Lutheran Roundtable Meets in the Russian Capital

In Russia (Nearly) Everyone is Conservative


M o s c o w – Following a roundtable between the Evangelical-Lutheran Church – European Russia (ELCER) and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), Pastor Gottfried Spieth (Mos­cow) reported: “Both groups have settled on a sturdy and genuine conservatism. Liberalism and fundamentalism remained on the fringe.” The Theological Consultant of Bishop Gottfried Spieth (ELCER) also concluded that this dialogue, which took place in Moscow’s Lutheran “Trinity Church” from August 8-10, “has enabled both churches to make considerable progress. If ELCER and ELCIR would start a joint media effort reflecting their true intellectual potential, they could refute flippant attacks and win with God’s help many new friends and like-minded spirits.”


One prominent participant was Bishop Aarre Kugappi (ELCIR), who visited this 5th roundtable for a half day. Twenty-five theologians from both churches attempted far removed from foreign supervisors to distil an authentic picture of what Russian Lutherans truly believe. The consensus they arrived at is to some extent at odds with that to which Western societies and churches ascribe. Pastor Alexander Prilutzki in particular, Chief Secretary of ELCIR headquarters, called for an independent route for Russia and its Christians apart from “Western liberalism”.


Dr. Robert Kolb, Professor at the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) “Concordia Seminary” in St. Louis/USA, held several lectures. Referring to the German-American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), he introduced the topic of “Christ and Culture”. He assured that Christians are open to developments in history and society, for they make evident the creative hand of God. Yet being that we exist in a fallen world, a critical distance to the spirit of this world is needed. We dare not allow ourselves to be ensnared by apocalyptic horror scenarios, but should instead be captivated by Luther’s relaxed spirit and conviction of faith.


The participants formed new and unexpected alliances independent of whether they belong to ELCIR or ELCER. Those present approved for dogmatic or pragmatic reasons of the general, conservative consensus. In some instances differences of opinion remained unresolved. Pastor Spieth maintained: “We did not attempt to harmonize differences in an artificial fashion. That made our forum particularly appealing.”


Those gathered were of differing opinion regarding the views of Dr. Anton Tihomirov, lecturer at the ELCROS seminary (Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia) in Novosaratovka near St. Petersburg. The theologian called for a distinction between “center and periphery” when interpreting the Scriptures and warned of a “paper Pope”, who would force us into a corset. He branded a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture as idolatry. Christ is greater than the Bible. Our faith rests on an existential relationship to Christ “apart from any external anchors”. Others protested that this leads to a “canon within the canon”, the scope of which is nearly impossible to define.


Pastor Lebedev (ELKIR) demanded that Lutheran liturgy be shaped by Catholic and Orthodox models and gave detailed instructions on how an ordained pastor should be required to proceed. Pastor Alexei Shepelev (ELCIR) and Dr. Tihomirov begged to differ, citing that Lutherans are from a church of “impoverished liturgy”. The proclamation of the Gospel must be at the center of the worship service, remaining aspects are mere helpful accessories.


In an ensuing lecture Gottfried Spieth reported on the Willow Creek movement (Chicago) and its attempts to present the Gospel to the secularized. He described contemporary forms of worship not as an alternative, but as a supplement to traditional forms of worship. He illustrated this using the Old Testament temple: “Liturgy is celebrated in the Holy of Holies, but out in the front courts elements of game and dance involving all of the senses are both possible and necessary. They also occur to the glory of God.”


A lecture by Fridtjof Amling, Pastor of the Protestant community at Moscow’s German embassy, resulted in considerable dispute. He introduced the German Evangelical Church’s (EKD) paper “Living with Tensions”, which labels the practicing of homosexuality as sin. But the paper appeals at the same time for critical support of such persons and pairs, which can lead even to a ceremony of consecration. This compromise went much too far for most participants. It was pointed out to the lecturer that the values within a congregation may be highly different from those common outside of a Christian community (I Corinthians 5,9-11). The church is not an institution for any and everyone, but rather an interest group with a specific and special set of moral principles.


One outcome of this event is increased desire on the part of both churches to form a small theological consultative council convening as needed under the leadership of the bishops. One goal would be to find a common policy in disputed matters (ordination for ex.) and thereby make a unified public posture feasible.


Dr. William Yoder and Gottfried Spieth

Berlin and Moscow, 17 August 2006                      


A press release of the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church - European Russia” (ELCER).The ELCER is led by Bishop Siegfried Springer, Moscow. She is the largest regional church belonging to the ELCROS (Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Central Asia). The ELCROS is headed by Archbishop Dr. Ed­mund Ratz of St. Petersburg.


Press release (and commentary) Nr. 8, 785 words