Those who have been familiar with the religious condition of Russia in former times, cannot help wondering and rejoicing over the great change which has come over the country recently. The "ukase" granting religious liberty to his subjects, which Czar Nicholas, Emperor of Russia, issued on Easter Day, 1905, is gradually accomplishing for the great Russian Empire now what Constantine's edict of toleration did for the Roman Umpire in the beginning of the fourth century. The departure from the so-called orthodox faith of the Greek state church to any other Christian confession is no longer a ground for persecution, or exile to Liberia. Of the 143,000,000 of Russia's population, about 87,000,000 only belong to the Greek Catholic Church, 11,500,000 are Roman Catholics, 3,500,000 Lutherans, 14,000,000 Mohammedans, 5,200,000 Jews, 1,200,000 Armenians, and nearly half a million Buddhists. About two and one-half million are classed as Dissenters and two hundred thousands are returned in the statesman's Year Book as Reformed, Baptists and Mennonites. Evangelical Christianity throughout the Empire is breathing a sigh of relief. The hearts of our brethren there are filled with rejoicing, for they are conscious that the Lord has turned their captivity and has some great things for them whereof they are glad.
As Seen on the Spot.
It was my privilege to rejoice with our Baptist brethren over these marvelous changes during the time of my recent visit to Western and Southern Russia. It is now possible to make active propaganda even among the members of the semi-heathen Greek church. The South Russia Conference of Baptist churches organized a Home Mission Society for this purpose a year ago. Enthusiasm for this organization runs high and liberal contributions are made for its work. At present it employs two native Russian evangelists. Other conferences and organizations are doing the same.
A Baptist Opportunity.
The present situation resolves itself largely into a Baptist opportunity. Through the instrumentality of German Baptist preachers, revivals spread about fifty years ago in Southern Russia, Poland and elsewhere from the German colonists to their Russian neighbors, leading to the conversion of many. These converts received the German name "Stundists" from the separate meetings which they held. This movement became very powerful and soon provoked the anger of the Greek church and government authorities. Persecution compelled them to form an independent movement. Though they are not yet formally dismissed from the Greek church, the time is not far distant when this will and must be done. They practice immersion and are essentially Baptists. German and Russian Baptists have an accredited of over 30,000 in their churches. But Baron Uxkull gives the number of Baptists in Russia as 60,000, with many others who are actually Baptists in their belief, but who have not yet formally joined the Russian Baptist Union. There are in Russia over 100 ministers with 139 Baptist congregations, maintaining some 430 stations. There is now no government opposition to the spread of vital Christianity, or the establishment of Baptist churches. The only opposition now is from the "Pope", or Russian priests, who, from fear of losing their livelihood, take advantage of the ignorance and prejudices of the peasantry in trying to uphold a decadent faith.
In this crisis the need of the establishment of a theological seminary becomes paramount. The reform of the Russian church will never come from within. Russia will not be evangelized, unless the dissenting bodies, with more vital Christianity than the Greek church possesses, do it. The educated classes are turning away from the established church unsatisfied and they are seeking refuge and satisfaction in rationalism and infidelity. But the Russian people are very loyal to their country. They regard with suspicion movements and institutions of foreigners. The exportation of Russian youth for seminary training to Germany or America will never be permanently satisfactory. The Baptists of Russia, among whom the Germans take a leading part, have therefore prayed and planned a long time for the establishment of a theological institution of their own on Russian soil, until now their hearts' desire seems to have every prospect of becoming realized.
