By AT News Team, April 30, 2015: A joint declaration “settling the past and building a common future” was signed a week ago Friday (April 23) by Pastor Tamás Ócsai, president of Hungarian Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, and Pastor János Cserbik, president of the Christian Adventist Community (KERAK), a parallel organization. The declaration seeks to end 40 years of schism among Adventists in the European country. It was published yesterday by the Trans-European Division (TED) of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
The Adventist church in Hungary has suffered from a split for 40 years. In 1975, under a Communist regime, a group of clergy and laity led by Pastor Oscar Egervari, a denominational administrator and well-trained theologian (according to a 1989 article in Spectrum, the journal of the Association of Adventist Forums), protested the participation of the union conference in Council of Free Churches which represented the small, conservative Protestant denominations in Hungary.
The union conference committee disfellowshipped 518 members in response to the separation, although some independent organizations in the United States claim it was as many as 1,300. In 1989, Dr. Jan Paulsen, then an officer of the TED, along with a GC vice president and Pastor J. R. Spangler, editor of Ministry magazine, the GC professional journal for Adventist clergy, negotiated a vote by the union conference session which admitted that the action to disfellowship the 518 did not follow the requirements of the Church Manual and was wrong. The delegates also voted three other demands by the Egervari group ending Adventist membership in the Council of Free Churches, to “disassociate themselves from every unlawful open or secret cooperation with the State,” and a “declaration which guarantees the absolute freedom of conscience” for church members.
In the 1970s the splinter group functioned as an underground church due to the political context. After 1989, despite the vote by the union conference session, the group became official as the Christian Adventist Community (KERAK), keeping an Adventist identity and maintaining a hope that they could eventually re-join the denomination.
The differences seemed to grow stronger in the following years and the two groups drifted further and further apart in spirituality, culture and organization. Several local churches and even a few KERAK pastors re-joined the Adventist denomination. Nonetheless, the official KERAK leadership kept a distance. Adventists in Hungary grew more and more skeptical about the possibility of unification and serious negotiations ended about fifteen years ago.
A new generation of KERAK leaders started a series of talks with the union conference leadership in 2011. Supported and encouraged by TED leaders, Dr. Bertil Wiklander and Pastor Raafat Kamal, and Dr. Ben Schoun, a GC vice president, negotiations were renewed and a strong friendship grew between the representatives of the two groups.
The declaration signed last Friday signals a significant turning point in the life of the Adventist movement in Hungary. The document lists the Biblical imperatives about unity and forgiveness. It also contains mutual apologies. Both sides commit themselves to build a future together “in order to fulfill the mission God has entrusted to His church.” Adventists in Hungary and throughout Europe are filled with hope that 40 years of schism will end; that “several hundred of our brothers and sisters” will join the Adventist denomination with their congregations and pastors.
“However, there will be challenges in the near future, especially when it comes to building a strong spiritual and emotional unity after this long period of misunderstandings and enmity,” stated the TED news bulletin. “But we have a hope, that God, who ‘in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them’ (2 Corinthians 5:19) will lead this process, as we have seen Him working up until now.”
“I praise God for His grace in bringing both communities to the foot of the cross where Christ-like forgiveness, healing and love have taken over minds and hearts,” stated Kamal, now the TED president. “Over the past two years, I personally witnessed first-hand genuine expressions of reconciliation by members and leaders alike. Christ is coming soon and He is uniting our Adventist believers in Hungary to be of one mind in focusing on the mission to be the salt and light. I believe that God is preparing the way where the trickle of what our members do in Hungary in His name become a flood of blessings.”