Internationales Staat-Kirche-Kolloquium (15./16. November 2004) Berlin
This period of church history, described by the above title, can be perceived as a unit, which is defined as the „time of oppression”, „persecution”, „Babylonian captivity”, „40 years of wandering in the wilderness”, „overtake by weeds”, „squandered years”, or as Gyula Gombos wrote, „lean years”. The most influential bishops and ideologists of this period used the term „servant church”.
As we examine this whole period, we should not ignore the determining fact, that was the presence of the „liberating”, that is occupying soviet forces, which remained in Hungary after World War II. and left the country only in 1991. Thus, Hungary became an object of the aggressive, totalitarian political expansion of the Soviet-Union. All these are well known historical realities. This kind of politics quenched every reform or freedom initiative, which did not fit its political framework. The church itself was condemned to death. The life and activities of the HRC to the utmost degree depended upon internal and external political facts (1956, 1968), and upon changes in the Soviet-Union up to the Gorbachov’s „perestroika”. Further more, the official church supported the policies of Miklós Horthy during World War II., as later on it was frequently stated by those who wanted to humiliate the church, and used this as a stamp of shame.
They totally ignored the true remorse of the HRC. Yet, László Ravasz proclaimed from the pulpit of the Calvin Square Church in February 1945: “There can’t be any national renewal, just as well as there can not be any conversion and rebirth, till we will not confess with the prodigal son: “Father! I have sinned against heaven and against You.”
Remorse, revival, evangelizing and a deep desire for conversion characterized the times after the war. Sermons of repentance and the official Repentance Declarations of the HRC were the menu of these days.
The Agreement between the State and the HRC was signed on October 7, 1948 and was in force till March 19, 1990. With this Agreement a new era dawned in the history of the church. This period of church history, and especially the times after 1958 are not really explored as yet. This is due to the closeness of time, to lack of organization of documents, to fragmentation and the need to gather all pertinent information to give a valid picture. These documents are present in church archives in very limited ways and may easier be reconstructed from the materials found in state archives. Unfortunately, many of the „crown witnesses” of this era are dead, and those living are reluctant to speak.
This period of 1945-1989 is segmented by researchers in the following manner:
The Dutch church historian, Jos Colijn distinguished four periods: confrontation, ghetto-status, dialogue, ‘instrumentalization’.
Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei also determines four distinct periods from the view point of systematic religious-sociology: first are the years following 1945, which are characterized by the oppressive politics of totalitarian dictatorship. The church is still believing this to be a temporal situation and that it just has to survive these trials. The second period is from 1956 to the end of the 60s, dictatorship becomes lighter, the new political leadership tries to isolate the church from the „progressive currents of society„ , the church is in a ghetto-prison.
The third section is from the late 60s to the second half of the 80s, when the state tries to use the church as an instrument of its politics. This was considered instrumentalization of the church. In some cases the Communist Party uses the service of the church. This also is the beginning of dialogues between church and state (Christian - Marxist dialogue). The fourth segment is from the second half of 80s, when the ruling social order is in a crisis and the church acquires more and more space to do its work.
In his research study, titled „Our churches”, Ferenc Glatz writes about three periods, that is: church persecution (1950-1964), compromising (1964-1975), and dialogue (1975-1988).
Bishop Elemér Kocsis has described the theological ideology of the HRC from 1948 to 1978, in the fifth volume of Studia et Acta. He circumscribes the following periods: first is the segment of orientation, which can be called the era of Bereczky, (1948-1956) that lasts till 1957, till the election of bishop Tibor Bartha. According to him, the determining factor is „the definition of the historic situation of the HRC and its contemporary mission, „which should reach „diakonia” through communal repentance, that is to perceive and accept itself as a „servant church”, which means for the church total cooperation with the present social order to build a socialist society and to protect world peace.” The second segment is from 1958 to 1968, which is „ the learning process to walk the ways of a servant church”. Kocsis used the example of Christ as an analogy for the servant church and explained its theology with two hermeneutic examples: with the personality and redeeming work of Christ, and with the command to love, in which the emphasis is on brotherly love. (It is not new, for brotherly love was emphasized during the previous period also.) These examples of Christ are the reasons or pretexts for activities of the church, such as „peace preaching”, „openness for dialogue”, „persuasion to participate in collective farming”, according to Kocsis.
