Friday, April 15, 2011

Protestant Proselytizing in Russia

MOSCOW -- In a land where the Russian Orthodox Church dominates, one evangelical charismatic church is creating spiritual waves.

"The Protestant movement is growing very strongly," said Rick Renner, senior pastor of Moscow Good New Church.

Renner and his wife Denise are at the forefront of the movement. In 1991, the couple moved their family to what is now the former Soviet Union with the goal of reaching Russians with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Nine years later, in September 2000, they started Moscow Good News Church in the Russian capital city.

"Moscow church is approximately 3,500 people in regular attendance," Renner told CBN News.

That's big for Russia, where most Protestant churches attract less than a thousand people to each of their congregations.

Reaching the Upper Crust

While the goal is to reach a broad section of those living in the Moscow metropolis, the church puts a special emphasis on reaching the upper class.

"Specifically, a part of our vision is to reach a higher class of people," Renner said.

That's because "they need God, too, and there aren't many churches that they can actually feel comfortable in," he explained.

Most Russians belong to the Orthodox Church. Currently, there are an estimated 30,000 churches dotting the Russian landscape.

The church is gaining more prominence after decades of persecution under the Soviet system. Yet, this newfound role isn't necessarily translating into regular attendance or observance.

"Most people don't even know the tenets of the faith," Roman Lunkin of the Slavic Center for Law & Justice, explained. "They don't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Nowadays, it is hip to be religious in Russia."

A Whole New Experience

But Renner said something different happens at Moscow Good News. Those from an Orthodox background find the evangelical church community a whole new experience.

"Some of them are shocked!" he exclaimed. "Some of them think, 'Wow, I've only seen this in movies!'"

Along with the preaching of the Gospel, worship and style of music played in church is a big draw, too.

"I say, 'Hey, come to church. We have music in church and it is fun," Renner said. "'Like what, Gospel music?' I said, 'Yeah, come see it!'"

In addition to the main service, Moscow Good News has an active children's ministry that puts on regular drama performances about the life of Christ.

They also have an entire church dedicated entirely to reaching the elderly.

House Divided

Despite the tremendous success of Moscow Good News Church, it faces a huge public perception problem.

In Russia, charismatic churches are often considered cults. Consequently, the government puts laws on the books to restrict religious freedom.

Because the Russian Orthodox Church views the evangelical churches as competitors, they often side with the government trying to limit evangelical church growth.

"The official position of the Russian Orthodox Church is that everything besides them is a cult," Renner told CBN News.

Hope in a New Generation

However, a new generation of young Russians are emerging with different views on the matter.

"I have evangelical Christians who are friends of mine," one young woman said. "I enjoy talking with them and appreciate things they share with me."

"I know the Orthodox Church doesn't have a good opinion of the Protestant churches, but that has to change," another young woman said.

It is that sentiment that Renner and members of Moscow Good News Church hope lead to more Russians embracing the message of Jesus Christ.

"Capitalism has come. Many people are successful. Many people have made money," Renner said.

"Many people have huge amounts of money, and they've found out for themselves that it is not the answer to all of their problems," Renner noted. "And so there's a new wave of interest in spiritual things."

15 comments:

Matushka Anna said...

Sigh... There's always something just in time for Holy Week.

DefensorFidei said...

When evangelical churches began pouring into Latin America in the 1970's and 1980's there was a lot of talk about how Catholicism was doomed and that Latin America would turn Protestant. So far, that hasn't happened -- partly because the Catholic Church adopted Protestant methods and styles of extra-liturgical worship. Another reason, though, is that Evangelical Protestantism simply has no sustaining power, as it relies almost entirely on emotion and enthusiasm. How many Evangelical churches retain the same following over two generations? The fact of the matter is that it is just another expression of secularism, and is afflicted with the same spiritual sterility.

I wonder how Russian Orthodoxy will react. My prayer is that it will not lose its confidence in its own time-tested liturgy and ascetical tradition in the face of the Evangelical Protestant appeal to emotion.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Haram!

Brian said...

