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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.

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.

The State was quite interested in this process of unification-both on regional and on an All-Union level. It was much easier to control a more unified and centralized religious organization. Vello Salo, an Estonian Roman Catholic theologian and church historian, does not doubt that the All-Union campaign to bring Free Churches together into the Union of Evangelical Christians and Baptists was started with the aim "to place the Free Churches under government control." (7) There might have been an additional hidden agenda. The atheistic aims of the State are described by an Estonian Baptist pastor as follows: "Their idea was to put them [Free Churches] all together, then they [Free Churches] will start fighting with each other, and we [the State] can liquidate all the sectarians more effectively ... this was the program of the Soviet Union in religious matters." (8) At least this interpretation was how several pastors and ordinary church members understood the situation.

Johannes Laks, an outstanding preacher and pastor of the Estonian Evangelical Christians Free Church, says in his memoirs:
 The end of the Second World War brought along many new orders and
 restructuring in the activities of the believers' church. The largest and
 most far-reaching was organizational reform. The orders prescribed that all
 congregations (religious societies) existing in Estonia, like Baptists,
 Revivalist Free Churches, Pentecostals and Evangelical Christians, should
 join the Evangelical Christians-Baptists Union in Moscow. These religious
 societies that fail to fulfil this demand within a certain period of time
 will lose their right to operate and will be closed down. (9)

Robert Vosu, elder presbyter of the UECBE 1970-85, says more cautiously, allowing the reader to read between lines: "In the changed situation there remained only this possibility to work: to operate in the frame work on the All-Union ECB brotherhood." (10) However, The History of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the USSR, published in Moscow in 1989, discreetly bypasses the aspect of state-initiative or rather state-orders in this uniting process. Rather, the theological vocabulary of Christian unity, love, peace, and mutual understanding is emphasized. (11) In the same way, these events were presented to local unions and to local Christians during the Soviet period.

In spite of the fact that the formation of new organizational patterns were to a large extent initiated and guided by the vision the State had for Free Churches in the Soviet Union, the result of the events forced Estonian Christians to rethink, reemphasize, and reaffirm the basic characteristics for their identity.

Certain positive opportunities opened up by belonging organizationally to the All-Union "brotherhood." The spirituality of Slavic Free Churches became better known to Estonian Baptists through personal contacts and translated materials in spite of the restricted circulation of even typewritten writings. (12) Alexander Karev, Jakov Zhidkov, and later Alexei Bychkov and other Russian leaders became well-known names in Estonia, at least among Baptist pastors and active church members. Theological influence was bilateral. Osvald Tark, Oskar Olvik, and Robert Vosu from Estonia became highly respected as theologians and spiritual leaders among Russian-speaking Baptists. (13) Tark and Vosu published their series of writings in Bratskii Vestnik (e.g., in the 1970s and in the 1980s: Tark's Expository Commentary on Mark, and Vosu's The Sermon on the Mount).

As to the formation of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians and Baptists, the government pressure accomplished what Evangelical Christians and Baptists in Russia had not been able to accomplish in the 1920s when serious attempts were made to unite the two movements. (14) The lesson that Estonian believers often mention when speaking about the united work and service is the lesson of love and respect for other Christians who have a slightly different theological emphasis. This lesson needs to be continuously learned.

In Estonia, despite certain theological tensions, the new union helped to overcome the tremendous human and material losses caused by war and by a wave of emigration in autumn 1944. Robert V6su has summarized the situation where the member churches of the UECBE found themselves at the end of the 1940s:
 After the Second World War it became clear that the time of war had had a
 devastating effect on the churches. Many prayerhouses had been destroyed in
 the fires of war and several preachers had been killed or taken away from
 their homeland in the confusions of war. Membership numbers were down
 approximately 30 percent and instead of the former 15,000 members there
 were now approximately 10,000 members for four Free Churches together. (15)

Surprisingly enough, the government that tried to achieve control over the Free Churches actually made the united Union in Estonia much stronger than if it had remained functioning in fragmented religious groups.

However, the UECBE met new challenges and problems. Atheistic work in the Soviet Union was aimed to diminish both numbers and the role of Christians in the society. Certain tensions created by different theological understandings now were forced to exist side by side in a new union of churches. Robert Vosu states in 1959 in a rather optimistic tone:
 The work in the united union has developed peacefully. The membership
 numbers have stayed at more or less the former level during the last
 fifteen years. Differences between congregations have almost entirely
 disappeared. The spiritual course of development has become steadier,
 deeper and wider. Differences between congregations have mutually
 strengthened and completed the Union. (16)

One gets an impression that Vosu's optimism is rather "a public and pedagogical optimism." As an influential church leader and an analytical person, he must have been well aware that in reality the differences between congregations of diverse historical background were quite deeply rooted in peoples' minds and in their patterns of behavior. As the coming years proved, also the membership in the UECBE showed an accelerating tendency to decline, especially after 1960. According to data given in the elder presbyter's correspondence to the Commissioner of Religious Affairs in Estonia, the total number of members in the UECBE in the beginning of 1946 was 9,875. (17) The Annual Reports of the UECBE show that at the end of 1959 there were eighty-nine churches with total membership of 9,306. At the beginning of 1970, there were eighty-three churches and 8,206 members. On January 1, 1980, the number of churches was seventy-nine with total membership of 6,822, and on January 1, 1989, there were seventy-eight churches with total membership of 5,870. (18) Within forty-three postwar years, the UECBE lost approximately 40 percent of its membership.

