Belarus’ most urgent need
I live in Belarus and believe it urgently needs a Reformed Bible Seminary. Currently there is only an Arminian Baptist seminary; the nearest Reformed one is in Samara, Russia – 1500 miles from where I live!
There is a seminary in Kiev, in Ukraine, but that is another country and 400 miles away. Consequently, Belarussian young men often go to Western seminaries – where they get a good education but also often develop a taste for Western life and do not return to Belarus with its poor economic conditions.
Belarus is a former republic of the Soviet Union. It borders Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania and its population is about 10 million.
Its evangelical churches seek to obey the Great Commission, but that commission is not only about preaching the gospel and baptising new converts. Jesus also said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations – teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20).
It was his design that new disciples should not be left alone, but become members of local churches and grow in discipleship and understanding. Theological education is part of this learning process. It is gaining knowledge about God in order to know and obey him better. Its end product is a believer growing in communion with Christ, in holiness of life and effectiveness of witness.
The most important means of theological education is the ministry of the Word of God in the local church. In that sense, the church’s minister is the means of theological education and the professor of theology.
He draws his theological knowledge from personal Bible study, from Christian books and from interacting with theologically minded believers. However, such instruction can be greatly enhanced and deepened by a focused course of study and training in a seminary situation.
Church history demonstrates that theology played a vital role in past spiritual movements. The Reformation began when Luther experienced a theological breakthrough by understanding justification by faith. Calvin’s preaching and writings secured the stability of the Reformation in Geneva and Switzerland.
Conversely, it was the theologically heretical Canons of Trent that helped Catholics hold their ground against the Reformation.
In the sixteenth century, Belarus was a powerful nation called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Calvin had personal correspondence with its ruler, Prince Nicholas Radziwill, and dedicated to him an edition of his commentary on Acts.
The nobility of Belarus, led by Radziwill, accepted Reformation principles, and the gospel so prospered in the Grand Duchy that about two hundred churches were formed there. Then came the Counter Reformation and, after the death of Radziwill, the Jesuits regained Belarus.
One main weakness in the nation had been a lack of solid theological education. Literature from that period shows that while justification by faith was preached, there was much theological immaturity and even anti-trinitarian teaching in the churches.
The second wave of Russian evangelicalism came in the nineteenth century through the Baptists and Evangelical Christians. The Baptists were Reformed in doctrine, but the Evangelical Christians were Arminian.
After Communism was established, Protestant church leaders were imprisoned in the gulags. A forcible act of Baptist church union by Stalin in 1944 resulted in a denomination called the ‘All-Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’. This truncated church was led by those who lacked theological training, and it adopted an Arminian theological confession. Calvinism was deemed heretical.
Hopefully, today, we are witnessing a third Reformed wave in Belarus. In 1995 a Belarussian Baptist pastor completed two years of theological training at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. There he rediscovered the doctrines of grace. Returning to Belarus, he began its first Reformed Baptist church. Since that time other Reformed churches have been planted.
What will happen to this Reformed movement? Only time will tell. The immediate task is mission; the number of Reformed churches is small and the congregations lively but small. We must make disciples and baptise.
But we also have to teach everything the Lord commanded. We need theologically sound men as leaders. We need theological education. Without this foundation, our new Reformed churches will be eclipsed, as were their predecessors.
We need a Reformed seminary in Belarus! Pray that the Lord will graciously help us to establish such a work.
The author is manager of Russian Evangelical Press. He can be contacted at: mailto:[email protected]