Why has the Reformed Church in Hungary succumbed to the tremendous pressures which have been put upon it since World War II?
Perhaps this question will never be fully and satisfactorily answered. So many factors enter into the picture, that it is almost impossible to see them all and analyze them accurately. Yet we would like to mention those which seem to us among the most significant.
In the present stress we fold within the Reformed Church a strong strain of “Eastern apathy” which is not entirely alien to the Hungarian character. The Hungarians are in a sense the “orphans” of Europe. For generations they have been intensely hated by their immediate neighbours. The nations which actually constitute the West must bear their heavy share of blame for Hungary’s present plight. Rarely have Hungary’s undeniable contributions to the preservation of Western Christian civilization and religion been recognized. Still less have they been rewarded by those nations who have profited by Hungary’s heroic resistance to the Turks for three centuries. It was a manifestation of ingratitude, even of injustice, on the part of the West to maim Hungary after World War I, to hand her over into the hands of the Soviet Union after World War II, and to allow her to smother in her own life-blood throughout the brief Revolution of 1956. The latter was especially immoral, when viewed against the long years of radio propaganda which presented a false picture of Western life and readiness to liberate the country.
Part of the plight which the church shares with the whole Hungarian nation must be attributed to well-designed and ever-increasing Communist pressure. This consists of unprecedented inflation which enslaves the masses to the will of the state which manipulates the economy, dismissal from the civil service often without any reason, repeated political screening to which all arc subjected and which produces a sense of insecurity and fear, manhandling at the slightest provocation and imprisonment which is suspended like a Damocles’ sword over the heads of the people.
The present apathy is in part also the result of the Roman Catholic fallacy. According to the Catholic theory it is no sin to yield to these Communist pressures. This has proved to be most unfortunate for the Hungarian people, since it serves many with an excuse to evade their responsibility. People of weak character feel that they are justified in joining the Communist party or otherwise acting contrary to their convictions, since the church does not view such yielding as a serious sin.
Fully as serious in sustaining this apathetic attitude is the reaction of the upper and middle classes. These people were largely of German, Slovak and Jewish origin. They could speak Hungarian well but never had any real interest in the Hungarian nation. Usually they despised the Hungarian peasant and wherever possible have prevented him from receiving higher education. This was possible because these “foreign” elements within the Hungarian nation were concentrated in the cities as part of the studied plan of the Hapsburg emperors to keep Magyar nationalism and culture in subjection. “Where are the real Hungarians?” they often ask, meaning thereby their own class.
All this goes perhaps a long way towards explaining why the church has remained rather quiescent and even apathetic in her present troubles.
Yet none of these seriously contributing factors free the church from her responsibility. Let us examine the mistakes which we as church have made in the past.
It is a known fact there has never been within the Hungarian Reformed Church history a revival which embraced the whole church. Although the early Hungarian reformers were genuine Christians (and some were great scholars and powerful church leaders), there were too many political motives operative in the establishment of the Reformed churches. Here the tensions between the Swiss Reformation and the Catholic House of Hapsburg played an influential role even in Hungary. Puritan attempts which aimed at a more thorough-going reformation of faith and life were always ruthlessly suppressed by the bishops and aristocrats.
The pietists have no Calvinistic conception of the church. Hence a renewal of the church’s life cannot be expected from them now, any more than it could ever have been expected from them in the past. These people usually regard the church rather as “a happy hunting ground” for souls. They have always concentrated their efforts of their own organizations. Their aversion to the properly elected officials of the church has led to the segregation of many Christians from the day-by-day life within the congregations. Their strong anti-confessionalism has even kept their ministers away from studying and professing Calvinistic doctrine.
The Barthians within the church have, even without being fully aware of this, contributed to a great degree of state-control over the church. Their leftist political leanings and their cunning undermining of Calvinistic doctrines have paved the way for the peace ministers.
Perhaps the grimmest aspect of the church’s failures must be located in its inefficient religious training. On a purely intellectual level all seemed to be in order. Suitable texts were provided. Sufficient opportunity was given for such education in the schools. But how could one expect true faith in the lives of the pupils, when altogether too often there was none within the hearts of the teachers? To be sure there were excellent exceptions. But on the whole the teachers gave no evidence of a saving faith. Thus the impact of their teaching was patriotic rather than religious. The Reformed Church was a bulwark of Hungarian nationalism rather than of true Christianity.
This same lack of concern with personal salvation and godliness was evident elsewhere. The “John Calvin Society” was primarily intellectual in its approach. It had almost no personal message which could transform a church so sorely in need of a revival. The “Soli Deo Gloria” movement with its divided allegiance to true Calvinism and Hungarian patriotism—often overemphasizing the latter failed to produce permanent results.
The seminaries matriculated and graduated unregenerate students on a large scale. Academic freedom was misinterpreted. It served to shelter all kinds of doctrines alien to Calvinism. Antagonistic views of professors within one and the same seminary served to confuse the students. Thus to the mind of most ministers Calvinism came to be a traditional heritage rather than a living, vibrant faith.
Here we should also deplore the church’s lack of concern with scholarly Calvinistic literature. It never was wiDing to undertake the task of supplying what was so sorely needed. All publishing was left to private publishing houses who were more interested in gaining favour with prospective customers than in disseminating the principles of the faith.
The actual life of the church was also far from healthy. Church discipline, although provided for in the books, was practically non-existent. Ministers guilty of gross immorality and drunkenness were not defrocked, unless someone was willing to denounce them publicly. And in many Hungarian towns and villages this was seldom done. These ministers now are in the vanguard of the “best peace ministers.” Nor should we fail to point out that the aristocratic elements within the church government, because they were never tempered in practice with the more democratic elements, have facilitated beyond measure state-control over the church through its own clergy occupying the positions of power and prestige.
But likely the real source of our troubles lies deeper.
We refer to the lukewarm heart of Christians who are not vitally concerned about the cause of Christ. Our Christian life in Hungary has often been so superficial. Our voice was not raised in unequivocal disapproval, when the Nazis overran our land and forced upon us policies which the church did not approve. Now we lack the power to resist the even more anti-christian trend of Communism. There seems to be so little wrestling in prayer for a revival.
We get so little now, because we seem to be asking for so little from the Lord.