In those countries where the churches had to survive under a communist regime, many problems emerged. Sometimes the state demanded things that were contrary to what christians in those countries believed and practiced. At times things had to remain secret. At other times church leaders decided that, in the interest of their church, they had to make some compromises. This also was the case in some instances for the Adventist Church in Central and Eastern Europe.
In Hungary a group of members accused the official Adventist Church that it had gone too far in some of these compromises. Forty years ago this led to an exodus of a substantial number of members, led by Oscar Egervari, one of the prominent pastors. As time went by this group organized itself as an independent faith community and called itself the Christian Adventist Community (KERAK). The new denomination hired pastors, bought some church buildings and established its own theological seminary.
In the forty years that have passed there has been a great amount of hope, prayer and talk about a possible healing of this dramatic split that has held two groups of Adventists divided and that also caused deep wounds in local churches and families. In the past small groups of ‘Egervari-members’ have returned or transferred (those who never were members of the official church), among whom a few pastors. Recently this process has greatly accelerated. Some seven hundred persons have now decided to join the Adventist Church. In this group are sixteen pastors.
With a few of their new colleagues these former ‘Egervari-pastors’ sat in front of me this past week in a meeting room in the center of the Hungarian Adventist Church in Pecel, just outside the city limits of Budapest. A process has been started to integrate these KERAK pastors into the Hungarian Union of Seventh-day Adventists. The seminary of the church in Hungary has been asked to provide the new colleagues with some special training to facilitate their ‘transfer’. I was asked to present a seminar about Adventist ecclesiology, i.e. the Biblical view of the church and the many related theological and practical issues.
Now, at the end of the week I feel tired but also satisfied. To be on your feet a number of long days and to talk for so many hours without any major breaks demands its physical toll. But it gives a lot of satisfaction to have been able to contribute to the integration of this group of pastors. But perhaps above all I feel a sense of admiration for the courage of these people to take this drastic, life changing step, and the courage of the Hungarian church leaders to provide for a place for these colleagues in the church’s structure.
The Adventist Church in Hungary is not big. A sudden influx of about 700 members and of a relatively sizable group of pastors is an adventure that demands courage. These people are Adventists, but they have lived and worshipped in a different kind of church culture, with particular ideas and prejudices, and a lot of criticism for the ‘regular’ Adventist Church. Undoubtedly there are different theological emphases. It is hard to predict what this will bring in the short term and in the longer term. But that there will be tensions from time to time seems quite probable.
The pastors who move from the KERAK to the Adventist Church must also have a substantial amount of courage. They leave colleagues and friends behind. No doubt, some of the members of the churches they used to pastor are disappointed with their decision to leave. And their transfer has major consequences for their social life. And I assume they must feel some uncertainty about their future. What will be their role in the church in which they will now live and work?
I admire the courage of the Hungarian Adventist Church to accept these challenges and the courage of the people involved—in particular the pastors—to move to another spiritual home.
[PS: I hope someone in Hungary will—at some time in the future—chronicle the current process (maybe this could even be the basis for a dissertation for a Doctor of Minisry degree?). It may well serve as a source of inspiration in other places where there ia a more or less massive influx of new members who bring another culture with them. But, for now the Hungarian Adventist Church needs our prayers more than ever before. May God richly reward the courage that is being shown.