A Single Protestant Voice is No More
Since 23 September, the Moscow-based “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists” is no longer a member of the country’s most prominent inter-Protestant organisation: the 2002-founded “Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia“. That’s a blow to Pentecostal and Charismatic efforts to achieve acceptance within Russian society. Pentecostals and Charismatics are regarded as the most foreign of Russia’s larger Protestant denominations and they have relied on Baptists and Lutheran support to increase their recognition within government and Orthodox circles. Lutherans and Baptists are most readily recognised as traditional Russian religions, an important distinction for Russians concerned about foreign, Western influences arriving under the cloak of Christianity.
The voice of Russian Protestantism is no longer a joint one. Church relations specialist Roman Lunkin writes: “Without the Baptists, it will be difficult for the Advisory Council to call itself an all-Russian Protestant organisation.” The “Evangelical-Lutheran Church” remains an observer within the Council, but its archbishop, Dietrich Brauer, has expressed understanding for the Baptist position.
In its official declaration, the RUECB writes that members of the Council “have often fostered factional struggles within the Council, increasing thereby the lack of trust and openness”. Also: “Numerous public statements - made without proper authorisation in the name of all Protestants - have harmed personal and inter-confessional relationships”.
Detractors claim the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE) and its bishop, Sergey Ryakhovsky, have attempted to function as the first among equals. Yet Baptists and Lutherans have been unwilling to concede this role to them. Though Ryakhovsky is the Protestant leader who has most strongly expressed support for the present Russian government, Orthodox circles are siding with Baptists on this break. Both Baptists and the Orthodox are irritated for ex. by the super-loud disco sound emanating from Charismatic worship services – it is seen as an affront to the tastes of those accustomed to quiet-and-sober Russian worship. Old-style Pentecostalism does have a century-old tradition within Russia. Yet thanks to missionary efforts, probably the majority of today’s ROSKhVE members were not yet Protestants during the Soviet period and consequently lack any local tradition. Today’s Pentecostals and “neo-Charismatics” are clearly different in style from the Pentecostals of earlier times.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 07 October 2015
A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #15-10b.