Our Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren (ECCB) is commemorating 100 years since its establishment. It came into existence as Reformed and Lutheran parishes came together and created one community. The ECCB has adopted the teachings of both of these traditions, and also consciously and joyfully claimed itself to be the inheritor of the 15th Century’s Czech Reformation and the old “Unity of Brethren”. By doing all that, it set itself on the road to diversity and openness.
We are grateful that we have been regularly able to hear the Biblical message of the Kingdom of God. It is a message meant for this world and yet gives us hope that reaches beyond our own lives: the hope that we can come to know great people and find friends that share the same purpose in life. We are thankful that the Protestants could significantly contribute to the comprehensible spreading of the Gospel – such as in the work on the New Czech Ecumenical Bible Translation.
Yet the current outlook of the ECCB is also the result of the various changes within Czech society and politics that took place within those 100 years. The enthusiasm for the new, independent Czechoslovak state resulted in the rise of Czech nationalism. And that, although it had little to do with the Gospel, made a strong impression on the newly established Church community. The expectation that the “Czech nation would become the nation of Hus” and all the Czechs would soon find themselves in the ECCB would soon turn out to be false and naïve. The disillusion that followed has perhaps helped us to recognize that no Church grows or even lives from a tradition, however great it may be, or from enthusiasm, nationalism and negation of the past, but from obedience to God’s Word and from trust in His promises.
Those first twenty years of freedom were followed by fifty years of oppression. The Nazi regime had a cruel effect, especially on our Jewish fellow citizens. However, the Churches also, together with the whole society, lived in constant danger of cruel punishments and in an omnipresent fear. We recall with great respect those members of our Church who dedicated their lives to the fight for freedom and dignity, as well as those who were willing to support them and their families. For many of those involved in the resistance movement it also meant death. We confess that, as Nazism was defeated, our Church was not able to reject the commonly shared desire for revenge that resulted in the expulsion of our German population.
This atmosphere within the society continued as the “Dictatorship of the Working Class” took over, with its class hatred and persecution of “non-scientific opinions”, and the fight against Church “obscurantism”. People began to leave the church because they feared they would lose their job, or their children would not be able to study. However, many put their Church membership aside very easily.
We are thankful for those who, despite humiliation, bullying and mocking, have remained members of our parishes and even brought in their children. We recall with gratefulness all the victims of “class hatred” and violent collectivization, all those who were imprisoned, whose property was confiscated, who were expelled from their farms, and especially those who bore all this for their faith. And they did not always find support and solidarity in their parishes. The ECCB Synod of 1968 confessed that the Church had not been brave enough. Shortly after, though, it was too weak once again - this time to face the strain of “Normalization”.
Any hopes that the regime would change did not seem very realistic. We treasure those who held on to their hope that it is possible to reform or humanize the “socialist system” and who demanded freedom and respect for current laws and international commitments. They were rather a complication for the Church Leadership and they did not always find sympathy even within their own parishes. Their way of understanding Christian engagement was fully in accordance with the declaration and activities of the Charta 77. Some of these ECCB members were among its signatories.
As we recall the 100th Anniversary of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, we do not do it in order to celebrate the Church. There is nothing to celebrate but God Himself. We are grateful that it have already been living in freedom for nearly thirty years, and for the possibilities that this has brought for our protestant schools, and for the work of Diaconia.
We rely on God’s grace in all we do. Our parishes are smaller and weaker than before, many of those previously big are now wasting away and some of them have already perished. The future is covered in concerns. Let us ask for the gift of understanding what the Lord wants from us in today’s changing world.
Do we not consider things that are not important to be the real Christianity? This causes us to fail to see the really important things and to lack courage for them. How should we understand the nations today that are on the move, the mixture of religions, beliefs and superstitions, the torrent of information about events in countries that seemed to be very far from us and today they seem to be at our door?
The past is not as important as an understanding of what our tasks are today. Where is the present world heading, and what is our position in it? It is not only about our parishes, but about the whole society in which we live. It is about the world that God loves and in which He has placed us, to live in the midst of it as Christ’s Church and bring understanding and openness towards others, compassion and solidarity, truth and love, joy and hope.