East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 6, No. 3, Summer 1998, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

Evangelical Denominations in Post-Communist Romania

Danut Manastireanu

Editor’s note: The first half of this article appeared in the previous issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.

Although Romanian Evangelical communities were waiting and praying for freedom, in fact they were not ready for it. Beniamin Faragau, one of the most important Evangelical Bible teachers in Romania, made the following statement some time ago: "Those who did something significant before the Revolution have adapted quickly, continuing their ministry in a way relevant for the new conditions, while the others are still puzzled and don't know what to choose from the multitude of opportunities offered to them. Now we can see a number of important initiatives beginning to take shape." For examples, see the Romanian Protestant Christian Page web site (http://private.fuller.edu/~ematei/).

Compromised Leaders
Most Evangelical communities in Romania have not undertaken serious evaluation of the sometimes overt cooperation by some leaders with communist authorities. It is true that some churches and denominations have replaced compromised leaders. However, is this enough? Without an honest evaluation and a true repentance for the mistakes of the past, we risk repeating them endlessly.

Brick and Mortar
Although the majority of Evangelicals are convinced that change is a necessity, it appears the solutions proposed often only touch the surface, rather than the spiritual core of the problems. One of the most concrete manifestations of this tendency is the fact that in Evangelical circles a lot of effort is currently directed towards building new church buildings. Such a concentration on "brick and mortar" is easy to understand since for decades communists prevented the building of necessary facilities, except with great difficulty and at the price of many compromises. However, the size of the buildings constructed today often exceeds the present and even the foreseeable needs of the congregations. At the same time, most of the funds for these projects come from the West. This is understandable in Romania’s present economic condition, but it creates an unhealthy financial dependence and it affects the feeling of ownership and responsibility that the believers should have for their churches.

Western Aid
Along the same line is the issue of Western Christian material help, such as food and clothing, received in Romania immediately after 1989. It was really impressive and a genuine manifestation of mercy and concern. At the same time, we have to be honest and admit that the help was not always distributed wisely and this created a lot of problems in churches. The blame has to be shared. On one side, some Westerners just unloaded gifts and left with a happy heart and a clear conscience, with no attention to the effectiveness of the distribution. On the Romanian side, the help gave rise to greed and injustice. Not a small number of Christian leaders in our country failed this test after the 1989 Revolution. Some took advantage of the generosity of Westerners and became really rich, leading to many divisions in churches. In some cases the material help became the means of starting new denominations in Romania, or just increasing the number of members in existing ones. These totally unacceptable manipulative missionary methods have attracted the justified criticism of Orthodox authorities.

Romania still needs help from the West. Many times, however, Western help is driven not so much by the consciousness of the need, but by what is lately in the media. Like state help for developing countries, Christian help can become an easy way of clearing a guilty conscience. The kind of help we need these days does not create dependence, but stimulates local initiatives, helping Romanians to help themselves. Again, we have seen some excellent initiatives and we hope they will motivate others in the same direction.

The Megachurch Model
In some places the temptation of the "megachurch" model is raising its head. This does not seem to fit the European spirit, and even less the quiet and reserved Christian spirit of the Eastern part of the continent. On the other side, following so closely after a time of dictatorship, which has left deep marks in all of us, the Romanian "megachurch" phenomenon runs the risk of becoming a search for power that is dangerous and contrary to the way of the Cross and the humble spirit of Jesus Christ.

Western Dependency
Romanian Evangelicals currently experience an almost exclusive theological dependence upon the West, especially the United States. Undoubtedly, in the present conditions, when we can hardly talk about an articulate Romanian Evangelical theology, it is absolutely vital for us to learn from those who are ahead of us theologically. We are confronted, however, with a sort of theological aggressiveness, even with a form of theological "imperialism," which can have very serious negative consequences for the future relevance of Evangelical theology in a cultural environment totally different from the American Evangelical context.

