Strong Families – Not Strong Church Buildings
The thoughts of Dr. Denton Lotz after visiting the USSR and Russia for 49 years
M o s c o w -- Despite the grievous social and economic problems facing their society, Dr. Denton Lotz (Forestdale, Massachusetts/USA), the retired General-Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, is optimistic about the future of Baptists in Russia. The General-Secretary from 1988 to 2007 was in Moscow from 12 to 15 December to attend festivities celebrating the 15th anniversary of Moscow Theological Seminary (MTS) and the 40th anniversary of its study-by-extension Moscow Bible Institute. Lotz, who made the first of innumerable visits to the Soviet Union in December 1959, noted that many of the problems facing the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) are the same as those confronting Christians everywhere. These include conflict between younger and older generations and a distrust of central headquarters by local congregations and regional church bodies.
Rev. Lotz sees the dramatic growth of Baptist congregations in Moscow as one major cause for optimism and gratitude. “In 1989 there was still only one Baptist church in Moscow - now there are 26. The fact is: Freedom has come and brought many changes.” Citing the progress of MTS in transforming autonomous schools into branches of its own institution, he believes the seminary is playing a major role in unifying the RUECB. “Twenty years ago, many congregations were working exclusively with parachurch organisations, and this became detrimental to the unity of the Union. But many of the parachurch groups have returned home. I think the new seminary leadership under Dr. Peter Mitskevich has brought a lot of unity. Students are coming from all over the country and a great sense of unity comes from studying together. Russian Baptists are developing their own theologians and teachers and they are dealing with problems in a better way than outsiders who often do not understand the context or culture of Russia.”
Lotz is encouraged about the new direction of theological education among Russian Baptists. MTS has succeeded in uniting institutions with a total of 400 to 500 on-campus and external pastoral students. As is true worldwide, very often graduates of theological seminaries are not able to find a position as full-time pastor with a full-time salary that can support a family. He sees that very often the bi-vocational pastor holding a part-time secular job may be the most promising, long-term option. Indeed, Baptist pastors had also been bi-vocational during Soviet times.
Dr. Lotz advised the Baptists of Russia to cultivate their traditional strengths, for they never will be able to compete with the Orthodox in the size or number of church buildings. “After perestroika, we had begun to take on the mentality of the Orthodox,” he concluded. “The Orthodox see architecture as part of their mission. A building has to be large and needs to look like an ancient church. Sometimes, Protestants became too extravagant and ambitious in their building projects. We should pursue another model of the church,” Lotz insisted. “The Church as the body of Christ is more than a building. This has been our evangelical understanding of the Church. During communist times, the government was always surprised at the moral strength of the Russian Baptists. The same is true today. Russian Baptists have a great witness today by maintaining the model of a strong family life.” The guest also noted that Russian Baptists have kept their evangelical vigour better than many Western Baptists. In contrast to parts of the world where Baptists are a majority, Russian Baptists remain a small, dissident minority and have partly for that reason been able to remain distinct from the general society and offer an alternative and more Biblical lifestyle.
In a talk at the seminary, Denton Lotz advised local Baptists to be patient with the Charismatic movement. He noted that some Pentecostal churches, such as the 1914-founded “Assemblies of God”, now resemble the Baptists in theology and practice and do not always require everyone to speak in tongues. He believes the third generation of church members will often tend to return to the practice followed by the larger church prior to the original division.
The RUECB, Russia's largest, unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups. Its President is Yuri Sipko.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 18 December 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. Release #08-58, 689 words.
Note from November 2020: As head of the Baptist World Alliance from 1988 until 2007, Denton Lotz (1939-2019) spent years attempting to keep the Southern Baptist Convention within the fold. Yet the SBC chose to leave the BWA in 2004. His sister-in-law, Anne Graham Lotz (born 1948), is a daughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham.