The Tabernacle fellowship dates back to 1650, when the English Parliament banned independent Christian organisations from meeting together. This congregation braved persecution until 1688, when the Baptists were once again allowed to worship in freedom. At this point, the group built their first chapel, in the Tower Bridge area.
In 1720, Dr. John Gill became pastor and served for 51 years. In 1771, Dr. John Rippon became pastor and served for 63 years. During these times, the church experienced great growth and became one of the largest congregations in the country. Afterwards decline set in and by 1850 the congregation was small.
In 1854, the most famous of all the pastors at the Metropolitan Tabernacle started serving at the youthful age of 20. His name was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and he quickly became the most popular British preacher of his day. The church at the beginning of Spurgeon's pastorate was situated at New Park Street Chapel, but this soon became so full that services had to be held in hired halls such as the Surrey Gardens Music Hall.
During Spurgeon's ministry, it was decided that the church should move permanently to larger premises. The location chosen was the Elephant and Castle, a prominent location near the River Thames in South London, partly because it was thought to be the site of the burning of the Southwark Martyrs. The building, designed by William Wilmer Pocock, was finished in 1861 and dedicated on March 18. Spurgeon also founded a college for preachers (now Spurgeon's College) and church workers and orphanages for girls and boys, and wrote many Christian books which are still in print today.
In 1887, the church left the Baptist Union because of the widening influence of theological liberalism within the Union. Spurgeon was adamant that the church would not "downgrade" the faith as he believed other baptist churches were doing.
At the end of 1891, membership was given as 5,311. Spurgeon served for 38 years and died in 1892.
The original building was burned down in 1898, leaving just the front portico and basement intact, before the rebuilt church was destroyed again in 1941 during the German bombing of London in World War II. Once again, the portico and basement survived and in 1957 the Tabernacle was rebuilt to a new but much smaller design accommodating surviving original features.
The war led to the Tabernacle fellowship being greatly diminished as few members of the old congregation were able to return to heavily blitzed central London. It rejoined the Baptist union in 1955. By 1970 the congregation had fallen to the point where it occupied only a few pews. It left the Baptist union again in 1971 Feb 22, just after Dr. Peter Masters became the pastor, over the same issues as under Spurgeon in 1887. There later an increase in numbers and this gave rise to the full church and galleries of today, and numerous professions of faith. It hosts an annual School of Theology, runs a part-time Seminary for pastors, has five Sunday schools, and provides free video and audio downloads, along with live-streaming of services. The current assistant pastor at the Tabernacle is Ibrahim Ag Mohamed, originally of Mali.
The church holds two main services on Sundays, a teaching service in the morning at 11am, and the other (for persuasive gospel preaching) at 6.30pm. In addition to this, there is a Children's Sunday School, Bible Classes, College Classes and a Doctrine Class on Sunday afternoons, from 3–4pm. During the week, a prayer meeting is held on Monday evenings at 7.30pm and a Bible study on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm where God's Word is studied.
Probably one of the largest reformed Christian conferences in the UK, gathering people from around the world, that still takes place today. 2014 holds the 39th annual School of Theology at the Tabernacle, with many pastors, Christian workers and church officers attending, and younger people seeking a more biblical and committed style of Christian life and service.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle is an independent reformed Baptist church. The following seven points show the key biblical policies followed, laid down by forebears, such as C. H. Spurgeon.Doctrines of grace, commonly called 'Calvinistic'.
Free offer of the Gospel
The Prayer meeting
William Rider, c. 1653–c. 65 (12 years)
Benjamin Keach, 1668–1704 (36 years)
Benjamin Stinton, 1704–18 (14 years)
Dr. John Gill, 1720–71 (51 years)
Dr. John Rippon, 1773–1836 (63 years)
Joseph Angus, 1837–39 (2 years)
James Smith, 1841–50 (8 ½ years)
William Walters, 1851–53 (2 years)
Charles Spurgeon, 1854–92 (38 years)
Arthur Tappan Pierson, 1891–93 (pulpit supply only, not installed as a Pastor – 2 years)
Thomas Spurgeon, 1893–1908 (15 years)
Archibald G. Brown, 1908–11 (3 years)
Dr. Amzi Clarence Dixon, 1911–19 (8 years)
Harry Tydeman Chilvers, 1919–35 (15 ½ years)
Dr. W Graham Scroggie, 1938–43 (5 years)
W G Channon, 1944–49 (5 years)
Gerald B Griffiths, 1951–54 (3 years)
Eric W Hayden, 1956–62 (6 years)
Dennis Pascoe, 1963–69 (6 years)
Dr. Peter Masters, 1970–present.
The design and appearance of several churches around the world are derived from the London Metropolitan Tabernacle building.
The Auckland Baptist Tabernacle in New Zealand was constructed in 1886 when Thomas Spurgeon (a son of Charles Spurgeon) was the minister.
The Newcastle Baptist Tabernacle, New South Wales, Australia (AU) was constructed in 1879 under the guidance of a student of Spurgeon's.
The Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle in Sydney, New South Wales, AU.
The Brisbane Baptist Tabernacle (City Church), Brisbane Queensland, AU.
The Hobart Baptist Tabernacle in Hobart Tasmania, AU.
The Porto Baptist Tabernacle (1908) is the first Portuguese Baptist church building. It was also based on the London Tabernacle. Joseph Jones and João Jorge Oliveira were the main persons involved in the project.
The First Baptist Church of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, founded in 1884. The build of its temple was inspired in Metropolitan Tabernacle and inaugurated in 1928.
The facade of the Temple Baptist Church of Powell, TN is fashioned like the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Their pastor Dr. Clarence Sexton is an avid admirer of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The interior of Merrion (Gospel) Hall, Lower Merrion Street Dublin, built by Alfred Gresham Jones (1824–88, Melbourne) for the Brethren, completed in 1863 at a cost of £16,000, was smaller with a main hall capacity of 2500 to 3000, plus many more standing, but in other respects was very similar to the interior of the Metropolitan Tabernacle even to the design of order of the Corinthian capitals on the 16 fluted cast iron pillars. Merrion Hall was the largest Brethren Gospel Hall ever constructed. There were three completely oval galleries and a double deck preacher's platform almost identical to that in London. The lower hall in the basement contained a below-floor baptism pool. The Brethren Assembly occupied the protected building until the late 1980s when it was sold to a developer and largely destroyed by a mysterious but convenient fire a few years later. It was used as a film location in 1991 which portrayed the building as a London night club, such use being rather at odds with its original use. The Italianate façade remains and is protected. An Hotel known as the Davenport has been created behind the original now restored 1863 facade. The name Merrion Hall has been used on a new out of town office building with no connection to the Gospel Hall. The Brethren owe their origins to meetings in Dublin and the first public meeting of the group that came to worship at Merrion Hall was held at an Auction Room in Angier Street Dublin in the 1820s. Until Merrion Hall was built, meetings were held there and at private houses in the City and originated from meetings held at Powerscourt House County Wicklow. Meetings at Plymouth from the 1830s meant that the name "Plymouth" was incorrectly added.