East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 2001, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Central and Eastern Europe: Trends in Evangelical Churches and in Society

Juraj Kušnierik and Marsh Moyle

The End of the Charismatic Wave
The end of the 1980s was the peak period of a charismatic wave in Central Europe. New churches and fellowships were set up. Charismatic Christianity was full of life and, as such, was attractive and engaging for a cynical and skeptical Central European population. Charismatic fellowships and denominations were growing, while other Christian denominations were stagnating or even declining.

This period of rapid growth seems to be more or less over. Charismatic churches are now eager to grow spiritually and show great interest in theology as well as in a Christian worldview. Some of the leading evangelical theologians in the region come from a Charismatic tradition. Charismatic fellowships are often the initiators and movers of evangelical cooperation in their countries. It is interesting to note that the only two Christian newspapers with a readership broader than their denomination in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are run by Charismatic groups: Zivot viry in the Czech Republic and KROK in Slovakia. It is also interesting to note that both of these periodicals give considerable space to issues of public life, such as parliamentary elections, economics, nationalism, and the plight of refugees and ethnic minorities.

The Rediscovery of Theological Roots
Evangelicals in Central and Eastern Europe are discovering that they are not the first generation of Christians in this world. The richness of Christian history was neglected in the past. Most Evangelicals would refer only to 19th century revivals and, eventually, to the Reformation as the only significant periods of church history. An unintended result of this reductionism was that those who longed for deeper spirituality and who discovered the writings of Augustine, Anselm, or Francis of Assisi were discouraged in their quest by narrow-minded pastors. Although this situation has been changing recently, it is still far from ideal. The fact that key books of the Reformation (Luther's Bondage of the Will, Calvin's Institutes) are not available in Czech or Slovak translations proves the point.

Under Communist oppression various churches cooperated closely. Stories of Christian prisoners or soldiers of various denominations reading the Bible, praying together, and supporting each other are well known. State oppression and marginalization brought together those who believed in God. Theological differences were set aside. Now, in societies where freedom of religion is guaranteed, the external pressure for unity and cooperation has gone. This has led to strong denominationalism. One can hear talk of "sheep-stealing" at many church conferences. Small evangelical denominations are afraid of each other.

As a reaction to this situation, there is a strong tendency towards institutional ecumenism. All denominations create various coalitions and associations. There is also a renewed willingness to cooperate at the grassroots level. Some influential church leaders and theologians try to put forward a concept of "mere Christianity"--that which is common to all Christians. Being aware of the changed landscape of a post-Christian culture, they are trying to concentrate on the essence of Christianity in apologetic dialog with their non-Christian fellow citizens.

Truth versus Relationship
Relationships are held in high regard in Central and Eastern European societies for both pragmatic reasons of survival and because Christian faith expects it. This is in sharp contrast to the West, where the massive inroads of modernism and economic necessity have made mobility for the sake of work a virtue. Thus the West has little experience with the viability of the extended family and multi-generation relationships so common in Central and Eastern Europe. Families do not expect to move away to get work. Young people will move to a major town to study, and that will be perhaps the one transition they will make in their lives. In a society where trust is very limited, relationships are very important. Close-knit relationships have many benefits, but questions of boundaries and uniformity must also be considered.

Boundary Violations
It is sometimes hard to know where a lack of a common opinion might be taken to be a lack of loyalty. The space for the individual in the context of the community is not clear. There is a temptation to sacrifice truth to relationships, keeping lines blurred in order to avoid the danger of putting a relationship at risk. At the root of this is a lack of categories for dealing with differences objectively. If I disagree with you it means our relationship is no longer viable. This is not always the case, but it is common enough.

The Emphasis on Uniformity Instead of Unity
This results at the personal level in vague communication about activities and information. At the communal level there is a lack of clear definition, which leads to shallow communication, superficial agreement, and a loss of content. This can be seen in doctrinal issues in churches, where one would rather leave definitions vague than be exclusive. What is the solution to this? We have to learn and teach others how to live with differences. True tolerance does not violate respect for real beliefs. A false tolerance does not allow for the expression of real difference. Many communication problems can be traced back to a lack of understanding of diversity.

The World as a Spiritual Battleground
Many activities of Christians have now moved beyond church walls. The world has become a "spiritual battleground." The battle is between God and the powers of darkness. Christians, fighting on the side of God, organize marches for Jesus, prayer chains, or evangelistic campaigns. These activities are based on the understanding of the world as the realm of the devil who eventually will be defeated. But now a war rages and it is difficult to avoid seeing non-Christians as enemies and all secular institutions as inherently evil.

The World as a Place to Live and Work
The divisions so typical for Communist societies are all but gone. Religion does not have to be kept to one's private life. Christians do not have to hide their Christianity at their place of work. Churches are seen as important components of national culture. The world is not as hostile as it used to be. Many Christians ask new questions and face new issues. There are Christian business people, politicians, scientists, artists, teachers, lawyers, journalists, and athletes. They live and work in the world. Some of them still divide their lives into religious and secular components with little connection between the two. More of them try to live lives of integrity. They see their work as an important part of their Christian lives. They try to live in the world as Christians because the whole world was created and is sustained by the sovereign God.

The World Transformed
Salvation does not mean only personal salvation. It includes the redemption and restoration of the whole created world. This holistic understanding of salvation is quite new for many East European Christians. They try to see the impact of their faith not only on their private lives, their families, and other relationships, but also on their professional, political, and social involvement. 

Juraj Kušnierik works at ArtForum, Bratislava, Slovakia, and Marsh Moyle is director of SEN, Bratislava, Slovakia.

Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Trends--Ten Years On; A SEN Paper Describing Major Trends in Central European Church and Society 10 Years After the Fall of Communism. The full paper is $10, obtainable by downloading or by contacting one of the addresses on the SEN Web site: www.citygate.org.  For more information or to make multiple copies of SEN papers, contact SEN, Liptovska 10, 821 09 Bratislava, Slovakia; tel: 421-7-521-6293; fax: 421-7-521-6288; E-mail: sensk@citygate.org.

Juraj Kušnierik and Marsh Moyle, "Central and Eastern Europe: Trends in Evangelical Churches and in Society," East-West Church & Ministry Report 9 (Winter 2001), 7-8.

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2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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