Writings of Branko's Blog

All around Central Europe

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Last week Tuesday I listened to Dr. Johannes Reimer, a professor at the Free Evangelical Seminary in Germany. At a danger of oversimplifying what he shared with the enthusiastic group of joyful theologians at the FEET conference (I perhaps overstated this one), here are a couple of highlights on the topic of challenges to bring the Christian message to a contemporary Europe.

It appears that the evangelism efforts in the former Soviet Union did not yield the expected results, Dr. Reimer said. Many people were speaking of conversions and reported that they found their Lord and Savior in Jesus, but later these statements did not reflect in a day-to-day life. There is no visible changing of the social milieu; there are surmounting problems in today’s Russia, and the local church appears to be weaker than in the past. In the Ulyanovsk (Lenin’s birthplace on the Volga river) area, in the past there were 12 Baptist and at least 10 Pentecostal churches – and nowadays there are only 4 Baptist churches left, and no Pentecostal whatsoever. But, there are at least 83 Russian speaking Baptist churches in Sacramento, California… and Dr. Reimer asked the present, challenging our missiological thinking, whether we were bringing people to Jesus, or to the Immigration services of the US? Reimer said that in order to dominate one society spiritually, we also need to dominate one society intellectually, and asked the Evangelicals of all colors and shapes, to engage in socially relevant church transformation, develop a contextual church concept and a contextual theology of mission.

To impact a local community we need a socially relevant church. What happened in the Eastern Europe in the Post-Communism phase was that we believers became very individualistic, while the Bible speaks of believers being the members of the Body of Christ – and thus not only individuals, but members of the collective.

Interesting and challenging, don’t you think? I recently spoke with our TWR Russian ministries team leader and learned that the immigration of many Russians and thus also believers indeed occurred – but mostly in the 1990ies, while nowadays it is not so apparent. Nineties were the years of chaos and empty shops, many problems that follow the societies in transitions – and those who were losing its belief system. And also, the days of ‘power evangelism’ are long gone.

Wait a second, not all of us were doing the same mistakes. For example: TWR. The program structure and its content were never oriented at quick evangelism, but mostly at discipleship and growth. Is that not what Matthew 28 speaks of: discipling? TWR is broadcasting programs that speak to the fabric of society in Russia: to the substance abuse people, to the dysfunctional families, to the estranged youth, to the elderly and alone, and to those who seek God day and night,, along the programs prepared for the local church believers. Yes, we can and should do more, but don’t you think we have a good choice of programs already?

See (plenty) more on TWR Russian programs at www.twr.org

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If you are interested: FEET Press Release

As I doubt many of you will ever see this Press release published in regular news, here it is for your information (and possible encouragement)…

FEET 2010 Press Release

More than fifty theologians, church leaders, pastors and theology students from all over Europe gathered in Woltersdorf, near Berlin, for the 18th Conference of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians (20–24 August). FEET was established in the 1970s in order to encourage high quality scholarship from an evangelical theological perspective and the Fellowship has drawn together scholars from the whole continent every two years since its inception. This year’s conference saw participants gather from as far apart as Portugal in the West to Estonia in the East, from Scandinavia in the North to the South of France. The topic under consideration was ‘Evangelical Theological Interpretation within Contemporary European Culture’. Under this theme, the various sessions of the conference reflected on the changing realities of contemporary Europe and the way in which these changes impact the study of theology in the modern context.

