Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia, 1945-1989: Survival Techniques, Outreach Efforts, Search for Identity: Baptists Are Alive and Well in Estonia-In Spite of Decades Filled with Attempts to Destroy Them

By Pilli, Toivo | Baptist History and Heritage, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia, 1945-1989: Survival Techniques, Outreach Efforts, Search for Identity: Baptists Are Alive and Well in Estonia-In Spite of Decades Filled with Attempts to Destroy Them


Pilli, Toivo, Baptist History and Heritage


The aim of the present article is to give a general survey about Baptist history in Estonia, the northernmost of the three Baltic countries, between 1945 and 1989. This rather broad theme is observed from three aspects. First, what features characterized the relationship between the state and Baptist churches in these years of atheistic suppression? Second, how did Baptists, in a situation of extremely restricted public mission opportunities, still continue to reach out with their Christian message? And third, what attitudes and theological emphases developed during these more than forty years under a Communist regime--specifically in a situation where several Free Church traditions were forced to merge together? In short, an attempt will be made to describe briefly the course of development of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia (UECBE) between 1945 and 1989.

These three aspects are closely connected. Historical events can be analyzed from all three aspects at the same time. They are like three colors of a stained-glass window through which one can look at the history of the UECBE. Shifting our perspective a little would make one color more intensive, but all the colors are still present. However, because of the structure of this paper, all three areas will be dealt with separately while still trying to keep all the "colors" in mind.

The author is aware of the complexity and broadness of the chosen theme and material. Questions arise even with terminology. Only with certain reservations can we speak about "Baptist history" and "Baptists" during the above-mentioned period in Estonia. The Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia was a united Union bringing together churches of different Free Church movements and traditions. (1) Terms like "Baptist history" and "Baptist churches" actually refer to the history and churches of the UECBE.

Also the broadness of the theme needs a short explanation. Except for some chapters and passages in more comprehensive works, (2) and some scarce articles, the history of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia still remains largely a terra incognita. A general picture still needs to be painted. This is why choosing a broader approach for this paper would hopefully prove to be justified.

Forced Blessings of Unity: Estonian Evangelical Christians and Baptists Join the Ali-Union Brotherhood

The Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of-Estonia was founded in 1945. It united different Free Church traditions. Two of them, the Baptist and Evangelical Christians Free Church traditions were probably the strongest, but Revivalist Free Church (priikogudused) spirituality and Pentecostal beliefs and practices should also be mentioned. However, already by the end of the 1930s, the Estonian Pentecostals had merged mostly with the Evangelical Christians Free Churches, and the Revivalist Free Churches had joined mainly with the Baptists. (3) But there is no doubt that-in spite of some organizational merging--most of the individual Christians and churches still hold to the views and practices of the tradition in which they had grown up.

In May 1945, the leadership of the newly formed UECBE made a decision to become a part of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians and Baptists (AUCECB). (4) After a delegation of four representatives from Estonia (5) had arrived in Moscow in August 1945, negotiations took place with Jakov Zhidkov, Alexander Karev, and other Russian Evangelical Christian and Baptist leaders. Discussions concentrated mostly on the theological issue of baptism. According to pastor Arpad Arder's memoirs, the union of Estonian churches joined the "Russian union.... without pain" due largely to Osvald Tark's opinions and advice. (6) Tark was highly respected among Estonian Baptists and can probably be considered as the most influential theologian of Estonian Baptists during the Soviet years. …

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