First of all, American Evangelical theology is still, and may continue to be for a long time, under the influence of the Enlightenment and rationalism, while for our culture it was just a marginal phenomenon. The effect of this undeniable reality on the two worldviews is absolutely decisive. In the words of a West European friend who studied in the United States and ministered as a missionary in Eastern Europe, "For Americans, reality is simple and structured; for East Europeans, it is complex and unstructured." You can hardly imagine two more polarized perspectives on the world. In addition, the obvious pragmatic bent of American Evangelical theology and missionary practice, although commendable in many respects, and responsible for many valuable accomplishments, does not fit in any way the more relaxed and reflective attitude of Romanians towards life in general. The incessant search for immediate results and for impressive reports that will satisfy donors does not leave space for contextualization and for the incarnation of theological concepts in our cultural context. It is a known fact that if we add the different reports of mass evangelists and missionaries who have preached in Eastern Europe in the last six years, we will get a number of "converts" which exceeds by two or three times the actual population of these countries. In fact, in spite of the very optimistic expectations of both Romanian and Western Christian leaders, the number of church members has not grown significantly in the seven years since 1989.

Importing Western Theological Disputes
Finally, we face the risk of unnecessarily importing Western disputes which are totally irrelevant to the Romanian context. Just two examples. Romanian Christians of every denomination have never conceived of the theoretical or practical possibility of "splitting" Christ between His work as Lord and as Savior. What is the point then, of importing into the Romanian Evangelical context the so-called "Lordship salvation" dispute? Or, given the high view of Scripture and the virtual absence of theological liberalism among Romanian Christians of all denominations, what is the relevance of making the Western dispute on inerrancy a hot point on the Romanian theological agenda? Again, this may satisfy and reassure some donors, but it will surely not help Evangelicals in Romania very much in the long run.

Closely related to the above issue is the fact that, possibly also as a result of Western influence, religious manifestations of Evangelicals in Romania have become more and more rationalistic, leaving devotional and emotional aspects of Christian living as secondary. Of course, we as Romanians needed more conceptual content to our faith, but not at the price of what John Stott calls "the search for transcendence," which is so characteristic to the East European spirit. We will never be satisfied with a religious experience which is devoid of its mystical, emotional, and relational aspects.

Christian Vocations—and Salaries
Inheriting, as Evangelicals traditionally do, a negative attitude towards culture and intellectual matters, most Romanian Evangelicals manifest a dualistic and Platonistic approach to life. Thus, religious activities like prayer, preaching, evangelism, and full-time Christian ministry are sacred and superior in quality to earthly, mundane activities like cooking, pursuing a secular profession or political career, or the pure manifestation of artistic creativity, unless it is an effective means of Christian "propaganda."

One specific manifestation of this rather schizophrenic approach to life is the obsession with full-time Christian ministry as the highest possible calling. The result is the tendency of many gifted young people in Evangelical churches to leave promising professional careers to become pastors and evangelists. In the context of the critical shortage of ministers in Romanian Evangelical circles, this may seem a positive phenomenon, but when it is prompted by a deformed and unbiblical perception of reality and definition of Christian ministry, it will have disastrous effects on the incarnation of the Gospel in Romanian society.

Western missionary agencies contribute to this problem by recruiting—for a very low price in Western terms, but a very good salary in our terms—gifted young Christians to further their specific activities. Or should we say for furthering the interests of the Kingdom? Do these well-meaning missionaries consider what will happen with the national workers when the Western support ceases? Will they ever again be competent professionally, able to earn a living other than by doing "Christian ministry"? Unfortunately, such people, when in despair, are easily manipulated financially or become candidates for emigration. Well-meaning missionaries also ignore the effect this has on churches, in creating divisions and depriving them of their best people, since they will never be able to compete with Westerners in paying their people. It's a true manifestation of "free market" capitalism. We believe this aberration calls for a radical redefinition of missions if we do not want to see resentment and frustration among national Christians concerning the way Western missionaries handle these issues. Based on discussions with many leaders in Central and Eastern Europe, we believe this situation appears to be the rule rather than the exception. Will the West take this warning seriously? Or are Western Evangelicals too preoccupied to be able to hear?