The plenary sessions applied the central theme to the various subject areas of the theological spectrum. Dr Stefan Gustavsson, director of the Credo Academy in Stockholm, contextualized the broad sweep of changing trends within today’s European setting. He outlined the decline of church membership in the mainstream churches of Europe against the backdrop of the pervasive influence of secularism and agnosticism. Gustavsson made clear that the challenge faced by theologians today is to be able to speak effectively to a generation of Europeans who have little or no understanding of the biblical story. The second plenary session was lead by Dr Krish Kandiah, the Executive Director of Churches in Mission which is a ministry of the UK Evangelical Alliance. Entitled ‘Words and Worship: Revelation, Truth, Authority and Worship in Postmodern and Pluralistic Europe’ this session further unpacked the changing values and perspective of today’s Europeans. The Old Testament session was facilitated by Dr Hetty Lalleman of Spurgeon’s College, London, and Dr Jamie Grant of Highland Theological College, Scotland. Their joint session discussed agendas for the interpretation of the Old Testament in a modern setting. Lalleman’s presentation discussed the importance of divine activity in historical reality for the text to have lasting and transformative meaning—as the title of this session suggested, the Old Testament is more than just a story. Grant built on these reflections by seeking to advance a positive agenda for evangelical exegesis of the Old Testament text.

I. Howard Marshall, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, presented a stimulating paper regarding the interpretation of the New Testament text. Marshall’s discussion centred on the question of how one moves beyond exegesis of the biblical text to application in the contemporary setting. This paper sparked some fascinating discussion, so much so that the question and answer time was continued in the following session. The final plenary paper was led by Prof. Johannes Reimer from the Theological Seminary of the Free Evangelical Churches in Germany and UNISA. His paper addressed the challenges that are faced in bringing the Christian message to contemporary Europe. In considering the concept of “public theology” Reimer opposed individualistic and pietistic approaches to evangelism. He suggested that evangelical missiology should develop a strong concept of transformation of culture and society.

Each morning Henri Blocher, Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique, Vaux-sur-Seine, gave Bible readings encouraging the members of the Fellowship to hold fast to the purposes to which they have been called. Over and above these sessions, participants in the conference also had the opportunity to participate in seminars on Islam (Dr Ida Glaser, Oxford), family ethics (Pavel Raus, Prague) and missional hermeneutics (Dr Ove-Conrad Hannsen, Stavanger).

The bi-annual business meeting of FEET was also held during the conference and Erling Lundeby (Norway), Hetty Lalleman (Netherlands/UK) and Dr Pavel Černy (Czech Republic) were re-elected to the Fellowship’s executive committee. At the same time, Dr Klaus Bensel (Germany) was newly elected to the executive as the Fellowship’s secretary. The chairman of FEET – Prof. Pierre Berthoud, Aix-en-Provence – opened and closed the conference with messages of encouragement and exhortation.

The conference was well-received by its participants who left with a fresh realisation of the importance of evangelical theology for the spiritual and social wholeness of the European continent.


If you desire to learn more on FEET, visit the following link at www.feet-europe.net

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Berlin, Alexander Platz

During the hip years of the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany), in the times when it became increasingly apparent that the changes are in the air, the Socialist government erected an enormous radio/TV tower at the Alexander-platz, in East Berlin. All of the socialist-type architecture symbols were on place – enormous structure of concrete, overarching dominating profile, a thousand tone heavy aluminum boll put in the air right next to a couple of churches, location almost on the famous Unter den Linden street, and very much visible from the western Berlin, a large empty area in front of it for the ‘populist, spontaneous people gathering’ meetings, etc. But, little they knew that the boll like structure at the top would almost daily reflect sunlight in a form or sign of a cross on itJ.

And it is a true fact; I saw it with my eyes, it is not one of these urban legends that seem to roam the world regularly. It was a rather interesting moment, when our FEET group saw it (Fellowship of European Evangelicals Theologians), shining behind a rain-heavy cloud, dominating the skies. Amidst so many Berlin church belfries, golden crosses, memorials and cathedral domes of numerous Lutheran and some RC churches, in the midst of most very excellently protestant Berlin of the past, and somewhat of the present times, but definitively in the Berlin of the future, Berlin that shapes today’s music styles, philosophy teachings and serves as a ‘laboratory’ of future ideas, it is this monument of the past, gone and never-to-return Socialism that actually lifts the symbol of Christianity so high that everyone can notice it, as long as Sun is shining.

