Our roots are in the Radical Reformation of the 1500’s when believers in mainland Europe rejected infant baptism as being unbiblical and asserted that personal faith was needed before Baptism. These people were called Anabaptists and rejected the notion that the Nation State should regulate their beliefs. The first English Baptists emerged around 1609-12 when a group of people fled from Lincolnshire to the Netherlands to escape persecution by the State and met Anabaptists in Amsterdam with whom they shared many values. They desired to reconstruct churches on New Testament patterns, shedding many practices that had accrued over the centuries in much of Christianity. Taking Scripture as sole authority and guide, interpreted in the light of the Holy Spirit, they formed a community of believers. After some time many of them returned to England, though some stayed in the Netherlands and others went to the so-called “New World”, the eastern seaboard of what we now know as the United States of America.
Soon more groups emerged. Some followed the teachings of Jean Calvin (Calvinist or Particular Baptists) in their theology, others that of Jakub Arminius (General Baptists). Both groups rejected infant baptism as unbiblical and State control, believing a gathering community of believers was headed by Christ and had the duty to make their own decisions.
Both groups spread across the British isles, but in Yorkshire and Lancashire two cousins, William Mitchell and David Crosley established a network of churches from the Rossendale valley to Tottlebank in the Lake district and Rawdon in the Aire Valley. These were Particular (or Calvinistic) Baptist communities. Initially persecuted, then ‘tolerated’ as second-class citizens with restricted rights from 1689 into the 19th century.
In the 1890s the two main Baptist groups (Particular and New Connexion General Baptists) amalgamated, resulting in a Union where Baptists with a spectrum of specific understandings work together.
The first Baptists wanted religious liberty to be free to worship God as they saw fit, not as prescribed by the Establishment of Church and State. To their credit, they argued that this freedom must apply to all, including those of other faiths (they knew and specified Judaism and Islam). Soon they extended their advocacy to other freedoms. At their best, Baptists are strong advocates for human rights.
Shipley Baptist Church was founded in 1758 by people from the Particular Baptist community in Rawdon coming down into the Aire valley to preach and hold meetings in people’s homes. The original building was developed on a site near the railway station (Bethel) with a larger building (Rosse Street) established as a separate cause in 1866. The two churches reunited in the 1960’s forming the present community which meets in New Kirkgate.