New Structures for Theological Training in Russia
Russian Baptist superintendents are headed for the classroom
M o s c o w – Russian Baptists intend to unify and coordinate their theological education programmes. That was the decision made at Council sessions of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist (RUECB) convening in Pokrovskoe near Moscow, 16 to 18 October. Afterwards, Dr. Peter Mitskevich, President of Moscow Theological Seminary (MTS), explained: “We want to unite all Baptist theological education in Russia under the umbrella of our seminary. We want to network all of our schools and develop a standardised curriculum with standardised degrees. We will stress the exchange of teachers and professors between the different schools. Of course, it will take some time to achieve this goal.”
Union President Yuri Sipko (Moscow) added: “We are very enthusiastic about this new approach and have high hopes that it will serve our churches well.”
Particularly novel is the creation of a new studies programme designed to fit the needs of the RUECB´s 50 regional superintendents (also called “bishops” in English). Most of them have served as pastors for years without ever having the opportunity for formal theological training. Their three-year programme, with the students meeting twice per year at the location of the Union’s regular Council sessions, will end with a Masters degree. “This programme is a terrific idea,” exclaimed Vitaly Vlasenko (Moscow), the RUECB´s Director for External Church Relations. “All appear willing to attend. This should help create good relations between the superintendents and MTS. They will get to know the seminary teachers personally and soon they will even be graduates of this seminary! The process of education will help modify many traditional points-of-view.”
Russian Baptists were allowed to begin theological training by extension in 1968, which led to the formation of Moscow Theological Institute (MTI). In 1993, MTS was founded; the two institutions were combined in 2007. MTS offers a Masters and a Bachelors programme. The later programme is named in honour of MTI.
President Mitskevich calls the new educational policy “centralised as well as decentralised”, for much instruction will take place away from the Moscow campus. Four regional learning centres located in Chita, Noyabrsk (Northern Siberia), Chelyabinsk and Leninsk-Kuznetskii (near Kemerovo) have already become branches of MTS. New branches are planned in Rostov-on-Don and Prohladno (near Krasnodar). MTS presently enrols 250 students with 160 of them studying for certain periods on the Moscow campus. Russian theological education has struggled with the lack of students capable of full-time study. MTS is therefore transitioning into a non-residential institution with students present on campus only part-time.
More than 10 seminaries and Bible schools stretching from Habarovsk in the Far East to Kaliningrad in the extreme West regard themselves as part of the RUECB. At least three of the better-known ones remain outside the MTS umbrella: Akademgorodok (near Novosibirsk), Samara and Kursk. The same holds true for the liberal-arts-oriented “Saint-Petersburg Christian University”. The Union has not yet formed a national Department of Education. It could be a part of the umbrella uniting all Baptist theological schools.
A visual presentation at Pokrovskoe listed the past problems of Russian theological education: alienation from local congregations, a lack of connection to everyday life and frequent changes in school leadership. Past school autonomy, which meant that an institution answered only to distant, usually North American sponsors, led to disarray and strife. Little headway has been made in reaching Russian intelligentsia for Christ.
The list of positive developments since 1990 included a new strength in combating heretical teachings, the ability of pastors to study the Bible in its original languages and a broadening of the worldview of congregations.
In Pokrovskoe, Peter Mitskevich, a pastor and medical doctor with theological training at Dallas Theological Seminary, was formally installed as President of MTS. He has been serving in this capacity since 1 July. President of MTS until 2005 was Dr. Alexander Kozynko.
Primary partner for MTS is the North American “Russian Leadership Ministries” (RLM), an independent, evangelical and largely Baptist mission with additional support from Presbyterian and Mennonite circles. Its President is Prof. Ian Chapman (Edinburg/Virginia); Executive Director is Ted Rodgers (Wheaton/Illinois). Dr. Chapman was President of Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard near Chicago until his retirement. Persons wishing to contact RLM can reach Director Rodgers at 001-630 580 5628 or “firstname.lastname@example.org”. The mission’s webpage should be up-and-running by 1 December: “www.russianleadership.org”.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 22 October 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-40, 710 words.