The third segment according to him is 1968-1978, which is the blooming of the theology of servant church, when church service and brotherly love form a unity. He couldn’t deal with the fourth segment, because this book was published in 1983, though he makes references to the 1982 bishop’s report of Bartha, in which Bartha labels the ideology, naming it theology of a servant church „ Evangelical Calvinism”. As a matter of fact this period, extending till 1989, tries to follow the theology of servant church, yet it definitely is a time of transition. Bishop Tibor Bartha was the clergy president of the Synod from 1962 to1986. He was followed in this position by bishop Károly Tóth, who „dismissed this theology of servant church mandated to build socialism and instead was urging the working out of a new kind of peace-theology”.
As for the timing of the above periodizations, they show considerable similarities, but with different and sometimes even contradictory definitions and interpretations (compare, for example Bölcskei and Kocsis). Generally me too I agree with the main periods determined by various bishops, yet within these periods there are also some smaller or sub units. The first period can further be divided from 1945 to 1948 as repentance, changing leadership, Agreement; then from 1948 to 1958 as systematic building of dictatorship, revenge, terror (With a half a year of renewal and revolution, which is the intermezzo from October 1956 to April 1957). About the following periods I am in agreement with the divisions of bishop Bölcskei. Distinctions can be made between the degree of instrumentalization (its use and strength) between the 70s and the early 80s.
I need to uplift, that the time period from 1945 to 1948 for the church was a remorseful renewal with the appearance of a new voice, which is the voice of the Free Reformed National Council. The Council worked on the renewal of the church, yet on their second meeting they openly supported the new social order, moving to the left, on March 26, 1947. They passed judgment upon the church leadership for their belated repentance and for „... their lack of Declaration ... that is: approval ... about the accomplishments of the new Hungarian democracy”. The participants of this meeting (Bereczky, Makkai, Karácsony, S.Fekete, Péter Hajdú, Finta, Békefi ) wanted to depose Ravasz and Révész from their office.
At the onset of democratic changes church leaders like Ravasz and Imre Révész believed, that the interests of the church will not be shortened. The church can continue its educational activity. Imre Révész thought it possible to have a peaceful coexistence between an Atheist and Christian ideology, when both work for their own pedagogical goals „a truly democratic state government has integrity ... not wanting to oppress the other side by force”.
These thoughts were born before the election victory of the Communist Party and for this reason today we can call it Christian naiveté. In the mind and practice of Marxist-Leninist ideology the lot for religion was total annihilation, in order to achieve this they did everything. Religion was considered to be a private affair, state and church were totally separated and the state implemented an exclusive state education system. The life of the HRC was walled into a ghetto life, it was imprisoned into the confines of church buildings.
How was it implemented? They started a direct attack against the church, in 1947, bringing charges against the „Hungarian Community”, a group of young intellectuals and politicians, and accusing number of reformed persons, like theological professor László Pap, university pastor László Vatai, prime minister Ferenc Nagy, who also was the curator at the church of Calvin-Square. Their goal was: to annihilate the church, to prove that the church is reactionary and antagonist to the people’s interests. Influential persons in the church have to be replaced by a new church leadership befitting to the approval of Rákosi, the leading figure of the Communist Party. It was accomplished. As the Communist Party came to power, headed by Rákosi, the counting down with the church started, its first mile stone was the Agreement of 1948. To implement this Rákosi found in the ranks of the Reformed Church “faithful, trustworthy” comrades. The second part of the first period is from1948 to 1956, under the bishopric of Albert Bereczky and delineated, as a distinct subdivision, by events both in the church and in politics. A major part of my presentation deals with this period because by the end of the 50s the state destroyed the infrastructure of the church, confiscated its institutions, limited its activity and enclosed it within the confines of the sanctuary. By this time the controlling mechanism was ready, like State Office for Church Affairs, laws, informers and befitting rewards. The state was content with this kind of subjugation of the church, though there always remained a strong fear of the possibility of church renewal or awakening.
The turning point was 1948, the year of totalitarian dictatorship and attempt of annihilating the church. The first martyrs were Andor Lázár, the general presbyter of the Danubian District and Lászó Ravasz, the bishop of the District and president of the Synod. Prime minister Rákosi decided their removal, he lined up in his corner the minister of defense, Péter Veres, the president of Smallhoders’ Party, István Dobi and from among the church elite Bereczky, János Péter and theological professor János Victor, who demanded immediate resignation of Ravasz. Andor Lázár was dragged into 60 Andrássy út (then site of the secret police, now the House of Terror, Historical Museum) for intimidation and when he was released, he immediately handed his resignation to Ravasz.
