The mission of the Church on earth is in achieving the Great Commission of Christ, written in Matthew 28:19, “Go out and teach all nations”. These words of the Lord reveal the double nature of our activities: first, the individual evangelization, and second, the transformation of culture. The first part is well-understood by evangelical Christians, therefore the Church regularly performs this activity with more or less successful outcome.
Second part, also known as the “cultural mandate”, demands more complex and special strategies, also professionals dedicated to God, and unity between local churches and denominations, because a small community in itself doesn’t have power to influence society in regards to the whole system. That’s why in this article we will focus on the Christian influence more precisely. The search for such activity should start from the analysis of the current reality of the Church. This analysis is somehow similar to Google Maps, because when we see the real proportions of the reality we can easily notice the spiritual challenges and opportunities that the Church needs to accept and thus – act.
These words of the Lord reveal the double nature of our activities: first, the individual evangelization, and second, the transformation of culture. The first part is well-understood by evangelical Christians, therefore the Church regularly performs this activity with more or less successful outcome. Second part, also known as the “cultural mandate,” demands more complex and special strategies, professionals dedicated to God, and unity between local churches and denominations, because a small community in itself, doesn’t have power to influence society in regards to the whole system.
We live in the age of rapid transformations, and this has a large influence on the Evangelical Church and the nature of its mission in Ukraine. Revolutionary changes happen both globally and nationally. Today the words of the apostle from 1 Corinthians 7: 31b are relevant to us: “This world in its present form is passing away”. Among other dynamic transformations, the Church must keep in mind that it’s important to be faithful to everything that is written in the Bible, as well as delivering the biblical message in the language understood by modern generations.
Global challenges have a double nature. There are challenges connected to the technological and information revolution that change the people’s lives. These transformations are an objective fact in the development of mankind and should not be viewed as negative. On the contrary, it is worth looking at it as an element of people’s lives that is capable of making them more effective and contributing to the development of their potential. Yet, as it has been in history, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, advanced technologies in the hands of spiritually immature people are dangerous. Also, the easy accessibility of information that emerged as a result of the invention of the Internet devalues it and can create information chaos, and confusion in the avalanche of necessary and unnecessary information.
Another type of global challenges today is related to the ideological and spiritual transformations that characterize, first and foremost, the countries of Western civilization (to which Ukraine belongs). Transformations happen on the level of consciousness and have their roots in atheism and agnosticism, the hedonistic culture of consumerism, and the sexual revolution. These worldview transformations can be combined in one word: postmodernism.
Postmodernists proclaimed the death of the core foundations on which Western civilization was built: God and the system of absolutes, or “eternal values”; the author, that is, the concept of objective truth; and human and true humanity. This fact leads to growing chaos in the worldview and ethics in Western culture.
Postmodernism is a state of modern culture, based on certain philosophical position. In fact, it is not a separate philosophical and cultural system, but rather a state of decay of modernism (humanism, rationalism, naturalism), that in the historical process lost connection to its Christian roots. Postmodernism is the same modernism, but in a state of exhaustion, in a state of agony caused by the separation from the spiritual and ideological sources that inspired European culture, and the connivance of utopias. Postmodernists proclaimed the death of the core foundations on which Western civilization was built: God and the system of absolutes, or “eternal values”; the author, that is, the concept of objective truth; and human and true humanity. This fact leads to growing chaos in the worldview and ethics in Western culture. “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”” Psalm 11:3.
The most significant phenomenon of postmodernism is the sexual revolution that has begun 50 years ago in Western countries. It is called a cultural or even anthropological revolution because it seeks to change not only the essence of human society and its culture, but also of man himself, for example, by questioning such fundamental concepts as gender and the value of motherhood. Nowadays, the stage of this revolution is called gender mainstreaming. No one knows what the future of this revolution is, because it increases every year, and when the final point will be. Today, something that seemed impossible 15 years ago has become a standard protected by law and promoted through the mass culture and education system. Today we have: glorification of sex in mass culture, forced sex indoctrination on children in educational institutions, widespread struggle against the nature of man and woman (with so-called “gender stereotypes”), gender fluidity and gender reproduction, and the idea of totalitarianism of the right-wing, that punishes whoever has a different from the right opinion. Not only in the West, but also every year in Ukraine, the Church has to face this situation. Various problems of worldview and ethical nature apply not only to people outside the church. These ideas enter in the Ukrainian churches by evangelical Christians themselves, who accept this culture.
