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Trips

Serbia September 2015

Undisclosed Location September 25 - October 3, 2015

Within the Baptist Union of Serbia, the Baptist Theological School has been operating since 1939. However, with the chaos of the Balkan wars and changing country geographies, the school has undergone much upheaval. The Serbian Baptist Union, in strong cooperation with TLI, is working to rebuild the spiritual legacy of the Baptists in the former Yugoslav countries. This can only be accomplished through rigorous teaching and high standards of theological education. The desire and goal is to see the struggling fruit of Evangelicalism start to grow again in this hungry and gospel-needy area.

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Field Notes   Serbia September 2015

Jan  18th,  2016RIGHT OR LEFT?

JONAH 4:11

“AND SHOULD I NOT HAVE CONCERN FOR THE GREAT CITY OF NINEVEH, IN WHICH THERE ARE MORE THAN A HUNDRED AND TWENTY THOUSAND PEOPLE WHO CANNOT TELL THEIR RIGHT HAND FROM THEIR LEFT—AND ALSO MANY ANIMALS?”

We’ve just finished the first official module of the new Theological College in Serbia, the culmination of more than three years of work. There is much to analyze and review now, but witnessing the effect of good teaching was enough to show us that the Lord has given us a great blessing. The students are excited and eager, and have even started a Facebook private group to discuss these things. This is nothing like they’ve ever experienced before. The goals of the group are impressive.  Here is what was posted on Facebook by a student:     

– To gather students of the generation 2015 on one place for to have better communication with each other     

– To exchange information, ideas, scripts, materials: all what can be on blessing to each person in it     

– To help students when in trouble, to support one another: through advices, shared honest announcements    etc.     

– To gather students around Jesus Christ, so we could all together glorify with our works His name.     

If any of you have to add any goal, is free to do it.      Each one of us matters, and word of each one should be respected equally.      And, let me remind you what we are gather and what we should always have on our mind:          

  • SOLA SCRIPTURA – BY SCRIPTURE ALONE
  • SOLA FIDE – BY FAITH ALONE
  • SOLA GRATIA – BY GRACE ALONE
  • SOLUS CHRISTUS – THROUGH CHRIST ALONE
  • SOLI DEO GLORIA – GLORY TO GOD ALONE     

May God bless you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Specifically, students were taught Hermeneutics by Philemon Yong and Systematic Theology I by Matthew Henry. Feedback is still coming in, but a quote by one student captures it – “never again will anyone in here think that studying the Bible is simple.” We intended for this to be a challenge and it was. People are not trained in churches to think and search the scriptures. Leaders are often more interested in self-promotion and personal kingdom-building than shepherding the church. The students got a glimpse into what being a Christian leader should be like. They are anxious for more.  (For a good overview of this, please see this short video – HERE)

Opening a “school” sounds very academic, cerebral and maybe even sterile. It felt like a warzone, because we are in a very deep spiritual war for the country and for these students. It’s said that the number of Evangelicals in Serbia is about 5000 out of 7.5 million, which alone is abysmal. However, the number of people who are genuinely born-again is far, far less. It sometimes feels that it’s almost none. This makes it difficult not only when working with professing Christians, but also when trying to build a school for Christian leaders.

 

The first week of school visibly reinforced the astounding need here.

By God’s grace, we had 20 students who registered. These are people with real lives – it’s no longer just something on paper. Most of these young people have no theological knowledge. There are misunderstandings and errors about the resurrection of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, loss of salvation, the Trinity, legalism, Spiritism and superstition. We discovered a lack of ability for many to analyze a sentence/passage and to grasp the main point and supporting points. Some of these students are Pastors. Because of the entrenched relationship and influence of the Orthodox Church, students have tendencies toward the mystical – seeking deeper meanings in a passage rather than understanding what the author intended to communicate. Their backgrounds and family lives are often a mess. They have emotional problems, doubt, grief and turmoil, with little to no one to help and lead them. The local church leaders aren’t trained and often have little help to offer. In a thought, the people in Serbia – the professing Christians – are confused and wandering when it comes to their knowledge of God. It is a real-life picture of a people who don’t know their right hand from their left spiritually speaking. But the Lord has sovereignly caused them to be where they are – studying His Word at this school.

