Two Old Denominations in Need of Adaptation
A Baptist reports on Baptist-Orthodox dialogue
M o s c o w -- “People who claim that friendship and cooperation between Orthodox and Baptists are impossible are profoundly mistaken. Yet those who regard cooperation as possible but unnecessary are even more mistaken.” These are the opening lines of a remarkable press release from 1 June 2012 reporting on a two-time meeting between a Baptist congregation pastored by Alexander Vassilevich Fedichkin in Moscow-Tekstilshchiky and the Orthodox “Holy Trinity” congregation in Elektrougli to the east of the city.
Fedichkin, a grizzled veteran of Baptist-Orthodox dialogue, condemns the rejection of contacts by either of the two sides as voluntary self-impoverishment. In the first release on this dialogue from 24 November 2011 he stated: “The purpose of our conversation is not to prove that one or the other faith is incorrect – that’s precisely when two sides stop listening to each other. The fundamental goal can only be joint spiritual enrichment.” He added that Baptists can only know themselves and their Russian culture through the study of Orthodoxy. Only through becoming familiar with it can Baptists “effectively answer questions addressed to them by Russian society”.
Pastor Fedichkin stresses that no side is completely right or wrong. He describes accusations of heresy as „proof that we are poorly informed about each other“. In an interview with the author on 10 February of this year he stated: “I am deeply convinced that the true church has never been a confession. Who is the church of Christ? That is all those who have responded to the call of Christ and come to Him. It is a great stupidity to speak strictly in terms of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant denominations. They are only the cultural responses of people during various eras and living situations in history.” He added that he harbours great respect for both the Orthodox and Baptist “cultures”.
The pastor can therefore support only a specific and partial condemnation of any Christian faith – all of us possess limited and relative recognition of our surroundings. “To criticise specific malpractices or teachings is one thing, but to condemn the Orthodox church as a whole is quite another.”
He claims that all systems of Christian faith possess their own internal logic and any attempt by outside forces to destroy that logic leads to serious conflict and war. He compares such attacks to the attack on an individual family. In such an instance, the father – or bishop - must “resist that which is threatening to destroy his family and its values”. He stated: All Christians “read the Scriptures through a prism. (Among the Orthodox this would include their Byzantine definition of church.) This prism determines the unique character of all such internal logic.”
Alexander Fedichkin stated: “Radical opposition to the church is superficial.” He believes that criticism of Orthodoxy’s attempted “symphony” with the Putin-led government for ex. overlooks the true breadth and depth of the Orthodox movement. In one of the above press releases, an Orthodox priest complained about Russian media’s disregard for the involvement of Orthodox laity in charity. It instead has concentrated on superfluous, sensationalist matters such as the price of the watches worn by Patriarch Kirill.
An attack on one should be seen as an attack on all churches. A recurring theme among Russian Christians is the struggle against “secularism”. The earlier release ended with the claim: “Meetings such as these can destroy the stereotype that friendship between Orthodox and Protestants is impossible. Everything depends on the degree of openness on both sides. Only cooperation and joint endeavours will make it possible for Christians to struggle actively against anti-religious secularism on a global scale.” The present, doable means for cooperation include social and cultural projects – even a few joint worship services for children have occurred.
But this pastor has not cast aside basic Baptist principles. He would not rebaptise a person who became Orthodox on a very personal confession of faith, but he would do so for new members baptised as children or adults without a personal faith in Christ. “May God grant our Baptist pastors wisdom”, he added. “Every case is different; sometimes we Baptists also baptise prematurely. But Orthodox pastors also need wisdom from God – our church cultures remain decidedly different.”
Early in the 1970s, 1951-born Alexander Fedichkin became acquainted with Orthodox believers. He recalled: “We always said these people prayed to idols and proclaimed a theology opposed to the Gospel. But then I became acquainted with a number who served God, loved him and tried to live according to his will.” That was followed by friendships with laity and priests associated with the legendary Alexander Men (1935-1990). Baptists had long regarded society and the state as an adversary. Fedichkin claims it was Western missionaries if the 1990s who pushed the view of Baptists as a prospective partner of the state, serving within – and not outside of - Russian society.
Yet traditionalism and fundamentalism are far from dead within Russia. Asked whether he felt lonely, the pastor replied: “We Baptists find ourselves in a transitional phase. We are transitioning from one philosophical position to another. Old traditions from 140 or so years ago still worked 50 or 70 years later, but today they absolutely no longer meet our needs. All of us have been captive to the cultural forms of the past and now need to review our practice and theory anew in the light of Scripture. We are in a transitional state very similar to the Orthodox: Both of us possess an old faith needing to be adapted to meet the challenges of the present.”
Though he is a pastor within the „Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“, Pastor Fedichkin also serves as President of the 72-congregation-strong “Council of Christian Evangelical Churches of Russia” (CCECR). This is one of several interdenominational, legal umbrellas for independent congregations and small denominations. He is also a Vice-President of the “Russian Evangelical Alliance”.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 20 February 2013
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #13-03, 972 words, 6.137 keystrokes and spaces.