If Your Brother Sins Against You
Yuri Sipko at a Charismatic conference in the Russian Far East
M o s c o w -- On 14 October Yuri Kirillovich Sipko, President of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) until 2010, paid a large “New Generation”-Charismatic congregation in the Far Eastern city of Blagoveshchensk a surprise visit. Video reports of the conference in the city bordering China followed on Charismatic, Russian-language websites. But only a month later, after a video commenting on the event popped up on the Dallas-based “Slavic Voice” website, was the Russian-speaking Baptist world suddenly up-in-arms. The videos portray a highly-amiable atmosphere in which Sipko and the Charismatic pastor Mikhail Darbinyan embrace each other under frenzied applause. Without any official clearance from his church, the ex-President celebrated in his speech the dawn of a new era in Baptist-Charismatic relations. He exclaimed: “I am so happy, so thrilled, brothers and sisters, that we are united and can express our emotions without shame.” Darbinyan responded with strong approval from Sipko that “we are somehow ONE church. We will be together throughout all of Russia.” And further: “This is only the beginning of our cooperation in God’s vineyard.” Sipko was accompanied by a delegation of local Baptists including the regional superintendent Pavel Svetlov.
Slavic Baptists were more than a little perplex, for Sipko had played a major role in a video made in 2005 (“Kharismatiya”) warning of Charismatic influence and teaching. One blogger noted: “New Generation’s teachers display all the errors and excesses which this film condemns.” Andrey Iskorostensky of Kiev asked: “When was Sipko being honest: When he made the film on the Charismatics, or when he sang praises to the leaders of New Generation? Logic does not permit one to have it both ways.” In general, Baptist pastors still go to great lengths to “protect” their young from the Charismatic movement and often refuse to participate in inter-confessional events when Pentecostals and Charismatics are present.
Puzzling for observers is also the fact that Sipko chose the radical fringe of the Charismatic movement for the start of his reconciliation efforts. The New-Generation movement is headed by Darbinyan’s mentor - the Riga-based Alexander Ledyaev, a Kazakh-born Ukrainian of Baptist origin (See our press release from 25 July 2011). In a radio interview from Sacramento/California in late November, Moscow businessman and Evangelical-Christian bishop Alexander Semchenko noted that the mainline “ROSKhVE” Charismatic union and its leader Sergey Ryakhovsky as well as many Pentecostals long ago distanced themselves from Ledyaev.
The appearance of Pavel Starikov
In an hour-long video on the Semchenko-sponsored, “Slavic Voice” website (www.slavicvoice.org), Pavel Starikov of Portland/Oregon combined snippets of Sipko’s greeting in Blagoveshchensk with excerpts from the anti-Charismatic film and shocking, barely non-violent scenes from New Generation services in Riga and the USA. The resulting mix appears capable of doing serious damage to Yuri Sipko’s reputation. These ingredients also supplied the film with its title: “Yuri Sipko, Former Head of the Russian Baptists, has been Accused of a Double Standard and is being Called to Repentance”. The subtitle asks: “What are the RUECB’s leaders doing among the pseudo-apostles and false teachers of the last days?” Starikov, an ex-Charismatic from Ukraine, belongs to an initiative entitled “Heresy – No Way!”
In a letter accompanying the film and addressed to RUECB-President Alexey Smirnov, Starikov, a non-Baptist, demands that Sipko confess his failures and break all ties with the Charismatic movement. The RUECB must refrain from calling its leaders “brothers”, apologise to local pastors for the confusion caused and demand from Charismatic websites that they remove all footage of the speech in Blagoveshchensk.
The reactions of Baptist intellectuals to Starikov’s film were largely negative. Kiev’s Konstantin Teteryatnikov described it as lacking all objectivity and quality; St. Petersburg’s Mikhail Nevolin placed it on par with Russia’s most sensationalist TV stations. A woman from Albany/New York wrote: “One could tear any given verse out of the Bible and make one’s own doctrine from it. It’s a form of libel.” Ivan Kunderenko from Kiev’s “Centre for Apologetics Research” remarked in a blog: “The argumentation is really weak. It smells like the IUCECB (the un-registered Baptist union). This is a great pity.”
Those most pleased with Starikov’s efforts included a number of fundamentalists. Dmitri Walger from Berlin for ex. asked if Sipko had criticised Calvinist teaching at the Baptist preacher’s school in Samara/Volga simply because they happen to be opposed to the Charismatics. Albert Isakov in Brooks/Alberta claimed in a blog that Yuri’s older brother, Alexander, the Spokane-based head of the „Northwest Association of Slavic Baptist Churches“, “has distanced himself sharply from his brother’s participation in a gathering of blasphemers”.
Alexander Semchenko’s reaction was unique. In the afore-mentioned radio interview he assured that he had nothing against “kissing and embracing” Charismatics. Yet during that service, both Sipko and Darbinyan had “attacked Putin”. In Blagoveshchensk the ex-President had stated: “I have heard our singing and now I understand why the Public Prosecutor’s office has been repressing and sentencing you mercilessly for so many years. But I do not believe they will ever succeed because Satan’s intentions are going to be destroyed. God rules – he is the ruler! The Lord is our Czar! Amen, Hallelujah!” Semchenko complained in Sacramento: “Yuri Kirillovich always resorts to some form of anti-government rhetoric. It’s his favourite kick.” As a major businessman, Semchenko and his church projects have much to lose through confrontations with the powerful.
A moderate regarding the Charismatics, the oligarch stressed that one must clearly distinguish between Ledyaev and those thousands of sincere lay brothers and sisters visiting his congregations. He added that Ryakhovsky and his umbrella of Charismatic associations have mellowed in behaviour and thinking since the 1990s. “I’m optimistic regarding these developments.”
Alexander Kuznetsov, head of the Charismatic, ex-Baptist congregation in Moscow-Tushino, continues to make overtures to Baptist circles. He admitted in a blog on Blagoveshchensk that “we too have very serious qualms regarding the Charismatic fringe.” He cited its teachings on demonology and the gifts of the Spirit. He even expressed understanding for the fact that the RUECB hat excommunicated his congregation in April 2003 (when Sipko was President). “The brethren probably acted correctly at that time” – we do not harbour any resentment. “I am happy that Yuri Kirillovich is a sincere person and that his views on the church of Jesus Christ are in transition. Not everything is black-and-white. We will pray for him – he is in a predicament.”
Weariness regarding the never-ending struggle between fundamentalist-evangelicals and Charismatics was apparent in more than a few blogs. Yuri Lubovoi called the division into enemy camps “silly and senseless”. He described it as reckless to hold either Baptists or Charismatics for closer to the Gospel truth – all of us are still part of the process of becoming a more perfect church. “Refusing to listen to one another is not from God, but from Satan.” Another quoted from the Bible: “How can we claim that we are in Christ when we hate our brother?” Daniel Marchenko of Washington State adapted another verse: “If your brother sins against you, go record a video and show it to all the world. Is that what Matthew 18,15-17 commands?” In such statements, the desire for more constructive forms of exchange is highly evident.
Evident is also the fact that Russian and Ukrainian émigrés – as well as their church unions - remain perfectly willing and capable of influencing church affairs back in the distant home. Portland is located 18 time zones west of Blagoveshchensk.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 14 December 2011
Press service of the Russian Evangelical Alliance
A release of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. Release #11-26, 1.225 words, 8.048 keystrokes and spaces.