Ravasz wanted to remain in his position until the fall meeting of the Synod in order to secure his successor, but prime minister Rákosi had other plans, he called him in and told him the name of his successor, who was Albert Bereczky. Ravasz considering the beneficial interest of the church handed in his resignation as president of the Synod and on the 11th of May he also resigned as bishop. Bereczky was elected to be bishop of the District instead of Ravasz on July 16th 1948, under very strong political pressure. The election of the general presbyter was a much harder nut to crack. Roland Kiss was elected only after the fourth try, even though everybody was aware that he is a protégé of Rákosi resiste. Attorney Dr. János Kardos candidate for the post was elected as general presbyter at the second voting already, but the state put the trial of Lutheran bishop Lajos Ordass to the day of Kardos’s installation and Kardos was the defense attorney of Ordass. Kardos with integrity in this situation chose to represent Ordass and forfeited the honor of being general presbyter. (One may see this as a devilish manipulation.) The change of guard was completed in the Danubian District. Bereczky became the clergy president of the Synod and Roland Kiss the lay president, in 1949. (According to the constitution of the HRC there always is a clergy and a lay president of the Hungarian General Synod.)
At the same time the state was negotiating with a select committee of the Reformed Church (Bereczky, Imre Révész, Andor Enyedy, Elemér Gyõry bishops and Sándor Karácsony, Sándor Matolcsy and István Gaál) about the separation of church and state. One may find materials of these negotiations in our Synodical Archives. The acceptance of the final text of the Agreement was greatly enhanced by the fact, that the state guaranteed mandatory religious education in public schools and Rákosi even promised to Bereczky, that some lower schools will remain in the hands of the church. As the Agreement was signed, it was discovered, that it was only a „campaign promise”. (Karl Barth then visiting the HRC mistakenly also took a stand against Ravasz and sided with the communist leadership at this time, as my footnotes reveal). The state recognized the existence of the church and gave permission to hold worship services, local revival services, national conferences, religious education and charity work. The state took away most of the church property and promised 20 years support to the church, with a decrease of 25 percent after every five years. From the church’s educational facilities they left in the hands of the church 4 seminaries, 2 teachers’ colleges, and 6 high schools. Later the situation became even worse. After 1951 and from 1952 on only the two seminaries of Budapest and Debrecen only a single high school in Debrecen remained in the hands of the church.
It became obvious from the Agreement, that the state gave 20 years for the church to expire. The state did everything within it’s power to assure this process. They confiscated the churches’ educational institutions, closed church associations and organizations, did not permit religious publications and stopped any kind of mission project. The church was limited to produce new ministers to take care of local parishes, thus more and more congregations became marginal and ministers had to be pastors of multiple congregations.
Although the Agreement was signed, yet in practice it did not secure any guarantees for the church for the continuation of its work. On the 5th of September, 1949 the Presidential Committee nullifies the mandatory religious education (No 5 law decree). Religious education was hindered on every possible way from 1949 on, for example no school room was available, they did not accept registrations, they did not grant permission to the pastor to teach, thus in many places of the country religious education ceased. It was not only a slap on the face to the church, but the church became a free prey in the hands of ill-willed school principals, local state officials or communist party secretaries and there was no legal remedy what so ever. The law pertaining to religious education, September 15, 1950, declared, that religion can be taught only from books approved by the ministry of education, only in state schools, and only after regular subject hours were finished. Pupils could not be gathered for any kind of instructions outside of the school buildings. Rákosi and his cohorts were not satisfied with this, bishop Albert Bereczky received a letter from the Ministry of Interior on October 5 1949, which demanded the „voluntary” dissolution of religious youth and missionary organizations. In 1951 they closed all the diaconist institutions and in 1953 they confiscated the Reformed Bethesda Hospital. From 1950 on through the next decade farmers were forced into collective farming groups and local pastors were demanded to urge them from the pulpit in these proceedings. There were many martyrs among ministers who went to prison and even forfeited their lives, because they were unwilling to urge their church members to fall in line. There were numberless untrue news articles in the 1950s, accusing pastors of being loyal to the past regime, of being thieves, of trafficking with illegal hard currencies. All of these were instruments in the hands of the state to take away the credibility of the church. In 1952 any real-estate or farmland still remaining in possession of the church had to be „voluntarily” offered to the state. If it was not done, then the state confiscated it, withholding even the ridiculously low remuneration, which otherwise they would give. Then came the next blow. There still was mission work. Ministers thought ahead and organized a National Mission Working Group, at Sárospatak, in 1948. This Group unified the total mission work of the church. In the year of 1952 a new law (No 16) labeled Mission Ordinance was created on the basis of the Brotherly Message of 1950. This law liquidated the Working Group. This Ordinance remained valid till August 31, 1989. Within this framework real mission was possible only in the local congregations. „Mission committees” were established for the local churches, for the classes, and for the church districts. Everyone had to present a „mission plan”, which had to be approved by the church authority. The congregations could implement only those missions, which in these plans were stated and approved. If anyone dared to do otherwise, there came church discipline or removal. I examined many mission programs of congregations reflecting that inner church censorship was strong, for example from the 1956 program of Pocsaj ( small village ), the dean crossed out revival, gypsy mission and the invitation of the neighboring congregation. Others presented simple and unimaginative programs to avoid trouble.
