Michael Bourdeaux – Keston College and Romania – Lecture notes – 2

4. Keston began 1969 – Alan Scarfe to Bucharest seminary – got to know Baptists as well as Orthodox. On his return we became main spokesmen in West for them – at an exciting time. He began systematic reporting on all aspects of church and “neo-Protestant” life. For example, he told us about evangelical revival within the Orthodox Church. Fr Tudor Popescu in 1920s began a Bible-based revival, concentrating on a new translation. Eventually unfrocked for bringing “Protestant” influences into RomOC  Iosif Trifa in 1930s instrumental in establishing Lord’s Army (Evangelical movement within Orthodox Church) in 1930s). No one had ever heard of “Oastea Domnului”  – but we publicised the life and work of Trifa. He died in 1938, stripped of priesthood, but movement carried on – even strongly in communist period, despite official church’s efforts, backed by State, to extinguish it. Right to Believe 2/78: “The Army of the Lord Marches on” – story of Traian Dors (1914-89) – never lived to see religious liberty, but fearless ministry. Joined Lord’s Army at 16; movement outlawed 1947; seventeen years in prison, then house arrest from 1964. Unceasing writer of hymns – thousands. Deserves greater recognition.

5. The Baptists – Alan Scarfe’s most important contribution to work of Keston and to religious liberty. My personal involvement goes back to meeting Iosif Ton in Oxford in 1969, when he came to do a three-year course for the prestigious Oxford degree in theology. He sought me out to discuss book on Russian Baptists (Religious Ferment in Russia) published 1968 and which he had read. Tells the story – in academic detail – of schism between state-registered Baptists and “Initsiativniki” – those who opposed state interference in church affairs. Iosif told me situation similar in Romania, except no schism.

6. Ton wrote remarkable Present-Day Situation in the Baptist Church of Romania in 1973, in which he sharply criticised government control and repressive policies. It came as a “revelation” to young Baptists. But some were dubious about his credentials – as a young man he had abandoned the church for ten years. Removed from Bucharest to Ploiesti (in Russia would have been imprisoned). 46 pastors followed – signed memorandum demanding legal rights. May 1974 second arrest of Vasile Rascol – first in 1971 two years for distributing Christian literature – but really for inciting protest. Letter in Keston’s Romania Report of 1979. Ton allowed to visit west in 1980 – first time in 8 years.

7. Ton’s Christian Manifesto (also published by Keston a year later) was more conciliatory in some ways. CP believed that “new society” would create “new man”, but this hasn’t happened. Why not? It’s an interesting text. Concludes that “Evangelical Christians are not harmful to socialism, but on the contrary, they are needed. They can offer a vital contribution to socialist society. Socialism has nothing to lose by giving them a try… Let socialism give Christ a chance.” There are others who would not see it from this perspective and reject communism/socialism totally.

8. Also in 1976 Alan Scarfe published a perceptive article in RCL, “Romanian Baptists and the State”. “Romanian Baptists are growing faster than all the other European Baptist Churches… In one church alone, in Oradea, Pastor Liviu Olah baptized over 200 new members after only three months of ministry.” Leaders originally satisfied if churches open and were prepared to collaborate to keep them open. Then in late 1950s large numbers of Baptists arrested, especially in Transylvania, charged with anti-state conspiracy and even pro-Hungarian nationalism. “Many Christians of different denominations began to learn from one another inside the prison camps.



Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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