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Baptists In Romania The Impact of Historycomment (0)

May 15, 2014

By Bob Terry

Baptists In Romania  The Impact of History

Look at Romania and one sees a nation shaped by history. Most of the world knows about the Romanian Revolution that ended more than 40 years of Communist rule when dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was shot by a military firing squad Christmas Day 1989.

Most people know Romania originally sided with Germany at the beginning of World War II and paid a heavy price as allies bombed its oil fields and manufacturing centers. At the end of the war, the boundaries of the nation were redrawn by the allies with Moldova being carved out of Romania and eventually becoming a separate state. At the end of World War I the boundaries also had been redrawn adding territory to the western side of the nation. 

But the defining historical impact on Baptists goes back further than either world war. It goes back centuries to the time the Byzantine Empire collapsed and the Ottoman Turks sacked Constantinople. That was A.D. 1453. The Christian faith that had reached from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the icy tundra of Russia was challenged by the invading Muslims. The Ottoman Empire reached northward through the Balkans and Bulgaria into Romania. There it met the forces of the Russian Empire and its Eastern Orthodox faith. The competing empires developed an uneasy peace that lasted for about 400 years. 

On the western side of Romania the Ottomans encountered what came to be called the Habsburg Empire, an empire loyal to the Roman Catholic faith, and another uneasy truce developed lasting hundreds of years. 

Understanding that Romania was the place the three empires converged is important in understanding Baptists of that nation today. 

When the Reformation swept Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, it penetrated every part of the Habsburg Empire. Lutherans emerged in Germany. Reformed faiths appeared in Hungary. Mennonites became common across northern Europe. Among the places Baptists appeared was the eastern frontier of the empire — Romania. Today the vast majority of Romania’s 1,800 churches and the majority of its 130,000 members are located in the area that used to be controlled by the Habsburgs. According to the last census, some areas report as much as 30 percent of the population as Baptist. 

The Ottoman Empire reached from southern Romania as far north as the Carpathian Mountains. Even though the Turkish rule ended with their defeat almost 100 years ago in World War I, the most recent census shows vast stretches on the former Muslim area as having no Baptists at all. Baptist leaders today describe the work in that part of the nation as hard and report beliefs in spiritualism, witches, evil spells and the like as high among the population. 

From the east the power of Moscow and the Eastern Orthodox Church was exercised. Moscow saw itself as the successor to Constantinople and vowed to reign for a thousand years as that city had done. The Reformation of Europe never found hold in the Russian Empire.

In every village a church was built. Priests became power brokers in a way that continues today. In many villages Orthodox priests still exercise control over what the people do. That is why a priest may order a family to remove their children from a Baptist Vacation Bible School, and the family does so. Other times the priest can threaten Baptists with physical beatings without worrying about civil authorities. 

The people have a Christian heritage but some say their God is One whose holiness produces awe and fear. He cannot be approached. God cannot be known and the concept of a personal relationship with God is a foreign idea, they say.

Baptists are often referred to by the Orthodox as “the Repenters,” a term of derision but an accurate description of the Baptist message. 

Churches in the area of Romania historically under Orthodox control are few in number and small in membership but growing. Emphasizing what the Bible says is the main approach Baptists use in witnessing. Bucharest and its surrounding area fall into the Orthodox sphere of influence. The five counties around the nation’s capital, together with the capital itself, have more than 6 million people in it. Baptists number about 7,500.

It was not until the three empires lost their political control that Baptists became a recognized religion in Romania. The Paris Peace Conference following the end of World War I required recognition of minority religions. But even before recognition, Baptists were spreading the gospel in Romania and that continues today. 

Romanian Baptist officials estimate that about one-third of all modern-day Baptists have migrated to other nations. That is why one finds a Romanian Baptist Association in the United States and Romanian Baptist churches in Canada and parts of Europe. 

Romania also sends workers to other nations. One pastor said, “We are not only a receiving union of Baptists, we are a sending union.” 

Current Baptist Union of Romania President Otniel Bunaciu, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Bucharest, is trying to revive a church planting program within the union. This would require the larger, stronger churches in the western part of the nation helping to start new work in the south and east. 

Funding will not be the only issue if he succeeds. Romania is almost three distinct areas formed by hundreds of years of history that continue to influence the religion and culture of the people. Understanding those influences caused by different histories for the different regions of the nation is the beginning point in understanding Baptists in Romania. 

To read other articles on Baptist work in Romania, click here, here, here, here, here or here

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