This new Ordinance made revival impossible, stopped the Bethania renewal and awakening in its tracks. All of this was a must, because both the church and the state leadership quaked in their boots from anything being able to mobilize the people.
The state machinery went even further. They deported from the capital every pastor, church member and influential person, whom they labeled or believed to be a „reactionary”. Than other cities and even villages were also cleansed. István Bán remarks with sadness, that the church leadership not only did not object, but even did not find position for pastors, who did effective mission work.
In order to establish total control over the church, the Parliament enacted No I. law of May 18, 1951, creating the State Office for Church Affairs, which office worked till 1989. This Office censured, approved or disapproved every activity of the church and guarded the implementation of the Agreement, approved appointments, larger gatherings for conferences, publications and materials for theological courses. No one could travel abroad without their permission. The pressure became lighter during the ‘80s. It is interesting to note the directive of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Socialist Party in 1983: „The State Office for Church Affairs (SOCA) should give yearly 75 percent of the state support to the church leadership. The remaining 25 % should be used for its own political activity”. This strengthened the position of the SOCA and rendered the church even more defenseless, for the so called „good people” received their rewards from this 25%. The state machinery was in need of stooges, thus the No 20 ordinance of 1951 of the Presidential Council declared that appointment to any higher church position has to be previously approved by them. This ordinance was broadened to pertain to positions in the classes, to teachers and deans of Seminaries, to principals of church high schools, by the No 22 ordinance of 1957, which included even changes in positions or dismissals, for all of these required the previous approval of the Ministry of Culture. In practice this meant, that the power was given to state institutions to fill a church vacancy at their own will, if the church did not fill a particular opening for bishops within 90 days and for anybody else within 60 days. Any person taking a position was required to take a state prescribed oath within 60 days in the presence of state authorities. After 1971 only appointments of theological professors required the stamp approval of the SOCA; deans and church high school principals were elected by the Synodical Presidium, who had to report this to the SOCA for approval within 15 days.
The next blow was the forced fusion of small congregations and church districts.
The church and its activities were reduced to a minimum level. Even this was not enough for the state leadership. They even started to brainwash pastors ideologically, hoping for success. The National Peace Council was organized in 1949 and the clergy was required to take part in its activity on national or local level. They designed a central program for peace-days for the use of church districts, classes and local clergy associations. Later on they decorated the national leadership of this Peace Council with church dignitaries, to display them to the whole world, showing that the church is supporting the politics of the new society. At the meeting of the World Peace Council, Budapest, in 1953, our church leadership was also participating. They also drew in the church into the work of the Patriotic Popular Front. These organizations mentioned above did not appear to be political organizations or political parties, yet it was obvious, that they are the extended arms of the Communist Party.
