Thursday, April 05, 2007

0 The History of the Protestant Mission to Bulgaria (Macedonia)

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The History of the Protestant Mission to Bulgaria


Bulgaria's spiritual roots go back to Biblical times. Portions of both Illyricum and Macedonia are the present day Bulgaria. Macedonia was the first part of Europe to receive Christianity (Philippians 4:15) and Paul was in this province on numerous occasions (however, the portions of Macedonia that Paul frequented are south of the modern-day Bulgaria). The Bulgarian nation was formed in the seventh and eighth centuries when the Bulgars, warlike nomads from Central Asia, gained control over the Slav tribes in the lower Danube basin and took them on a spree of conquests in southeastern Europe Bulgaria's most prominent Christian history begins in the ninth century with the work of two brothers: Constantine (later Cyril, 826-69) and Methodius (c. 815-85). These men developed the Cyrillic alphabet, trained missionaries, and won the Moravians to Christ. A tremendous amount of legend surrounds the work of these two men, but certain facts are fairly certain. As politics and religion mixed, it seemed that Bulgaria was on the way to rejoining the West, both politically and religiously. It was at this point that Rastislav (the prince of Moravia, in what is now Slovakia), felt it was best to turn eastward, and to ask the Eastern emperor for missionaries:

"Many Christians have arrived in our midst, some Italian, some Greek, and some German, and they have spoken to us in their different ways. But we Slavs are simple people, and have no one to teach us the truth... Therefore we pray you to send us someone capable of teaching us the whole truth."

