Czech Evangelicals and Evangelism
I believe that the church is tempted to share cheap grace. While contextualization of the gospel is necessary, it does not mean leaving out what people do not like to hear. We cannot say, "Because people love freedom, we should not speak about obedience."
Vestiges of Moral Grounding in a Secular Society
In the Czech Republic, former president Vaclav Havel remarried one year after the death of his first wife, Olga. Many people claimed that one year was too short a time before a new marriage and that he probably dated his new wife even when Olga was alive. People saw it as being very immoral. It occurred to me that even such a godless nation as ours speaks about "immorality." In Czech history, people sense an even bigger discrepancy: the bloodshed associated with church struggles through the centuries is one of the main reasons people are so hostile to the church today. Yet, as the example of Havel shows, Czechs still are very sensitive to what one says and how one lives. Find below selected principles the Evangelical church could follow in order to reach the Czech people.
Many Czechs are still infected by the Communist view that Christianity is only for the weak and the helpless. The generation over age 45 grew up under Communism and was taught that faith is a private matter. Christians have accepted this privatization of faith. As a result many are unable to reflect intelligently on their faith and beliefs. They are born again, they live very moral lives, many are very good in their professions, but most do not publicly share their faith. I do not mean one has to be a street evangelist, but a believer should be able to comment on a non-Christian worldview from a Christian perspective through the media, books, and public speeches. Such public apologetics are still very unusual in Evangelical circles. Believers need to understand that regardless of where they are, they are called to be vox Dei, the voice of God. As Louis J. Luzbetak writes, "The mission of the Church is to be the vox Dei in matters of faith and morals, in matters of love and justice, in matters of peace, reconciliation, and salvation."
Loving Through Relationships
One of the clearest results of my survey research is the fact that relationships play a key role. Church leaders consider relationships vital for the conversion of Czechs. Many people are deeply frustrated by never-ending corruption and scandals, by the inability of courts to deal with criminals, by the fact that most Communist leaders and tyrants have not been brought to trial. As J. Locke writes, "Fatalism grips the Czech mentality, and any attempt to 'candycoat' the Christian message by ignoring the realities of life will meet with little success. They [Czechs] have seen centuries of conquest and defeat, life and death. They believe that nothing really changes" (Contextualizing the Christian Message for the Czech Republic," http://www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&id=3561&mode=v&pagenum=1&lang).
Loving Through Hope
Such a situation can be a challenge for the churches. Evangelicals can show that there is hope as they reflect God's love in their churches. "Love of neighbor," writes Luzbetak, "is not something accessory to mission and is not primarily a kind of lure for winning converts; it is, in fact, nothing less than a basic constitution of the Kingdom" (The Church and Cultures; New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990], 4).
Francis Schaeffer explains that God's truth and the work of Christ's church require loving confrontation: "There are three possible positions: unloving confrontation, no confrontation, and loving confrontation. Only the third is biblical (The Great Evangelical Disaster [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1985], 402). But love does not mean that we will always agree or that we will be silent in areas in which we disagree.
Loving Through Grace
Charismatic leader John Wimber once said, "Many of our churches look like hospitals where one is not allowed to bleed" (T. Dittrich,"Interview with J. Wimber," Život Viry 7/8 , 30). The problem is that many non-Christians still think that to be a member of the church means to be morally perfect. Evangelical churches need to develop an atmosphere in which it is clear that the church is for bleeding people. This is possible only in an atmosphere of grace. If Czech Evangelicals want to be successful in their mission, they need grace and they need to offer acceptance in their churches. As an elder in one of the fastest-growing Evangelical local churches in the Czech Republic (growth rate of 12 percent per year), I know that almost all new members give as their primary reason for joining, "the atmosphere of grace and acceptance they feel inside the church."
Czech Evangelicals should be clear in assessing the consequences of theological liberalism and pluralism. Many in the largest Protestant churches in the Czech Republic have embraced theological liberalism. One of the main reasons for their liberal orientation is the influence of the universities where their pastors have studied: The Protestant Theological Faculty of Charles University and the Hussite Theological Faculty of Charles University, Prague. During the Communist era, Evangelical pastors could only study in these theological schools. To offer an alternative to provide a solid grounding in Evangelical theology, the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Prague (ETS) was founded in 1991. Statistics and surveys very clearly document a massive exodus of literally thousands of members from state churches. Theological liberalism is not the only reason for this exodus, but I strongly believe it is one of the reasons.
A second destructive force in Czech church life concerns the uniqueness of Christ. In multi-religious dialogue, we still must affirm our center: Jesus Christ. In the Czech context, Evangelicals have to be strongly Christ-centered. Pavel Cerny writes, "In relating to secular and religious people, the Christian church today must be ready and open to dialogue marked by humility, integrity, and sensitivity." Some will accuse Evangelicals of intolerance, black-and-white thinking, exclusivism, perhaps even fanaticism. But Evangelicals must hold to classic Christian teaching without compromise.
