The Pentecostal movement in Russia dates from the beginning of the 20th century. Dealing with a hostile Orthodox church, oppressive state authorities, and negative relationships with other Evangelical churches led to numerous theological and organizational difficulties within Russian Pentecostalism. Stalinist persecutions, in particular, interrupted the natural development of Pentecostalism and drove its followers underground. This in turn reinforced conservative beliefs within churches that literally were under siege. But state attempts first to uproot Pentecostalism and then to subsume it within the subservient organizational structure of state-sanctioned Evangelical Christians-Baptists both failed. Even in the difficult Soviet period Pentecostals continued to champion energetic missionary activity and social outreach. In the post-Perestroika period this boldness inclined Pentecostals to more readily accept new forms of church worship.
Edinstvenniki or Jesus-Only Pentecostals
Until the 1920s Edinstvenniki or the Jesus-Only movement prevailed within Pentecostalism in Russia. Like other Pentecostals, Edinstvenniki regarded glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, as a necessary sign of genuine baptism by the Holy Spirit. However, they differed from other Pentecostals in their understanding of the Holy Trinity, believing in baptism in the name of Jesus only and regarding Christ as “one God.”
The first Edinstvenniki trace their roots back to 1911 to the city of Helsingfors (present-day Helsinki), the capital of Finland, which at that time was part of the Russian Empire. Andrei Urshin, an American of Iranian ancestry, launched this movement, which today in the U.S. is the United Pentecostal Church. Also in 1911 Alexander Ivanov and Nikolai Smorodin, former members of the Evangelical Christian Church, established a congregation of Evangelical Christians in the Spirit of the Apostles (Evangel’skikh khristian v dukhe apostolov, EKhDA) in St. Petersburg. Ivanov served as pastor of the mother church in St. Petersburg while Smorodin traveled the country organizing evangelistic campaigns. By the beginning of the 1920s Jesus-Only congregations in Russia numbered approximately 80.
Ivan Voronaev and Georgi Schmidt
The greatest growth of Pentecostalism in Ukraine, and then in Russia, stemmed from two other branches of Pentecostalism, those spawned by evangelists Ivan Voronaev and Georgi Schmidt. Their doctrinal teachings mirrored Baptist and Evangelical Christian theology apart from their emphasis upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially glossolalia.
The Assemblies of God sent Voronaev, a Baptist who had converted to Pentecostalism in the United States, to Ukraine as a missionary where he organized his first church in Odessa in 1921. In 1926 he initiated the organization of the first Union of Slavic Pentecostals. His followers came to be known as Voronaevtsy, Christians of Evangelical Faith (Khristiane evangel’skoy very, KhEV), or “those who wash” (Omyvayushchie), because they practiced foot washing during Communion. (Pentecostals and Charistmatics frequently are identified by the names of their leaders.)
Georgi Schmidt and his followers also began preaching in Ukraine in the 1920s. Known as Christians of Faith, Evangelical (Khristiane very evan-gel’skoy, KhVE), this body established its own union in 1924 in Kremenets, Ternopol’ Oblast, with Georgi Schmidt as its leader from 1927. This union, which also enjoyed the support of the U.S. Assemblies of God, practiced foot washing only on Maundy Thursday during Passion Week. As time went by, a less frequent practice of footwashing prevailed so that by the end of the 20th century almost all Pentecostals called themselves Christians of Faith, Evangelical (Khristiane very evangel’skoy, KhVE), and practiced foot washing only once a year.
By the end of the 1920s Voronaevtsy claimed more than 350 congregations and 17,000 believers, while followers of Georgi Schmidt numbered 18,000 in approximately 500 congregations. Pentecostals engaged in aggressive missionary work among followers of other Protestant movements, often leading to divisions that troubled leaders of the Evangelical Christian-Baptist movement. Pentecostals attracted new followers because of their socially oriented preaching and the emotional satisfaction new converts experienced in accepting the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In 1928 state hostility towards Pentecostals intensified, leading Voronaev and other ministers to preach baptism by suffering. Evangelist, the official KhEV magazine published in Odessa, Ukraine, reminded believers of sufferings and hardships. Ivan Voronaev himself died in Stalin’s camps in the 1930s. Many Pentecostals understood the state’s atheistic policies in apocalyptic terms, as a sign of the end times. In the 1930s Pentecostals-Zionists and Sabbath Pentecostals in particular placed a heavy emphasis on apocalyptic ideas.
