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“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

St. Matthew 9:36-37

 

“They were harassed and helpless.” This seems to me like a description of people living in Siberia. Have you ever been to Siberia? People have various ideas about this place-that it is a land of freezing cold, a land of permanent ice and snow, that it is huge. They commonly think that few if any people live here, and whatever people are here do not have electricity, water supply, or other benefits of civilization. The Trans-Siberian railroad is one of the very few things that are in Siberia, people often suppose.

These are some of the typical misconceptions about Siberia. One of them, though, is correct: Siberia is indeed huge. And there are many things here. There is cold, there is heat; there are high-tech, top-of-the line industries; and there is an incredible problem with many factories that have had to close down because of economic problems throughout Russia. There is a bit of everything in Siberia. And there are MANY PEOPLE, even crowds of people in certain places. Siberia is not a densely populated territory compared to some others, but it is not a deserted place either. The city of Novosibirsk alone, where our seminary is located, has over 1,500,000 inhabitants. And nearly all these people, with the exception of the youngest, have experienced the crushing terrors of state atheistic propaganda during what we now may call with full right the past century.

Many Siberians are very, very poor, and not only physically. The most terrible bankruptcy is a spiritual one. So many people are dying without Christ. So many people need to hear the saving gospel of His nativity, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. They need to be baptized, or, if they were baptized as infants (which is not uncommon in a traditionally Eastern Orthodox country) and have departed from the faith, they need to return to their baptism, which saves them now as it saves always (1 Pet. 3:21). They need to be made part of the body of Christ by becoming members of His Bride, the one, holy, catholic church, the Una Sancta, to become partakers of the incorruptible Body and Blood of their Lord, and to rejoice with Him in His kingdom by taking into their bodies and soul His incorruptibility. The reality of the cross is an ever-present reality, and there are so many people to whom this reality needs to be brought. Indeed, it must be brought to them, for they cannot come to this reality themselves. They are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) and therefore do not possess the will to lead them to salvation, to “make it right with God.”

These people then must hear the Gospel. They cannot simply pick up the Bible and read it and come up with the Nicene Creed themselves. There has to be a church to explain Scripture to them, as also Philip explained the Scripture to the eunuch in Acts 8. Therefore, somebody has to be sent to do this great work of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ into people’s ears. St. Paul testifies about this great truth in his epistle to the Romans: “For, ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’”

Thus we see the tight connection between the mission and the Predigtamt, the preaching ministry—the holy ministry, ministry of Word and Sacrament—the ministry that deals with real questions of life and death.

And this is what the seminary in Novosibirsk is all about. It is about training men for the task of the holy ministry in the church, training them to be missionaries to those who are outside the church, training them to be pastors and shepherds of people who believe in Christ in their hearts and confess Him with their lips. The essence of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk is not certain academic standards, although we endeavor to maintain such standards on a high level. It is not the bureaucratic paperwork, although, unfortunately, we cannot avoid this at times. It is not big numbers of students so that we can boast about our success, as understood purely in a worldly way. The Novosibirsk seminary is here because people need to hear the Gospel. Parish and mission work are the real purpose of the seminary’s existence.

And the pastors, the teachers who will deliver God’s own words to the people, need to be trained well. We of Bible Lutheran Church believe that a confessional Lutheran seminary that trains indigenous pastors is the best way to carry out missionary work in Russia. It is the pastor who gathers the people of God around the means of grace that Christ has instituted. And the pastor has to be orthodox in doctrine (2 Tim. 1:13), because on his teaching depends not only his own salvation, but also the salvation of the people to whom he preaches (1 Tim. 4:16). And this is why the seminary has to be very careful that the teaching done within its walls is nothing else than what is taught in Holy Scripture, in the teachings of the ecumenical councils of the church, and in the Lutheran Book of Concord.

At the same time this doctrine is not the property of a pastor and is not bound by his person. On the contrary, it is the property of Christ, and as such it is the property of the whole of God’s people. This doctrine does not come by direct revelation from heaven, but is delivered by way of Christian tradition. This is what the seminary does with the student as a recipient of such authentic Christian tradition. Listen to St. Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2: “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” We in Novosibirsk are convinced that in our day serious seminary training comes closest to the meaning of Paul’s words in this passage. It is neither lay discipleship training nor short-term leadership preparation, but a serious effort that makes demands upon both teacher and student. After all, the Apostles themselves spent no fewer than three years in the “seminary” of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After 70 years of devastating atheism and 10 years of infiltration of all kinds of sects and cults into Russia, people will not be satisfied with the shallow talker who is no different from the pop psychologist. People long for deep theology and for the real sacraments. By “deep theology” I do not mean an abstract scholastic construction, but a truly Trinitarian and incarnational hermeneutic that alone is able to offer hope to people amidst this world of despair and chaos. While the devil controls those outside the church, and even among Christians “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” our seminary seeks to bring God’s own life to people, which life embodies in itself death for Satan.

It is no secret that, humanly speaking, the state of modern Lutheranism as well as that of virtually all other Christian confessions is lamentable. Many people no longer recognize Holy Scripture as the authentic Word of God. Various churches practice the ordination of women into ecclesiastical ministry. There are even homosexual pastors and bishops in certain places. And so-called conservatives among Lutherans, in their attempt to protect the Bible, all too often unite with the conservative Protestant camp, thus making their worship and practically the whole of their theology barely distinguishable from that of the Methodists or Baptists.

We do not know the future of the Lutheran Church in the West-in Europe and in America. Nor do we know the future of the Lutheran Church in Russia and in Siberia. But in view of the decay of Christianity in the West, it is not entirely impossible that the Lutheran Church in Russia will have something to offer to the Western world in the future, regardless of what exigencies it may experience itself. May the Lord abide with us so that we, His humble servants, may continue to build up Lutheranism in Siberia by mounting efforts to provide foundational confessional education, which serves as the basic prerequisite of a church that holds sound doctrine.

We certainly invite your prayers for God to continue the good work He has begun in Siberia, and for God’s Word to continue to bear fruit. Most important, please pray that the seminary may remain faithful to its calling in the world, and that the divine truth of Holy Scripture may not be compromised in any way among us.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Alexei Streltsov

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 © 2000, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Novosibirsk, Russia