This year marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, the theologian of the Reformation. While Luther’s preaching sparked the fires of reform, it was Calvin that God had raised up to articulate the theology of those who protested against the Roman Catholic Church. To commemorate what God did through Calvin, there are conferences that have taken place all over the globe. I was given the great privilege of speaking at the international pastors’ conference held in Moscow. I was one of three representatives from the USA, joined by representatives from Holland, South Korea, Japan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, to encourage the Russian Reformed pastors.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Roman Catholic Church was oppressing the Reformers, Russia opened its doors to the Protestant refugees. Since the Russian Orthodox Church had already fought their battles with the Roman Catholic Church, they took the attitude that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Thus, many Calvinistic Christians found their homes in Russia. These Christians not only brought their faith with them, but also quite a lot of technology from the west.
When Peter the Great began modernizing Russia in the late seventeenth century, it was the Calvinists he turned to for support. The Russian Orthodox Church preferred the “old ways,” but these Russian protestants proved to be very progressive and built Peter the Great’s navy, army, and artillery as well as much of the Russian infrastructure to support the modernization of the nation. These protestants, along with Peter’s vision for a modern Russia, are responsible for making the nation a European power.
When the Bolsheviks revolted in the beginning of the 20th century, the Calvinists in Russia supported the monarchy, thus, when the Communists took over, the Reformed Christians were systematically eliminated. When “Perestroika” took place in the late 1980s, the Protestants rushed back into Russia to evangelize and at first were largely successful. As a result, people were leaving the Russian Orthodox Church at a rapid pace; something that the Russian Orthodox leaders did not much care for. Thus, they began pressuring the government to restrict the ability of the Protestants to meet and organize.
A year ago, one of the Russian pastors, who was connected with a Reformed movement from South Korea, decided to separate from the liberals in his denomination and re-form a conservative and evangelical church from the “dry bones” of the older Russian Reformed church. He was joined by three other pastors, and the four of them formed the Russian Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church. One year later, they had grown to nine churches scattered around the greater Moscow area. The primary purpose of this conference was to encourage and help equip these nine pastors to continue to build as God would allow them. As a result of the conference, three churches in St. Petersburg, who were in a similar situation, decided to join the other nine in fellowship. In addition, the two representatives from Holland were there to determine the possibility of fraternal relations between their denomination (a conservative sect in the Dutch Reformed Church) and this new Russian denomination—something that seemed to go very well.
The Russian churches are still in need of a lot of prayer as they face a great deal of obstacles—some that we face and others that we are not currently facing (though may in time). It was a privilege for me to represent Westminster Presbyterian Church, Milton as well as the PCA to these pastors. Seeds have been planted, I am excited to see what our Lord will do with them in the years to come. Please commit Pastor Ten and this infant denomination to your prayers.
Two Group Pictures from the Convention