago the church withdrew from both organisations and affiliated to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and through it to Affinity (formerly the British Evangelical Council). In this way the church works with other classical evangelical churches to advance Christ’s kingdom in the nation.
From the beginning the church has been involved in world missions. Hudson Taylor’s daughter, Geraldine Guinness, and her husband were missionaries from this church. In recent years we have had missionaries serving in Mali, Peru, Brazil, Djibouti, Pakistan, Eritrea, South Africa and Lesotho. Presently the church supports Josh and Cathy Hooker in Namibia (with Crosslinks) where Josh teaches at the Namibia Evangelical Theological Seminary in Windhoek and Alex and Nadia Richardson in Russia where Alex works with young adults in Baptist church in Novosibirsk in Siberia. ELT has developed links with churches and ministries in other countries, especially the Christ Church Care Centre (a hostel for children) in Johannesburg in South Africa, the Good News Hospital in Mandritsara in Madagascar and the Andrew Orphanage in Yangon in Myanmar (Burma). In addition to this Kenneth Brownell has been visiting every year Myanmar and Madagascar in order to teach pastors and church leaders about expository preaching. He does under the auspices of Pastor Training International of which he is a trustee and chairman of its Ministry Board.
The twentieth century was very challenging for ELT. The area around the church has experienced great demographic changes. In the wake of the two world wars many people moved out of London. The original Tabernacle was destroyed by a bomb in 1944 and only replaced with the present building in 1954. That the seating capacity of the new auditorium is 500 as opposed to 2,500 indicates something of the impact of the changes on the church. However the building is much better suited for the many other activities that go on in a church like ELT. The East End has always been home to successive waves of migration. During much of the early 20th century the church was involved in evangelising the large Jewish population in the area. More recently its concern has been for the large number of Bangladeshis, Somalis and other predominantly Muslim groups that live around the church. However the church is a very diverse community with people of many nationalities and a wide social mix. While one ward near the church is one of the most socially deprived in Britain another has one of the highest concentrations of university graduates. With a number of universities the area is also home to many international students. Also effecting the church is the shift of London’s centre of gravity eastward with the development of Canary Wharf and the Thames Gateway. Increasingly the church is a centre city as well as an inner city church. In all this we believe that God has put the church where it is to advance his kingdom. London is one of the world’s most strategic cities for mission and by God’s grace ELT is building on its good heritage in order to reach the world for Christ in the 21st century.