An Idea Whose Time has Come
M o s c o w – The third convention of the Russian Baptist “Public Council” (Obshestvenii Soviet) ended on 16 February in the central Moscow offices of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB) with hugs and a strongly-worded document. Initiated by the RUECB and the “Association of Brethren Churches”, this loose organisation represents nine churches as well as additional mission agencies and initiatives of Baptist origin. Approximately 150 church leaders attended this event – they represented 12 different churches and associations.
Referring to the splitting off of the unregistered Baptist “Initiativniki” churches during the early 1960s, Pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko (Moscow), Secretary of the Public Council, spoke repeatedly of “100 joint years” of Baptist fellowship followed by 40 years of separation leading up to the present.
This most-recent Council declaration is entitled „Appeal of Three Generations of ECB Workers“ and was motivated by concern for the forwarding of a fractured heritage to the Baptist leaders of tomorrow. The middle generation states in this declaration: “We do not want the tragic separation caused by our fathers to determine the fate of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We will do all we can to overcome the injuries caused by the separation and leave them behind us.”
The generation of grandfathers makes for its part clear, that it was not only the atheistic state which brought suffering to the Protestants. Their own “mistrust and mutual condemnations” had also caused wounds. “We request pardon from all those who have been injured through our deeds and words. We also forgive all who caused us pain through their dishonesty, violence, slander and incomprehension.” Baptist divisions were in more than one instance attributed to their own transgressions and failures. The “Brotherhood of Independent ECB Churches’” Yevgenii Kravzov (Rybinsk) reported not only of “totalitarian church leadership”. He included the remark that their own fathers had succumbed to the temptation of Adam and Eve to be as gods.
Convention participants repeatedly expressed their disappointment that steps towards reconciliation have not occurred sooner. Joseph Bondarenko (USA) stated that he had been praying for 30 years for such a development. A pastor from the southern city of Vladikavkas assured that the “war had ended a long time ago”. The long-imprisoned Peter Rumachek (Dedovsk), pastor of a church belonging to the “Association of Brethren Churches”, concluded: “God has chosen to put a stop to the centrifugal powers. We no longer see only ourselves – we see each other. The Lord has shown that we need each other in order to fulfil his will.”
Yet the goal of pervasive reconciliation has not yet been attained. Victor Abramov, second-in-command among Latvia’s ethnic-Russian Baptists, reported that the “disease of unforgivness” remains very current. Another participant agreed that reconciliation among Baptists is needed, “but we dare not open the door to Pentecostals and charismatics”.
The Public Council has remained modest since its inception. RUECB Vice-President Peter Mitzkevich assured: “We are concerned above all about unity in spirit and understanding. This is a spiritual movement, not a structural one. The letter kills, but the Spirit enlivens. It is important to comprehend that we truly are brothers and sisters. We are not competitors, gossipers or covetors.“
A founding paper 10 months ago assured that the Public Council was “no new ecumenical organisation”. Its goal instead was spiritual unity. Although the important “International Council of ECB Churches” – once the CCECB or Initiativniki – is in continual dialogue with the Public Council, it has only observer status there.
That this movement reflects an idea, whose time has come, is supported by the fact that a next-of-kin has arisen
in Ukraine. On 2 and 3 March 2007, a congress committed to seriously interpreting the historical events of the post-WW II period was held at Donetsk Christian University. The event was entitled
“Remembering the Whole Story” (Pomni ves put) and was sought out by 230 visitors, a few even from overseas. This meeting was also marked by hugs and
words of reconciliation. Representatives of the various Baptist-allied churches prayed publicly for the well-being of churches with whom they had once been at great odds.
The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, today Russia’s largest Baptist denomination, represents
78.000 baptised believers in 1.930 congregations and groups. The Union’s General-Secretary is Yuri Sipko (54).
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 23 March 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-8, 730 words.
Note from May 2021: The ethnic-Ukrainian pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko and his large family emigrated to the USA in February 2009.