Having recently participated in a week-long theological conference in Hungary, I had the unique opportunity of interviewing five prominent Reformed Christian ministers about our beloved “Kalvinista Zion.” In my humble opinion, it is imperative to understand the historical background before dealing with the slow recovery of the severely wounded Hungarian Reformed Church.
A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Our heathen ancestors occupied the Carpathian Basin in A.D. 896. Their initial unruly conduct resulted in disastrous defeats. The mere survival of the nation required the adoption of Christianity and the Hungarians became unequivocally ardent defenders of the Christian faith. Being neither Germanics nor Slavs, Hungarians with their different way of thinking and language, have never been really accepted by neighboring nations, except the Poles. Yet century after century they fought and died protecting Western Christianity and culture from the almost continuous attacks by different Eastern nations. Cruel Mongol hordes killed half the population in 1241–42. In spite of these facts, no Western help was forthcoming. The same thing happened in 1526 when the Northward expanding Turkish empire defeated Hungary and occupied one third of her central territory. Eventually after 160 years, Eugene de Savoie’s mini-crusade liberated Hungary and then the insatiable Austrians immediately (though illegally) occupied the whole unhappy country until the end of WWI. Austrian emperors were crowned as kings of Hungary, but they never kept the oath of their coronations. Finally, the “Hungarian Rebels” soundly defeated the Austrian Army in 1849 only to lay down their arms before the Russian allies of the Austrians (“Holy Alliance”).
The treacherous Russians promised impunity but breaking their agreement, as usual, they handed over thousands of Hungarians to the Austrians. One hundred and sixty cabinet ministers, generals and high ranking officials were hanged. Having lost the whole of Germany in 1866, the Austrians invented the misleading term, “Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.” After 47 years the Austrians fell into the well-planned trap of the more and more Pan-Slavic Russians, declared war on Serbia and forced Hungary into the evidently lost cause of WWI. With Western (primarily French) assistance, almost three quarters of Hungary’s territory was “distributed” to her greedy neighbors at the peace treaty of WWI. During WW II, Hungary was the last European country Germany occupied (March 19, 1944). Yet once again we were blamed for being the last “vassals” of Hitler. Despite Churchill’s objection, we were handed over to the Soviets on a silver platter and the victorious Russian hordes pillaged, raped and killed without restraint. The peace treaty of WWII confirmed the dictates of the treaties of WWI which forced as many as 4 million Hungarians to live outside of Hungary as much abused minorities in often fiercely hostile neighboring countries.
THE INSIDIOUS DESTRUCTION OF THE CHURCH
The Russians forced upon Hungary a government that was primarily representing Russian interests. This “Hungarian” government ruled over the churches in every respect through blackmailed, usually morally defective, elements of the clergy. They systematically “exchanged” serious Christian ministers for their collaborators in every denomination. Public servants usually lost their work if they attended church. All the parochial schools were confiscated, the deacon’s school and tow of the four centuries old Reformed Seminaries were closed down by the opportunistic collaborators of the clergy—on communist orders! Three deaconess’ houses were abolished and three publishing houses secularized. Religious education became “facultative” and hindered every way possible. Numerous ministers were forced to resign. On one occasion, not less than 100 Reformed ministers were made to retire or leave the ministry—depending on their age. The communist plan was to remove everyone who did not bow the knee to Baal.
Almost one million of the four million Hungarians who were separated from the motherland in 1920 were Reformed. Thus, the three million strong Hungarian Reformed Church (the largest in Europe and with a history of four centuries) had to part with one-third of her membership. Those outside of Hungary established the Reformed Churches in Romania, Slovakia, Ruthenia, Yugoslavia and Austria.
THE PRESENT SITUATION
The aforementioned facts will explain much of the otherwise inconceivable state of affairs. There are 2 million Hungarian Reformed people in Hungary, 1 1/2 million in Romania, 200,000 in Slovakia, 20,000 in Yugoslavia and 51,000 in Austria. In Hungary proper, there are 1,200 ministers, 56% of whom are female resulting from the misdeed of the infamous collaborator, Bishop Bartha. After about forty years of an immense variety of hell-invented obstacles, worship services are now free. The most common retorsion was the denial of promotion or frank dismissal, as mentioned earlier. The age-old Reformed custom of two services on Sundays generally prevails to this day. Attendance is extremely variable. Where the sheep were and are properly fed, they want to miss no opportunity to hear the Word of God. Where, however, former collaborating “hirelings” usurp the ministry, the sheep turn away in disgust and the pews remain empty. It has been indicated that while the “Black Death” reaped, a great many ministers bowed the knee to Baal but a varying degree. While some were traitors of the worst kind, others pretended nominal agreement when the knife was put to their throats.
