Needing Each Other in Order to Find God’s Will
European Baptists are closer than ever before
P r a g u e -- “Relations between the Baptists of Eastern and Western Europe are more fraternal now.” That was the assessment of the Englishman Dr. Tony Peck, General-Secretary of the 1949-founded European Baptist Federation (EBF), in a Prague interview with the Russian Baptist Union on 16 June. ”We had a period of difficulty in the 1990s, but we now seem to be accepting our diversity more readily.” Though both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan withdrew from the EBF and its mother organisation, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), in 2006, relations on the ground are more active than ever. Peck reports that the Kazakh Baptist Union is now sending more students to Prague’s International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) than before.
The General-Secretary regards the differences between East and West partly as generational. Thanks in part to globalisation and the Internet, “younger church leaders in East and West are closer together than were their elders.” He hopes the EBF will be able to support Eastern churches “in their journey” from Communist-era leadership to a more youthful one and that they might be open “to where God might want to lead them”. For him, the cooperation of Baptists across all European boundaries is more than a simple political expedient. “There is a sense of Koinonia when we come together to encourage and support each other. We need each other in order to correctly find God’s will.”
Tony Peck believes IBTS is more central to European church life than its predecessor, which was located in Rüschlikon (near Zurich) until 1997: “We truly are contributing to the education of church leaders.” Heads of the Baptist Unions of Armenia and Lithuania graduated in early June; Leonid Mikhovich, Rector of Minsk Theological Seminary, is scheduled to continue his studies in Prague shortly.
The EBF’s Indigenous Missionary Programme (IMP) is at the heart of its efforts to involve Europeans in the planting of new congregations within their own countries. Rev. Peck maintains: “IMP is something we have done to empower people locally to plant churches.” The programme is now supporting 60 European church planters. Despite emigration, the Baptist churches of Moldova and Armenia have enjoyed major expansion: The Armenian church has grown from 400 to 4.500 members since 1990. One IMP-project outside of Europe involves the embattled Baptist congregation in Baghdad.
Though North America’s largest Protestant denomination, the “Southern Baptist Convention” withdrew from the BWA in 2004, its state conventions of Texas and Virginia continue to support EBF. Peck is also grateful that the “International Baptist Convention”, originally an offshoot of the SBC, remains an active member of EBF. The EBF-General-Secretary admits knowing little about the ethnic Germans from Russia who have immigrated to Germany. “I do not see why they could not join the EBF if they are comfortable with the kind of organisation we are. We do embrace diversity. That was an issue for the Southern Baptists, who did not want diversity.”
Rev. Peck reports that he was deeply impressed by the Baptist commitment to serious discipleship during his visits to Eastern Europe and Russia during the past 20 years: “That is something which they still need to share with us all.” He also notes the differing priorities on matters of Christian ethics and discipleship which still exist between East and West and encourages an ongoing debate about them in the contemporary mission context of Europe. “In this debate we can learn from and be enriched by each other’s understandings.”
Peck adds that the question of leadership roles for women does not follow the divide between Eastern and Western Europe. While Belgium and Portugal do not have women serving in pastoral roles, Bulgaria and Georgia do. He appeals: “This is not an issue which should divide us. We read the same Scriptures and come to different conclusions. It is important for us to agree that this issue is not a part of the core essence of the Gospel.”
The European Baptist Federation is comprised of over 800.000 Baptists in 51 Unions stretching from Portugal to the Russian Far East. Included are Baptists of the Middle East.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 25 June 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. May be published freely. Release #08-28, 673 words.