In the annual conference (December 9-10, 1989), the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia made a decision to continue as an independent Union, (19) still maintaining friendly relationships with the AUCECB. The name of the denomination was changed slightly: the Union of Evangelical Christian and Baptist Churches of Estonia.

Survival Techniques: Relationships Between the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia and the Soviet State

The Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia shared the same fate as other churches. All churches were suppressed. However, Free Church Christians being very often referred to simply as Baptists, (20) were pictured by official atheistic propaganda as dangerous and/or unintelligent. In the Soviet Union, churches were considered as ideological and political "enemies." The goal by the political powers was to root out religion. At the same time, the relationship between the state and the churches was not static. In certain cases after the Second World War, a little more tolerant attitude could be noticed. Under certain circumstances churches were even considered as political "partners"--especially in efforts to build up trust in the Soviet system in the eyes of the international community. Promoting the peace movement also became a part of these relationships. However, the church was officially doomed to death after it had fulfilled its task for the benefit of the political system. It is important to note that the Soviet system did not want simply to eliminate religion, but to use religion for reaching its own goals. This was also one of the tactical goals of the Soviet Secret Service (KGB). (21) H. Leon McBeth, speaking about Baptist history in the Soviet Union, said: "Through the twentieth century, the Communist government has changed its tactics many times but has never swerved from its announced goal to stamp out all religion and to create an atheistic society." (22) This was certainly true of the situation in Estonia, too.

Vello Salo defined the state-church relationship in Soviet Estonia during 1940-41 as "the-rude-fist period" and the period after the War as "the-fist-in-a-velvet-glove period." (23) No doubt, the years after Stalin's death opened up for churches some new opportunities and relative freedom on a very restricted scale, only to revert to more severe administrative and propagandistic suppression methods at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. In spite-of some fluctuation and changes in the intensity of atheistic propaganda and in the modes of suppression, it can be said that all through the Soviet period the development of atheistic methods can generally be described as shifting from primitive and physical suppression towards more refined, psychological and moral methods of suppression. This was accompanied with atheistic propaganda in the mass media and in the educational system. Christians were isolated from public life as much as possible. (24) This description can be applied to all Christian' churches, Baptists included.

Already during the Second World War, an institution of the Commissioner of Religious Affairs was established by the state to keep an eye on and to influence the churches, but also to collect statistical data. Estonia also had a Department of Religious Affairs. The commissioner had a lot of power to control religious life. He received reports with data about church personnel and membership and about church buildings and their inventory. He was entitled to ask for any additional information considered necessary. The commissioner gave permission for organizing presbyters' meetings or for reproducing scarce printed materials. In reality, printing religious literature was practically forbidden. For example, a yearly calendar remained for many years the only printed Christian publication among Baptists in Estonia. (25) The calendar did not include any additional information: only timetable and information about Christian religious dates.

Surprisingly, in some cases the local city governments were even more active in suppressing and persecuting Christians than higher structures. In some cases, the elder presbyter of the UECBE turned to the commissioner asking for solutions to local problems, like in the case of the small Muhu Baptist Church. The local government did not allow the church to move into another prayerhouse. The congregation had held meetings and services in the presbyter's home, and then the presbyter's family needed the room. However, the local government would not give permission for the congregation to meet in another place. Their argument was formally based on sanitary concerns: there is not enough air in the new prayer-room. The elder presbyter argued that in the new prayerhouse there was even more air than in the previous one. (26)

The KGB had a special department for collecting information about churches and doing "operative work" with Christians. In several cases, the KGB tried to recruit agents from among Christians. However, it was probably not an easy task among Free Church Christians. Estonian historian Indrek Jurjo refers to a KGB fourth department report in 1956, where it is said that "a special psychological approach is needed to recruit sectarians, among whom there are many religious fanatics." (27)

Trying to break the atmosphere of conspiracy was the "survival technique" that Christians used when interviewed by KGB. For example, Baptist pastor Uudu Rips, when interviewed by the KGB officer, promised to tell his elder presbyter about everything he had told the KGB officer. (28) It was certainly not an easy task to recruit a person like this. However, much more complicated and in some cases not so "clear-cut" relationships occurred, too. The whole area of the relationships between the KGB and Free Churches in Estonia still waits for impartial and objective historical research.

The elder presbyters themselves, standing between the state and the church, were often in a difficult position; in a way they were between the hammer and the anvil. Their role was to "soften" the first attacks from the authorities, and at the same time to present information and act in a way that made it possible for local churches and the union to operate as "smoothly" as possible in the atheistic context. This is one reason why an elder presbyter's role was very important during Soviet times. Local church presbyters were vitally interested in having close and good relationships with the elder presbyter, who had a lot of information about church-state relationships to which others did not have access. (29)

The years immediately following Stalin's death in 1953 were a time of relative freedom and new activity for churches in Estonia, only to be changed to a new wave of suppression and propaganda beginning with the last years of the 1950s. A new atheistic method was to introduce "substitutional ordinances," e.g., non-Christian funeral ceremonies. Special efforts were made for molding young peoples' minds in the spirit of atheism. (30)

Johannes Kahr, later a Baptist pastor in T6rva, a small town in the Southern part of Estonia, was expelled from Tartu University twice; first in 1950 because of "religious propaganda at the university," and later in 1959. (31) In some cases it was difficult for a witnessing Christian to find a job, especially in the field of education and in leading positions. Certainly other restrictions continued: no Christian youth and children's work was allowed, churches were required to pay higher rent and electricity rates, pastors could not receive a state pension, and churches were forbidden from social work or any other "visible" or "public" activities.