Though the Church could not be active at home, at international conferences it did considerable work. It prepared valuable studies for the conferences, even though the participants were controlled by the State Office for Church Affairs (SOCA). As the report of János Péter of 1953 shows, the representatives of our Church participated in the committees of the World Council of Churches, of the World Alliance of Reformed (Presbyterian) Churches and the World Alliance of Elders. This function of the Church was not only supported, but also required by the state officials. At any event, the state began building up a spy system within the Church. Its corrupt character and the limited chances of the Church are clear if we take into consideration that Church officials were used for this purpose. All this proved to be devastating for the inner and outer order of church life. The Church lost credibility (mainly on account of its leaders), pastors and believers did not trust each others, nobody knew precisely the spies, and everybody was menaced and could be taken by the Secret Police (ÁVÓ). Pastors, theologians and church members of firm faith continued to edify the congregations, preached the gospel, cared for the church members and did youth work also, within the given limits or even crossing the borders. Many of them could not be broken and refused the „theology of the narrow road” and the „theology of the service” and, what is more, they recorded their opinions. In fact, they had to face dismissal and prison.
László Ravasz wrote about these critical voices as follows: „as early as in summer 1955 the purification process began on the pastors’ conferences, from the spring of 1956 onwards it became stronger: It wished to cure the many faults of the service, but mainly of the leadership, of the Church”. Several suggestions came from different parts. Ravasz himself published a Memorandum in summer 1956 and sent it to the General Synod, and to the State Office for Church Affairs, too. He stated quite clearly that the Church stood under communist pressure which tried to weaken the Church through the Church itself, that is the Church members and Church leaders were played off against one another. The main steps on this path were: The Church leaders accepted the goals of the state (Agreement with the state, closing the Church organizations, unions and alliances, etc.); the Church became a mere cultic community and the Church leadership tried to justify itself with a new theology - so a Church dictatorship was established.
Ravasz also suggested the solution to the problem: The state ought to allow and assure the Church all the functions which have emerged in the course of history, ought to acknowledge the raison d’etre of the Church, and even its autonomy. The Church, on its turn, should beware that its existence is but in faith. Students of the Budapest Theological Academy compiled a Declaration of Faith in 1955, in which they opposed vehemently the Church dictatorship and the service of the state. The declaration underlines that „The Church can under no circumstances dispense with the mission. If it does so, it denies its very existence”. The two above-mentioned documents were signed by many students of theology and pastors; they called their movement „Revival Movement” and asked on 31st October 1956 László Ravasz to lead the movement. He returned back to Budapest on the 1st November (after a certain hesitation he was persuaded to do so), and was joined by János Kardos and László Pap in the leadership of the Movement. In the meanwhile, Albert Bereczky and János Péter resigned as bishops (and Roland Kiss did the same as General Curator). Roland Kiss admitted in his letter of abdication that his election as General Curator was forced by Mátyás Rákosi, and on the bishop’s office of János Péter the decision was made by the party leader. On the 4th November 1956, the Soviet tanks marched against Budapest and the war against the revolution started. In the Church, however, the former order came back only later: The Danubian District has resisted until April 1957. During this time evangelizations were organized in the whole country - - this was the second wave of revival after 1945. The formerly resigned Church leaders, however, took their positions again, and the circle of Ravasz was decried as rebellious. The revenge started: László Pap and Barna Nagy were removed from the Theological Academy; as they could not be trusted, they were allowed to assume ministerial service only on temporary basis.
The method of János Kádár was much more reflected and choose the tools according to the necessity. It tried to win some of the Church officials by granting amnesty. On the one hand, the new state leadership showed itself generous, and it went so far as to promising the re-opening of the Pápa and Sárospatak Colleges, the free exercise of mission and evangelization. Bishop Elemér Gyõry was naive enough to believe this; his synodal circular of 19th January 1957 testifies to this. On the other hand, the new state leadership had a different face, too. The State Office for Church Affairs got an extended authorization of control: It meant the introduction of censorship, controlling the foreign relations of the Churches and the nominations also. Many pastors became victims of the revenge: Some of them were beaten, imprisoned, or at least controlled by police. Church leaders, once again, kept silence, and, as it turned out in some cases, they were glad of getting rid of some of the „too active” ministers. The pastor of Levél, Lajos Gulyás, had to die -- a strange thank for saving the life of one of the officials of the Secret Police! The strongest imprisonment was that of Dezsõ Székely (15 years in prison); István Bán spent 8 years in prison. Some of the pastors were forced to co-operate with the Secret Police. Mihály Gáll, pastor in Hajdúsámson, resisted and left his office but did not become informer. The Church Districts, once again, resorted to dismissals, and the resisting pastors were removed from their posts (so, for example, József Berényi had to leave Debrecen for Bojk). In 1957 there was a change in the Church leadership: Albert Bereczky retired, János Péter went over to state commission (he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1961), and Tibor Bartha became the Bishop of the Transtibiscan District (1958-1986). Small consolation, but the Cistibiscan District was restored in 1958.
