Turbulent Times among Ukraine’s Charismatics
Two more church divisions have occurred
M o s c o w -- In a statement released on 17 June and signed by 12 bishops, 235 of the 345 congregations belonging to the 20.000-member “Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church” (UKhETs) announced their withdrawal from the church. This occurred after the church’s senior bishop, Leonid Padun (born 1960), founder and senior pastor of a 5.000-member strong congregation in Donetsk (eastern Ukraine), rejected the request of the Charismatic, Uppsala/Sweden-based “World of Life” movement to accept a leave-of-absence. Donetsk had, along with the 4.000-member Moscow-based congregation headed by the Norwegian Mats-Ola Ishoel, been one of Word of Life’s five “Bible Centres” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Word of Life movement was founded by the Swede Ulf Ekman in 1983 and relates in educational matters closely to Oklahoma’s “Oral Roberts University” – Padun’s alma mater.
Since the conflict became public last December, Padun’s supporters have been protesting that the allegations are based on rumour and slander. They accuse Word of Life of foreign interference and “religious colonialism”. Word of Life supporters for their part accuse Padun of “excessive authoritarianism and abuse of power”. Swedish sources spoke of a “style of leadership, administration, ethical norms of handling finances, lifestyle, and conduct inconsistent with Christian standards”. The statement from 17 June said it all by quoting 1. Timothy 3, 2-7: “The overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable . . . “
Sunday Adelaja, head of Kiev’s once-gigantic “God’s Embassy”, and Maxim Maximov, CEO of the major Charismatic “CNL” television and information services, have come out in support of Padun. Yet their own reputations are also wobbly. Adelaja, an ethnic Nigerian, barely avoided jail after being found guilty of financial improprieties in 2008. As late as 17 June of this year, four representatives of his church were arrested in Lvov (Western Ukraine) accused of embezzling three million hryvnia ($370.000 US) from parishioners. Maximov retains his lonely church and media outpost in Almaty/Kazakhstan bereft of support from the country’s other Protestant denominations.
The case of Padun appears to be one more instance in which the founding father of a Christian organisation has succeeded in overstaying his initial welcome. “Gluing oneself” to one’s chair is a phenomenon common but not limited to Eastern Europe.
On 12 August, the Kiev-based news service “Invictory” reported that the country’s “All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith – Pentecostals” has broken all ties with Dnepropetrovsk’s “Revival Spiritual Centre”. The Union’s statement accuses “Revival”, founded in 2002 and headed by Vladimir Muntyan, of deviating from Gospel teaching and “spiritual seduction”. It cites “the practice of liberation from ancestral curses” and freeing from the demons present in other churches as examples of unbiblical practice. Its practice of removing a “crown of celibacy”, which supposedly hinders proper relations with the opposite sex, is described as occult. Manipulated healings and a “huge emphasis on money” are cited as further anti-evangelical practices. Sunday Adelaja’s “false doctrine on enrichment” – the “Prosperity Gospel” – is described as “discrediting the evangelical movement and Christianity in general”. The statement closes by comparing Muntyan and his Centre to the destructive “savage wolves” described in Acts 20, 29.
“Revival” has held large evangelistic campaigns in major cities such as Kiev and as many as 6.000 students have passed through it educational centre, called “Mount of Moses”. The All-Ukrainian Union, from which it is being expelled, is headed by Bishop Mikhail Panochko and represents 1.490 congregations.
Ukraine’s largest Baptist union has 2.382 congregations and roughly 125.000 members.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Smolensk, 17 August 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 #13-14, 577 words, 3.888 keystrokes and spaces.