Evangelical Commitment to Mission
Our survey of Czech church leaders revealed that "Christians do not see mission as a priority." Certainly, one of the reasons is that believers are not taught the proper place of mission in the church. Unfortunately, Czech Evangelical churches are mostly attended by the middle class, and sometimes, the upper class. For example, in my home church, 90 percent of the congregation is university educated, with almost no members from the lower classes or from the fringes of society. We have special organizations taking care of these people, like the Salvation Army and Nadeje (Hope) for the homeless, Teen Challenge for drug-addicted youth, charities for single mothers, and so forth. From the outside it looks as if these organizations are for "big sinners," while the church is for the "average" or "little" sinners.
I see several reasons for such a situation. First, in many cases, to take care of the homeless, drug addicts, single mothers, and others, specialists are needed. At the same time, we have to ask whether the second reason for this situation is that the church has a problem accepting sinners. Faced with such a situation, we have to remember that 35 percent of church leaders surveyed felt social work was as important as mission. A third factor may be the small number of believers in the Czech Republic and what surveyed church leaders called a "bad spiritual atmosphere." Sadly, a fourth factor may be the church itself. The Evangelical church needs to ask if it is mission-oriented or self-oriented. Church leaders will have to teach that mission is not something unusual, but an integral part of the church.
One of the reasons Paul was so successful in mission was the fact that he was able to communicate to listeners in their own language (I Corinthians 9:19-23). As for modern day equivalents, sports and English evangelistic camps seem to be good tools for reaching young people, while British-born Alpha small-group Bible study courses are for all generations. To make English camps more effective they should be offered to adults as well as young people. Because of Communism, the middle generation could not study English. Many people over 40 feel handicapped not being able to communicate well in English. Opening English camps for older generations could be a good possibility. Such camps have happened several times, and they were very well accepted. Second, hunger to study English is so strong that missionaries could connect with the unreached middle generation through English classes taught throughout the year. By this means they will very quickly have many natural contacts with non-Christians over age 40. Third, missionary teachers have great opportunities to share topics in English classes that connect with important areas of human life. Fourth, Alpha courses involve all ages in the church: youth, middle, and older generations. These courses help Christians develop good common ground with their non-Christian neighbors.
Evangelicals Working Together
Survey findings clearly indicate tension and misunderstanding between Western missionaries and local churches. But the goal is to work together. I see several ways the relationship could be improved. First, missionaries should work under the authority of the local churches. By authority I do not mean tyranny. The vision of the local church should be the starting point for missionaries. One way the two can work together is to pair a missionary with local church follow up. At the same time, missionaries do face the predicament of trying to serve two masters at the same time: the local church and the sending agency. The only solution is for the sending agency to communicate directly with the local church to try to really understand the context in which the missionary is serving.
In addition, missionaries should not be under pressure to achieve quick results. Certainly it is very difficult for missionaries to share with their supporters that, after several years, no one has become a Christian through their ministry. They should realize that Czechs can be very resistant, and missionary supporters need to be understanding and patient.
Finally, missionaries and even mission agencies should consider providing support for national workers. This is a sensitive issue, but one national who knows the language and culture can do a lot of work. There should be very serious discussion of who should be supported and what kind of system there should be for supporting nationals.
Biblically Grounded Evangelicals
A study of Paul's epistles can serve as a basis for missions in the Czech Republic. Evangelicals concerned about missions should be asking some key questions:
1) How important a place does mission play in the churches?
2) How effectively do preachers and teachers connect their preaching and teaching to the idea of mission?
3) What is the attitude of church people towards those who are outside the church?
4) What are their relationships with non-Christians?
5) Are they motivated to reach out to non-Christians?
6) Do people in the church really believe in the uniqueness of Jesus?
7) If they claim that Jesus is Lord, what does it mean in practice?
8) How do they understand multi-religious dialogue?
9) Is faith only a matter of objective knowledge or is it also a matter of personal experience?
10 Are church people able to share with others how they became Christians?
11 Are they able to share in contemporary language?
12) How effectively is our faith reflected in our daily lives?
13) Is our life a consistent message?
14) Do people in the church understand well that faith is inseparably connected with daily life?
In summary, survey research shows that Evangelical church leaders view relationships with non-Christians and English and sport camps as a crucial part of mission. The main obstacles they see are Christians with few contacts with non-Christians and Christians not recognizing mission as a priority. Respondents believe the most effective evangelistic tools today are English camps, camping trips in the countryside together with Christians, and the growing popularity of Alpha courses. David Novak is a pastor in the Czech Republic.
David Novak teaches philosophy at the Evangelical Theological Seminary, Prague, adn is a pastor in the Czech Church of the Brethren.
Edited excerpts published with permission from David Novak, "A Critical Examination of Mission in Czech Evangelical Churches: Context, Reality, Roots, and Vision." University of Wales, M.Th. Thesis, 2004.
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© 2005 East-West Church and Ministry Report