PRESENTING OUR WORK

by Imre Szőke.
Dear Brothers, 

I bring you greetings (again) in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Session and members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe.

Let me say first that it is a great privilege for me to be here among people who really care and stand for the Reformed Faith. This is not only a polite statement; I can assure you that for me and the church which I represent it is a wonderful occasion to meet with people whose heart is really burning for the gospel of grace. It gives me joy to see so many brothers who believe the same things we believe. It helps me realize that we are not alone in this struggle for the precious Reformed faith.

I was told to talk here a little bit about our work and present our various ministries in Hungary and the adjoining Hungarian lands. Let me begin my presentation with some geographical and historical data, then I will turn to our work. Let me tell you right at the beginning, that I would like also to give you the opportunity to ask some questions at the end of this session.

I have come from Miskolc, Hungary. Miskolc is the third largest city in our country, the place where our seminary and the headquarters of our church is located. Our school is called the Károlyi Gáspár Institute of Theology and Missions. It is named after Károlyi Gáspár, the greatest of Hungary’s 16th century reformers. Yes, the Reformation came to our country. Many people in the West do not know this. In fact, it came in a mighty way. At one point, 80% of our country went over to the Reformation. Then came the counter-reformation. It was brutal and efficient and succeeded in wiping out all but 20% of our church. The Lord blessed that 20%, however, for the next 200 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, we experienced something worse than the counter-reformation of the Jesuits. It was the higher criticism of the Bible, and it came primarily from Germany, the country which God first used to give us the gospel.

By the year 1930 our church, the Hungarian Reformed Church, was very sick and dying–just as mainline denominations in this country were sick and dying. We were, in fact, in a worse condition. For although there were some in our church who saw what was happening and tried to uphold the Bible, no one had the courage to put their lives on the line in the way that men like J. Gresham Machen in this country did. So there was no Biblical separation when there should have been. After that came World War 2 and Communism, but by that time our church had already fallen spiritually. It was easy for the Communists to control the church and make it a propaganda machine for themselves. Yes, there were some martyrs among the pastors, but most of them either became collaborators or compromised the faith. By 1990 little was left for us but a beautiful history from the time of Luther and Calvin to the beginning of the 20th century. Our church could only be described as thoroughly liberal, ecumenical, and led by a hierarchy of bishops.

But in 1990 the Lord raised up some dear brothers in the United States who came to my country with a vision to establish a school like Westminster Theological Seminary here. They realized that all the seminaries of our church were liberal and controlled by the bishops. They knew this because the same teachers who once praised the Communist regime continued on as the professors of our so-called new seminaries. In 1992, the Lord helped them begin a new school. I was a student that first year. Although I was unconverted at that time, the Lord, in a wonderful way, drew me to that school and to the truth of the gospel. For the next five years, this American mission not only tried to teach us the Word of God; it tried to find an opening for us to work within the Hungarian Reformed Church. Because of our theological convictions and our testimony, however, the bishops kept frustrating the mission’s effort to work within the church. Finally, in March of 1997, our seminary and our students were all expelled from the Hungarian Reformed Church. We were stunned, but we also realized that this was God’s way for us to begin to build a new church, a new testimony in the Hungarian lands of Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. It was God’s way of helping us build a church that would not only be faithful in preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments and maintaining discipline, but also be an instrument of Him in fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ throughout the world.

And, so, our seminary and our church are committed first to Jesus Christ as Lord and only Savior, then to the Bible as God’s holy, inerrant Word. In doctrine and theology, our church holds firmly to the Bible as summarized in the Second Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. These are the historic standards of the Hungarian Reformed Church. And because our mother church was always weak in this matter of church government, we decided to adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith as well and include the name “Presbyterian” in the name of our church. And so we are named the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe. Obviously, we have no bishops!

At the seminary our primary focus is on the preparation and training of students for the gospel ministry. But we also give a high priority to making provision for daily, personal holiness and spiritual growth. This is encouraged through spending time in private devotions and following a Bible reading plan. In addition, evening devotions offer scope for the students to minister to one another, as well as being opportunities for preaching practice.

The students are able to make use of their learning through weekend ministries. Thus, in practice the program of the Institute consists of two parts. There is intensive study from mid-day Monday to Thursday afternoon. This is followed by mission work from Friday until mid-day Monday. This generally means a lot of traveling to Transylvania (Western Romania) or Carpathian Ukraine, but our students carry this out faithfully. Along with this work they also find time for visitation of families and tract distribution. We had seven students preparing for ministry this academic year, two of whom completed their studies two weeks ago.

