Samara II. is Approaching
Ukraine‘s Baptist Union breaks its ties with John MacArthur
M o s c o w – Appearances can deceive. On 7 March, the entire top leadership of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) was photographed with John MacArthur during a gathering at his office near Los Angeles. (That involved President Peter Mitskevich, Senior Vice-President Viktor Ignatenkov and Chief Administrator Vladimir Miskevich.) The event was posted on Miskevich‘s Facebook page. Yet only a day previous, on 6 March, the „All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“ had officially parted ways with John MacArthur.
Its lengthy statement on this date reports that a significant number of teachers – but not the rector – will be leaving the Union‘s 1999-founded „Irpen Biblical Seminary“ („Irpin“ in Ukrainian, near Kiev) in order to form a new schooling centre strictly under MacArthur‘s leadership. The Master‘s programme of this institution was in terms of content and finances 100% under the support of MacArthur‘s „Master’s Academy International“. According to this statement, the conflict over „theological, moral and ethical questions“ will lead to the US-American partner „completely dropping its financial support for the seminary“.
Since early in the 1990s, the theological work of the Calvinist MacArthur has been known in virtually all Ukrainian Baptist congregations. Yet in the meantime, according to this statement, the initial „adulation has been replaced by open criticism and a tendency towards division“. Yet Union leadership assures the theological debate between the centuries-old Calvinist and Arminian traditions does not need to result in division. The theological dispute between them can even be productive. Yet in this instance, theological „radicalness, proselytism“ and an unacceptable „spirit of separatism“ have won the upper hand.
This paper contains a „list of sins“ with eight points. Theological assertions such as limited atonement, „which we have never supported“, are being pushed constantly. Nearly all books „printed and disseminated“ stem from a single author (MacArthur). Congregations were planted which never intended to join the official Baptist Union. „Financial support was used as a means to force decisions in matters of dogma.“
Point Seven assures: „We in Ukraine do not want a repeat of the situation we observe in the Slavic congregations of the United States and Russia. . . . We prize the unity of God‘s people and see no sufficient or justified reasons for a policy of separation. We do not share the position of a so-called ‚Biblical separatism‘.“
The closing point reports that MacArthur supports a plan to „found a new institute without any connection (to
our Union) while still intending to teach our members. We „regard it as untenable to recommend an education at this centre to our pastors and members, in case it is created“
This paper cancels an unspoken arrangement which has been practiced in the once-Soviet region for more than two decades: A Baptist Union receives financial support from the USA if it in return grants MacArthur‘s teachers access to its youth and educational institutions. This essentially has been the agreement at MacArthur‘s preachers‘ institute in Samara/Russia. This model is now to be expanded to include Ukraine: An institute independent of the Baptist Union is to school Baptist pastors. One could call this venture „Samara II.“
The Union‘s paper states clearly that Illinois‘ „Slavic Gospel Association“ has been given the task of finding new supporters for the Irpen seminary. The SGA‘s new president is the businessman Michael Johnson. His predecessor, Robert Provost, who held this position from 1994 until April 2017, was closely allied with John MacArthur. It should soon become evident whether Johnson is equally dedicated to MacArthur‘s cause.
In a briefly-public note on his Facebook page, the Moscow theologian Gennadi Sergienko had congratulated the Ukrainian Union for breaking with MacArthur and asked: „How long will it take for the leadership of the Russian Baptist Union to come to a similar conclusion?“ The theologian stresses that this argument is not with Calvinism per se, but rather with a „neo-Calvinist fundamentalism possessing an exclusive claim on truth“. Sergienko has been warning for more than a decade of a virus of division nestled within the Calvinism propagated by MacArthur. He now fears the same separatism evident in Samara – the creation of a second church within an exisiting one – will occur in Ukraine. Sergienko, who obtained his doctorate not far from MacArthur at Pasadena‘s renowed Fuller Seminary, is Russia‘s best-educated Baptist theologian. He is dean of Moscow‘s national RUECB seminary.
He and others are convinced that small free churches in an occasionally-hostile diaspora are ill-advised to push an anti-interconfessional and anti-pentecostal agenda. MacArthur is known to have described the efforts of the Argentinian Pope as „satanic“. It is a natural to conclude that his stance towards Orthodoxy is similar. His adversaries include Franklin Graham and Rick Warren. In addition, the Kremlin is becoming less-and-less enchanted with Western-financed church initiatives. That‘s one reason more why Baptists in Russia have qualms regarding the photo of RUECB-leadership in California.
Evgeny Bakhmutsky, Russia‘s best-known national supporter of MacArthur, is making political progress. The congregations planted by him in Moscow region are growing. Following his recall as the RUECB‘s senior vice-president in 2014, he – in contrast to other former leadership members – has refrained from publically criticising Union leadership. He is consequently in discussion as a possible successor to President Peter Mitskevich, yet that issue will only become acute in 2022 or 2026. The arrival of a convinced Calvinist would undoubtedly accelerate the on-going exodus from the RUECB. This Union still has roughly 70.000 members; the choice of a pro-MacArthur president could lead to the departure of half of its remaining congregations.
The „All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists“ has 113.000 members. Valery Antoniuk has been its president since 2010.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 9 April 2019
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 #19-01, 931 words.