As later years showed, the atheistic efforts proved to be successful both from a statistical, sociological, and psychological point of view. By the end of the 1950s and 1960s, a new generation was born that had no personal experience with political independence or religious freedom. Generally, they were much more easily influenced by atheistic propaganda. The younger and more critically-minded generation emerged only later. This may be one reason why the generation in their forties and fifties is very poorly represented in Evangelical Christian and Baptist Churches in Estonia today.

In the 1970s and the early 1980s, the state maintained more or less the same repressive routine, while in the later 1980s, the atheistic efforts and restrictive measures began to lose their momentum. Vello Salo has classified these periods as follows: 1974-81 "the-fist-in-the-velvet-glove period," 1982-87 "the-fist-losing-its-strength period," and 1988-91 "the-feeble-fist period." (32)

As a conclusion, it should be said that to survive, Estonian Baptists kept a rather low profile in their relationships with the state. However, in some cases their "survival techniques" included passive resistance, for example, ignoring some restrictive orders. In these cases, a lot depended on personal courage of leaders and individual Christians. The role of an elder presbyter as a key person in creating general framework for the union churches to operate should not be forgotten. The exchange of information, sometimes among the "inner circle," about possible KGB interviews or other measures taken by the authorities helped to avoid a suspicious atmosphere. The atmosphere of trust was not always easy to maintain. It should also be stated that for many believers, contacts with authorities was an opportunity to witness, sometimes with words, sometimes with behavior. In spite of restrictions, evangelism efforts were not lacking in the life of ECB churches in Estonia. It is simply that the emphasis was shifted more towards personal relationships and towards lifestyle evangelism.

Outreach Efforts: Balancing Allowed and Forbidden

Pastor Heigo Ritsbek, who was involved in ministry in the Estonian Methodist church during the Soviet years, said: "In Estonia we had practically no underground churches, but all churches had underground ministries." (33) This statement describes well both the church-state relationship and churches' outreach efforts. Estonian Baptists tended to be loyal citizens, as far as this did not contradict with their ethical values and consciousness. Some small groups of Christians had more or less regular underground work, mostly among Russian-speaking believers. At the same time, Estonian Baptists valued highly the freedom to believe and to practice their faith--including witnessing to their beliefs in deeds and words and living a biblical lifestyle. Often tension, even contradiction, was involved when both of the principles--loyalty to the authorities and principle of religious freedom--put their demands on individual Christians.

A worship service in a church was about the only legal evangelism method. Evangelistic services and revival weeks with a focus on inspiring sermons, often accompanied by choir music, were the most common "public" outreach tools. Baptists had a long tradition of having revival weeks as means of outreach. In 1940, the president of the Baptist Union in Estonia, Karl Kaups, even criticized the churches who relied too much on revival weeks, neglecting a Christian's personal mission responsibility. (34) Nevertheless, in a situation where Christian activities were mostly restricted inside the church walls, this method proved to be still vital.

In spite of restrictions, Baptists used various situations for mission and evangelism. Home visits, communion to the sick, and even funeral ceremonies were turned into evangelistic meetings. Youth services or Sunday schools were forbidden, but gatherings at homes under the guise of a "birthday party" were difficult to be controlled by state officials. In this respect, "the Baptists proved to be more persistent than Lutherans." (35) "Sometimes they openly defied the authorities, despite various sanctions, such as fines or the suspension a minister's/leader's work permit." (36) The role of a Christian home was especially significant during these years, helping to grant both a certain continuity in theology and tradition and being an important source from where new church members came.

Music turned out to be one of the most important means of evangelism during Soviet years. It was culturally relevant, as Estonians have been known as a nation of singers. It was also relatively difficult for the authorities to control the impact and effect of music and singing. (37) In many cases, the energy of Christians was channeled to music ministry--with choir music becoming predominant. Christian parents often sent their children to music schools, hoping that their children would use these skills later in churches.

The Soviet propaganda targeted young people. Youth were deliberately guided away from spiritual matters and church life. In spite of this, in an atmosphere of disappointment in politics and in stagnated social structures, as well as in their search for meaning in life, the youth started increasingly to ask religious questions.
 Renewed interest in religion was reported in the Soviet Union in the 1980s,
 especially among young people. Some did not hesitate to call this a
 religious revival and noted that it included some members of the Communist
 Party. (38)

This is certainly true of Estonia, with an exception that interest in religion among youth can be seen already in 1970s.

In the 1970s, youth camps started to be organized by more active ECB churches. The camps were illegal. "Usually they were either organized in secret or with an unofficial "silent agreement" with local officials." (39) In some cases, organizers were fined, interviewed by KGB, or harassed in other ways. In some cases, however, the authorities seemed to prefer not to take too severe measures. This can be an example of how Baptist leaders and Baptist churches were able to have an impact on the authorities, even if the authorities never admitted it publicly. The elder presbyter was foremost responsible for these unofficial youth gatherings. If the elder presbyter was respected and trusted by the authorities, it might have happened that the authorities, being informed of these events, decided not to take any action; they "looked at it through their fingers," as an Estonian saying goes. (40) Youth camps served as a means of spiritual growth and evangelism. Asking one's friends and schoolmates to participate in these camps was a natural course of events. The present author remembers his own renewed commitment to Christ in a camp organized by Parnu and Haapsalu Baptist youth in the summer of 1976 or 1977. Estonian Baptists had a lot of creativity to fulfil their inner calling and strive for reaching people with the gospel.