As the dark red slowly faded and finally ceased in 1989, the collaborating traitors invented a most ingenious explanation. They insolently claimed that by being agents of the “Black Death” they “saved” the churches. In fact, these moral nonentities were simply tools of the fiercely atheistic communist regime, and without hesitation they carried out any of their masters’ orders to weaken the church. Weekly Bible classes are presently dependent on local need and demand. Ther is religious education at churches and, facultatively, at schools. Participation in religious classes is far from uniform, being largely affected by the local situation. Attendance at Sunday Schools is generally good. Boys and girls are jointly instructed. Church counties (presbyteries) all have their inexpensive summer camps.
The seminaries of Budapest, Debrecen and Sarospatak are functioning and Papa will reopen soon. We have eleven secondary and seventy elementary schools. Three teachers’ colleges supply the future needs of our schools. It is noteworthy that for the first time in our history we own the Karoli University. (Karoli translated the Bible into Hungarian in 1590.) The university has neither medical nor engineering schools yet. In Budapest we have a deacons’ school preparing men for social work and attending to the sick. The Bethesda Hospital was converted into a children’s hospital during the “Black Death.” Returned to the church, it still functions as a children’s hospital during the “Black Death.” Returned to the church, it still functions as a children’s hospital. Prior to WWII, the Reformed Church had more than forty institutions of different kinds. Now we only have twelve institutions soley for cripples, indicating how the agents of hell feared any exposure to godliness.
The Reformed Church is granted radio time for evangelization and weekly one half hour TV time for our children. About fifteen ministers are engaged in nationwide evangelistic ministry. Our books are published by the “Kalvin Publishing House.” There is a telephone service for alcoholics and drug addicts. The Hungarian army has fifteen Protestant (nine Reformed) chaplains with a Reformed general, the head of the Protestant chaplaincy.
The reorganized YMCA and the Reformed Youth Alliance could attract only a few hundred persons. The Deo Gloria student alliance was and is, staunchly Calvinistic, but not without the temptation of hypercalvinism. (This writer has first-hand knowledge about this alliance as he was a member of it at one time.)
Elders and women have their organizations as well. The reorganized ministerial alliance has only a small membership, reflecting the disunion in minsterial ranks. The “Bible Union” is an independent, strongly experimental Calvinist organization, truly Reformed and truly evangelical with a very promising future. The “Bethania Alliance” is a small, piestic organization, akin to her German counterpart.
The congregations have their consistories (kirk sessions). Numerous congregations unite in twenty seven church counties headed by elected deans. These counties constitute four church districts (Synods), each of them directed by an elected bishop. Terms of both deans and bishops are six years. Elections are impending and the political shift to the left may unfavorably affect them. (Turncoats of the past are already raising their heads.) Criticism of the Bible, feminism and even ideas of the New Age Movement can be heard at times.
Bitter fruits from forty years of “Black Death” have alienated two generations from our church. Thus, widespread ignorance of God, the Bible and the church is just as rampant as it is in the West. Therefore, the general confusion and different theological trends are not surprising. With profound sorrow and trepidation I must admit that our seminaries are not solidly committed to Reformed orthodoxy. Barthianism, Bultmanism and even historical criticism are not uncommon. The present state of affairs has its roots in the past, i.e. the diverse teachings prior to WWII. Besides, the unopposed and shameful rule of the collaborators resulted in a number of dubious appointments at all levels of the church. On top of these, one our seminaries has not remained unaffected by the “tongues movement.”
It is comforting to know that students born from “above” cannot be drawn away from their firm Biblical faith. “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).
It was a delight to hear that revival movements are firmly embedded in the Reformed Church and work on her awakening with utter determination.
The task is enormous, indeed. But we know that not a single drop of the precious blood of Jesus was shed in vain. Therefore, all His sheep will hear His voice and will follow Him whatever the appearance and whatever the obstacles.
Dr. E.A. Pereszlenyi was born of staunchly Reformed parents in Mohacs, site of the 1528 devastating defeat of Hungarian liberties by the Turks. Trained in the church schools, he learned much from Professor Willem Heyns Manual Reformed Doctrine which, translated early into Hungarian, was used in all Reformed secondary schools between World War I and World War II. He became a heart-specialist in a prestigious Budapest clinic for that disease until “forced” to serve under the Communists for a few years as a physician with the occupying Russian army. Almost miraculously he was able to escape in 1959/60. Soon afterward he came to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and lived there for almost two years. When admitted to family practice in 1963, he set up practice in Toronto and for years served as physician to many of our Dutch immigrant families.