The Forced Merger of Pentecostals with Evangelical Christians-Baptists
After World War II Soviet authorities forced Pentecostals desiring a legal existence to join the state-tolerated All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (AUCECB). In 1945 certain Pentecostal bishops and leaders of the AUCECB signed an agreement that disallowed tongues speaking in public worship. According to official figures, some 25,000 Pentecostals in more than 400 local congregations joined the AUCECB. The majority were from Ukraine, the Baltic republics, and Belorussia, with most Pentecostals in Russia preferring an illegal existence to AUCECB oversight. As early as 1948 Pentecostals began to leave the AUCECB. Most EKhDA churches, which had joined the AUCECB in 1944, left the Union. Finally, beginning in 1968, state authorities began selective registration of Pentecostal churches without requiring affiliation with the AUCECB.
At the same time, a majority of Pentecostals refused any contacts with atheistic authorities. The Union of Unregistered Pentecostals, founded in Ukraine in 1956, courageously proclaimed evangelism, which was prohibited by law, as its main goal. These unregistered Pentecostal churches came under the authority of the Pentecostal bishop of Kyiv because all the movement’s major Russian leaders were still in prison camps. Finally in 1971 Ivan Fedotov, who had been imprisoned for his faith for 18 years, became the first Russian bishop of unregistered Pentecostals. Against all odds, he even managed during the Brezhnev era to conduct missionary work.
New Freedoms for Russian Pentecostals
Perestroika under Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 opened new doors for Pentecostals. Adapting rapidly to unparalleled freedoms, many new churches, attended primarily by the younger generation, began to emerge. Also, Pentecostal movements that were new to Russia began to appear. The post-Soviet period has witnessed the mass registration of newly established Pentecostal churches of diverse persuasions under the legal protection of “umbrella organizations.” As a result, a particular Pentecostal union may include congregations with very different views. Without any doubt this spectrum of “new” and “old” churches represents the modern Pentecostal movement. They are united in their recognition of the baptism of the Holy Spirit through speaking in tongues. However, they differ over which gifts Christians may possess, forms of worship, mission strategies, and what constitutes an appropriate relationship with secular culture. According to these distinctions, Pentecostals can be divided into three main branches: traditional Pentecostals, moderate Pentecostals, and Charismatics or Neo-Pentecostals. (The author will treat the Charismatic movement separately in a future issue of the East-West Church and Ministry Report.)
Traditional and moderate Pentecostals hold to the same theological principles. Traditional or classical Pentecostalism may be found primarily in two unregistered church unions. First, the legendary hero of faith, Bishop Ivan Fedotov, who still refuses state registration, heads the United Church of Christians of Faith, Evangelical (KhVE). From the beginning of the 1990s the Russian Association of Missions of the KhVE (Rossiyskaia Assotsiatsiia Missii KhVE) has handled public relations for Fedotov’s Union. The Fedotovtsy (churches under Fedotov’s leadership) believe that churches should not register, but that missionary organizations may do so because they are public charities.
Some churches of the Union of Christians of Faith, Evangelical--Pentecostals (SKhVEP), and the majority of EKhDA (the Jesus-Only Union with about 70 churches and fellowships), may be considered traditional Pentecostals. However, Fedotov’s Union is the largest organization of conservative Pentecostals, including 400 churches and 70 missionary organizations. Its foundational beliefs include the doctrines of conversion, holiness, sanctification, and the baptism by the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. Fedotovtsy consider themselves spiritual children of Ivan Voronaev, and the majority of pastors, though not all, hold to the practice of foot washing during the Lord’s Supper. Followers of Fedotov do not accept innovation in worship, nor extreme expressions of emotion and external signs, which are prevalent in Charismatic churches. According to traditional Pentecostals, churches should avoid worldly influences, should not employ contemporary music in worship, and should be wary of any extreme attraction to spiritual gifts, which they observe in Charismatic churches. Traditional, conservative Pentecostals believe that by insisting on healing miracles and teaching that God will make believers “wealthy and healthy,” Charismatics distort biblical theology and the image of Jesus Christ.
