The picture would have been impossible to imagine for the two men before.
When I was granted a Top Secret clearance under the Naval Security Group, part of the National Security Agency, it would have been (spiritually as well as practically) delusional to think that one day I would be a pastor serving a system of seminaries preparing other pastors. I was an American spy—in military intelligence—trained to “listen in” (literally) to a former Soviet block country.
The Rev. Dr. Sasha Tsutserov, a former KGB agent, spying on American missionaries, and now Director of Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary, equally, had no idea that he would, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet empire crumbled, discover a new life as a believer and then as a pastor who served a seminary to prepare other evangelical pastors. Yet as I was beginning my ministry, my former adversary, Dr. Tsutserov, was being converted to evangelical Christianity by those he spied upon. He would soon be studying for his Ph.D. at St. Andrews University (at the same time as Prince William and the future Duchess of Cambridge were there, which caused him to remark, “This may have been a little uncomfortable for the British MI6“). After obtaining his doctorate he returned to Russia with a vision to advance the Gospel he once sought to destroy.
Now, Dr. Tsutserov, as an ordained evangelical minister, expresses his vision by leading one of the largest seminaries in Russia. As I now serve as the next Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, our unlikely paths converging in my study seemed surreal, except that this is just the way the Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to work. Paradoxes and transformations like this are but ordinary reflections of the powerful pattern of the Cross of Jesus Christ at work in the world. But I have to tell you—when it happens it is still breathtaking. That God would bring two former top-secret antagonists together as Gospel allies in the Kingdom of God is just the way the Lord brings honor and glory to Himself and proves that the Kingdom of God is greater than all other realms and is, in fact, a Gospel conspiracy at work in the world today.
I learned more. Sasha told me that from 1917 until 1997, the Soviet Communist empire was responsible for the murder of more than 200,000 pastors, seminary presidents, professors, missionaries and other Christian leaders. They imprisoned more than 500,000 others, many in unspeakably cruel conditions. Thus, the seminary is now seeking to offer a new generation of Christian leaders for the growing evangelical church in Russia. Sasha is seeking God in prayer to replenish his nation with a new generation of pastors and I am seeking His presence and power to revitalize our nation with a new generation of pastors. We want to work together in some way, giving expression to the unity of Christ in the world. I pray that we can. We need to learn so much from the Russian Christians who have suffered. Maybe we can share some things too.
As we talked, we learned that we were also both orphans. We are both musicians (he a real one as a classically trained violinist, and I as, well, a Martin guitar picker). And of course we were both top-secret linguists and agents for our respective nations. Yet both of us were called out of that life, not to yet another SIS mission, like in the John le Carré novel, but to Christ’s Gospel mission. The author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy characterized his main character, George Smiley, as “one of the meek who doesn’t inherit the Earth.” I don’t know how meek these two old spies are, but we do fully expect King Jesus to inherit the earth. That is what we work for now.
Our two-hour meeting, remembering what was and dreaming of what could be, concluded with a thought that was so obvious I had to say it:
“We were once enemies. We are now brothers, in the Lord, in the pastoral ministry, in seminary leadership, and in our united desire to bring reconciliation to the world.”
Dr. Tsutserov smiled. Our mission, however, is “no secret anymore.”
- Ligon Duncan elected to regular faculty of Reformed Seminary while continuing in the pastorate. (theaquilareport.com)
- Appointment of Dr. Ligon Duncan to Chair of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS Furthers Gospel Vision (michaelmilton.org)
- Another Thing We Do Badly (Carl Trueman) (reformation21.org)
- The Secret Life of a Pastor: Paul’s Passionate Vision of the Pastoral Ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 (michaelmilton.org)
- Revitalising Your Pastoral Life! (Carl Trueman) (reformation21.org)
- A Charge to the Rev. James Carter: On the occasion of his installation as Senior Pastor of New Presbyterian Church, Pompano Beach, Florida – Sunday, October 9, 2011 (michaelmilton.org)
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- Dr. Ligon Duncan Elected to Regular Faculty of RTS While Continuing the Pastorate (faithinspires.wordpress.com)
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