A Table with Room for Conservative Evangelicals
„Non-traditional churches“ gain new recognition in Kenya
M o s c o w – The world’s tried-and-proven, historic Christian churches have opened themselves to dialogue with non-traditional churches. That was emphasized by the delegates from 72 countries who gathered in Limuru near Nairobi/Kenya from 6 - 9 November for the first large „Global Christian Forum“. The Forum’s list of delegates reflected the shift of major Christian life from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere. Of the Forum’s mostly high-ranking 245 delegates, over 40 belonged to a Pentecostal or Charismatic denomination. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) alone was permitted to send an additional 35 delegates. Geneva’s World Council of Churches (WCC) restricted itself to six delegates. In Kenya, the WEA´s General-Secretary, the Canadian Geoff Tunnicliffe (Markham/Ontario), concluded: „The Global Christian Forum provides a new table of dialogue of which we can clearly say, ‘it's our table, not theirs.'"
Approximately 15 Baptists were along in Kenya. Six of them were sent by the US-based Baptist World Alliance (BWA). Besides its past (Denton Lotz) and new General-Secretary (Neville Callam), the delegation included Moscow pastor Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of the Department for External Church Relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” (RUECB). Vlasenko was one of numerous delegates who expressed reservations regarding the term “ecumenical”. In Moscow he stated: “We weren’t talking about ecumenism there. The WCC never did look like this Forum. It was a meeting at which we discussed how we could accept each other as Christians. Of course there are big theological and cultural differences. But we also call ourselves Christians and we want peace. We dare not disqualify any and all inter-confessional gatherings as ´ecumenism´. All Christians are facing a lot of big problems: Aids and the Islamist challenge, for ex.”
In Russia itself, the Russian Orthodox Church is attempting to force out precisely those who were celebrated in Kenya: the world’s up-and-coming, non-traditional churches. The Russian Orthodox nevertheless sent three delegates to the Forum. Pastor Vlasenko reported: “Each evening the delegates met according to region. We discussed our differences and had very, very good discussions.” The Baptist told his Orthodox colleagues: “We do not at all want to be your opponents. But unhappy incidents keep on occurring.”
The three Orthodox delegates were Vsevolod Chaplin, Igor Vyzhanov und Mihail Gundiaev, a nephew of Cyril, the Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. Cyril is regarded as a welcome partner by numerous Russian Baptists. Pavel Okara, President of the Pentecostal “Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith”, was the fifth delegate from Russia. No Ukrainians or Byelorussians attended the Forum.
The Forum movement, which seeks to get into dialogue with the many denominations not belonging to Geneva’s WCC, has existed since 1998. The Global Forum in Limuru had been preceded by numerous regional Forums. It will be decided this coming spring in what form this broad dialogue should be continued.
Baptists have been present in Russia for 140 years and do not consider themselves a “non-traditional” faith. Their “close cousins”, the Mennonites, have been in Russia for 220 years.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 16 November 2007
A press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-45, 493 words.