If this is the case in Serbia with the Christian community, then is the goal of this school training or evangelism? Seminaries in the U.S. have the goal of training Christian leaders. They also have the luxury of demanding that students present a credible profession of faith. This was our goal too, but we realized that reality was different here. A few students have credible testimonies but many do not. We ask for Christians, but what exactly a Christian is frequently is not understood. We have to take students at their profession, with the constant idea that we need to speak to their souls and not just their minds. The reality of Christ in their lives is incomprehensible to many. As an example, Philemon asked the students to write down why they doubted their salvation. In Serbia, nobody admits sin because others would take it to mean they are unconverted. Noting the slight hesitation, I asked Philemon in front of the class if he was assuming that the students had doubt. He answered that he was, because he himself sometimes had doubts. This opened up the students to be transparent, and many doubts poured out. They wrote pages, and revealed much. One student was chosen to come to BTS by his Baptist pastor simply because the Pastor wanted a successor, and chose this boy who admitted to being an unbeliever. The Pastors in the villages here don’t differentiate between a profession and the reality of Christianity, and often don’t even ask for professions. So in the end, we had to make a choice but that choice was not hard – we either dismiss the students we felt were not converted and turn them back into the spiritual darkness here, focusing only on the “good ones”, or we assimilate them, acknowledging the problem, being true to their souls and praying for conversion.

What does having a school here offer them? Is it being offered already? Aside from Orthodox and Adventist Seminaries in Belgrade, there are only three other examples of theological schools in Serbia. One is a home for needy students that houses as well as teaches basic bible to mostly minority groups. They allow any teachers whatsoever to teach, and must lower all the teaching to primary school level. Sadly, they tell their graduates after a year that they are fully equipped to be Pastors and need no other education. These students leave unable to form complete sentences or write a paragraph on theology. Another school was started by a man who was cast out of the Baptist School for unethical and heretical practices. It offers degrees in comparative religion without distinguishing between them salvifically. Finally, there is a basic school in the south of Serbia run by Baptists which we have partnered with. The level of education is lower, and the students constantly change from day to day. However, it’s the closest thing to good teaching here outside of BTS. After one week, students told us that they have never experienced the environment or teaching that BTS offered.

Practically, these students have not been in a school situation like this. In the very way it’s conducted, it’s different than anything they’ve experienced. They often don’t understand how to take notes properly, how to take quizzes, and other things. Additionally, Serbia has a shallow theological lexicon. There are simply no words for many things, like accountability, propitiation, obedience and modesty like we think of these words. This is why there are so very few theological books published in Serbian, and why it is of the most importance that we provide them a syllabus in Serbian. Unlike the West, they cannot get books here unless they are brought in by outsiders, and these are in English which is not understood by many. For the most part, only pop-Christian books by people such as Osteen and Myer are published in Serbian. There is little of textbook quality available.

Imagine going to a Bible college in the States where the syllabi are handed out in Serbian, no books are available in English, you’ve never even seen someone taking notes on what they thought was important and tests are given repeatedly until you finally pass. You would either become despondent or think that theological education was something impractical to life. Either way, you would leave uneducated.

These students left with knowledge they’ve never had about basic truths, a glimpse that God is deeper than they ever imagined, and the conviction that biblical education isn’t easy or casual. They received books donated by Matthew Henry’s church, and syllabi translated into Serbian. We desperately need teachers who will speak to them not just intellectually, but spiritually. This is absolutely bigger than our current resources. The road for good Theological Education here will be more difficult than we imagined, but we weren’t promised it would be easy. Things are very different here and no model fits, but we don’t expect to apply a “successfully proven model” here in such an environment.

The beginning of the Baptist Theological School was strong and overwhelming to everyone. This was necessary, to set the standard and raise the bar beyond what anyone has experienced in Serbia. We accomplished our goal. The students expected it, as I have been promising it to churches as I’ve spoken and preached. Others are looking to us also. We won’t see the ultimate fruit of our labors because Serbia will take a generation to get back on a solid, discerning theological path. But we want to be as faithful as Paul in Acts 20, and despite a seemingly constant assortment of barriers, the Lord has seen fit to give us a Bible School in Serbia. We are humbled and grateful for His mercy to us.

 

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