While the winds of change are sweeping through Eastern Europe, the world has watched in awe at the sudden transformation of the Communist Bloc.
Just a short time ago, few people would have believed that communism would fall so suddenly and drastically without the intervention of U.S. military forces. Yet the Iron Curtain, which for so long seemed to be a permanent fixture, has miraculously begun to dismantle itself.
By July, free local or national elections are scheduled to be held by all six of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact allies. A return to Stalinist dictatorships is unlikely. As a result of a waning Soviet threat, the United States is expected to make swift cuts in the military force stationed in Europe.
Most people are yet unaware of the role of the Christian Church in bringing change to the Eastern Bloc. A yearning for religious freedom, a right taken for granted in the West, has been at the heart of the cry for freedom in these nations for many years. Christian dissidents have been the most outspoken opponents of communism in Eastern Europe and some are now being exalted as leaders in newly liberated nations.
Our national press has not reported the role of the Eastern European Church in toppling communist governments; we have missed one of the most exciting stories of the past decade. In every nation, Christians have performed acts of heroism and, in some instances, have directly brought the downfall of communist governments. As the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit has been sweeping through Europe, God’s servants have been used mightily to vindicate the oppressed people of the Communist Bloc.
In Eastern Europe, the Church has withstood the onslaught of communism for several decades. As a long standing symbol of resistance, the Church has gained momentum as the people, shaking off their chains of repression, have rallied around the cross of Jesus Christ – the one force they believe has the power to overcome totalitarianism. In nation after nation, we see that Christians have had an integral role in sparking revolution.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In Estonia, the Church is having more of an impact than ever before. Ethnic Estonian’s look to Church leaders as having a voice of authority that can be trusted. Many evangelical Protestant leaders have been intimately involved in Estonia’s independence movement from the very beginning. In fact, Estonia’s reformation has become known as “the singing revival” because of the many nationalistic songs that are sung at independence rallies. One song, “God Save Estonia,” has become the theme of the independence movement. As in the other two Baltic States, there is an understanding among the people that only God can bring about freedom.
A mixture of Orthodox, Evangelical, Catholic and Lutheran believers have united in an evangelistic thrust to transform their nation. There is more religious freedom in the capital city of Riga than any other place in the Soviet Union. Christian television operates without surveillance and broadcasts to the Russian city of Leningrad. Evangelistic street meetings are now common and there is a great openness among the people to hear the Gospel. As the Christian revival is growing in Latvia, nationalistic fervor is encouraged among the people.
In the most outspoken of the Baltic states in maintaining their right to secede from the Soviet Union, Spirit-filled Catholic believers have been at the forefront of the independence movement. Long repressed and forced to meet in the underground, Lithuanian Catholics have displayed a genuine revivalistic fervor in the midst of persecution for many years. The Lithuanian autonomy movement has boldly stated that they will no longer accept a one-party rule and have rejected the authority of Moscow. Cathedral Square in Vilnius has become the traditional meeting spot for independence rallies as cries for “Freedom!” ascend toward heaven. A prophecy given recently in a Lithuanian church proclaimed that Lithuania was destined by God to become the first of the Soviet republics to become completely independent.
Poland is one of the most obvious examples of how the Church has been instrumental in toppling communism. Oasis, a charismatic revival movement among young people, has added fuel to the Solidarity movement. In a nation that is 90% Catholic, there has been a vigorous evangelical movement and many Polish people are Spirit-filled believers. Lech Walesa, leader of the Poland’s trade union movement, claims to be a believer and has involved many Church leaders in Solidarity. According to American missionary Gordon Wright, Lech Walesa has encouraged a Catholic priest who is prominent in the charismatic renewal movement to involve himself in the Solidarity party in an evangelistic role.
The communist government of the East Germany long held a policy of repression toward the Church, especially toward evangelicals. Last November, however, with the dismantling of the communist government and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, four million visas were granted, feeding the hope that the Gospel would be able to freely enter East Germany. Occurring simultaneously with these events, there was a great prayer revival in the East German churches. Last year, thousands met to pray for freedom. Even as Honecker’s troops advanced on demonstrating crowds in Leipzig, Christian pastors led East Germans in prayers of intercession. A volatile situation was held in check as the troops refused to open fire on civilians averting a situation that would have been similar to China’s Tiananmen Square massacre last spring.
The Communist Party’s fall from power in Czechoslovakia has been accentuated by the appointment of several Christians to the new government. Jan Carnogursky, a Slovak lawyer who played a leading role as a Catholic layman in the Church’s resistance to the government, was recently appointed as the new deputy premier. Dr. Josef Hromadka, an evangelical theologian of the Church of Czech Brethren, has been appointed as a Vice President. Last November, Hromadka urged crowds demonstrating in Wenceslas Square not to lose sight of Christian values as they pushed for freedom. Other Christians appointed to the new government include Minister of Health, Pavel Klener, and Vice President Francis Reindell. Authorities have signalled the end of government restrictions on the Church in Czechoslovakia.
Hungary stands as the Eastern European nation that has won the most spiritual freedom in the past year. Latin American evangelist, Luis Palau, held a large evangelistic crusade in Budapest last spring, leading 1200 to Christ. Billy Graham followed Palau in the summer speaking to a crowd of 90,000 Hungarians in a soccer stadium. A large number of Hungarians responded to Graham’s message; it was the largest evangelistic meeting in Eastern European history. Political changes that have occurred in Hungary have been smooth and without violent repercussions.
Romania holds the best example a revolution that was sparked through the direct influence of the Church. According to a Time magazine report, “A Revolution’s Unlikely Spark” (Jan. 1, 1990), the Rev. Laszlo Tokes, of the Reformed Church, drew the wrath of the communist authorities after his repeated denunciations of Ceausescu’s regime. In November, Tokes was beaten and stabbed by government thugs, yet refused to give into church officials who ordered him to transfer to a less volatile part of Romania. When a court order was obtained for his conviction, hundreds of supporters formed a human chain around Toke’s building to protect him. This triggered the crackdown that helped to inspire the nationwide demonstrations that toppled Ceausescu. Tokes, a once obscure minister, has joined the ranks of Eastern Europe’s foremost fighters for freedom.
One of the most repressed of all Eastern European nations, Bulgaria has joined the rest of the Warsaw Pact nations as crowds of over 50,000 gather to sing and cheer themselves into a pro-democracy fervor. The great yearning for freedom and more radical democratic reforms has made an impact on the communist government. Petar Beron, a leading spokesman for the Union of Democratic Forces, recently read a list of demands from the steps of Aleksandr Nevski Cathedral calling for free elections. The Communist Party has already voted to abolish its monopoly on power and has adopted a number of reform measures including freedom of religion.
What does the future hold for communism?
Many remaining communist governments are presently viewing the growing democracy movement with shock and amazement. China’s Li Peng regime has been reportedly stunned by the news of the Romanian dictator Ceausescu’s trial and execution. The similarity between Ceausescu’s brutal use of force against the Romanian people and the Chinese government’s massacre of students in Tiananmen Square ends only with the demise of the Romanian leader. Political analysts speculate that the Chinese government has only one or two years before a fall from power occurs.
Other nations, long dedicated to the ideals of communism, are seemingly destined to be shaken by the emergence of pro-democracy forces. Other European nations, long dominated by the Soviet Union such as the Ukraine, Moldavia, Yugoslavia, and Albania have also experinced a movement toward democratic reforms. In addition to these European nations, observers of world politics are looking to the nations of Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua and Libya to experience political transformations in the early 1990s.