So it has happened again! The Summer School of Reformed Theology took place in Minsk for a third year in a row!
An event of micro-significance for many Western countries is a big achievement for us in Belarus. The audience grew to the upper limit which we set for this project three years ago — from 15 people in 2013, to 30 people in 2015. It suggests that the format of the School which we chose is right and the type of teaching we offer is in demand.
We have turned away from practice- and inspiration-oriented conferences, to teaching so-called ‘dry theology’; and, all of a sudden, the younger generation of evangelical believers in my country have found it fascinating! In fact, this is the only event in Belarus where it is the mind which is addressed in the first place. So the intellectually-minded Christians are drawn to it.
For far too long we have been hearing that it does not matter what is in your head; it matters only what is in your heart. It is time to proclaim just the opposite. It is less important what is in your heart; what matters is what is in your head. We realised that the ‘heart’ has become scarcely different from the concept imported aggressively from Hollywood, and that it puts so much stress on the emotional and intuitive side of the Christian faith that the intellectual side of faith has become outlawed.
This year we had two speakers. One was Charles Leiter, a pastor of Lake Road Chapel, Kirksville, Missouri. He spoke on the law of Christ, and explained how the law of Moses is fulfilled in Christ’s command to love God and our neighbour. The other was Dr Henk van den Belt, professor of Reformed Theology from the University of Groningen. He lectured on Reformed soteriology, starting from the divine-human person of Christ and connecting that to the main aspects of salvation: atonement, regeneration and calling, predestination, and assurance of salvation.
Both lecturers challenged our minds and caused us to think again over issues which we thought we had mastered long ago.
Each day, the lectures were followed by a theological round-table. We discussed Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and his view on the assurance of salvation. This helped us to think through the lectures of Dr Van den Belt, who himself took a lively part in the discussions. We also discussed an article on ‘Political resistance in the early Reformed tradition’, recently written by Dmytro Bintsarovsky, a prominent Ukrainian theologian. In spite of the controversial nature of each of the three discussion topics, the dialogue was smooth, calm and respectful (are we learning at last to speak to one another about theology?!).
The School is gradually becoming a sort of study centre where Belarusian believers can learn about Reformed theology. A full-blown Reformed seminary in Belarus is not viable at this point for two reasons: the lack of religious freedom and the tiny size of the Reformed community. Even if we had freedom to start a seminary, there would be not enough Calvinistic churches to provide a sufficient number of students.
At the same time, there are many believers in Arminian Baptist churches who are searching for truth. We provide them with necessary teaching and they do not have to leave their denomination to receive this teaching.
I cannot fail to express our sincere and deep gratitude to the Heart Cry Missionary Society, Radford, Virginia, which, for three years now, has been providing funds for this project. This missionary society understands that the theological training of the church leaders is as important as starting new churches.
We pray that this School project in Belarus may continue in the future — for the glory of God.
Dr Slava Viazovski is manager of the Russian work of Evangelical Press Missionary Trust. He is also engaged in Reformed theological teaching in
the Russian world.