I went to Russia with the Vineyard (aka "Vinogradnik") in 1994 as a missionary. I learned many wonderful things. One of the things I learned was that I desperately needed to be Orthodox. I was received into the Church in 1996. This is simnply to express my agreement with DefensorFidei. These so-called "Protestant" (really, not so historically Protestant) churches just won't cut it in comparison with the ancient faith. They will attract several, many of whom will eventually hunger for a spiritual level simply not attainable unless they return to Orthodoxy. And when they return, they will feel the Church as their new and true love, not simply a duty.

Priest David Thatcher said...

I am by no means an expert on contemporary Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) life, but while at St. Vladimir's Seminary I discussed the ROC situation with a Russian seminarian deeply committed to evangelism and mission. What he reported was disquieting: in particular, the use of Church Slavonic vs. some form of contemporary Russian is alarming. The people do not know the service because of the language. This, together with chanting styles that emphasize "style" over communication, presents an issue that I believe must be addressed and corrected. Unfortunately, apparently there is a strong liturgical conservatism in the ROC, so there is resistance to such change.

Igumen Gregory said...

Father,

Frankly the people don't know the services nor the Faith because of a lack of dynamic catechesis. Grant you that the use of some modern Russian would be helpful in didactic portions of the Liturgy. We have the vernacular language used here and yet our churches are empty in comparison to what I experienced in Ukraine.

DefensorFidei said...

"Unfortunately, apparently there is a strong liturgical conservatism in the ROC, so there is resistance to such change"

As a Catholic, I can't understand why some Orthodox in the West are so eager to follow the path of liturgical modernization and vernacularization. You only have to look to contemporary RC'ism to see where this has led.

I think that all this obsession with having full churches also miss the point. Christ calls us -- nay, requires us -- to be faithful. He never required us always to be popular or to have full churches. Sometimes the price of fidelity to the Apostolic traditions of faith and doctrine is nearly-empty churches -- but if Christ is for us, who can be against us?

Anonymous said...

Just so incredibly tragic - though a sharp reminder of how protestants view Christians.

rabidgandhi said...

What a relief! For a second there I thought we were going to hafta repent and lead more Orthodox lives, but fixing the language and the catechism and blaming the evangelicals certainly is alot easier.

parepidemos said...

Anonymous @ 4/16/2011 10:32am. Please remember that Protestants are Christians.

Anonymous said...

That's not for me to judge either way - though I am not sure how you can make a categorical claim in that regard. In any case, they teach a different gospel and faith than what was received from the Apostles.

Priest David Thatcher said...

Re: DefensorFidei on 4/16/2001: liturgical "modernization" a la RC's who invoke Vatican II is a completely different issue from "vernacularization." Historically, Orthodoxy has always been committed to translating the Gospel into the indigenous language (e.g. Ss. Cyril & Methodius). I for one have not understood RC conservatives who want the Latin mass. I "get" wanting the older form of worship, but why fixate on language? To be consistent, such RCs should insist on reverting to Greek, since THAT was the liturgical language in Rome for the first couple hundred years of that local church.

Certainly, having excellent catechesis and comprehensible worship would facilitate spiritual growth & faithfulness!

Anonymous said...

Did anyone notice the Protestants are targeting the wealthy? Hmmm, see another flaky Lakewood Church developing....
Angela

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

The arrogance of 'the goal of reaching Russians with the Gospel of Jesus Christ' is so blatant. Lord, have mercy!

Orthodoxy is the true following of Jesus Christ. It is not loving the world, but loving God and fellow man. It is not going to be attractive to those to whom worldly success is a priority, who build 'churches' with numbers.

The Russian or any Orthodox Church will always exist, but whenever it allies itself with the world, the results are just as disastrous, only in a different way, as what comes of this pseudo-Christianity of the charismatic and protestant Christianizers.

They do not follow Jesus nor respect His teachings in the written Scriptures, but instead, like Muslim worshippers of 'the Book', follow and propagate devotion to an idol, an ideology.

Christ, the Bible, and Orthodoxy are none of them ideologies, but the Divine Economia: God becoming man so that man can enter the life of the Holy Trinity: that alone is salvation.

Lord, have mercy! The Church must remove obstacles to real faith and real life in Christ, or the people will fall victim to these crusaders and their false witness.

Sorry to have to witness against them, but enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

I wish that myth of Orthodox using "the language of the local country" had some basis in fact, but we know it doesn't. If only the devil tempted people in Slavonic or Byzantine Greek! But he translates. Always.