The second part of this period begins with the end of the ‘50s and lasts until the end of the ‘60s. Dictatorship was, indeed, softer, but the rules of the game have remained the same and the state continued to work for the total annihilation of the Church - even though the Church’s presence was acknowledged and the co-operation with the Church was declared. “Co-operation is necessary, because the struggle between the state and the Church diverts much attention from the building up of socialism, and is therefore not advantageous. For the Church, confrontation is not advantageous as well, because it necessarily leads to limitation of its work, so it cannot profit of it. The circle of the progressing persons of Church members is getting each day wider, and they decided (for the benefit of the Church) to support the power of the labour class and the socialist work.” This can be read in the inner evaluation of the Socialist Party. The report of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party put it precisely in 1968: “Co-operation cannot lead to compromise with the religious world-view” – that is the class struggle continued, but was softer than before. What kind of strategy was inherent to the Church politics? The information of the Politburo of the Central Committee speaks about the Agreement with the Churches positively: It was the victory of the working classes over the clerical reaction. But the information admits that the presence of the religion and the Churches is a continuing reality in society, and it summons party members „to strengthen the propaganda of the Marxist world-view and the ideology.” „The 9th Congress of our Party set as task before us that the scientific world-view of the working class should be the ruling ideology in our country.” As a propaganda against the Church, a journal, „Világosság” was founded. The main strategy was a policy of person: Reactionary Church leaders had to be replaced with pastors loyal to the state. The laws of 1951 and 1957 served this purpose. It was hoped that the newly elected Church leaders declare war on the reactionary persons within their Churches too. The new Church leaders were elected as leaders in several social institutions too, such as in the National Peace Council or in the Patriotic Popular Front. High Church officials became members of the Hungarian Parliament, promoted by the party.
Beside the use of „peace-preachers”, the state also used the international activities of the church, because with this „...they enhanced the international prestige of the Hungarian People’s Republic”. To support the international activity of the church the state provided adequate financial support through the SOCA.
There was an official discussion to analyze the situation of the church in 1967, with participation of the leadership of the SOCA. I consider the opinion of „comrade” Straub quite important to enable us to evaluate our church better, because he, as a devoted Party member and important leader summed up the church’s attitude toward the present political and ideological power with these words: „Behind the political loyalties of the church based on controversial ideologies there are different considerations to be distinguished. The reactionary forces in the modern church, too, carry out their activity within the framework of a feigned „cooperation”. There are two main groups:
(A) Those, who display personal political loyalty ... through the support of the Popular Front, but they do not carry this over to the realm of the church. Their viewpoints are: pure Gospel, to preach the Word without politics... Theology and the church should not support politically Socialism built on Marxism.
(B) Those who consider Socialism as a transition and they use even the concept of a servant church to prepare the church for its future social dominance, they are working on the preparation of a Christian society, that will follow Socialism employing the ways of church initiatives relating to politics, ethics, peace-politics, etc.”. These groups and persons confused the honestly loyal church leaders, whose activity diminished toward the subjugation of internal church reactionaries. As a matter of fact they even helped the advancement of some elements of the reactionaries.
This analysis is very shocking but tells the whole story. Yes! there was opposition and it worked almost undetectably yet frightening for the power.
Since the end of the ‘60s processes often step over the borderlines of periods. From this point on I do not concentrate on periods, but on processes.