Now let us turn to our graduates. Our 16 graduates are working as evangelists and church planters among Hungarian speaking people in three countries: Hungary, Western Romania and Carpathian Ukraine with good potential to start a new work in Slovakia. We have meetings in 24 locations in these countries. Of these, 18 are small congregations where we have regular worship services on the Lord’s Day. Our goal is to have self-supporting, Bible believing churches — Reformed in doctrine and Presbyterian in government — established in these places. It may be normal for you to have churches functioning in this way, but in our land the churches are state supported and a credible profession of faith is not required from the membership. The Confessions are still there, but they are only historical documents; they are no longer normative.

They had to start everything from zero, they had to face the prejudices of the people. You know, in Hungary the people are accustomed to having three or four historical churches. Everything else is a cult, a sect. The people have a completely erronous view of authority. What their priest or their pastors say, that is unquestionable. You can show them the Bible or the Confessions – they will not care. You can show them their own Confession. The principle of Sola Scriptura has been forgotten.

The opposition from the State Church (HRC) comes in various ways. They call us fundamentalists, schismatics, counter reformers and mercenaries. Everything is in their hands: TV programs, newspapers, radios. They have strong connections with the government. They are trying to isolate us. When they are attacking us we do not have the means to respond. Once when we were attacked they did not want to print our response, so we had to send out our response by mail to 2000 pastors. Also the HRC has some very strong lobbying groups over here, which are trying to present a very vivid and positive picture about her. This is why we see, even in the States evangelical Reformed churches who want to work with this system rather than to give their resources toward the building of congregations which meet the holy requirements of God’s Word. And this is sad. Sometimes I have the feeling that some people over here just simply do not want to see the facts. They have a double standard. They might be very conservative at home (here in the States) but then on the foreign mission fields, they are working with everybody. They do not want to see, or recognize, the modernism, liberalism, ecumenicalism and that nominal Christianity. This is sad.

But we face another kind of opposition, also very sad. Opposition from those few believers who are compromising within the church. Our very existence is a kind of judgement for them. They are ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of peace and unity–even the truth of God’s Word. They are hoping to reform the church within, but they are forgetting that they are a tiny minority and the liberals are in key positions. But we pray that God will give them wisdom, and sooner or latter, they will become consistent and will separate themselves from unbelief.

In this context it is a blessed experience to see some fruit. As an example, two weeks ago we were in Ukraine for a regular teaching day. At the same time we examined 6 people who wanted to became members of our church. It was very touching to see a lady who has cancer (she already has methastasis on several organs, and probably has less than a year to live) give her testimony which was so sincere and peaceful. And she has a clear understanding of the doctrines of grace.  She knew that she had reached the harbor before the final storm breaks out.

Besides training students and planting churches we try to focus on Christian publications. This is also a top priority since most Christian literature has been heavily influenced by German liberal theology. We used to say we have two good books in Hungarian: the Bible and Calvin’s Institutes. But now, by God’s grace, we have managed to publish the Westminster Confession, Arthur Pink’s book on the Sovereignty of God and a booklet by Martyn Lloyd–Jones. In about two months Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism will be published. In the near future we are planning to have four more books published: a book by Richard Bennett on Roman Catholicism, a book by Peter Masters on the Charismatic Movement, a book by C.H. Spurgeon and one by Jay Adams.

It is worth mentioning in connection with our ministry the magazine of our Institute, The Narrow Way, which comes out once every two or three months. This is distributed primarily within our congregations, but also to outsiders who have been showing interest. Thus far it has proved to be a very useful instrument in the spread of the Gospel.

One other aspect of our ministry is our work with youth. This manifests itself in our summer camps and youth conferences which are held during the year. Also we have a real interest in Christian education, especially homeschooling. We do not have good Christian schools (the so called Christian schools have a secular curriculum, then add one or two hours of liberal religion lectures per week). Therefore we do not want our covenant children trained in the state schools. But you see, this is a big project and we really need to work hard if we want to see results.

The growth of our church and of the work is not so spectacular, but our main desire is not great numbers, rather faithfulness to God in proclaiming his whole counsel. Our message is not popular and has many opponents. However, we believe that God will bless our longing for purity, sound doctrine and a born again membership. We hope that, by His grace, he will bless our efforts to build a church according to his Word and in which he is really glorified.

At the end of my brief presentation I should mention that we consider it very beneficial to develop relationships with like-minded bretheren abroad. We need these contacts. Until now we had the privilege of sending our delegates once to the Banner of Truth Ministers Conference held in England in 1999, then I had the opportunity to attend the School of Theology organized by Metropolitan Tabernacle last year in London and this year I am representing our Session and Church at The International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) held in Philadelphia at the Westminster Seminary.

Thank you for listening so well; May the Lord bless you richly.

If you have any questions I am ready to answer them.

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