Reformed Church in Hungary
(Magyarországi Református Egyház)
By the middle of the 16th century there was a considerable Protestant movement in Hungary, mainly in the eastern part of the country where it enjoyed the protection of the princes of Transylvania. Lutheran in inspiration, the major part of the movement came under Calvinistic influence and the church became Presbyterian in its polity. In the 17th century the movement was severely oppressed through the combined efforts of the Habsburg dynasty and the Roman Catholic hierarchy. The work of the Counter-Reformation culminated in 1673. Catholicism was ruthlessly re-imposed all over the country. Pastors were forced to renounce their faith, many were expelled, and some sold as galley-slaves. It was only the Diet of 1790-91 which restored civil rights to Protestants. The agreement of 1867 set the pattern of church-state relations till the end of the second world war. In 1948, Marxist-Leninist ideology, with its strong anti-religious bias, became the official position of the communist regime. The churches came under tight government control, their institutions were confiscated and religious life confined within church walls. While there was courageous resistance by individuals, the church generally sought to survive by working together with the authorities. A new era began in 1989. After the first democratic elections in 1990, the parliament passed a constitutional law guaranteeing the enactment of freedom of conscience and religion. Many properties were returned to the churches.
Doctrinally the Reformed Church in Hungary is based on the ancient creeds, the Heidelberg Catechism and the II Helvetic Confession. The church ordains women to the ministry. It practises infant and believer's baptism. As to the internal life of the church, the 17th and 18th centuries saw the setting up of presbyteries and the acceptance of the position of the elder. The synod of 1881 laid the basis of the constitution which, with additions, is still in force today. The church has retained the office of bishop, though it has administrative rather than hierarchical authority. It is organized in four districts, each led by a bishop and a curator. The highest authority is the general synod, equally composed of clergy and laity.
The Reformed Church of Hungary now has the immense task of grasping the new opportunities offered to her today in a democratic society which is deeply affected by secularization. In many fields new initiatives have been launched: evangelistic work among the gypsies, education (e.g. church schools), and social work. The church runs several hospitals, numerous elementary and secondary schools, four seminaries, a university and various diaconal institutions. The aim of the immediate future is to focus on inner mission in an environment which is, after the official materialism of socialism, now characterized by the moral crisis and nihilism of a consumer society. The text of a new church constitution is under consideration.
The RCH continues to cherish its cultural heritage, which in earlier centuries made a considerable contribution to the development of Hungarian language, literature and general culture. Based on Calvinistic features, it still plays an active role in the society. Close relations are maintained with the Hungarian Reformed churches in the surrounding countries and in the United States. There is also a large diaspora around the world. The RCH has partnerships of varying intensity with several European and American Reformed/Presbyterian churches; lately a fruitful relationship has been built up with Presbyterian churches in Asia (Korea,Taiwan, South India).