The All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (AUCECB) was the only church body in 1987, apart from the Russian Orthodox church, that was recognized as a church existing throughout the Soviet Union, other confessions having only regional or local recognition. At a congress in Moscow in October 1944, under wartime conditions, former representatives of the Evangelical Christian and Baptist Unions, which had collapsed before the war, agreed to unite. In 1945 the state gave several Pentecostal groups the option of joining the AUCECB or ceasing to function. An "August Agreement" spelled out the conditions of union, requiring Pentecostals to forego the practice of glossalalia and other distinctives, except in private. Mennonites were officially invited to join in 1963, and an agreement of union was approved at an All-Union Congress in December 1966.
At that time about 16,000 Mennonites were said to have joined. The number increased to 25,000-30,000 by the mid-1980s. This means that about half of the believing Mennonites in the Soviet Union were part of the AUCECB, where fusion reached the point that individuals referred to themselves as "Evangelical Christians-Baptists " (ECB). Nevertheless, spokesperson Emil Baumbach strongly affirmed a sense of Anabaptist-Mennonite identity when questioned during a visit to Canada in July 1987.
Ties between Soviet evangelicals and the Mennonites have existed for a long time and involve mutual influence. The fact that Mennonites officially joined after 1963 probably had much to do with creating an image of unity for the AUCECB at a time when they were losing nearly half their supporters to a separating renewal movement, now known as the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (CCECB). At the All-Union Congress in 1963, the first permitted by the state since 1944, four persons of Mennonite origin were present. They were Jacob Fast, Johann Martens, G. K. Alert, and Traugott Kviring. All were preachers in AUCECB churches. Alert, from Karaganda, where Mennonites were divided on how to relate to Baptists, addressed the congress delegates (this time elected but often with uncertain mandates) as follows: "I fail to see the difference between you and us and request the congress to accept Mennonite congregations into the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists." At its July 1964 session, the AUCECB presidium, in part presumably at the instigation of a senior member I. I. Motorin, who was enthusiastic about his encounter with North American Mennonites, took four decisions: (1) to determine the number and location of all Mennonites in the Soviet Union; (2) to accept all immersed Mennonite Brethren unconditionally into ECB congregations; (3) to secure the right for Mennonites joining AUCECB churches to have their own services in German; and (4) to request state registration of Mennonite Brethren groups in those locations where there were no registered ECB congregations.
Several local unofficial consultations of Mennonites took place, and, at the 1966 congress, where 74 of the 400 delegates were Mennonite Brethren, these representatives (with the exception of four from Karaganda) presented a signed application for membership. By this time such Mennonite distinctives as pacifism and feetwashing had not been practiced by Mennonites for many decades; now they were no longer part of their confession of faith, either. Nevertheless, Mennonites (and with them German Baptists) received the cultural concession of German-language services. In practice this often also meant a separate organizational structure within a local church, different in style from that of the Russians. Since local Mennonite groups had not met to vote on the proposed union, it now remained for the Mennonite leaders to persuade the members to support the union.
Mennonite representatives were named to the headquarters staff in Moscow (Viktor Kriger, who had been sent by the AUCECB for two years of theological study in Hamburg), and to the major decision-making bodies. In 1966 Jacob Fast of Novosibirsk was elected to the All-Union Council; Kriger was a candidate member. A further increase in Mennonite representation came in 1974, when Kriger, who remained a staff member in Moscow, did not stand for reelection. Traugott Kviring replaced him, with Philip P. Wirtz as candidate member. Another Volhynian German, V. A. Schultz, was elected to the finance, or revision, committee. Jacob Fast was now also elected into the 10-member presidium. Mennonites were also elected as assistant regional superintendents, with Kviring, in 1977, becoming the first German elected as senior presbyter of a large region encompassing three Central Asian republics. In 1979 Fast was also elected as deputy senior presbyter for the vast Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and given the task of administrative oversight of all Germans in that area.
With each passing congress, it became evident that the Mennonites exerted some influence as a voting bloc, often siding with the Ukrainian contingent in expressing anxiety about the AUCECB 's role ecumenically. It also became apparent that the Mennonites, in general, were theologically conservative. The elected representatives usually received near unanimous support during the All-Union elections, which was certainly not the case for many of the other council and presidium members. The Moscow leadership also called regular meetings with a dozen of the leaders to review the relationship every several years.
It was only after 1966 and the consummation of the union with the AUCECB that it became possible for Mennonite Brethren and "Kirchliche" Mennonites to obtain local autonomous registration as Mennonites, albeit without a nonresistant clause in their constitution. This government-imposed difficulty had prompted Mennonite World Conference President Harold S. Bender to urge Mennonites whom he met during a visit to the Soviet Union in 1956 to seek protection under the AUCECB umbrella. He, as did most Mennonite representatives from North America who visited subsequently, discussed with the Moscow leadership the possibilities for an amicable relationship. The Moscow AUCECB leaders, especially Alexander Karev, the general secretary, were supportive, even sending out a circular in 1964 urging local congregations to accept Kirchliche Mennonites (who were not immersed) for communion. The second-class role of the Kirchliche Mennonites remained a persistent point of contention. Moscow leaders often suggested that local Mennonite Brethren leadership resisted a compromise solution with Mennonites most strongly.
During the 1960s-1980s, relationships with Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee became regularized. A delegation of six from the AUCECB attended the Mennonite World Conference in Wichita (1978), two of whom (Kviring and Fast) were Mennonites. Heinrich Gertsen and Bernhard Sawadsky represented an autonomous Mennonite Brethren church in Karaganda and a Mennonite church in Novosibirsk at the same assembly. In 1984 in Strasbourg, the four-person delegation to the Mennonite World Conference included Fast, plus Daniel Janzen and Diedrich Thiessen of autonomous Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite churches respectively. Mennonite Central Committee had developed a more intimate relationship through its administration of a cooperative project to produce the Barclay commentaries on the New Testament in Russian.
In 1987 slightly more than half of all Mennonites were claimed by the AUCECB. There were significant personnel changes. Jacob Fast was removed from all offices after August 1986, at the request of his local church, which was disciplining him, and Traugott Kviring had emigrated to West Germany. They were succeeded by Emil Baumbach of Karaganda, also appointed to the presidium in 1987 and made an assistant senior presbyter. He too was excommunicated in July 1988 for adultery. The spokespersons in the late 1980s were Peter P. Ens of Orenburg, assisted by a half-dozen regional representatives, and Johannes P. Dyck, AUCECB staff specialist for Mennonites, who has become an authority on Anabaptist as well as AUCECB history. During the past decade, there have been many new registrations of churches in the Orenburg region, most of which maintained a fraternal relationship to the AUCECB (if they were Mennonite Brethren) but did not join formally. More than 54 local AUCECB congregations were heavily Mennonite/German. Most of these were located in Kazakhstan and Kirgizia, but detailed statistics are still only sporadically available as is true for the AUCECB churches in general.
Sawatsky, Walter.Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981.
Sawatsky, Walter. "What Makes Russian Mennonites Mennonite?" Mennonite Quarterly Review 53 (1979):5-20.
"Presidium Report," Bratskii Vestnik, no. 4 (1987)
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 310.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strassbourg, France, and Lombard, Ill.: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 126.
|Author(s)||Walter W Sawatsky|
Cite This Article
Sawatsky, Walter W. "All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 3 Aug 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=All-Union_Council_of_Evangelical_Christians-Baptists&oldid=53729.
Sawatsky, Walter W. (1987). All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 3 August 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=All-Union_Council_of_Evangelical_Christians-Baptists&oldid=53729.
Herald Press website.
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