In the 1970s, a new music style reached the-Estonian Free Churches. In the Methodist Church, a youth "band" Sela was formed. In the largest ECB Church of Estonia, Oleviste Church, an ensemble and ministry team Effattaa opened an entirely new era of evangelism and prayer ministry efforts, with regular "Effattaa evenings" that included music, sermons, testimonies, invitation time, prayers for the sick, etc.; to a certain extent in the same line with Oral Roberts campaigns. In the 1970s, the Effattaa "meetings" took place both in Estonian and in Russian, as many people traveled from different places of the Soviet Union to attend the services. Haljand Uuemois, member of Oleviste Church Eiders Board, calls the movement "Effattaa-Revival." (41) The Effattaa movement existed approximately thirteen years (1968-81), with a rather long preparation period included. (42) No doubt the State authorities felt quite uneasy about these tendencies. And not only the State authorities. One of the biggest controversies in the UECBE took place in 1970s and 1980s, not just over the issue of music and worship style, but mainly over the issue of charismatic spirituality versus traditional spirituality. Under the heavy pressure of authorities, the "Effattaa evenings" in the Russian language were finished in 1981. "This decision was hard and painful, and meant--as it soon was realized--a blow to the whole revival process...." (43)

In the framework of growing interest in youth work in the Estonian Baptist churches towards the end of the 1970s, a new tradition was born: Youth Bible Days. The UECBE council of presbyters mentioned the event in its meeting. (44) The tradition of Youth Bible Days is still alive in Estonia. In the 1980s, there were often three hundred to four hundred participants in the Youth Bible Days. These gatherings, usually taking place in some Baptist Church in Tallinn, offered fellowship, spiritual guidance, and encouragement. They helped Baptist youth to relate better to the context of everyday life as Christians.

In spite of some new evangelism and spiritual enrichment efforts by the UECBE, the local churches' attempts to revive their outreach methods were predominantly restricted to church buildings. This is why personal evangelism was continuously an important vehicle for the gospel. While the leader of the UECBE, Robert Vosu strongly emphasized the importance of personal evangelism and the Christian lifestyle. His book Isiklik evangelism (Personal Evangelism) circulated as a typewritten manuscript among church members, and Vosu developed the theme of evangelism in many of his speeches.

In 1984, Billy Graham visited Estonia and preached in Oleviste Church, the historical building being packed with people; many well-known persons influential in Estonian cultural life were present at this evangelistic service. This event was meaningful as a mission opportunity, but it was also important as an event of spiritual encouragement, which was certainly symbolic for Baptist identity in Estonia. Baptists gained more publicity by Billy Graham's visit. In the 1970s and the 1980s, many of Billy Graham's books were translated into Estonian, even without any hope of publishing them officially. Elder Presbyter Robert Vosu admired Billy Graham's evangelism style, as well as his conservative and Christ-centered approach in doctrine and preaching.

The mission efforts of the UECBE did not take place in a vacuum or in a neutral environment. A certain tension always existed between evangelism efforts and a need to survive, avoiding too-severe sanctions from the state. Such was the case in the decision-making process to close down the Effattaa evenings in the Russian language in Oleviste Church. (45) The restrictions from the government also molded evangelistic methods, driving them towards personal and lifestyle evangelism, or keeping these efforts inside church walls. At the same time, the authorities were not able to control the whole range of creative outreach efforts. It is possible that in some cases, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, the authorities preferred to follow the course of events, only to interfere when the Christians' activity reached a critical point. When exactly the "critical point" was reached and the authorities took action often depended on the interpretation of some officials.

Search for Identity: Some Theological Discussions and Attempts to Give Theological Education

Both the relationship with the state and outreach efforts formed the identity of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia.

Joosep Tammo, the UECBE president 1992-98 and a long-time pastor in Parnu Immanuel Church, stated in 1989 that for the Evangelical Christian and Baptists Churches in Estonia, the central spirituality has been originally formed around the personal relationship with the Lord. Later, two emphases developed: some believers emphasized their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and others emphasized their relationship with the Holy Spirit. (46) However, a rather simple and straightforward understanding of the Bible, an emphasis on faith being effective in practical life, minimal attention to cultural activities, social work focusing on individuals, a search for fellowship, and the high role of strong leaders--these are some predominant characteristics of the UECBE. (47) This is generally true also today. Nevertheless, some of these characteristics are changing, or searching for new forms. For example, the role of leaders is gradually changing in a new situation of political freedom and democracy, the leaders' authority becoming less dependent on their formal position and much more on their personality and spiritual qualities.

Already, in the beginning years of the UECBE in the 1940s and the 1950s, the identity problems were raised. The Union was forced to face questions about theological priorities, especially in ecclesiology, as Baptists and Evangelical Christians Free Church members had different views on baptism and church membership. Also, the political context had a strong impact on the identity and priorities of the newly formed Union To search for a new identity in an officially atheistic society was an entirely new task for the members and the leadership of the UECBE. Many aspects are certainly worth analyzing in this respect, but only two of them will be dealt here in a more detailed way: different views on ecclesiology and the role of theological education in the process of searching for identity.