The most significant phenomenon of postmodernism is the sexual revolution that has begun 50 years ago in Western countries. It is called a cultural or even anthropological revolution because it seeks to change not only the essence of human society and its culture, but also of man himself, for example, by questioning such fundamental concepts as gender and the value of motherhood.
Although the sexual revolution, as well as postmodernism, is facilitated by the modern stage of civilization along with its consumerism culture, their core ideas come from the leftist philosophy, and particularly Marxism. The ideologists of the sexual revolution were neo-Marxists, such as Wilhelm Reich, György Lukács, philosophers of the Frankfurt School of Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, postmodernists like Michel Foucault, and others. They tried to connect Karl Marx’s teachings to Sigmund Freud’s theories. Thus Freudian-Marxism was born, which is the philosophical foundation of modern leftist ideologies, in particular the sexual revolution itself. The October revolution of Lenin failed to destroy the Christian western civilization, however the cultural revolution that started with students’ rebellions in 60-s has been successfully doing it since then. Step by step they destroy eternal values.
A particular challenge for the Ukrainian evangelical Church of a global nature is liberal theology, which can be called atheism or angosticism, clothed with religious terminology. It is an evolutionary deconstruction of the Christian faith responsible for the paralysis of the Church in the West. It gradually came to Ukraine, finding its fans among the theological seminaries and circles of protestant young intellectuals. Liberal theology was born in the early nineteenth century in Germany, where it spread rapidly, becoming at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the dominant form of Christianity. By creating a spiritual vacuum in German souls, it played an important role in the emergence of German nationalism and imperialism and, therefore, shared responsibility for the horrors of the First and Second World Wars. From Germany, this doctrine has spread to other countries in Europe and North America. In the first phase of its development, theological liberalism was an attempt to connect the worldview of continental enlightenment with Christianity, so it was modernist in nature. Modern liberal theology seeks an opportunity to bring the ideas of postmodernism on the territory of the church. One way or another, its end result is always the erosion of biblical faith, and atheism.
The atmosphere of these rapid changes can be seen not only globally. Dynamic changes occur also on the domestic field. Challenges for the evangelical Church of Ukraine of a local nature are linked to the centuries-old process of national formation of Ukraine and the search for a civilizational orientation. Over the last 30 years, and especially since the Revolution of Dignity and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine, the dynamics of these processes have gained momentum. This type of challenge is related to the process of decommunization and revival of national culture and statehood. Their appearance compelled the Church to expand its theology and pastoral practice and seek answers to the following questions:
1) What is the most effective model of the church’s mission in society in the new historical context?
In contrast to the underground life of churches during the Soviet Union, in the free country the church received an opportunity to engage in social activities and influence the worldview of citizens, including shaping their political culture. Not only was the Church able to participate in community processes, working with the government and the public sector, but it also received enormous public trust. Christian leaders, in the face of national changes, saw that social and political issues were not “unspiritual” and abstract as they once thought. It turns out that they have a specific ethical dimension and are part of one of the ten commandments in one way or another.
At this stage in the life of the Evangelical Church of Ukraine it is important to find historical models on how to be the salt and the light of the world. This is crucial for shaping the theory and practice of Christian mission in society.
2) What should become a proper Christian view on the communist heritage?
The Evangelical Church in Soviet times was persecuted by the authorities for ideological reasons, since the USSR was the first atheist state in the world to call Christianity an opium to the people. But despite the persecution, until 2014, Ukrainian Protestants rarely considered communism and its legacy in the spiritual way. Especially when it comes to street names, monuments, or remnants of ideology in public life. The process of decommunization, which was revived in 2014, brought changes in the attitude of evangelical Christians to communism and the history of the Soviet Union, along with its myths. The need for the formation of the theology of decommunization and implementation of specific projects in this direction remains urgent today.
3) Can/should Evangelical Christians be patriotic?
In the context of the revival (or rather, the formation) of national identity, the development of national culture and statehood, the issue of patriotism is crucial. It did not leave the evangelical Christians of Ukraine aloof. In 2014 and 2015, under the influence of the shock caused by Russian aggression, the Ukrainian churches started to earnestly pray for Ukraine. For many church members, these prayers became the first school to form a Christian model of patriotism. Therefore the patriotic and religious rhetoric of Ukrainian Protestants was born. The construction of a correct model of patriotism based on biblical principles is a priority for the young nation, and naturally plays a key role for Christians. Through their activities and creativity, as well as the borrowing and inculturation of narratives from Protestant history, evangelical Christians of Ukraine can fulfill this role perfectly. For many evangelical believers, the concept of patriotism is associated with idolatry, since in their life experience, the only thing they saw was models of Soviet patriotism (which is hostile to Ukrainian) or of integrated nationalism, which is closer to paganism.
