East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1993, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Western Ministries in East Central Europe and the Former Soviet Union:
Crosspurposes or the Purposes of the Cross?

The present possibilities for Christian ministry in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union are unprecedented.  Political barriers have fallen.  People, sick of decades of leaders' lies, are searching for new foundations for their lives.  From pensioners in bread lines, to professors in prestigious universities, to politicians at the highest ranks of power, a spiritual quest for new meaning and purpose in the societies of East Central Europe and Soviet successor states is evident.

At present, many reputable Christian organizations have undertaken a great variety of commendable efforts in evangelistic, educational, publishing, broadcasting, professional, and social ministries.  However, the welcome collapse of Communism has led to an unwelcome increase in ethnic and interconfessional strife and the accentuation of a wide range of social ills.  Furthermore, the new freedoms mean that both the worst and the best the West has to offer is pouring in to the vacuum left by the fall of Marxist regimes.

Christians in particular bemoan the influx of Western and Eastern cults, pseudo-religions such as astrology and clairvoyance, and scores and scores of Western mission efforts that are too often ill advised, ill-preprared, and culturally uninformed.  In some sad cases it is unclear whether certain Western missionaries are working at crosspurposes rather than championing the true purposes of the cross.  Free societies inevitably will include those who abuse freedom.  Nevertheless, Western evangelical Christians should do everything in their power to encourage responsible, culturally nuanced, cooperative efforts on behalf of the cause of Christ in the East.  Inevitably, the Elmer Gantrys targeting East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, though a minority, will make it much more difficult for careful and conscientious Christian workers to serve effectively.  Unfortunately, unworthy ambassadors of Christ will always garner more media attention than the more numerous, self-sacrificing faithful.  In any case it would appear that most ministries which presently are taking ill-considered steps in the East are doing so out of ignorance, rather than base motives.  If that is so, then the newly launched East-West Church & Ministry Report can be of benefit to Christians working, or planning to work, in Europe's post-Communist lands by:

In 1982 this writer began research on Western Christian organizations working in East Central Europe and the Soviet Union.  An initial 40 groups increased to 150 after just one month in the library and archives of Keston College, a major center for the study of the church under Communism, then located in suburban London.  Today those files have burgeoned to many hundreds, and continue to grow.  Careful observers are not of one mind as to whether this geometric increase in independent organizations is the most prudent means of building Christ's church.  However, at the least, evangelical missiologists would agree that church and parachurch ministries new to the East should exercise great care and cultural sensitivity as they prepare themselves for their work.

After all, Western Christians coming to the aid of the peoples of East Central Europe and Soviet successor states enter lands with rich--even if pained--historical legacies.  Furthermore, they will encounter longstanding, longsuffering churches, against which even the gates of a twentieth century totalitarian hell did not prevail.  Commonplace counsel should be that Western believers have a lot to learn from, as well as to give to, churches that outlived a Marxist siege of some 40 to 70 years.

Readers are encouraged to reflect upon and interact with the Report. It would seem safe to say at least this much: letters to the editor should not be hard to come by, given the volatile subject of Christianity in lands that for millennia have endured--and still endure--political, ethnic, and interconfessional strife.

Mark Elliott

Mark Elliott, "Crosspurposes or the Purposes of the Cross?" East-West Church & Ministry Report, 1 (Winter 1993), 16.

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1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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