by Imre Szőke.
I bring you greetings 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 in Philadelphia 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 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!
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.
Beside 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.
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.
The growth of our church is not 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.
Our desire is to have spiritual connection with an organization abroad which is very faithful to the Word of God and to the Reformed Confessions. That is why I am here. We are alone in Hungary and need encouragement. We hope that in the future we can be a part of this bigger Reformed family.
Thank you for listening so well; May the Lord bless you richly.