An important role in the development of national culture is the transition of church services into the Ukrainian language, which took place to some extent during the years 2014-2019.
4) What is the basis of our theology of political power and the attitude of the Church to this power?
In the emergence of young democracy In Ukraine, it is very important to form a model of connection between church and state, as well as the theology of political power and the attitude of Christians to it. Ukraine is in the circle of Byzantine civilization and the local Christian culture inherited from it Caesaropapism as a model of attitude to secular power. At the same time, Ukrainians are characterized by a love of freedom – a contribution to the national mentality from the Cossacks and the stories of their numerous rebellions. The issue of apologetics of the rebellions, in connection with the events on the Maidan, was very popular among believers and remains unresolved to this day. Democracy requires the ability to critically evaluate the actions of the authorities, while maintaining respect for state institutions. The experience of the Protestant Reformation – a history spiritually close to every evangelical Christian in Ukraine – is a perfect example of the emergence of this culture of freedom that, at the same time, does not turn into chaos. This is the experience that every Ukrainian evangelical Christian has. It is very important for Ukraine in the tumultuous process of building a just and prosperous state.
5) What should be the attitude towards the geopolitical and civilizational choice of Ukraine (East-West)?
At least since the Mongol invasion on Kievan Rus’ in the 13th century, the key question in Ukrainian history is the definition of the country’s civilization vector. The question is this: “Is Ukraine an inalienable part of the European cultural space, or Eurasian civilization that is different from European one?” Almost all the turning points of Ukrainian history are an attempt to answer this question. The Cossack uprisings, the Mazepa revolution in 1709, the national revival of the 19th century, the history of the national liberation struggle during the twentieth century, all the presidential elections and Maidan revolutions, as well as the Russian-Ukrainian war in the Donbass – all these are competitions for Ukrainian affiliation to one of the civilization options. In fact, this is a spiritual issue, because it will shape the system of values and conditions in which people will have to live. We find the prototype of such geopolitics repeatedly in the Old Testament, for example, in the matter of political integration with Egypt, which has often been raised by many prophets.
6) How should Christians behave in information warfare?
Information warfare is a very difficult spiritual challenge for Ukrainians and the Church in Ukraine. Propaganda has always been present in people’s lives, and in Soviet totalitarian times it was extremely difficult to access information other than the state lies. Today, however, in the age of the information revolution, the ability to manipulate people’s minds has become much more sophisticated and hard to expose. Chritians started to understand how spiritual this issue is. Many years before the Maidan in 2013, Russian propaganda sowed great confusion in the minds of Ukrainians, including evangelical believers. When the war began, it was necessary to revise the views formed by the same propaganda. A painful example of the deadly danger posed by the information war is the conflict between the Russian and Ukrainian evangelical churches, which has caused a split in many international ministries, missions and denominations.
An interesting phenomenon, which should be classified as information manipulation, is the influence of the popular TV series “Servant of the People” on the results of the recent presidential and parliamentary elections. This influence has not left aside evangelical Christians as well.
7) What are the principles of our theological understanding of war, and should we reconsider our current positions on pacifism?
Ukrainian evangelical Christians, formed secretly in the underground during communist times, had a clear pacifist stance on military involvement and use of weapons. Their position was undoubtedly the only correct one in the Red Army. However, in 1991 the situation changed radically. Instead of a Soviet army that killed Ukrainians and generally served the enemies of the Ukrainian people, a new army appeared. Now it was Ukrainian, National Army, designed to protect its land from the dangers of enemies. In 2014, Ukrainians practically saw that enemies were too real. Due to the beginning of the war in the east of Ukraine, many people were obliged to serve in the army, including believers. Also it gave the opportunity to launch the chaplain ministry and, in this connection, share the Gospel and give pastoral care among the soldiers. Christians had a need to take a stand against the Russian aggression, which has already killed 13,000 people and forced 1.5 million people to leave homes. Such sacrifices cannot be ignored.
In the context of rapid transformation, as well as the formation of the national identity of Ukraine, the Evangelical Church has unique opportunities to positively influence society and the course of history itself. However, this requires an understanding of the historical process, the spiritual situation in which Ukraine and the world are at this time, as well as an understanding of the mission that the Most High commanded for the Church among the nations.