Baron Uxkull's Gift.Baron Uxkull, a wealthy member of one of our Baptist there and treasurer of the Baptist of Russia, at first came forward with a liberal offer of a property with land and buildings in Ruval, his native town on the Baltic in Esthonia and the promise to collect also the necessary funds for the endowment and running expenses of the institution. The Baron is now on a collecting tour for this purpose in this country. That the Russian Baptists need our assistance is beyond all question. They are deficient in these three things: money, theological and organizing experience and ability. While it seems that help from outside is absolutely necessary, the best way to help is undoubtedly through existing organizations in Russia - leading, organizing, directing and inspiring, and thus developing latent forces. For our denomination such organizations exist in the Baptist churches already established throughout the length and breadth of the Empire. In order to benefit the many different nationalities of which Russia is composed, but especially the Russians themselves, the seminary ought to be more advantageously located than would be the case in Ruval in Northeast Russia. A committee to investigate this whole matter, together with the proposition of the Baron, have vetoed the plan of locating the seminary at Ruval, because it would there benefit Germans, Finns, Letts and Esthonians, but few "Stock Russians", who live in the North and South. It was therefore decided to accept the Baron's offer of Ruval for ordinary school purposes, but not for a theological seminary, and to locate the latter at a place more in touch with the general Baptist work. Lodz, in ancient Poland, which has a Baptist church with over a thousand members was decided upon as a favorable locality for the new institution, especially since the church some liberal offers of land and other privileges to the Baptist Union.
The Work Now Going On.
The seminary began its work last October and two teachers have been provisionally engaged to conduct the institution, viz.: Reverends Mohr and Schmidt - two gifted and fairly well educated German Baptist ministers with a good knowledge of the Russian language. Some demur even at Lodz as a desirable locality, especially the genuine "Stock Russians", who consider such towns as Kiero and Odessa more favorably situated. As the leaders in this whole movement have been and will for some time to come be Germans, the Russian brethren will have to be content for a while with deferring to their wishes and following their lead. Baron Uxkull is a Russian subject of German nationality. And it is certainly providential that God has given Russian Baptists at this crisis some such leaders. The crying need now is to have them multiplied an hundred fold. If the proper leaders arise or are trained at this opportune time, there is no reason why the whole student movement and other similar evangelical movements, like the Molakans and Pasckkowites should not be turned into Baptist channels. Effective organization and a broader intellectual training of leaders might easily in the near future increase the membership in our Baptist churches to several hundred thousand. Other denominations are fully alive to these opportunities. Dr. Lepsius, of Berlin, Germany, who has hitherto received young men from Russia into his Lutheran missionary training institution at Berlin has a university graduate in South Russia for the special purpose of training young men on the spot for the new evangelism in Russia.
Begins With Sixteen Students
Among the sixteen Baptist students, who entered our newly established theological seminary at Lodz, Oct. 1st, one is a "Stock Russian", the rest belong to other nationalities, chiefly German. The money hitherto collected by Baron Uxkull is barely sufficient to provide for the salaries of the two teachers. The students so far furnish their own food and lodging, but more liberal provision will have to be made in the future. Even the teachers are getting only the barest subsistance allowance at present. Hence the appeal for more generous help from our Baptist churches in America, North and South, ought to be more liberally responded to than hitherto. In order to further the object the American Baptist Missionary Union proposes to send a representative to Russia in the near future to help the Russian Union to safeguard interests of the new institution and to deliberate concerning plans for its greatest usefulness. The work could undoubtedly be still better furthered, if a representative of Southern churches, where great interest has already been shown, could go to Russia at the same time, so that our whole Baptist brotherhood could have a share in this blessed work.
Baron Uxkull travels and collects under the auspices of the Russian Baptist Union, whose treasurer he is. So far he has met with enough discouragements in this country to suggest the desirability of organizing a regular Russian Baptist Seminary Fund with a treasurer in this country. As soon as American aid is forthcoming, the Interests of the Russian brethren can and will be more considered. As it is, the German influence is predominating. Their intelligence, church experience, organizing ability and liberality have made them the natural leaders in this great work, but a seminary in Russia must eventually benefit mainly the Russians. Russia and every country will and must be largely evangelized by its own sons and daughters. The Executive Committee of the Baptist Union of Russia consists of the following pastors: F. Brauer, President; Baron Uxkull, Treasurer; C. Fullbrandt, J. A. Fry, C. Mohr, A. Gutsche and J. Lubeck. It is very desirable that some Russian brethren be added to this list, especially in the management of the proposed seminary. And this can and will undoubtedly be accomplished soon as more liberal contributions from our churches in this country, will justify us in making these suggestions to the Russian Baptist Union. It is the writer's sincere desire that may be accomplished as speedily as possible.
[From The Baptist Argus, Volume 12, No. 1 - January 2, 1908, pp. 5-6. On-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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