The Estonian Evangelical Christians Free Church did not require baptism by immersion as a prerequisite for church membership. In practice, it meant that many members of the Lutheran Church who had experienced new birth, could become church members in an Evangelical Christians Free Church on the basis of their infant baptism. If they asked for believer's baptism, they were baptized by immersion. The crucial point where the decision about the need of the believer's baptism was made, was in the individual believer's conscience not in the church's teaching or in the midst of believers' community. Also, the responsibility about this decision was more on the individual Christian and less on the local church or its leadership.

The theological discussions about baptism were an important issue in the meetings in Moscow in 1945. According to Johannes Laks, who represented the Evangelical Christians Free Church views in these meetings, the spirit of the meetings and method of treatment was "without any blame." (48) Realizing that this was an inevitable precondition for future cooperation, and after prayerful consideration, J. Laks agreed with the principle of believer's baptism as a requirement for church membership. Laks wrote:
 To those who had still remained on the basis of infant baptism the attitude
 must be respectful and one should try to convince them that they should let
 themselves to be baptized in faith, this was the solution and suggestion by
 Moscow brothers. (49)

It took years before the controversy about baptism and communion was settled in local churches, especially when the authorities managed to force churches of different theological views to form a new united local congregation. This was the case in Tallinn, when Oleviste Church was formed from eight free churches representing different historical traditions, and also in Parnu Immanuel Church. In the Tallinn Oleviste Church for a long time two communion services took place, one for former Evangelical Christians Free Church members and another for believers of Baptist principles. One can only imagine the severe disharmony between the biblical idea of the Lord's Supper and the practice of two separate communion services within one local church body. However, the leaders Oskar Olvik and Osvald Tark were committed to maintain fellowship, Christian unity, respect, and love. Oskar Olvik, himself keeping Evangelical Christians Free Church principles, was open-hearted enough to suggest baptism by immersion to a prospective church member. "If God has made it clear to you, then you have to be obedient to Him," (50) was Olvik's comment in this particular case. Gradually the difference was overcome.

Both Evangelical Christians and Baptists defined the future spirituality of the UECBE. Formally, the role and importance of these two movements was emphasized already in 1945 by the fact that the elder presbyter of the Union came from Baptist circles, and the deputy elder presbyter came from Evangelical Christians Free Church circles. (51) In 1947, Voldemar Nurk, former member of the Pentecostal church, was mentioned as an assistant to the elder presbyter, (52) but his role was never influential, and his presence at the Union office was temporary. The question remains: did the UECBE and its leadership pay enough attention to the spiritual and theological contributions that the Pentecostal and Revivalist Free Church traditions were able to offer?

In the course of time, the Baptist ecclesiological principles and practices became common, in spite of the fact that on the local level the worship service style or some other Christian views and practices could differ from local church to local church. The reasons for the vitality of Baptist theological emphasis are varied. No doubt, the pattern from Moscow was copied, at least to a certain extent. In addition to this, the Baptists were the only Free Church in Estonia that had given systematic theological education on the seminary level in the 1920s and 1930s. This is one reason why their doctrine proved to be more vital. Baptist pastors like Osvald Tairk and Robert Vosu played an important part in forming a theological picture of the UECBE. They were not only preachers, but also men of letters. Ability to express thoughts in a written form must not be underestimated. Unfortunately, the role and extent of the phenomenon of typewritten manuscripts as means of communicating religious ideas in the Soviet Estonia has not yet been studied properly.

The leaders of the UECBE had to deal with identity problems both from practical and theological aspects. One of the most detailed theological surveys about the Evangelical Christian and Baptist identity and principles was written by Osvald Tark at the beginning of the 1980s. (53) He pointed out the following aspects as central to the UECBE: the importance of the New Testament as foundation for churches' beliefs and practices, the principle of the believers' church, personal relationship with God and personal responsibility before God, the important role of baptism and communion as ordinances given by Christ, and religious freedom.

An important tool for the search for the identity of Estonian Baptists was theological education. In spite of the fact that the Baptists were forced to close their theological seminary in 1940 when the Soviet occupation began, theological education was still highly valued among Estonian Baptists. Baptists were the only Free Church in Estonia that had offered systematic theological education before the Second World War. The benefits of these efforts became visible after the "hard times" began: many of the graduates gave their life's work in Baptist churches during the 1940s to the 1980s.

The search for theological knowledge carried new tasks and aims in the changed situation. Gatherings for biblical training offered the possibility for fellowship, the exchange of information, and guidance in matters of behavior and teaching.

Already in 1950, the Elder Presbyter Johannes Lipstok in his letter to the Commissioner of the Religious Affairs asked permission to organize a brief theological course for presbyters. (54) The intended teachers were outstanding ECB leaders: Oskar Olvik, Osvald Tark, Robert Vosu, Johannes Lipstok, Johannes Laks, and Aleksander Sildos. Themes included pastors' personal qualities, preaching, and church administration, biblical knowledge including exegesis of Colossians, a survey of general church history, and history of the Union of Evangelical Christians Baptists in the Soviet Union. As the times required, four hours were intended to be spent on studying the Soviet Constitution, taught by Nikolai Levindanto who served as an AUCECB superintendent for the Baltic region. The present author has not found any evidence if the permission was given and if the course took place or not, but the effort itself shows the priorities the UECBE leaders had in these years.