The Emperor selected Constantine and Methodius.
They were from a noble family in Thessalonica, each having a good education and being theologically competent. Their first step was to create an alphabet in which the Slavonic languages could be written. Constantine produced the "Glagolitic Script", the basis of the alphabets in which almost all the Slavonic languages are written to this day (the exceptions are Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Croatian, which are written in Roman letters). Certain Scriptures were translated. On reaching Moravia, Constantine set to work on the translation of the liturgy as a whole very slowly. He followed this with the translation of the whole Bible. A great conflict developed between the Eastern and Western Church. The Western Church (Rome) insisted on a Latin Liturgy, while the Eastern Church (Constantinople) was more sympathetic to using the local common language, despite its unwritten format. They believed that new peoples brought into the Church should be encouraged to build up their church and their national culture on the basis of their local language. The two brothers realized that if their work was to be of any value, they would have to have a better relationship with Rome. The two set out to meet with the Pope Nicholas I in Rome, but he died just before they arrived. His successor, Hadrian II was very favorable toward the brothers and their work in Moravia was approved. It was at this point that Constantine died. Methodius was appointed archbishop and was given wide powers over this area. Svatopluk, the successor of Rastislav, was able to extend his dominion over a large area now known as Galicia, Silesia, and Saxony. Wherever this new prince went, Methodius was able to follow, laying a foundation for the Church. However, when Methodius died, everything changed. His liturgy was forbidden and his chief disciples were driven out. The church in Moravia declined, and in the tenth century the Magyars (Hungarians) invaded. Constantine and Methodius are memorable for their vision and endurance rather than for the permanence of their actual achievements. Though Moravia fell to the Hungarians, Cyril and Methodius' work continued to bare fruit among all the Slavic peoples. With their work as a foundation, the Eastern church engaged in missionary activity. The Bulgarians had grown strong in the Balkans. Their King, Boris, was won to Christ, and the Bulgarians were won to Christianity in 864. Eventually an arch-bishop and several bishops were sent from Constantinople, resulting in the birth of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. There was a brief pagan reaction, but under Boris' son Simeon Christianity was consolidated. To the opposition of Constantinople, the Bulgarian bishops declared the church autocephalous with a patriarch as its head. By Simeon's death in 927, Bulgaria had become an independent nation with its own autonomous church. This First Bulgarian Empire was the center of Slavonic culture and spirituality before falling to the Byzantine Empire in the eleventh century. The Second Bulgarian Empire developed in the twelfth century when local aristocracy broke free from Constantinopolitan control. Earlier in history, Bulgaria played a role in the East-West division in the church that exists today. When Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople in 330, he laid the foundation for both political and ecclesiastical separation of the church into East and West. Theodosius put the administration of the Eastern and Western areas of the empire under separate heads in 395. When the Roman empire fell in the late fifth century, the division was more definitely realized. From this point on, the two sides continually clashed over theological issues, usually beginning in the East. Issues of language (Latin in the West, and Greek in the East) made matters only more difficult. The filoque clause of the Nicene Creed, and the iconoclastic controversy were two of the more prominent theological debates waged between the East and West. However, in 1054 the final schism occurred because the Bulgarian Arch-bishop Leo of Ochrid accused the West of doctrinal and practical error. The West had made clerical celibacy a universal rule, and it used unleavened bread in the Eucharist. Attempts at resolution only further divided the East and West churches, and this schism marked the distinct division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. In 1396 Bulgaria fell to Muslim invaders: the Ottoman Turks. In 1453 Constantinople and the entire region fell to the Turks. The Ottoman empire lasted until the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Muslims granted a measure of freedom to the church during this time, but for almost 500 years, including the period when the Protestant Reformation was taking place from Western Europe eastward to Hungary, the Turks politically controlled Bulgaria and the Greek Orthodox Church dominated the religious life. From 1800 to 1878 a number of the nations under the Ottoman Empire gained independence (with Bulgaria gaining theirs in 1876), and Bulgaria began a period of national revival. One of the key components of this national revival was gaining freedom from the Greek ecclesiastical rule that had dominated since the beginning of Bulgaria's relationship with the Orthodox Church. After the breakdown of the empire, Bulgaria once again formed a national Orthodox church.
Modern Missions efforts in Bulgaria The mission to Bulgaria in the modern era has beginnings in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. The United States was rapidly expanding westward, which resulted in logistical problems for the Church. The primary difficulty was the lack of ability to effectively evangelize and minister to the ever-changing frontier. The Presbyterians implemented a great mission plan encompassing Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The work in the north was more difficult as many of the people moving west were not from a Presbyterian background. Many came from a New England Congregationalist background. The two churches were essentially the same in their commitment to Calvinism, and only differed as to the structure of church government. As a result, to avoid competition in the ministry, a "Plan of Union" was arranged. B.M. Palmer wrote that this union was formed with the "sweetest and most godly intentions." It allowed for churches to select pastors from the other denomination, but each conducting discipline according to their respective system. The Union resulted in a number of problems. However, one positive development was the "American Board" which was formed in 1810. This was the missionary organization of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches. In 1819 the American Board sent its first missionaries to the region of the Ottoman Empire. It was here that the Americans "discovered" the Bulgarians, as they seemed open to receiving the Protestant faith. In 1826 an agent with the British and Foreign Bible Society reported that there was a definite need for the scriptures to be translated into Bulgarian. In 1834, representatives with the American Board touring Turkey concluded that a mission in that part of the empire was sorely needed. In 1840 a report was issued in the Missionary Herald that Bulgaria was an inviting field for missionary effort, based on the insights of the same Bible Society agent from 1836. In 1841, an American Board agent expressed great excitement over the possibility for ministry there because 2000 New Testaments were sold in less than one week. H.A. Homes wrote to the American Board that "a mission among the Bulgarians is more called for than among any other people who have not yet had missionaries." Finally, in 1856 the American Board decided to act on the call to missions in Bulgaria. However, because of financial concerns, they decided to go in cooperation with the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Bulgarian lands were divided into two fields for work, with the Balkan Mountains forming the dividing line. The American Board had the territory to the south. The first station of the Board was established in July of 1858. This original team worked under the Western Turkey team. Immediately they faced a country that was struggling with the formation of a Bulgarian national church. As a result, the strategy of these first missionaries was to seek to evangelize and strengthen the emerging Bulgarian church, rather than seek to begin competing Protestant churches. They sought to reform the church from within, but along Protestant lines. They sought to "present the great truths of salvation rather than to attack openly the errors of the church. In 1870 the Presbyterian Church withdrew from the American Board. The first American Board evangelical church was formed in Bansko in 1881-82. It is not surprising that the first churches being formed "were founded upon general Congregationalist principles." In May of 1888 all the American Board churches adopted a constitution at their general conference. An even greater degree of uniformity was achieved in 1909 when all the evangelical churches in the Kingdom of Bulgaria agreed upon a set of regulations governing their internal life. This occurred at the Evangelical Congress in Sofia. This was not only the American Board churches, but all churches of Protestant background. In 1912-13, the popular American methods of "revivalism" reached southern Bulgaria. It is interesting to note that during this time the average number of church-goers increased, but there was not a significant increase in the number of new church members. The most successful strategy developed by the missionaries for gaining opportunities to share the gospel were pictures of things the Bulgarians had never seen (such as Chicago skyscrapers or cards with bright printing). Perhaps the greatest opening came with the distribution of medicine. People who formerly were disinterested in the Gospel were opening their homes. One missionary wrote: "For a little vegetable Pain Killer the most violent opposers now welcome our helper to their homes." Organs also proved to be a big drawing card. During the American missions outreach, the number of people attending protestant churches increased 27 times (to 3,266). Financial giving increased 28.3 times. The legacy of the work begun in the 1800's is very significant. This Congregational Church is one of only a few officially registered Protestant churches in Bulgaria (there are currently 36 such congregational churches throughout the country being served by a total of 16 ordained pastors). Also registered is the Methodist church, with whom the American Board worked out a division of the country. The others are the Church of God, the Pentecostals, the Baptists, and Blago Vest ("Good News"). At last report, the Lutheran and Nazarene churches were seeking official registration. In siding with the Germans in World War I, Bulgaria lost a significant amount of territory. They attempted to regain it in World War II by again siding with Germany. Following they war they were occupied by the Soviet Union. ........


The "health and wealth" gospel has been particularly successful with the Pentecostal. The "Jesus only" Pentecostal have also been popular with many evangelical denominations. As a result Peev hosted seminars on the cults in Bulgaria. This seminar is now also being made available at the Biblical Academy Logos in Sofia. Bulgaria may be more vulnerable to cults than other country. Formal surveys revealed that the vast majority of the population (especially the youth) believe that God is an abstract, impersonal force. During the Middle Ages, Bulgaria was a center of European cultic activity. Also 500 years of Ottoman Turkish rule (Muslim) adds another "ingredient to the syncretistic soup." Interestingly, Bulgaria's Communist leaders were among the devotees to the occult and Eastern religions. Even Christians are often strongly influenced by superstitious thoughts and practices. In today’s Bulgaria, religious freedoms exist. For example, one could stand on the street corners to proclaim Christ, but most people would be too skeptical to listen because of the effective campaign by the media and Orthodox church to stereotype all evangelical groups as cults. There is moderate tolerance by the government of the evangelical churches. There are no laws restricting evangelism, except at schools (which are atheistic).

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