In the 20th century, Eastern Europe , including the Hungarian lands, faced a very sad period of its history. In the first half of the century, it was the scene for the world’s “great powers” fighting. It had no time to recover because, right after this, it was conquered by the tyranny of Communism. These events greatly affected the destiny of the churches of these countries.
Communism, among many other sad things, meant total control by the atheist authorities over everything. The larger, official churches could take steps and make decisions only with the permission of the Communist state police. Only those who assured the Communist authorities of their submission and obedience to them could fulfill key roles in the church. The Communists forced the smaller denominations into one religious union. Eventually those churches were closed and their buildings were confiscated.
Besides this, in the Reformed churches of the Hungarian lands, liberalism and Barthianism had already found good ground and started to bear its fruit – well before Communism came upon the scene. Standards were forgotten; the church died within; and Communism had only a house of straw to blow down. Of course, God had his people in these countries during those dark years, too, but they had to hide from the authorities. They were jailed, and many of them were put to death. The few faithful pastors who remained became the special targets of the Communist system.
After the fall of Communism, freedom theoretically arrived in these countries, but there were few who could take advantage of it. In the Hungaran Reformed Church, for example, the key positions generally continued to be held by those who had collaborated with the Communists and were still committed to liberalism. The teachers in the theological seminaries remained almost entirely the same. In fact, very few born-again, gospel-preaching pastors even existed within the state church.
During the years of Communism, many Christians in western countries were praying for the spiritual liberation of Eastern Europe . The fall of Communism created an unbelievable opportunity in the former Soviet Empire as many mission organizations went in to fill the void. The problem with most of their work was that it did not aim at either reforming existing churches or starting new ones. There was great fervor to spread tracts and distribute Bibles, but little attention was given to training nationals to plant and pastor churches. Many Christians from the West visited the countries of the former Communist block. Among them was Dr. Robert Rapp, an American missionary.
Arriving in Hungary, in 1990, Dr. Rapp was not thinking of starting a new denomination. His focus was to go as far as he could to help reform the state church, the Hungarian Reformed Church. Therefore, after having discussions with a number of born-again pastors, his first step was to start a school to train pastors who were committed to, and stood for, the standards of the Bible. In 1992, he was able to start such a school (named Karolyi Gaspar Institute of Theology and Missions). But the liberal church leaders, who controlled the church, did not welcome this seminary. As their liberalism and lack of interest in the historic Reformed faith of the early reformers (such as Karolyi Gaspar) was exposed, these church leaders started to fight against Dr. Rapp and his school, and in 1997 the bishops concluded: “There is no room for Bible-believing conservatives within the Hungarian Reformed Church.” Consequently, the small group of students was expelled from the state church.
In 1998 Dr. Rapp and his mission at the time organized the first new church of its kind in the Hungarian lands since the Reformation. It was called the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe. This fresh, new beginning gave us another great opportunity. But in the days that followed, we learned how really difficult it would be to disciple people, especially when so much wrong teaching had to be undone. So we taught them how to read the Scriptures on a daily basis. Our student pastors visited their new church members monthly to follow up on this. We taught fathers how to lead the family and mothers how to be mothers indeed. Parents were taught how to teach and train their children. Bible-based home schooling was introduced. We also taught single people how to engage in courtship. We taught our people how to tithe and care for their pastors, and how to live according to the matchless, sovereign grace of our God with one another and with the world outside the church.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This is what the Lord has called us to do in the Hungarian lands. The planting of congregations and the building of Christ’s church is the goal, and discipling (teaching and training) is the means, but “preaching the Gospel” is the first step. So, in Hungary, Ukraine, and Romania we have personal evangelism, home Bible studies, hospital visitation and meetings. We have opportunities for preaching on special occasions such as funerals and weddings. We distribute tracts and Christian magazines. We attend book fairs and public markets where we buy space to put up book tables. Our churches have lending libraries of Christian books, tapes and compact discs with sermons and lectures. We have openings in public schools where students are taught Christmas carols and, sometimes, even the Bible (in English). During the summer we have camps for children, teenagers, young and older adults. We organize creationist camps for students and teaching camps for young couples where practical issues of family life are studied in depth. Many are blessed at our evangelistic camps, as also in our teaching camps. Each year we have 18 to 20 summer camps in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine . In the spring, summer and fall we organize conferences where people from our congregations come together to learn more of God’s Word, rejoice in the Lord and have Christian fellowship.
Our churches have children’s meetings and week-long evangelistic services. During these special meetings we concentrate on one village or area, inviting people door-to-door during the day, and preaching at night. We also have a Hungarian web site where information about our church can be found and where literature and audio sermons are available.
By God’s grace we have published 23 books covering important theological issues and problems that Hungarian Christians face. We also cover the practical aspects of the Christian life. The Lord willing, we hope to expand even more the availability of sound, Hungarian Reformed literature.