In a little more "loosened" atmosphere of the first years of Nikita Khrushchev's reign, the UECBE took the initiative to start Theological Distance Courses for presbyters. In October 1956, the courses started in Tallinn with forty students. (55) The studies included a lot of independent work. Lecture sessions were organized systematically. The amount of study material and textbooks that were written, typed, and rotaprinted during these years, is phenomenal. Oskar Olvik, Osvald Tark, and Robert Vosu wrote more than twenty titles of theological textbooks, each approximately 100-150 pages of A4 format, single-spaced, typewritten text. The courses were intended to consist of two parts: a two-year basic course, plus another two years for advanced studies. However, only one person was able to fulfil the requirements of the four-year course. (56) Probably, the students found it hard to find time both for systematic studies and the demands of practical work and ministry.

The Distance Courses finished their activities in 1960 and were closed. According to Ulo Meriloo, the teachers were tired of the heavy workload. (57) However, with the beginning of Khrushchev's atheistic campaign at the end of the 1950s, the state authorities were interested in terminating the Distance Courses. In spite of the short term of its existence, an important effort had been made, and the experience the leaders and teachers of the Distance Courses proved valuable later even on the All-Union level. (58) In 1957-59, Distance Courses for Choir Conductors were organized in Tallinn. These courses were also planned for four years but were finished after two years of activities. (59)

When Robert Vosu became elder presbyter of the UECBE in 1970, one of his priorities was to give study opportunities for Christian workers. He organized the so-called Consultation Days in Tallinn for ECB presbyters. The Consultation Days took place once every month. The one-day program included lectures, questions and answers, and devotional times. Between 1973 and 1978, similar sessions were held also in Tartu. In the personal archive of Uudu Rips, a former presbyter in the town of Voru in the southern part of Estonia, there are lecture notes that indicate the scope of the lectures: from exegesis to principles of personal evangelism, from homiletics to doctrinal questions, from Baptist teachings to ecumenical work. Robert Vosu also shared information about Christian life outside the Soviet Union. (60) This broadened the perspective of those whose communication with "the world abroad" was restricted. It also gave them a stronger sense of belonging to a larger Baptist family. This type of studies did not end with any formal certificate; but as an informal means, it helped effectively to create an emotional sense of belonging together, to keep doctrinal balance and to give guidance in pastoral problems.

In 1979, three Estonian pastors (Joosep Tammo, Peeter Roosimaa, and Ermo Jurma). were sent to Theological Seminary in Buckow, GDR. Back in Estonia, all the three shared their "German" experiences and knowledge in their preaching and teaching ministry. Through their studies and personal contacts, they became an important link between Estonian and German Baptist spirituality. And again, it was Robert Vosu, who paved the way in the corridors of power to make this study opportunity possible for these future Christian leaders in Estonia.

Typewritten literature, (61) shared spiritual experiences, rare personal contacts with Christian leaders from outside Estonia, informal fellowships and study circles, (62) and the model given by Estonian elder presbyters and pastors, helped to develop and form the identity of Evangelical Christians and Baptists in Estonia.

In the Soviet years, the identity of the UECBE was formed in the context of atheistic society and political suppression. Probably some characteristic features of the Estonian Baptists even today (e.g., modest involvement in political and community life) are still inherited from the Soviet times. A survival-techniques-focused approach has shaped the identity and spirituality of the UECBE. In spite of the variety of beliefs and practices in the ECB churches in Estonia during the Soviet years, the Baptist ecclesiology became predominant over Evangelical Christians Free Church teachings, especially in the matters of baptism and communion. However, the Revivalist Free Church and Pentecostal traditions had some influence on the spirituality of UECBE. Certain tension between Christ-oriented and Spirit-oriented, or word-oriented and experience-oriented spirituality is still present in the UECBE. During the Soviet years, constant attempts were made to give theological training for pastors and active church members. The leaders of the UECBE were aware that theological education has a role in unifying the churches and forming the sense of identity both on the doctrinal and spirituality level.


The history of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia from 1945 until 1989 is a story of united Free Church people who joined efforts to continue their ministry in a context of atheistic restrictions in Estonia, one of the Baltic countries. The UECBE's survival techniques, outreach efforts, and search for identity should be seen as belonging together, having a mutual relationship and dynamic. Survival techniques that describe the Estonian Baptists' relationships with the state had an impact on outreach efforts and identity characteristics. At the same time, steps taken to preach the gospel or to become aware of the Evangelical Christian and Baptist identity took place in the framework of an atheistic society. However, the impact and influence between Baptist churches and the state was never only one-way. Baptists, as represented by their leaders, were able to gain some respect in the eyes of authorities, and in some cases, it was possible to expand the parameters of Christian influence and service. In many cases, nevertheless, the attempts to organize children's Sunday Schools or Christian youth camps, to give theological training, or to type Christian literature happened under the threat of possible sanctions from the authorities.

Two movements, the Baptists and the Evangelical Christians Free Church, entered in 1945 into the new situation of the Soviet era as rather strong Free Churches in Estonia. However, their theological emphases, especially in questions of baptism, communion, and church membership, did not coincide. In the process of theological development, Baptist ecclesiological principles became more widely accepted in local churches. Baptist theological views were effectively represented and taught by Osvald Tark and Robert Vosu, who expressed their doctrinal positions both in oral and written form. Attempts to give theological education, helped to shape the sense of unity and awareness of its own identity in the UECBE. Nevertheless, it should be noted that openness to some charismatic phenomena in some local ECB churches in Estonia has deep historical roots. Also the role of typewritten literature, especially in 1970s and 1980s, must not be underestimated in the process of searching for the ECB identity.

