No Longer There, Where We Thought They Were
M o s c o w – The Protestant Easter Concert in a Moscow concert hall on 8 April had plenty in it for the younger set. The 1.300 in attendance were treated to ear-bending rock, ballet, cosmetics, a pinch of punk, high boots and evening dress, computerised stage choreography much like that featured on Russian state TV, and not least-of-all - Jesus cheers. Groups and soloists sported a punch and harmony which many Western Christian groups would have great trouble imitating.
And the evening’s honoured guests were no foreign extension of some unstoppable US-charismatic mission, but rather the historically tried-and-proven free churches of Russia: the Russion Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the 7th-Day Adventists and two Pentecostal denominations. The organiser of this 4th annual Eastern concert was the “Foundation of Christian Businessmen” headed by Alexander Semchenko, a well-known Baptist philanthropist and sponsor of the Moscow newspaper “Protestant”.
Another “far-out” event is in the offing: Russian Baptists are planning a cycling tour through Germany in May enroute to Vladivostok on the Pacific. The organisers had initially planned to send along an orchestra ensemble for the swing through Germany, reasoning that the dour evangelical kids of Germany could not handle a hot-and-happy Christian sound. It strikes me that the Western understanding of Russia’s Protestant scene is of similar, modest quality. We are still far-removed from each other, and not just in geographic terms.
Both Russia and the West allow Russian and Russian-German (Aussiedler) emigré congregations to colour their understanding of a whole country. We from the West view conservative emigré congregations among us as representing the typically-Russian; the stay-at-home Russians regard Russian-German emigré groups as regular German fare. Yet it would be extremely short-sighted to equate evangelical, emigré life with church developments in the great cities of present-day Russia.
Spoken text for the evening including a word of greeting and applause for the Orthodox delegate from the Moscow Patriarchate. In a press conference during intermission church heads from the denominations listed above proclaimed their good will to all who would listen. Yet, secular and Orthodox journalists have not yet grown accustomed to showing up at Protestant events.
Undoubtedly, Russian Protestants – and most other evangelicals - still have territory to cover before they have completely attuned their ears to the surrounding world. The faith ghetto, in which one feels most at home among those of one’s own kind, has not yet crumbled. But Russians have understood that in mission, the bait must be tasty for the fish - not for the fisherman. Clearly, the vast majority of emigré congregations remain far removed from the Moscow concert of 8 April. Russian Protestantism is no longer there, where we Westerners had thought they were stuck.
Dr. William Yoder
Moscow, 11 April 2007
As a commentary, this report should not be considered an official press release of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“. Publication is possible. Release Nr.07-9, 424 words