M o s c o w – “Baptists do not preach the Baptist confession; Baptists preach the Gospel. Nowhere do we give out calls to accept the Baptist faith.” That was one of many claims made by Alexey Smirnov, President of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists”, in an interview published on his church’s website on 21 May. The interview referred primarily to the Moscow meeting of Smirnov and John Upton, President of the “Baptist World Alliance”, with Kirill I, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus, on 29 March. This had been the first meeting between the heads of the Russian Baptist and Orthodox churches since the deceased Alexey II met with then-President Yuri Sipko and Neville Callam, General-Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, in Moscow on 18 June 2008.
Russia’s head Baptist could again envision Baptists and Orthodox evangelizing jointly – as occurred on occasion two decades ago. Yet the agenda of the Orthodox partner must be the preaching of the Gospel – not superfluous history or church tradition. “We invite people to our churches, but we do not pressure those who attend an Orthodox church and have found God there. Salvation does not come from our denomination, but rather through personal faith in Jesus Christ.” He added: “The Orthodox church too is changing. The Patriarch (he also mentioned Metropolitan Ilarion, Director of the Orthodox office for external affairs) is preaching the Gospel. We could help and accompany each other along the way.”
The Baptist President also spoke of natural affinities between all of Russia’s believers, stating: “Russian Baptists understand Orthodox Christianity better than Western Protestantism does.” Smirnov supported his view by claiming that both Russian Baptist and Orthodox theologies are “less practical and more mystical” that their Western counterparts. Both Russian confessions understand the Scriptures “more allegorically” than does the West. The Patriarch has used the term “Orthodox Baptists” as an expression of his sympathies, yet in this interview Smirnov limited Orthodox influence on Baptists to historical and cultural aspects.
But Smirnov also cited strong theological commonalities with the Orthodox: Both “strive for the preservation of traditional family values”. He continued: “Neither Orthodox nor Baptists ordain women – and we have no plans to reconsider this standpoint. We also jointly oppose secular support for unlimited personal freedom, including the freedom to engage in (sexual) perversions. We both oppose liberalism, which is the rejection of the Scriptures as God’s Word.” The RUECB’s President stressed that he considers the Patriarch a fellow believer and added: “I hope very much that he also recognizes me as a Christian.”
As members of the same team, Smirnov does not gloat over failures attributed to the Patriarch. “When I read in the news about questionable financial dealings, I pray for him in all sincerity.” He added: “No one is perfect. Everyone is capable of mistakes and yielding to temptation.“ He cited “power and material benefits” as two of the strongest human enticements.
Smirnov noted that a new joint committee has been formed to resolve conflicts between Orthodox and Baptist circles. This committee has not yet met, but “once critical situations arise, we can gather under the auspices of this committee and consult on the issue”.
Yet the RUECB’s President warned of undue optimism: “Political practices in our country remain unchanged.” He called the dramatic election of the Evangelical Christian Sergey Andreyev as mayor of Tolyatti on 18 March untypical and “not the result of a deliberate plan, but only of circumstances. People voted not so much for Andreyev as against the other candidate.” Smirnov can for the time being only conceive of Baptists effecting significant change at the workplace or on the communal level. “The greater political power a person becomes, the less he will remain independent. He will then become more-and-more subject to players with convictions and principles foreign to his own.”
Pastor Smirnov warned of placing undue trust in a sensationalist and partisan mass media. “The gossip and squabbles propagated by the media are no basis for judging anything at all. Before courts make any decision, I will withhold judgement. We are called on to pray for and bless each other.”
This official RUECB position differs in style from views expressed by Pastor Yuri Sipko in interviews published during the past year and reported by this service. In those statements Sipko, who served as RUECB-President from 2002 to 2010, criticized both the state and Orthodoxy.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 28 June 2012
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I will follow soon with some comments, but only after the Italy-Germany game is over. Too good to miss.