In 1988-89, a new phase arrived in the history of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Estonia. In an atmosphere of perestroika and emerging hopes for political freedom, new opportunities were opened for churches. A Baptist monthly magazine Teekaija (The Pilgrim) started again to be published on a regular basis, now as a printed publication. The Theological Seminary as a successor of Baptist Theological Seminary (1922-40) was reopened in 1989. Children's and youth work flourished. How ready was the Union for all these new opportunities? How effectively did the local ECB churches and the church members adjust to the changed situation? These are questions that still wait to be answered.

(1.) In this article, the term "Free Churches" or "Free Church movements" denotes evangelical denominations like Baptists, Evangelical Christians Free Church, Pentecostals, and Revivalist Free Churches (priikogudused). Revivalist Free Churches (priikogudused) with their spontaneous worship style and openness to the "leading of the Spirit" were born in the western part of Estonia during a spiritual revival in the 1870s and 1880s. In Estonian context, all the above-mentioned movements reject governmental affiliation and emphasize regeneration, personal sanctification, evangelism, authority of the Bible above tradition, the role of the laity in church life, and voluntary covenanting of believers.

(2.) For example, parts in Istorija evangel'skih christian-baptistov v SSSR (Moscow: AUCECB, 1989). See also Walter Sawatsky, Soviet Evangelicals Since World War II (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1981).

(3.) Ingmar Kurg, "Kristlikud uskkonnad ja organisatsioonid tanapaeva Eestis" in J. Gnadenteich, Kodumaa kirikulugu (Tallinn: Logos, 1995), 116.

(4.) Istorija evalgel'skih hristian-baptistov v SSSR, 234.

(5.) The delegation consisted of following: J. Lipstok and O. Tark represented Baptists, V. Nurk represented Pentecostals, and J. Laks represented Evangelical Christians Free Church.

(6.) Arpad Arder, Kus on Arpadi kuningas? ([Tallinn], Logos: 1992), 94.

(7.) Olaf Sild, Vello Salo, Luhike Eesti kirikulugu (Tartu, 1995), 152.

(8.) Interview with Uudu Rips (April 20, 2000).

(9.) Johannes Laks, Malestusi eluteelt ja toomaalt (Toronto: Toronto Vabakoguduse Kirjastus, 1965), 81.

(10.) Robert Vosu, EKB koguduste ajalugu (1959), 154.

(11.) Istorija evangel'skih christian-baptistov v SSSR, 232-33.

(12.) AUCECB periodical Bratskii Vestnik, published in Moscow in the Russian language, remained "a useless or unreached tool" for most of Estonian ECB church members and pastors, either because of the limited number of copies or because of the language barrier.

(13.) Statement by Alexei Bychkov, personal interview July 3, 2000.

(14.) Istorija evangel'skih hristjan-baptistov v SSSR, 194-96.

(15.) Robert Vosu, EKB koguduste ajalugu (1959), 154.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) The Director of the Elder Presbyter's Office of the UECBE to the Commissioner of Religious Affairs in the Estonian SSR (April 18, 1947), Theological Seminary Archives.

(18.) Annual Reports, 1961, 1971, 1981, 1990. The Archives of UECBE.

(19.) Riho Saard, "Eesti kirikute juhtivvaimulikkond labi aegade," Akadeemia 3 (1998): 612.

(20.) The same tendency can be seen continuously. The Union of Evangelical Christian and Baptist Churches of Estonia has a Baptist identity in the eyes of Estonian people.

(21.) This is convincingly shown in Indrek Jurjo's study about the relationships between Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the KGB. Indrek Jurjo, Pagulus ja Noukogude Eesti: Vaateid KGB, EKP ja VEKSA arhiividokumentide pohjal (Tallinn: Umara, 1996), 151-79. It should also be pointed out that during its history the Soviet Secret Service had many names, it became called the KGB only in 1954; in this article KGB is used as a general term for Soviet Secret Service.

(22.) H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 809-10.

(23.) Olaf Sild, Vello Salo, Luhike Eesti kirikulugu, 136.

(24.) See also ibid., 163.

(25.) In 1957, Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church was allowed to print its first publication since 1944, the EELC yearbook. However, most of copies were sent abroad, to give an impression that it is possible to publish Christian literature in Estonia. The next EELC yearbook was printed only in 1982. Riho Altnurme, "Die Estnische Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirhce in der Sowjetunion (bis 1964)" in Estland, Lettland und Westliches Christentum, ed. Siret Rutiku and Renhart Staats (Kiel: Friedrich Wittig Verlag, 1998), 243. In 1975, Evangeelsed Laulud (Evangelical Hymns), the hymnal for the UECBE was printed. According to R. Vosu the permission for printing the hymnal had been requested since 1947. R. Vosu to the Commissioner of Religious Affairs in the Estonian SSR (19.01.1970). Theological Seminary Archives.

(26.) The Elder Presbyter of UECBE to the Commissioner of Religious Affairs in the Estonian SSR (n.d.). Theological Seminary Archives. The letter was probably written in 1959.

(27.) Indrek Jurjo, Pagulus ja Noukogude Eesti, 161.

(28.) Interview with Uudu Rips (April 20, 2000).

(29.) Statement by Joosep Tammo, personal interview, July 10, 2000. Joosep Tammo worked in the office of the UECBE in the 1980s and was the president of the UECBE from 1992 to 1998.