Moderate Pentecostals belong primarily to the Union of Christians of Faith, Evangelical-Pentecostal (SKhVEP), but also to independent regional associations such as the Northeastern Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians and “The Tree of Life” (Drevo zhizni) Primorskaya Association of Christians of Faith, Evangelical. The Union of Pentecostals of Russia (SKhVEP), founded in 1990, consists primarily of autonomous churches and also those small congregations that earlier had belonged to the AUCECB. By the end of the 1990s this union of moderate Pentecostals numbered more than 1,500 churches which, according to its leadership, has up to 100,000 members. It has become a haven for diverse churches: conservative Pentecostals who were autonomously registered during the Soviet period and various independent Charismatics who needed its legal protection. Without any doubt, Charismatic churches that entered this union after 1997 exercise a great influence within it. In 1999 open conflict emerged in the SKhVEP Union between moderate Pentecostals and Charismatics over ideological and theological differences and divergent views on worship and missionary work. Traditional Pentecostals opposed Charismatic representation in the leadership of the Union. As a result of negotiations, the Union leadership formulated a letter that stated that because of the repressive 1997 Law on Religion, the Union of Pentecostals (SKhVEP) had extended a helping hand to Charismatic brothers. In spite of Charismatic influences, moderate Pentecostals who had left traditional churches and churches organized as a result of missionary work remain the nucleus of the Union. In addition, it should be noted that since the fall of the Soviet Union, many Charismatic churches have begun to gravitate toward more moderate forms of worship.
Typically, moderate Pentecostals adopt new forms of worship while traditional Pentecostals do not. But both resist Charismatic teachings on prosperity, insistence on signs of spiritual gifts, and ecstatic emotionalism demonstrated onstage. Nevertheless, moderate Pentecostals do make wide use of instrumental music, in some cases including rock, during worship services. Their praise and worship format, including the participation of youth in creative music and drama, differs little from what occurs in Charismatic churches. It is quite difficult to distinguish between many SKhVEP and Charismatic churches if one looks only at forms of worship and does not consider fundamental theological differences in the areas of spiritual gifts and “prosperity” teachings. Formally, SKhVEP consists of churches of Voronaev and Schmidt followers with both those who do and do not practice foot washing among its members. At the same time, many moderate Pentecostals do not consider themselves followers of these two movements, recognizing Voronaev only as a great preacher and evangelist. For newly planted Charismatic churches that do not practice foot washing, Voronaev is a missionary of “another” Pentecostalism, a more conservative one that they believe they have outgrown.
New Pentecostal Associations
Many churches from Fedotov’s Union have adopted new forms of worship. One of the characteristic examples is “The Tree of Life” Association, Drevo zhizni, now “The House of Life,” Dom zhizni, which was established by the youth of a church in Vladivostok. This new branch appeared among Fedotov’s followers in 1993. In 2003 this association included 18 churches and fellowships in the Far East, Siberia (churches in Tuva and Gorny Altai), and St. Petersburg.
The Northeastern Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians is quite close ideologically to “The Tree of Life” Association. In 1996, its founder, evangelist Pavel Timchenko, who formerly was Baptist, united churches that recognize the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the gift of tongues but that reject such Charismatic gifts as shouting, tears, and laughter in worship services. Timchenko’s Union includes 25 churches in different regions of the Russian Far North and Far East. Timchenko himself states that the theology of his Union is quite close to that of the SKhVEP.
The majority of Pentecostal churches that were persecuted and closed by Soviet authorities were quite quick to adapt to changes in the post-Perestroika period. They are characterized by concern for social ills as opposed to the isolated siege mentality that prevailed prior to 1991. They cooperate with, or at least tolerate, new churches that often are led by children of traditional church pastors. All these factors ensure a proper succession of generations among Russian Pentecostals. The growing presence since the late 1990s of Charismatic missionary organizations from the West has not led to hostility among different Pentecostal groups, although local churches, as well as those in leadership positions, no doubt, face some conflicts. Traditional and moderate Pentecostals, while defenders of conservative theology, are no less zealous in their missionary and social work than Charismatic Christians. The doctrine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit has been the main source for unity and for social concerns among the various branches of Pentecostalism.
Roman Lunkin, a resident of Moscow, is on the staff of Keston Institute and is a researcher for Keston’s forthcoming Encyclopedia of Contemporary Religious Life in Russia.
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© 2004 East-West Church and Ministry Report