Forgiving Those Whom God has Forgiven
Public Council of Russian Baptists convenes in Moscow
M o s c o w – At the vital conference of 150 representatives of church unions within the Baptist tradition in Moscow on 16 February 2007, Yuri Sipko (Moscow), President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB), had proclaimed a “Year of Forgiveness”. On 4 December, 50 representatives gathered in the RUECB´s central offices in Moscow at the invitation of the “Public Council” (Obshestvenii Soviet) to review progress during the past year. At least five of the 10 church unions of Baptist orientation, which belong to the Public Council umbrella organisation, were present.
Open discussions on 4 December made clear that a process of reconciliation has begun: “Congregations and pastors have been reconciled with each other after years of estrangement.” One participant added: “Those who want peace must surrender their own ambitions. Those whom God has forgiven, we also must forgive.”
In a sermon, Alexei Smirnov (Dedovsk), head of the RUECB´s Department for Pastoral Care, stressed: “Reconciliation is necessary not only for the sake of our own brotherhood. People on the outside, who view us all as inhabitants of the same village, react with sarcasm and a derisive grin. It is very important that we take steps towards unity.”
Participants reacted with chagrin to the news that disputes over trivia have a long history. Alexei Sinichkin from the RUECB´s Department for Theology and Catechism reported that in 1920 the movement had quarrelled over the merging of an evangelical and a Baptist union. In addition to the heated discussions on leadership, baptism and the expulsion of members, deliberations focused on the issue of a hyphen. Should the new union be called “Evangelical Christians and Baptists” or simply “Evangelical Christians-Baptists”? Sinichkin added: “Debates on issues such as these lasted for as long as three days. This dispute centred around a single word. We are still people like that.”
In the ensuing discussions a participant stated: „We should do more than simply stare at our past. Now we need to proclaim the Gospel jointly and strive for total unity in the future.”
A few days after the event, the Public Council’s Secretary, Pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko (Moscow), added: “The relationships among us are becoming warmer and more intensive. We are talking about starting joint evangelistic and humanitarian projects.” He reported that the still-unregistered “Initiativniki”, who separated from the Baptist Union in 1961 and today call themselves the “International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, find themselves in the midst of a restructuring phase. Their President Gennadi Kryuchkov died last July after 32 years in office. A new leadership team has been formed. The International Union, which today represents no more than 20,000 believers within Russia and has its offices in Tula south of Moscow, was present at the session on 4 December. It has observer status within the Public Council.
The RUECB, Russia’s largest unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members meeting in 1.750 local congregations and groups.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 11 December 2007
Press release of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. May be published freely. Release #07-54, 480 words.
Note from May 2021: The ethnic-Ukrainian pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko and his large family emigrated to the USA in February 2009.