Evangelical Christianity and Orthodox Culture
Evangelicals are perceived by the Orthodox majority as being estranged from the spirit of the Romanian nation and culture. We must admit that this accusation is legitimate, at least to a certain extent, when we realize that most of our theology, worship music, and liturgy are imported from other cultures, with very little effort at cultural adaptation. Unfortunately, it seems to us that very few of our leaders are conscious of the importance of this issue. Consequently, instead of being able to communicate the Gospel to Romanians in the appropriate cultural garments, we risk becoming a more and more isolated subculture in our society. At the same time, it is possible to detect stirrings among young Evangelical intelligentsia who desire an integrated biblical approach to life, resulting in active cultural, professional, social, and political involvement of Christians in society. The hostility of most Orthodox clergy is prompting increasing Evangelical intolerance and verbal aggressiveness towards Orthodoxy. This risks becoming an open conflict, which will not be in the interest of the Gospel. Even if many Romanians are only formally Orthodox, they have a strong emotional attachment to Orthodoxy and will never be able to hear the Gospel if communicated in a manner which, at least from their point of view, threatens essentials of their own identity.

Fortunately, an increasing number of younger Evangelical theologians and church leaders have become aware of the importance of exploring, understanding, and learning from the Romanian Orthodox tradition. There are significant efforts taking place in the Evangelical camp to renounce the traditional hostility and establish a sincere Orthodox-Evangelical theological dialogue. It is only a small positive beginning which risks being undermined if not met by a reciprocal openness from the Orthodox side. We are still very far from a true ecumenical dialogue, which is in fact perceived as totally unacceptable by many Evangelical leaders who are either entertaining dispensational eschatological convictions or are just showing open resentment. But, it is good that the dialogue has begun.

How Best to Understand Evangelism
The numerous mass evangelistic campaigns started immediately after 1989 very quickly proved to be quite ineffective in reaching Romanians with the Gospel, especially since many of those who came here to preach had very little appreciation for the way Romanians think or understand God. In Kishinev, Moldova, a few weeks after the campaign of a famous American evangelist, pastors were asked, "Where are the many thousands of converts reported at the end of the rally?" They did not know the answer.

We have no doubt that the Lord, in His providence, has used mass evangelism to call people to Himself, especially in contexts where the ground was prepared to receive the seed of the Gospel. There is, however, another side of the story. Evangelism done by people with this special calling can very easily become, for the believers in churches, a way of easing their conscience for not being involved evangelistically in the natural environment where they spend most of their life. We do not believe the solution for the evangelization of the world is in having more mass evangelists, although God, in His sovereignty, may raise as many as He pleases. We need to see believers in our churches become missionary-minded and trained to present the Gospel to people around them and then teach and disciple them in order for them to be built up spiritually in Christ.

Another specific manifestation of this escapist mentality—of this running away from responsibility—is, we believe, an obsessive preoccupation of Evangelical believers with revival. Instead of concentrating on faithfulness and obedience in the normality of life, some try to understand the mysterious ways in which the Lord works and suppose they have devised the right formula which will make God produce the desired effect. The most important issue is not when and how does revival come, but what do we do in between revivals. The steadfastness of obedience and not the fire of sacrifice is the delight of the heart of God.

The events that took place in Eastern Europe in 1989 opened many opportunities. Our hope is that in time the feverishness specific to periods of change will fade and give way to a more mature and profound approach to issues. We believe that as Evangelicals we have something significant to offer both to our brothers in Christ in other traditions and to Romanian society as a whole. Through the grace of God we are dedicated to make a difference for Christ in our country.

Danut Manastireanu is a lecturer in theology at Emmanuel Bible College, Oradea, Romania.

Source: Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from a revised English translation of the author’s original article published in Korunk, (no. 10, October 1990), a Hungarian-language cultural magazine published in Cluj, Romania. 

Danut Manastireanu, "Evangelical Denominations in Post-Communist Romania," East-West Church & Ministry Report 6 (Summer 1998), 7-10.

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1998 Institute for East-West Christian Studies
ISSN 1069-5664

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