On Evangelical Missionaries in Russia

 John Witte comments on overzealous Evangelicals within Russia.

“At the heart of the political struggle between Western and Eastern Christians in Russia and other portions of Eastern Europe today are sharply competing theologies of mission. Some of those missiological differences reflect more general differences in theological emphasis. Eastern Orthodox  tend to emphasize the altar over the pulpit, the liturgy over the homily, the mystery of faith over its rational disputation, the priestly office of the clergy over the devotional tasks of the litany. Western Christians generally reverse these priorities – and sometimes accuse the Orthodox of idolatry, introversion, and invasion of the believer’s personal relationship with God.[There are vast differences in the theology of mission work here.] Western Evangelicals, in particular, assume that, in order to be saved, every person must make a personal, conscious commitment to Christ – to be born again, to convert. Any person who has not been born again, or who once reborn now leads a nominal life, is a legitimate object of evangelism – regardless of whether and where a person has been baptized. The principle means of reaching that person is through proclamation of the gospel, rational demonstration of its truth, and personal exemplification of its efficacy. Any region of the world…is a “mission field” – regardless of whether the region might have another Christian church in place. Under this definition of mission, Russia and its people are prime targets of Evangelical witness.

The Russian Orthodox Church, too, believes that each person must come into a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved.  But such a relationship with Christ comes more through birth than rebirth, and more through regular sacramental living than a one-time conversion. A person that has been born into the church has by definition started “theosis” – the process of becoming acceptable to God and ultimately coming into eternal communion with him…Proclamation of the gospel is certainly an important means of aiding the process of theosis – and is especially effective in reaching those not born or baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. But, for the Russian Orthodox, mission work is designed not to transmit rational truths, but to incorporate persons into communion with Christ and fellow believers. This theology leads the Russian Orthodox to a quite different understanding of the proper venue and object of evangelism. The territory of Russia is hardly an open “mission field” which Evangelicals are free to harvest. To the contrary, much of the territory and population of Russia are under the spiritual protectorate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Any person who has been baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church is no longer a legitimate object of evangelism – regardless of whether that person leads a nominal Christian life….Only of that person actively spurns the Orthodox Church is he or she a legitimate target of the evangelism of others.

The Patriarch [of the Orthodox Church] is not only complaining about improper methods of evangelism – the bribery, blackmail, coercion, and material inducements used by some groups; the garish carnivals, billboards, and media blitzed used by others. The Patriarch is also complaining about the improper presence of missionaries – those who have not come to aid the Orthodox Church for its own souls on its own territory. The Patriarch takes seriously the statement of St. Paul, who wrote: “It is my ambition to bring the Gospel to places where the very name of Christ has not been heard, for I do not want to build on another man’s foundation” (Rom 15:20). “

– John Witte Jr., The Local Church In A Global Era, p. 182