(30.) Riho Altnurme, "Die Estnishe Evangelish-Lutherische Kirche in der Sovjetunion (bis 1964)" in Estland, Lettland und Westliches Christentum, 244-45.

(31.) Luhike ulevaade Johannes Kahri eluloost. Interview of Johannes Kahr to Tarmo Kahr. Manuscript (May 10, 1995). T. Pilli's personal archive.

(32.) Olaf Sild, Vello Salo, Luhike Eesti kirikulugu, 166.

(33.) Quoted in Jyrki Raitila, "History of Evangelicalism and the Present Spiritual Situation in Estonia" (master's thesis, Providence Theological Seminary, 1996), 41.

(34.) Teekaija, 7/8 (1940): 12.

(35.) Jyrki Raitila, History of Evangelicalism and the Present Spiritual Situation in Estonia, 44.

(36.) Ibid.

(37.) According to Veronika Arder, who was active in music ministry in Tallinn Oleviste Church and in Rakvere Karmel Church, the authorities made an attempt to forbid solo songs and instrumental music in churches (except organ music) at the end of the 1950s. However, this period lasted only a short time. Obviously, the power of music was stronger than atheistic bureaucracy. Veronika Arder, "Muusikatoo voimalused Olevistes," manuscript (n.d.), 6. A copy in T. Pilli's personal archive.

(38.) H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 809.

(39.) Jyrki Raitila, History of Evangelicalism and the Present Spiritual Situation in Estonia, 45. 40. The fact that not only the state had an impact on churches, but the churches, too, were able to have an impact on the authorities, has been pointed out by Joosep Tammo to the present author. Tammo remembered how in the first years of regained Estonian freedom, the former Commissioner of Religious Affairs Kalju Oja payed a courtesy visit to the office of the UECBE in Tallinn. Tammo interpreted it as a sign of deep respect and good will. "When Oja became the Commissioner, he was known as a `fighting atheist,' and brothers expected hard times for Churches. In reality, these `hard times' did not come," said Tammo. This was, at least partly, due to the respectful relationships the elder presbyter had with the commissioner. Statement by Joosep Tammo to Toivo Pilli, personal interview, July 10, 2000)

(41.) Haljand Uuemois, "Effattaa-arkamine," Manuscript (n.d.), 1. A copy in T. Pilli's personal archive.

(42.) Ibid.

(43.) Ibid., 4.

(44.) Minutes, Presbyters' Council of the UECBE, May 23, 1979. The Archives of ECBUE.

(45.) Haljand Uuemois, "Effattaa-arkamine," 4.

(46.) Joosep Tammo, Keskoo on paeva algus. Jutlused (Tallinn: Eesti EKB Liit, 1998), 31.

(47.) Ibid.

(48.) Johannes Laks, Malestusi eluteelt ja toomaalt, 81.

(49.) Ibid., 82.

(50.) Arpad Arder, Kus on Arpadi kuningas, 86.

(51.) Johannes Laks, Malestusi eluteeltja toomaalt, 82.

(52.) J. Lipstok to the Commissioner of Religious Affairs in the Estonian SSR (April, 11, 1947). Theological Seminary Archives. Lipstok informed the commissioner that the registration process of Antsla ECB Church has been delayed because Voldemar Nurk had not checked the data. Lipstok had reprimanded Nurk.

(53.) Logos 1 (1981), 1-4 (1982), 1-2 (1983).

(54.) The Elder Presbyter of the UECBE to the Commissioner of Religious Affairs in the Estonian SSR (January 13, 1950). Theological Seminary Archives. The course was planned to take place March 110, 1950.

(55.) Decree of the Elder Presbyter of ECB in the Estonian SSR, no. 187 (October 30, 1956). Theological Seminary Archives.

(56.) Issanda aednik. Markmeid Paul Himma elust. Compiled by Uudu Rips (Tartu: Saalemi Baptisti Kogudus, 2000), 25.

(57.) Telephone interview with Ulo Meriloo (June 8, 2000). Meriloo was a student in the courses, 1985-92; later, the elder presbyter of the UECBE.

(58.) In Moscow, on the level of AUCECB, Distance Courses for Biblical Studies were started only in February 1968. In April 1967, Osvald Tark from Estonia, took part in a meeting for preparing the courses. Tark held a discussion about the Word of God and Christian Calling, and gave advice about theological studies. Istorija evangel'skih hristjan-baptistov v SSSR, 269.

(59.) Marika Kahar, Muusikakursused Oleviste kirikus. Manuscript (n.d.), 1. A copy in T Pilli's personal archive.

(60.) Lecture notes 1973-1978. Personal archive of Uudu Rips.

(61.) Besides original works and translated volumes, Baptists made attempts systematically to publish typewritten collections of articles or "publications" that resembled Christian journals. For example, the typewritten publication Logos appeared six numbers a year 1981-88. In the 1970s and 1980s, a collection of philosophical, theological, and cultural texts were collected in several volumes under the title Lectio.

(62.) For example, so-called Haraka Instituut in Parnu. This was an informal group of young men with intellectual and theological interests in the 1970s. "Haraka" is the street name where the initiator of this fellowship, Josep Tammo, used to live. Later, a similar fellowship gathered also in the university town, Tartu.

Toivo Pilli is professor of Estonian church history, Theological Seminary of the Union of Evangelical Christian and Baptist Churches of Estonia, Tartu, Estonia.
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Author:Pilli, Toivo
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Geographic Code:4EXES
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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