The latest issue of CT has published an extended article on my friend the Georgian Baptist Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili.
The author of this text is William E. Yoder, PhD, a freelance journalist based in Moscow. He is a volunteer consultant with the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Russian Evangelical Alliance.
In my opinion, the title of the article used an uninspired choice of words. It is understandable in the case of an American Evangelical journal, but because of it, what was probably meant to be a tribute to the fascinating personality of the Georgian Baptist leader, turned into a sort if indictment in the eyes of Eastern Orthodox believers in that country. Not helpful at all.
NOTE: Following a series of legitimate complaints, Christianity Today has changed the title of the article on its webpage. It reads now: ‘The Baptist Bearing Robes and Incense’. I find it equally uninspired, but at least not so offensive as the previous one.
The article also contains a number of factual mistakes:
1. the Baptist church in Georgia has NOT 1 but 2 monastic orders: one for women, called the Order of St Nino, and one for men, called the Order of the New Desert Brothers.
2. as Archbishop Malkhaz explained in a recent text, Georgian Baptists are NOT WCC members; they applied to if after the former Baptist Union withdrew form WCC on fundamentalist grounds, but were never accepted as a member, the (really stupid) argument being that this will not happen until the Georgian Orthodox Church does not renew its membership, which may never happen.
Also, to allow in the text for an over seven times difference in membership between what Archbishop Malkhaz states as official membership (17,000) and the unproven report of a ‘dissenting Georgia missionary with International Gospel Outreach’ (2,000) avails to mere slender and is proof of poor investigation, and is doubtful ethically.
You can find HERE more information about Georgian Baptists.
Here is the beginning of the article:
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The Unorthodox Baptist Bishop
“There is a solemn procession to the altar. The choir is chanting. A bishop in a long, black robe and a full, gray beard swings an incense burner back and forth. We bow. We cross ourselves. It’s a typical Sunday service at the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.
That is how Alexander Cuttino, an American pastor, recently described worship at the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG), a denomination famous for its unusual method of contextualizing the gospel. The man behind those efforts: Malkhaz Songulashvili, archbishop of the EBCG.
For many citizens, being Georgian means being Orthodox; 82 percent of Georgia’s 4.5 million citizens identify as Orthodox. Songulashvili, a Georgia native, says he could have created “a Baptist church for Baptists, or a Baptist church for Georgians.” He chose the latter. Call it the seeker-sensitive approach in the former Soviet state.
Songulashvili claims a total community of 17,000, making it the largest Protestant denomination in Georgia. (Brian Wolf, a dissenting Georgia missionary with International Gospel Outreach, puts the number much lower, at about 2,000 adult members.) Yet its contextual model is powerful. “I know of no other Baptist union or convention in the world that has exegeted its context for ministry as brilliantly and powerfully as [the EBCG],” claims Baptist theologian John Sundquist.
Many Orthodox view Baptists as a Western-inspired and -funded fringe or underground movement, decrying them as sectarian heretics. Baptists, in turn, have regarded Orthodox as unconverted. Yet Songulashvili has “uncovered the treasures” of the Orthodox tradition, he says, and incorporates them into faith and practice. He intends to lead a denomination that’s Baptist in theology while both Georgian and Orthodox in culture—and to break the longstanding impasse between evangelical Protestants and Orthodox throughout Eastern Europe.
Structurally, the EBCG calls itself an Episcopal Baptist church. It is headed by an archbishop and three bishops—one of whom is female. Female ordination and liturgical dance both mark EBCG’s departure from Orthodoxy.
But the tradition of worshiping God with all five senses is one Orthodox gift that the EBCG receives “with gratitude,” says Songulashvili. Consequently, the EBCG has founded a school for icon painting and uses incense in services. It has a monastic order and holds processions and pilgrimages.
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I could send a copy of the article to those interested.