Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Mission and Proselytizing: The Hungarian Case

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Mission and Proselytizing: The Hungarian Case

Article excerpt

This essay seeks to describe, from a historical perspective, the current situation and intricate problems of mission and proselytizing in Hungary. One cannot, however, isolate the churches' missionary activities and their occasional excesses from the churches' many other functions that are interwoven with mission. Inevitably, one must also analyze the social context with its expectations vis-a-vis the churches, as well as secularism, which, in its turn, confronts the churches with very special tasks. Thus, a historical perspective is highly justified. One must deal with the recent emergence of religious freedom and its present state in an Eastern European country. Other countries of the region also exert some influence upon the Hungarian situation.

To cover the social conditions of mission, one must also dwell upon the mutual relations of Hungarian churches, including both traditional and more recent, smaller churches, especially because mission can intensify the regrettable rivalry among them. The respective approaches to that competition must also be included in our analysis, as well as dialogue and ecumenism. Last but not least, missionary success or failure also depends upon the churches' power in Hungarian society.

To describe the Hungarian religious picture, one must ask how large the groups of those belonging to various religions are, how many of them observe their respective religions, and who those persons are who belong to none of those religions. Legal regulation must also be discussed, since law plays an important role in setting the scene for legal or illegal mission.

There are two ways of setting about this agenda. First, one can apply a positivistic, descriptive method that can serve as a basis for comparative analysis across Eastern Europe, all of Europe, or the whole world. Although I shall apply this method occasionally, I am convinced that the study of this field must also evaluate the processes observed. Inevitably, one must state how far those processes can be seen as progressive, valuable, or problematic. This evaluative approach is all the more justified since most of the issues under observation lack social consensus. Not only the lay public but the churches themselves are divided along a fundamentalist-progressive axis on how to evaluate the social and other roles as well as the respective power positions of the churches.

The situation becomes even more confused when we realize that concurring views cannot be classified according to their respective "correctness" or "incorrectness," since those views are usually produced by problems that are unsolved or only partially solved in society at large. Thus, all "pros" and "cons" can be seen as containing correct and incorrect strains at the same time.

I. The christian Churches' Need for Evangelization and Mission: "How to" Problems

Before discussing the particular Hungarian situation, we need to speak briefly about the role of mission in general for the Christian churches, one of very few areas where there is very little disagreement. All profess that mission is one of the basic tasks of any Christian church. The basis of this agreement is partly factual, partly theoretical, the factual basis being that Jesus Christ had expected his disciples and followers to propagate his teachings. According to Matthew, he said: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them ..." Jesus' activity on earth was itself teaching and guidance as to what people must do to reach salvation, following him. Christianity's basic agenda, therefore, is making Jesus' thoughts known to people [1]

Theoretically, many theologians have maintained that the Holy Spirit makes it possible for all, irrespective of their particular stances, to partake of Christ. Thus, under no circumstances can Christian churches give up on their missionary activities even though that wish does arise occasionally. For example, in his study of the spiritual background to evangelization, O. …

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