All they care about is their traditions. They are stuck in the ’90’s. They don’t care about reaching the culture with Christ. They are resistant to any change. They do not want to assimilate to their local environment. Young people are not welcomed there. These are all things that I have heard from people who choose to speak using superlatives – with the subject being the Russian Church in the United States.
The irony behind these statements is that they can be applied to any church of any ethnic group. If all you have ever been exposed to is the Russian church in America, then speaking in such absolutes would make sense to you – because that is all that you know.
Even though this is a potential reality in some churches, it is not an absolute reality in all churches.
Here are four popular myths that need to be debunked regarding the Russian Church in America:
1. Russian Churches Are Isolated Communities Without A Desire To Reach Lost People. I personally know many russian pastors who are grappling with the reality of reaching lost people for Christ, in a culture where the main spoken language is English. I know many Russian churches within different denominational streams that are hyper-sensitive to their local environment and are doing everything they can to reach that community. This includes starting a second service exclusively in English, providing a worship experience dedicated to both languages and giving young people ample opportunity to serve and worship in a language they are most comfortable with. Many Russian churches are creating as many venues as possible for as many people as possible to meet Jesus – and know more about Him in a language that they are most comfortable with. The people coming to the Russian Church are connected to their community through work, school and various other activities. This provides an excellent opportunity to share Jesus, and also invite people to a Sunday Service or a weekly community group. Are there Russian churches who are isolated from the community in which their church building is located? Probably. Is that the case for all Russian churches? Certainly not. Again – if that is all that you have experienced – then you have a strong opinion about this. But your experience does not determine actual reality that is very evident for many others.
2. People In Russian Churches Think They Can Lose Their Salvation. If you grew up in a church where it was explained to you from a young age that you could lose your salvation like loose change – then this would explain your less than satisfactory opinion about Russian Churches. Boasting about belonging to a church where open-handed issues are compatible with what you believe is not a Christ-like practice. If we are going to boast about anything, it should be exclusively about Jesus (2 Cor. 10:17), not our understanding of Jesus.
There are three streams of doctrinal alignment within the Russian Church:
- Ambitiously Arminian. This stream is passionate about evangelism, loves to seek out the lost and has an active youth base. Doctrinally though, they do not align with most Western theology or thought. This stream is often opposed to their young people visiting openly Calvinistic churches. This stream has experienced the most significant exodus of young people who are leaving due to open-handed doctrinal differences.
- Categorically Calvinistic. This stream is deeply Calvinistic in their theology and are not ashamed of it. They are decidedly Western in their thought process and take up after many successful American churches who are also of the same stream. Young people are attracted to these types of Russian churches because they provide them Christ-centered sermons which are dug down deep in theology. The sermons are systematized and delivered in a way in which young minds are trained to learn in colleges and universities. The evident bent on understanding deep doctrines of grace and personal Bible study is another strong aspect of this stream. The apparent danger here is that this stream sometimes tends to think they have a monopoly on the truth. Often, they are criticized for being all about their own version of the trinity – Father, Son & Holy Bible.
- Progressively Reformed. This stream is reformed in their theology and culturally relevant in their methodology. They are passionate about reaching their community in as many languages as needed – so as to make multiple venues in which people can come and meet Jesus. This stream is progressive in that they are flexible in their approach to new cultural needs and can change their methodology in order to more appropriately meet the needs of their community. This stream can be described as non-denominational with an evident reformed theology.
Most Russian churches in the United States fit into one of the three streams described above. Again, the Russian church is not just one stream where everyone is a staunch Arminian, trying to work for their salvation. This is an unfortunate and an inaccurate stereotype.
3. Russian Churches Are Not Culturally Relevant. Just because a church does not have a coffee shop inside of it with a full time barista sporting skinny jeans and a carefully sculpted mustache which curves in a gentle sweep over the lip for an ironic 1890’s look, complemented by a flannel shirt – it does not mean that this church is not culturally relevant and not reaching young people. I know this can come as quite a shock to some people, but just bear with me here. Many Russian churches are ethnically diverse. They have people coming to their services from all sorts of backgrounds, races, ethnicities and socio-economic statuses. More and more young multi-ethnic households being formed. As the older generation sees the demographic landscape changing, so do their pre-conceived notions about the culture around them. Most Russian churches I know have great websites, live-stream their Sunday Services and generally provide superior connectivity to the people that come to gather in their churches every Sunday. A church might not be culturally relevant in your humble and accurate opinion – but the people that call it their church home every Sunday – it is as relevant as it needs to be for them, personally – provided that people are meeting Jesus and are getting saved.
4. Russian Churches Are Highly Political And Do Not Cultivate Authentic Community. This claim is also used in the superlative and equally false. Where people exist, there will be ambition and all kinds of vile practice. This is the default nature of the human heart – until it is renovated by Jesus – and then the life long process of progressive sanctification ensues. There is no church that is not prone to this temptation. When Jesus is preached and talked about on a consistent basis – people understand who is in charge and who their Senior Pastor is. When this bold proclamation of the gospel ceases to be the epicenter of the local church, it tends to get more political than pastoral. But this danger exists in every type of church – even in the most organized and established of churches. I know many Russian pastors who are deeply broken about reaching their community with Christ – and their is no duplicity in their life and doctrine – it is one and the same. In a way, an ethnic church is more community driven because being a predominately Russian church, carries with it a community feeling automatically. So cultivating community and inviting others into the community is as natural as what is already in existence there in the first place.
When looking at your own life personally – you never like when people use superlatives to describe who you are. God does not look at us through superlatives. God looks at us through the Savior Jesus Christ – who decided to die on the cross for us – not because of anything in us.
Every church, provided that Jesus is their Senior Pastor is being shepherded and protected by the Good and Faithful Shepherd. Our goal is to be an active part of a local church and serve Christ by first serving the people around us.
Question: What other myths have you heard about the Russian Church? How does debunking these myths assist in gaining an accurate picture of the ecclesiastical landscape?