After finally shaking off the jet lag, I’m getting around to a summary of our trip to the Czech Republic. You can read the first part of it here.
Before our main conference in Brno, we spent two days in Slovakia with a Brethren church in Zilina, near the western border. I taught for two evenings on the same content: defining worship from the Scriptures and presenting corporate worship that proclaims the gospel. During the day we enjoyed sweet fellowship with four believers from the church: Robert, Lukaš, Michael, and his wife Sasha (see photo, names from L to R. Also pictured are Lance Roberts and Dave Temple).
Robert had left a good job and moved nearly a hundred miles to Zilina with his wife so they could attend a gospel-preaching church. He and Lukaš took turns translating for me during the sessions. Michael is one of the leaders in the church, and he and Sasha are students in the Czech Bible Institute. All four of them were able to converse well in English, and we spent hours talking about our families and churches and discussing questions of doctrine from God’s Word. There are some gospel-preaching churches in western Slovakia, but they are few and far between. In the eastern part of the country there are no faithful churches. None. The spiritual darkness of the country is staggering. It’s easy to forget that, even outside of the “10-40 window,” there are literally millions of people that have no knowledge of God and his Word. We ate lunch at a small lodge on Friday, and the owner told Michael that she is hungry to learn truth. She has no knowledge of God and wants, in her words, “to be spiritually revived.” Michael gave her the contact information for his church and talked to her at length. There is far less resistance to God’s Word here among people that have lived their whole lives in darkness.
But the greater the darkness, the brighter the light of the gospel shines. Our time with Robert, Lukaš, Michael, and Sasha was both a blessing and a rebuke. They are all eager to study God’s Word and willing to listen with humility – even to a 32-year-old American. Their church is currently reading “Biblical Eldership” by Strauch and seeking to establish a leadership structure that is faithful to Scripture. They (and others in the church) asked me many questions about corporate worship: musical styles, what instruments they should use (if any), physical expressiveness, the role of the Holy Spirit, the importance of confessing sin, associations, and a host of other topics. I am slowly beginning to realize how many of my positions are based on culture and preference rather than on God’s Word – not that what I’m doing in ministry is wrong or should be changed, but how difficult it sometimes is for me to articulate principles from God’s Word when the culture and the setting are completely foreign. But at the same time, I am also seeing how the Word of God supersedes cultural distinctives without destroying them.
After two full days in Slovakia, we arrived back at Lance’s house late Friday night. Early the next morning, we drove an hour to Brno. The Saturday conference was hosted by Bratrská Jednota Baptistů in Brno, the largest Baptist church in the Czech Republic. There were people from a number of different churches, some of whom had traveled some distance to attend. The theme of the conference was “Uctivani mile Bohu” (“Worship Pleasing to God”). I divided the content into four parts:
1. What is worship?
2. Songs that proclaim the gospel
3. Services that proclaim the gospel
4. Ministry that proclaims the gospel
I ended up modifying the sessions somewhat, because I felt I needed to spend nearly half the conference just laying the biblical foundation for how we think about worship. Lance and others made it clear that many Czech people have only a superficial knowledge of the Scriptures, and we felt it was essential to establish a bibilical philosophy of worship before we began to apply it to our services. The day ended with a lengthy question-and-answer session that was incredibly encouraging. The nature of the questions (submitted on paper) showed that believers were thinking through issues relating to corporate worship and seeking to understand Scriptural principles.
Our ministry was more than just presenting conferences on corporate worship. We were teaching under the banner of Český biblický institut, which is the only opportunity for gospel-centered pastoral ministry training in the entire country. Lance spoke about the purpose and methods of the Institute in an ongoing effort to recruit more students for pastoral training. Lance has also started a Czech publishing ministry called Didasko, which publishes new titles and translates existing ones. For Czech-speaking pastors and Bible students, resources are very limited. Lance brought boxes of resources to each location for believers to purchase. The entire available library of theological resources, one title each, fits into four produce boxes (see photo). Translating and printing a thousand copies of a book costs about 6,000 dollars; larger works, such as commentaries, can cost upwards of 50,000 dollars per title. Both the institute and the publishing ministry are dependent on the support of other believers, since their combined revenue is far less than their expenses.
After a long day in Brno on Saturday, Dave returned to Kroměříž to prepare to preach on Sunday. Lance and I drove to Lovosice, on the western side of the country (north of Prague). We arrived late that evening, worn out from ministering and traveling, at the home of one of the church elders. He and his family were gracious hosts to us that evening and the next morning.
On Sunday, I spoke at Bratrská Jednota Baptistů in Lovosice, the second-largest Baptist church in the country. The church is in a new and exciting season: they recently endured a liberal pastor, a church split, and the subsequent departure of a number of liberals from the congregation. The new pastor, Vašek, has been there several months, and he is seeking to cultivate in the people a hunger for expository preaching and a love of sound doctrine. In the morning I preached on a picture of worship from Isaiah 6:1-8. It was a joy to hear the congregation sing hymns loudly! Although I couldn’t understand the words, several of the melodies were familiar to me. I alternated between attempting the Czech lyrics and singing along in English. After lunch with the whole church family, I taught for several hours on principles for corporate worship, followed by a time for questions. The believers there were gracious and seemed willing to hear God’s Word taught. One man came up to me afterwards in tears. He told me, in broken English, that he is in another church that has recently been consumed by Charismatic theology. This is one of the greatest threats to churches in the country, but there are other dangers: passive leadership, the absence of trained pastors, ecumenicism, and even rank liberalism that denies the inerrancy of Scripture. But where the Word of God is faithfully preached, the church in the Czech Republic is growing and moving forward.
And then, as quickly as it had begun, the trip was over. Lance, Dave, and I spent a day walking around Prague before we returned to the States. The high point of the trip for me was seeing Bethlehem Chapel, where John Hus preached. Together with Marcus, another missionary and church planter in Prague, we stood in that great and solemn hall and sang “A Mighty Fortress” as loud as we could. I held back tears as I thought of Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!” Although the country is once again in darkness, there is a small but faithful group of reformers here who are preaching the truth of God’s Word. And God Himself has promised that His Word will not return empty, but it will accomplish the purpose for which He has sent it. It’s also a reminder that our calling, and the calling of the men who pastor in the Czech Republic, is not to try to change the hearts of men. It is simply to proclaim, humbly and faithfully, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is Christ who promises in John 10:16 that His purposes will not fail. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”