The Party declared in 1983 „ the religious multitude is contented with our church politics...the majority of the clergy ... decided on a basis of principles to work together politically”. Although what is written here was contradicted by events of the ‘80s and especially occurrences following the year 1990. Even the tone of the 1983 evaluation changed. It is true, Party leaders admitted the success of the tiresome, destructive work of lengthy decades, that “the church does not affect directly our public life, ... But they influence family life and their more and more dominating work has an indirect effect on our society, especially in morals, in culture, and in the social sphere”. It is a colossal compliment to our clergy. They did not burn out, they did not give up to walk on Christ’s footsteps. They were humiliated, beaten up, locked into a ghetto, yet remained hard as a rock in their faith. This analysis notices correctly the more and more extending work of the church. These activities brought results in family life, and also in youth work and amongst women. Small faith communities were developing and a critical voice was raised about divorce, alcoholism, abortion, and suicide. This new tone and outlook also appeared in state politics: „The more vigorous social and charitable activity of the church - divergent from the opposition - serves the interest of our society in the name of political cooperation”. The state evaluated all these as being more useful to society, than to the church. This explains the appearance of a new green light for church’s social mission, yet only under supervision. The state power decided what to permit to the church and it was not the matter of free choice. The control was easing up, yet the church had to be wise to use these new opportunities. Partially Tibor Bartha (bishop till 1986), but especially Károly Tóth took advantage of these possibilities for the benefit of the church (mission work, conferences, scholarships, renewals). He deliberately accepted responsibility for the church, for the parts of the nation on the other side of state borders, for the diminishing population and for deviants. Deliberate work and education started with presbyters, with pastors, with youth and to some degree also with intellectuals. The ecumenical ties were strengthened, especially with the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church. (Bartha already started this procedure, yet Tóth brought it to full bloom.)
On one side the church used well these opportunities given by God, yet on the other side an appraisal of socialism was born, saluting „liberation”, Agreement, Popular Front or Party Congress.
Bishop Károly Tóth was a major factor in determining the changes taking place in the relationship between church and state. He stated in his presidential speech at the General Synod of 1987: „...the Agreement is not unchangeable and untouchable”. This position was quite contrary to any previous position. It was the dawning of a new era in the life of the church. What earlier appeared unchangeable, now may be changed. It is becoming a reality, that socialism and servant theology are only transitions.
Under the tenure and leadership of bishop Károly Tóth the servant church was slowly dying out from church vocabularies, by the end of the ‘80s even „peace-theology” was disappearing. Revival, spiritual and practical church work came into the forefront instead. By 1987 even the Marxist-ideologists recognized, that „religion is not merely a remnant from the ideology of the historic past, but religion is a process satisfying social needs, for this reason its passing away can not be forced into a short time prognosis”.
There was a conference at Arnoldsheim, with the theme „ Europe - dream and reality”, on December 2, 1988, where bishop Tóth gave a presentation about “The process of political reforms in the churches and Hungary”. He emphasized that after 1956 the Party executed a cautious partial reform in connection with church policy. He divides the time period after 1945, to the following three sections: Stalinist time - Prohibition; time of pre-reforms - Toleration; the time of reforms - Support. Now the latter has to come to realization. It is very important to recognize that great wisdom and God-given vision were needed for our church leaders, and even for every single member of the church, to perceive the limits of political tolerance. They had to evaluate in every case how far they could go in their everyday work without serious punishments.
The main events of the second and third periods.
1963 - The Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, (the Communist Party) gave permission to the church to organize a General Synod in 1964, when they could work out the 400th anniversary program for the commemoration of 1567. (The first Synod, which worked out the founding constitution of the Reformed Church).
1967 - The new Book of Order was completed. A new Bible-translation and the Jubilee Commentary were published. The Commentary just as well as the yearly national clergy conference from 1963 on were helpful tools for clergy.
Fifteen homes carried out the charity work of the church; 9 for senior citizens, and 6 for mentally handicapped children. The state permitted this for the very reason, that the church could not damage this kind of constituency and lifted this burden from the shoulders of the state. The social and the international activity of the church had the same intensity as previous years. Bishop Bartha filled the following positions: member of the Central Committee of the WCC (1958-1983); member of the Executive Committee of the WARC (1961-1977); vice chairman of CPC (1964-1978).
1968 - The designated state support for the church expired on 31 December. The state made a decision to continue the support for the following reason „ ... to stop or to radically reduce it would bring harmful consequences to the normal relationship between the state and the church , ... in harmony with our political goals and to enhance them, are we granting it”. This statement was to the point.
1972 - The College of Doctors was established for the communal scientific work of the clergy.
1976 - Evangelizing began, with study materials prepared by the General Synod.
1978 - Seminaries established correspondence degrees to increase the number of clergyman, which plan was also partially fulfilled by the 1981 decision of the General Synod about the status of female clergy.
Auxiliary materials: 1975 Worship Book; 1977 congregational charity work; 1980 Handbook of Presbyters and Preach the Gospel (Handbook for Preachers); 1981 New Liturgy Book.
1985 - Ordination of female clergy. Order for election of pastors, which assured the free choice of congregations.
