Monday, August 3, 2009

Well, Burst My Bubble: the Molokans Were Heretics!

Bummer for them.

I have always been fascinated by the obscure Eastern European sects of antiquity that broke off from the mainstream Orthodox Church in days gone by, if only for learning where they were correct in confronting the unbiblical practices of the dominant Church (such as the use of icons; the priesthood). Similarly, it's a lesson in the importance of orthodoxy (small "o") when examining where these groups went off the rails theologically. (The First Council of Nicea was kinda important, but might not have ever happened if Constantine had towed the line!)

Some years ago, I was reading an historical Christian fiction series set in 19th century Georgia and Armenia. The series cast the breakaway sect of the Molokans (in Russian, "молокане") as the spiritual protagonists, against the backdrop of the Big Bad Orthodox Cossack soldiers. I was intrigued by the group, who appeared to be a Slavic version of the Amish. The book claimed they were called "Milk Drinkers" because they drank no alcohol (I recently learned it was because they deliberately drank milk on the Orthodox fasting days, just to rile the clergy up).

Whatever the reason, they seemed like upstanding biblical Christian folks (and besides, milk builds strong bones and teeth).

There is not too much information written on the Molokans, although my Bulgarian pastor has an aquaintence in academia who is listed as the formost expert on the Molokans in the world. There are several thousand living in the San Fransisco area, and a few more thousand spread around the West Coast. Recently, I found a tiny group on Facebook (which I joined, just for fun) and found an extremely informative blog written by a former Molokan....who is now a born-again Christian.

Come again??

Turns out, (and there is some debate about this), this group of in-your-face Bible thumpers rejects the Trinity. Oops. That's a big one right there. Old Testament dietary restrictions are in full effect -- as are the "sign gifts" believed to be bestowed in a select few. Those with the "gift" are supposed to jump up and spontaneously prophecy at their meetings. "The Book of Spirit and Life", written by a 19th century Molokan "prophet", is given pre-eminence along with the Bible. Outside Christians are not welcomed as part of the Body, and the Molokans reject both baptism and Communion. While they are pacifists like the Mennonites, their roots are not Anabaptist as I had previously assumed. Evidently, they themselves claim descent from the "Paulician" sect of Armenia.

This is not a spiritual pedigree one would want to flaunt, I'm afraid. The "Paul" was not the Apostle Paul; rather, an Armenian bishop combined dualistic and Christian doctrines and thought he was re-inventing "the doctrines of Paul". According to Gregory Magistos, writing in 1058 AD, the Paulicians did not recognize persons of other communions as belonging to the churches. "We do not belong to these," they said. "They have long ago broken connection with the church and have been excluded." There you have it - a medieval cult. (The history is a long and fascinating one, but the bottom line is that it was a heretical group.)

The Bogomils, the other group which descended from this early sect, is one with which I am much more familiar. They were a formidible cult in Bulgaria between the 10th and 14th century - a neo-gnostic sect which had a dualistic belief in God, also rejected the Trinity, as well as the Creed and a good portion of the Bible. Although they rejected the mandatory Orthodox fasts, they were ascetics and had some other strange stuff going on. Some, tracing the Protestant movement in Bulgaria, have linked John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (early Protestant Reformers) to the movement, although historically and doctrinally there is no connection whatsoever. (When editing Pastor Hristo's book last winter, I added a paragraph explaining the Bogomil belief system and why it was heretical - as I explained to him, the average English speaker has never heard of the Bogomils and might erroneously assume they were proto-protestants). Much like the Cathars of medieval France, these sects grew and splintered - tossed to and fro without the benefit of solid, biblical teaching.

Unfortunately, it turns out the Molokans - for all their noble and godly outward appearances - are essentially in the same category as the Cathars, the Bogomils, and their spiritual ancestors. Satan isn't particularly creative with inventing new heresies - he just keeps repackaging the same old ones in a new form every few centuries.

I'm sure no-one else cares about obscure Russian psuedo-Christian splinter groups, but I'm kind of disappointed. I wonder if Tolstoy was a Molokan....


Barbara said...

It is indeed tragic that so many people groups have lived under the veil thinking that they know God and yet deceived, without having heard/known/been transformed by the true Gospel and without having known the fullness of joy and peace in Christ that they may fully glorify Him and spread His name. For surely our battle is not against flesh and blood...

John. L said...

Wow!!! As a former Molokan I found your article very interesting. Actually many Molokans believe in the Trinity, but unfortunately many do not. My memories of being a Molokan included lot's of beer drinking and going to a "church" that spoke a language I could not understand. I am now an Evangelical Christian that loves Christ. I love the Triune God!!!

thanks for your article