Evangelical Churches in Russia in the Context of Global Transformations

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Support for evangelical churches in Russia, including their social initiatives and widespread missionary activity, not only has local, regional implications, but also global, strategic significance.

The post-Soviet landscape is one of social, economic, and political instability.  In the absence of a civil society and a lawful government, evangelical churches can play the role of independent social organizations which defend the freedom of the individual (first of all freedom of conscience) from infringement by neo-totalitarian structures.

The Russian Orthodox Church regards the CIS as its canonical territory and is intensifying its influence over social processes.  Evangelical congregations alone present the only real alternative to the official church.  The peaceful co-existence of the Russian Orthodox Church and evangelical churches in Russia, the expansion of interfaith dialogue, and equal treatment of all faiths by the government are the main indicators of civil and religious freedom. 

Evangelical churches, which combine both Eastern and Western Christian traditions, could become the catalyst for a cross-cultural, theological synthesis and contextualization of Reformation ideas in an Orthodox culture.  The weakening or assimilation of evangelical churches would present the Russian Orthodox Church with a monopoly of religious power over society, and could strain interfaith relationships on a global scale. 

The existence of evangelical churches within the Orthodox canonical territory serves as a historic precedent for the development of a Protestant-Orthodox dialogue. In contrast to the politicization of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is the Protestant churches that present an evangelical, accessible form of Christianity. Any international assistance in the form of humanitarian, educational, or missionary projects in the CIS can only be effective with the participation of evangelical churches, which remain independent subjects of public life.

The secularization of churches in Europe and America is evoking rejection from post-Soviet evangelical believers who are looking for a true middle ground between traditional religion and Western modernism.  The cultivation of a new identity for evangelical churches in the CIS could serve as a positive example for the global evangelical community.

Because evangelical churches in the CIS still retain the features of a marginalized sub-culture, partnerships with international organizations and missions help them to recognize their role in society and to discover new approaches for social ministry.  The evangelical church in the CIS is experiencing a systemic crisis, turning toward post-Soviet society and reconsidering the stereotype of its own extremely conservative culture.  International partnerships can assist with the formation of a new generation of competent and authoritative ministry leaders as well as an “open” church model which does not retreat into the past, but which embraces the experiences of other churches and cultures.  By focusing on a spiritual quest to meet the challenges of modern society, the evangelical church in Russia can become both relevant and effective.
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