To a stranger like me, and almost like in one of these unexplainable moments of ‘lucida intervala’ when something happens in one’s brain and some areas connect with others for a brief moment of time, bringing an idea or flesh of insight, and then disappear into a non-scholarly mist, I felt how glorious it is to have a distinguish sign of a cross in such a tormented city, so beautiful as Berlin, so tormented by its ‘topography of terror’ (1933-1945), punished by almost total destruction, and then divided by a Wall (1961-1989). I desire that on the 20th anniversary of the German unification day (fall of this year), Sun will be shining and reflecting from both the gold of domes and aluminum of TV towers, rightly pointing to the only and everlasting Redeemer of our Souls and His work on the Cross. Will you pray for Berlin today?


ERF Medien ministry is explained in the www.erf.de web-site. You can also listen to an excellent web-radio at www.crosschannel.de

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How to Start a Fresh New Church

A friend from the Balkans recently wrote to me that they desire to start up a new local church, that will be different from most of the existing Evangelical churches in their country (which is not that difficult since the number of Evangelical Christians is around 12,000 total of all denominations). But what he said about four principles they will start the church upon seems to be very important:

1. Team leadership instead of a pastor/CEO pyramid scheme where the ‘purpose’ of the giving in church is to allow pastor and his family a relatively easy living;

All what one needs2. Transparency in church finances and accountability to the church board, or the council, or to the whole body of church members;

3. Biblical exposition – in comparison to some wild ideas and ‘spiritual novelties’ always coming from the West; and

4. Purposeful and intentional work with future leaders – on one to one basis – work with the potential future leaders (as they do not come via DHL/FedEx), but they need to be built (alike Paul and Timothy example from the Bible)

I think this will be a rather ‘revolutionary’ local church. If only they would add additional point there: having weekly services on Mondays evenings, I would really consider joining. Mondays are good – nothing ever happens Monday evenings and on Sundays they can go with their friends to sport events and excursions, enjoying their non-Christian friends fellowship and being a ‘walking Gospel’ in their attitude, love and fun.

Just a thought.


A Sweetshop Story from Sarajevo

One of the most memorable features when visiting this lovely city in the middle of Balkans is the Bascarsija walking zone, with its many small shops, restaurants, coppersmiths, shops with handmade scarves and other crafts, souvenirs, bakeries and sweetshops, and the sweetshops are the best for me. Often semi-hidden in crossing alleys, with small tables along, they can be found only by their front side ice cream refrigerators. However, the real jewels are inside – oriental sweets and cookies: tulumbe, tufahije, baklavas, gurabije, sudzuk, kadaif, cherry delights and others, often immersed in sweet syrup made of honey, lemon juice and some other ‘secret’ spices. And to couple that sweet taste, one should order a Bosnian made (baked) coffee brewed in a copper tin pot and served in porcelain cups, to be taken over in small sips while having a sugar cube tucked beneath a tong.

But, to those who do not know, an ice cream or an ‘industrial made cake’ will do, with an artificial sweetened carbonated drink alongside. if you, however, enter inside the shop you may experience an opportunity to see and taste the whole another world of oriental sweets and drinks. For centuries people met there to talk to each other and to listen interesting stories. Some of those are still echoing in the back rooms of Sarajevo sweetshops.

Did you know that one of the most beautiful buildings in Sarajevo today was built and used as the Evangelical (Lutheran) church? For several decades during the XIX century, several dozens of believers met in the German consulate building, but after 1878 a number of Protestants in Sarajevo grew so rapidly, that the authorities put up a building plan and the church was consecrated in 1899, while the wings were added in 1911. It served its purpose until the end of the Second World War when it was closed, and was left in ruins until 1981 when the government repaired it and put the Fine Arts Academy inside. The guard at the door entrance did not let me in, to see the space beneath that beautiful cupola, so I considered enrolling the academy for a moment or two. I wandered of stories that could be still echoing inside…

TWR airs two programs weekly in Bosnian language. To listen to them or find more information, please also visit www.twr-bosnia.org (only in Bosnian language).