Releasing Liberty in Romania’s Traditional Churches

by | Jun 15, 2011 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

In
a nation known for communist oppression, intimidation and religious legalism,
the Holy Spirit is sending a fresh wind of freedom.

Pentecost
is a national holiday in Romania, and I celebrated it last Monday with members
of Bucharest Christian Center, a growing congregation in the Romanian capital.
The church was founded by my friend Ioan Ceuta, 54, a brave Christian leader
who has served as president of the Assemblies of God since 1996. Like so many
Romanian pastors who lived through the communist era, Ceuta has walked through
fire and emerged stronger in his faith.

Ministry
was not easy for Ceuta and his wife, Emilia, during the dark days of Nicolae
Ceau?escu, the Romanian dictator who
ruled with an iron fist and built one of the world’s largest buildings (second
only to the Pentagon). Covert government informants strictly monitored all
pastors during Ceau?escu’s era. The
construction of church buildings was forbidden, frequency of meetings was
limited, and Bibles were blacklisted as “mystical literature.”

“Because of Ceuta’s influence, about 10
percent of the ministers in the Assemblies of God in Romania are women.
‘Romanian ladies are gifted with a potential [for] leadership I have seen in
few places in the world,’ ” Ceuta says.

Yet
despite intense persecution from the Securitatea—the
dreaded secret police—both Pentecostal and Baptist churches thrived, alongside
Brethren groups and other smaller denominations. Much of their work
was underground. After Ceau?escu was assassinated by a
firing squad on Dec. 25, 1989, Romanian communism fell and the church continued
to flourish. The Word of God could not be imprisoned.

“Romanians
had lost hope that we would ever be free,” Ceuta told me. “There were prophetic
words that said change was coming, but most people did not believe this. We had
accepted slavery like the Israelites did in Egypt. So when communism fell,
people did not know what to do.”

Today,
Romania is considered a hot spot in spiritually cold Europe. Pentecostals and
Baptists have grown steadily in numbers, and they have built theological
schools and ministry training centers. Cities in western Romania such as
Oradea, Arad, Cluj and Timisoara are known as bastions of evangelical fervor,
and passionate faith has spread among the country’s marginalized Gypsy
population.

But
despite the growth, Pentecostal churches are mired in strict religious
traditions that are based on faulty interpretations of Scripture. These
include:

  • Separation of men and women in church services
  • Requiring women to wear head coverings during worship
  • Forbidding women to attend church during their menstrual periods
  • Banning jewelry and requiring women to wear skirts but never pants
  • Forbidding the use of birth control (“In some churches, people expect a
    couple to have a new child once a year,” Ceuta says.) Some Pentecostals also
    misinterpret 1 Timothy 2:15 to teach that only women who have babies will go to
    heaven.
  • Requiring that believers wash each other’s feet either before, during or
    after Communion (this practice has caused numerous splits among Pentecostal
    groups)
  • Teaching that only those believers who speak in tongues will go to
    heaven.

“I
will always respect my spiritual fathers for their passion for Christ, and for
their sacrifice,” Ceuta says. “But I disagree with the traditions because they
are rooted in a lack of education. And the traditions hurt us because we closed
the door for people to come to our churches.”

Ceuta
is one of several Romanian leaders who have courageously challenged these
hallowed traditions—at the risk of losing jobs or credibility. Ceuta stuck his
neck on the chopping block several years ago when he insisted that women be
allowed to attend the Bible University of Romania, the school he planted in
Bucharest.

In
Oradea, pastor Teo Ciuciui left his denomination, the Pentecostal Union,
because he felt he was called to reach nonchurched people who were turned off
by so many religious traditions. Today he pastors Salem Church, a growing
charismatic congregation that incorporates Hillsong choruses, innovative youth
ministry and a cutting-edge ministry style.

Baptists
are also facing huge changes.  In 2006
some Baptist leaders were baptized in the Holy Spirit, and this created a quiet
wave of charismatic renewal known as the Watchmen movement. It focuses on
prayer, worship and healing—but traditional Baptists who are against
charismatic doctrines have opposed this.

At
Ceuta’s church in Bucharest, old Pentecostal traditions have been tossed out.
Women wear jewelry, worship is contemporary and only the oldest women still
keep their headscarves. Ceuta is viewed as a revolutionary leader because of
his position on women, and this is obvious in his family: His wife is the first
Romanian woman to teach in a Bible college; their oldest daughter, Alina, leads
the first Finnish-model kindergarten in Romania; and their youngest daughter,
Stefania, leads a community outreach to children.

Because
of Ceuta’s influence, about 10 percent of the ministers in the Assemblies of
God in Romania are women. “Romanian ladies are gifted with a potential [for]
leadership I have seen in few places in the world,” he says. “Because they were
raised in suffering, they were born to be leaders.”

This
passion in the hearts of Romanian believers, stoked in the fires of persecution
and revival, is likely to spread far beyond its borders in the days ahead.

J. Lee Grady is
contributing editor of
Charisma. You
can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. His most recent book is
10
Lies Men Believe
(Charisma
House).

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