Seminary curriculum was reformed, foreign scholarships grew, the number of foreign students in our Seminaries increased.
1980-1981 - District youth conferences and presbyter conferences. In 1982 took place the first yearly intellectual church conference at Balatonszárszó (in the Communist Era). The themes were: the actual situation of church and society, what is the responsibility and working area of the church (presbyters, responsibility of the Christian intellect, population growth, identification with cultural values of the nation, helping the displaced Hungarian citizens, Bible-mission and Christian ethical norms: abortion, marriage, deviants.
Attempts started to revive the youth organizations of the past, but the state did not include religious organizations in their new law pertaining to organizations, in 1988.
Development of social mission;
1981 - Alcoholics Mission, 1983 - Drug Addict Mission, 1984 - Phone Mission, 1987 - Gypsy Mission, 1988 - Leprosy Mission, 1989 - Marriage and Family Mission, Prison Mission, Handicapped Mission, and Deaf and Blind Mission
From 1987 on religious education is possible in congregations, too.
At the end of the eighties, in Tahitótfalu the work group for the mission of evangelization was formed. The faith of the pastors and members of the congregations was greatly strengthened by the fraternal love and help of several foreign churches (mainly that of the Dutch, German, Swiss and American ones) given in forms of books, clothes and financing. Believers knew that they aren’t alone, they are held in account. This was partly the result of development in the international relations of the HRC.
A Protestant book-store was opened in 1977 in Budapest, then one in 1984 in Debrecen.
At the end of the eighties there were published some 30-35 new books yearly, and the number of published exemplars of the Bible increased from thirty thousand to hundred and twenty thousand a year.
1989 the HRC got back the high school „Baar-Madas” in Budapest.
These facts show the vitality of our church and congregations.
Although some other numbers give a despairing picture of the HRC. In the year 1949 there were 2 million reformed believers in our congregations. By 1987 this number has fallen to 1,5 million. Before the Second World War there were altogether 3,5 thousand congregations and some 2000 pastors. In the year 1989 there were 1618 independent or mother-congregations and 1655 fragmented ones, that is altogether 3,27 thousand, led by 1200 pastors. At the moment of the etatization from the 4500 schools held by churches the HRC had 1117 ones, in the year 1989 only four! The number of marriages and baptisms diminished, and so and even more drastically the number of the confirmands, that accounted for one fourth or one fifth of the baptized. The causes of these sad changes can be looked after in many things: in our being subjugated, in the aggressiveness of the Marxist ideology, in realization of the theology of service, in the collaboration, in the weakness of our faith or even in the world process of secularization.
In the relation between the HRC and the state, several groups of the believers and pastors could be distinguished:
there were collaborators, fabricating ideology and theology, gaining position and material advantages from this; the number of these groups and people was insignificant, their positions on the contrary;
there were collaborators getting positions for their services;
there were people who feigned collaboration, participated on mass gatherings of the Patriotic Popular Front or those of the Pastors for Peace Movement, but they were not sensible for ideas propagated there, and held the whole ado for a transitory evil; this was the biggest group;
there were people who resisted; some of them actively, they expressed - mainly within the church - their discontent; and other groups were passive, they didn’t utter criticisms, they held themselves far from ‘official people’ and worked hard in their congregations.
The Hungarian Reformed Church has shrunk but survived. Despite the existing counter-selection the majority of pastors fulfilled their mission given by God, and tried to find out what more to do for their congregations, eluding the rules set by the ruling power. The bishop Ravasz has put it on the then situation of the church (that was valid up to the end of the eighties): “By my opinion, our actual goal is to build up a renewed church from living congregations. And if the building up of a new church is hindered by the ruling power, we have to retire ourselves into the invisible functions of our congregations. ... Thus the future Hungarian Reformed Church can be reborn.”
In the year 1989 on the closing session of the eighth General Synod Bishop Tóth summarized the past period. He gave voice to some criticisms and gave an overview on the future duties of the transforming church. He gave thanks to the Almighty God using reformed believers for building His Realm despite their disobedience, sins and negligence of duties. He confessed the sins committed and looked forward with hope to the future where „God, despite of our unworthiness, opens new ways before our service”.
That’s all I can tell you. The Almighty God judges all of us, Him, who knows everyone’s thoughts and wishes. We are little ones, trying to do our best, because we feel our responsibility and hope that the world progresses further through our works and we can help clear-sightedness and put things in order.