A Russian Evangelical Alliance is Back on the Scene. PCP Report.
08 Apr 2003
Berlin. April 4. The refounding of the Russian Evangelical Alliance took place in Rumyantsevo near Moscow on April 2. The step was supported by the vast majority of the more than 150 participants stemming from over 40 churches, organisations, associations, missions and local alliances. A final constitution is to be passed at the next national conference in one year; issues of membership, finance and leadership structures need further clarification. The delegates agreed that the establishment of an annual prayer week, joint Bible conferences and evangelistic campaigns as well as the execution of social and political responsibilities will rate as primary future concerns.
Gordon Showell-Rogers (London), General Secretary of the European Evangelical Alliance, was impressed by the strong desire for the creation of an Alliance. "A lot of differences surfaced during these few days," he conceded. "But I was surprised by the degree of unanimity. And it wasn't that people agreed reluctantly - they agreed with strong passion about the matter at hand."
Dr. Vladimir Ryagusov, Rector of Moscow's Baptist seminary and chairman of the founding committee, added: "I was surprised by the unity of spirit among the delegates. They clearly understand the implications of an Evangelical Alliance for Russia and the tasks with which they will be confronted." He nevertheless acknowledged that a number of charismatic and Pentecostal groups chose not to attend. There were also no delegates of confessional Lutheranism as represented by America's "Missouri Synod" present. Fears of weakened sovereignty and umbrella organisations per se remain part of the historic heritage of Russian Protestantism.
Ryagusov appealed in his lecture for the fusion of some church efforts. He finds it unacceptable for ex. if three small congregations in a remote village somewhere in this vast, thinly-populated country are each served by a pastor from the appropriate denomination while thousands elsewhere remain ignorant of the Gospel.
There was in any case no lack of good-will declarations. The Methodist Bishop Dr. RÃ¼diger Minor (Moscow) claimed that the 7,000 Russian Methodists "enthusiastically applaud the concept of an Alliance". Addressing the delegates, Siegfried Springer (Moscow), Bishop of the "Evangelical Lutheran Church in European Russia" assured: "If you ever need me for something, then I will be there for you. And I trust that when I will be needing your aid, I will have the freedom to come to you. It is the same Spirit who unites and carries us." His denomination was represented primarily by a delegation from Saratov on the Volga.
Conference organisers stressed the fact that the Russian Alliance is not of recent inception. The first Russian Alliance was founded in 1906. It nevertheless unravelled a year later after a dispute between Baptists and the Orthodox-influenced Neomolokists on the issue of baptism. Already in 1896 Alliance spokespersons had approached the Tsar on matters of religious freedom; six years later Russian evangelicals contributed to the purchase of the German Alliance's conference centre in Bad Blankenburg/Thuringia. Regional alliances reappeared in Russia in the mid-1990s; they are now active in Krasnodar, Perm, Saratov, Izhevsk, Omsk and Odessa. The annual brochure on the Alliance Week of Prayer in January has appeared in Russian for the past four years.
The Moscow lawyer and Baptist Yekaterina Smyslova stresses: "Government officials often regard us Protestants as fly-by-night operators resulting from the missionary efforts of foreigners. If they now notice that we are native and speak with a unified voice, then it will improve our reputation in the eyes of society." Russia is presently home to 720,000 Protestants making up 0.5% of the populace.
Also active in Rumyantsevo was Pastor Ulrich Materne of Wittenberge, the German Alliance's official adviser on Russia. He has for years been involved in efforts to resuscitate the Russian Alliance.