When steps were begun more than sixty years ago to bring a missionary Gospel testimony to the community of Crescentville, it was not clear how the Lord would lead or prosper the work He directed to be planted there.
Early in the year 1930, a young student at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and president of the Northeast District of Baptist Young People's Union(B.Y.P.U.), in Philadelphia, felt led of God to start a work in Crescentville. He presented this burden to the young people of the Northeast District. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, April 6, 1930, at 2:30 o'clock, a Bible School was opened in the basement of Banker's Trust Building, located on the northeast corner of Rising Sun and Cheltenham Avenues. Many of the young people became active in the Bible School as teachers. Twenty-five attended the first session, and it tripled in attendance in the first year. In September 1932, Mr. Charles Dear was chosen as Pastor.
With the Great Depression, the group lost members who were forced to move away because of unemployment; and, with the loss of workers who became disinterested, the work suffered considerably. Lack of sufficient funds made the bank basement a burden, and a suggestion to inquire about a nearby building was carried out. This building had been the "Coach House" of the former Tansey estate, and we were permitted to use it for our meetings. With the expenditure of $75.00 for materials and the labor of interested friends, the building was occupied in a few weeks. It seemed that here was a new impetus to the work,but the unforeseen hazard of extreme cold cut the ranks of workers and congregation. Street meetings were also conducted back at the Rising Sun and Cheltenham Avenues corner with singing, testimonies and a message.
In April, 1934, the work was organized as a Chapel with twelve persons responding to the invitation to join. In June, 1936, the work received a decided impetus through the incoming of many new members; and, in December of the same year, the Chapel was organized as a regular Baptist church with a membership of thirty. From this time on, the work increased until it became evident that a larger building was necessary.
Many efforts were made to secure money for ground. In September 1938, the present location was secured for $3,000; and ground was broken on September 25, at which time a large gathering of representative members from churches of the Northeast sections were present. The completed building was dedicated in November, 1938.
One year after the formal dedication of the church building in which we now meet, it was necessary to consider further enlarging because of a rapidly expanding children's departments. The work of digging out a basement was started in the fall of 1939 and completed by the next spring. Much of the digging and masonry, together with the plumbing, was done by the men of the congregation; and the expenses of the project were met as they were due.
In 1941 the church had the thrill of seeing the first missionaries go out to the field. The church missionary interest rose as never before and another couple had given themselves for missionary service and were preparing to serve the Lord by attending Bible college.
After seven years, the church became organized as a regular Baptist church in June, 1943. The church was granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on October 28, 1943, with forty eight charter members.
During the years of World War II, the work progressed while on June 4,1945, Pastor Dear reported for duty to Brooklyn Army Base, in New York City, as a transport chaplain. It provided a great opportunity to preach the Gospel to the troops during the three-week trip to and from the Philippines. When Pastor Dear was separated from military service, he returned to Philadelphia to pastor our church.
In 1946, the church came into fellowship with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches and continued in its fellowship until forty-five years later when it withdrew from the GARBC.
On December 1, 1948, excavation was begun for a new church building. During this time of construction, the original building was moved to the rear of the property by Joseph Dear, Pastor Dear's father, and church members to become the Bible School building. Dedication of the new stone building took place April 23, 1950, approximately twenty years after the humble beginning of the Bible School in the basement of the bank building.
On July 18, 1977, a major fire significantly damaged the Bible School building, causing smoke and water damage to the basement rooms and the sanctuary. With the funds received from the insurance and the sacrificial gifts of friends and members of Crescentville Baptist Church, the building was remodeled and refurbished, including modifications to the front of the sanctuary.
With the completion of fifty years of pastoring the church, Pastor Dear began to be concerned with the future of the church, its leadership and spiritual direction. As he prayerfully considered men already in the Gospel ministry as possible successors he could recommend to the church, the Lord had begun to press the call of the ministry upon his son, Charles Jr. Engaged for eleven years in science and medical education, Charles had been serving the church as Sunday School teacher and superintendent, Deacon, Youth Sponsor, as well as in other ministries. In April, 1981, he received a license to preach from the church and in August, 1980 began seminary training to prepare for pastoral ministry.
In April, 1983, the church called Rev. Charles L. Dear Jr. as Assistant Pastor of Crescentville Baptist Church; and on June 9, 1984, he was ordained by the church to the Gospel ministry. After a special meeting convened December 15, 1984, to interview the candidate, the church voted to call Charles L. Dear, Jr.as the second Pastor of Crescentville Baptist Church.
While some were unsure of the future, it became clear to all that father and son stood together on doctrine and the issues challenging the Church today. Concern for the transition after having one pastor for 52 years was eased by calling the next pastor from within the church, who knew the people and was known by them. No radical changes occurred, and Pastor Emeritus still continued to preach and teach, as his health permitted.
Some things have changed over the last eleven years, but none of them has changed the message or doctrinal position of Crescentville Baptist Church. One of the most significant changes for the church came in 1990, when Crescentville Baptist Church withdrew from the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches after 45 years of fellowship. While both pastors had been watching the signs of change since the late 1970's, it fell to Pastor Dear Jr. to make the transition.
Since 1988, a movement was growing within the GARBC called Regular Baptists for Revival. Its purpose was to bring back the preaching, doctrinal position and testimony that marked the GARBC when it was founded in 1932. The RBR movement continued to challenge the decline of the GARBC through 1990 when a watershed national conference in Niagara Falls New York made it clear that no return to the foundations of the GARBC would be possible. After a time of preaching and teaching, the church was presented with a case study for withdrawal from the GARBC and on April 10, 1991, the church voted to come out of the GARBC.
In June, 1990, Pastor Dear Jr. was called to lead a committee to prepare the formation of a new fellowship. Given the blessing of the church, he pursued its organization and development with godly men from across the country. In June,1991, Crescentville Baptist Church hosted the first annual national conference of the Independent Baptist Fellowship of North America. While Crescentville had been the host for the first annual conference of the Pennsylvania Association of Regular Baptist Churches, back in 1948, this conference eclipsed that experience by its size and diversity. Today, the IBFNA remains a fellowship of individuals, Crescentville Baptist Church continues to be closely affiliated with it.
If much has been said about the pastors of Crescentville Baptist Church, it is because of the leadership the Lord has provided through them over these 60 years. Some who were raised and trained in our church have gone on into full-time Christian service as pastors and missionaries of the Gospel of Christ. Over the years, we have supported more than 30 missionary families around the world. We have helped to raise 9 fundamental Baptist churches here in our own country. Our pastors and church have helped organize 2 fellowships of pastors and churches here in Pennsylvania and around the world.
As a city church, whose younger people have migrated to the suburbs and across the country, we have trained men and women to be good teachers and officers in the churches they now attend. The investments made in godly people,who are willing to serve the Lord, have never been hoarded by our church. While some have moved on, there are yet others who have shared the burdens of teaching and leading together with the pastors of our church. That is the nature of a multi-generation church in a city such as Philadelphia, but we are glad to possess a rich heritage that can be preserved, imitated and carried forward until Christ returns.
What must never change is the message of the Gospel of Christ, as it has been preached over these many years. Challenges for full-time Christian service and usefulness in the local church must be constantly pressed upon the hearts of the people. A Biblical missionary outreach to the world must advance until all have heard the Gospel message.
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