During the week of youth meetings at the school and church, he and I had several interesting discussions about Christian colleges, evangelism, and fundamentalism. One of the most interesting conversations had to do with his visits to Russia in the early 90’s. You’ve heard of the registered and unregistered churches in Russia, right? Until this conversation, I always thought the registered churches were the compromisers while the others were the faithful few. According to Dr. Duffy, that isn’t necessarily true. Registration with the government was a voluntary thing at the beginning which later turned into a tool for government control. So, many of the pastors of registered churches later disobeyed the government’s demands and spent time in jail for their faithfulness.
Some fifteen years after the registration process was implemented, a group representing about 600 pastors came to the government to agree to registration as long as there would be no control over what they preached. Astoundingly, the government agreed to this. These pastors formed a group called the Autonomous Registered Churches which in Dr. Duffy’s opinion is the best of the three groups.
He met one of these pastors during his visit to Russia. The man in charge of the trip almost cancelled a visit to a particular church because it had been verified that the pastor had been part of a Billy Graham crusade in Russia. Thankfully, the pastor convinced the visiting group to meet with him before cancelling the meeting. During that meeting, they found out that the pastor had not been promoting the meeting but had just visited it. Up until that point, the pastor had never heard of Graham and was curious as to who he was. Dr. Duffy learned from this situation that one must be slow to judge these pastors until the whole situation is known. They know so much less about current religious trends than we do.
It was also at this meeting that the group learned about the Autonomous Registered Churches. Apparently, this group is the best of the three mentioned above. The unregistered churches did take a stand against the government, but they also had some strange beliefs and practices. Besides the men greeting one another with a kiss on the lips (Duffy says you learn to put your hand out for a shake rather quickly after the first “kiss”), the unregistered churches send all their offering money to the seven apostles which oversee all the unregistered churches in Russia. Dr. Duffy likened that to a Roman Catholic hierarchical structure.
From his visits to Russia, he came to an important conclusion. When judging a particular pastor or church, one must look at the direction their feet are pointing. (This was suggested to him by Fred Moritz of Baptist World Mission.) You might be able to work with a pastor who is moving in the right direction. But it would be problematic to work with someone moving in the wrong direction. For example, a fundamentalist pastor could work with a GARBC church which recognizes the problems and is seeking to move away from the error. Their feet are pointed in the right direction. But the same fundamentalist pastor would have difficulty working with a fundamental church which is promoting new evangelicalism. They might be presently in a right position, but their direction is opposite of what is right.
As I said, before, the time with Dr. Duffy was beneficial to me. I enjoyed the opportunity to bounce questions off someone who is both older, wiser, and more experienced in the ministry than I am. In the near future, I hope to publish a short interview from questions I asked him about his ministry. Stay tuned.