The State of the Church in Romania: Divergent Views
Editor's note: The present article is based on the author's interviews with four individuals: a Romanian Evangelical Christian from Bucharest studying theology in the United States, an American Evangelical missionary in his thirties who has been in Romania more than four years, a young Romanian Evangelical Christian who has spent the majority of his life in a village, but eight years in the cities of Cluj and Timisoara, and a Romanian Orthodox youth from Curtea de Arges.
Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority faith in Romania, claiming the
allegiance of some 70 percent of the population. The Roman Catholic
Church and various Protestant denominations account for about seven
percent each. Newer cults have arisen since the fall of Communism from
both the East and the West. A tremendous pressure exists for Romanians
to affiliate with the Orthodox Church: from family and friends, from
tradition, and from politics.
Culturally, one needs to be Orthodox to be considered a good Romanian. The Orthodox Church also has been campaigning to be the official national church.
The West vs. Tradition
The fall of Communism in 1989 granted a sudden freedom to the churches, so that all the various denominations experienced revived activity. Some results included a marked increase in publications and the advent of private schools, some religious. However, it also opened the door for disagreement between socially more progressive advocates of West European culture and traditionalists who distrust western values. Overall, churches distrust each other a great deal and rarely cooperate, resulting in a competitive and combative atmosphere.
Family, community, and tradition are highly valued in Romania, but a feudal worldview enduring from nineteenth-century serfdom also prevails. In conflict with and in direct contrast to the western worldview, the feudal worldview holds that people are not able to fend for themselves, or alter their status or condition in society. Thus they must ally themselves with those who are more powerful who will be their protector. Any dissension from this system is considered a threat and must be resisted. Combined with the feudal worldview is European animism and fatalism, western materialism, and the Communist legacy of distrust. Additionally, Romanian education emphasizes rote memorization, but not practical application. As a result, in Romania the westerner encounters a lack of initiative, a lack of education, and a lack of thinking for oneself.
A Positive Picture . . .
The respondent from Bucharest painted the most positive picture of the condition of the churches. The Romanian Evangelical Alliance is an association of about 1.5 million Evangelicals whose main purpose is Christian mission and evangelization. Some social programs include visitation to orphanages and seniors. Evangelistic efforts are varied and include mission groups, concerts, and youth meetings. Beyond local churches, parachurch agencies have ministries to orphanages, prisons, and schools, as well as music and Christian radio ministries. Larger urban churches sponsor missionary groups and have planted satellite churches.
. . . And Bleaker Outlooks
However, the other three interviewees presented a much bleaker scene. They consider only a few of the more evangelical organizations to be true believing churches that seek to faithfully follow Jesus Christ in belief and practice. Everyone talks about having a personal relationship with God, but few have it. Local churches are doing almost nothing to meet people's social needs. Different denominations are antagonistic towards one another and few show much interest in sharing the good news through evangelism.
One of the most effective ways to reach people with the gospel has been to send missionaries to villages to start church plants, an approach encouraged by the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting. Methods for proclaiming the message include evangelistic preaching, gospel movies, and Christian radio. Individual evangelism has worked best while mass evangelism with famed foreign leaders has been mostly ineffective. While they can draw large crowds, those in attendance are mostly curious. Foreigners are not trusted, few conversions result, and little follow-up for spiritual development is the rule. Also, methods calling one to "make a decision for Christ" are counter-cultural from the perspective of an eastern worldview.
The Orthodox Church is opposed to Evangelical efforts to share the gospel in Romania. Orthodox priests are particularly active in leading opposition; at times this has led to physical conflict. Orthodox publications and preaching are against "proselytizers," who are accused of "stealing sheep" out of the true fold.
Evangelical Legalism and Universal Distrust
But antagonism is not one-sided. Whatever church is predominant in an area, it slanders other denominations. Slander may be the worst element of Romanian society that has permeated the church and threatens to destroy its purity. The presence of legalism also prevents the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Other difficulties face the church as well. An unstable economy means that little money is available for funding buildings or projects. This has encouraged young, gifted intellectuals to study abroad and many do not return to Romania. Lack of training has impeded leadership.
Some Protestant churches are very western in feel, being consciously patterned after western models. This is a case of under-contextualization, making the church seem imported and foreign. Romania needs to work at a more contextualized, indigenous church for people of eastern persuasion.
Edited excerpt published with author's permission from "Romania: State of the Church," www.ibiblioteca.ro/stateofthechurch.html.
Tim Prochau, from Curtea de Arges, Romania, is an M.Div. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
Tim Prochau, "The State of the Church in Romania: Divergent Views," East-West Church & Ministry Report 13 (Spring 2005), 11-12.
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