Posts Tagged ‘Church History’

"Christianization of Poland on April 14, 966" by Jan Matejko

“Christianization of Poland on April 14, 966” by Jan Matejko

My wife and I moved to Poland in the spring of 1999 to help the evangelical church with church planting and leadership development. Of course, at first we focused on learning Polish, and trying to understand Polish culture and worldview. My second year in Poland, I audited theology classes at the Catholic University of Lublin, in an attempt to better understand the Polish worldview.

For the past fourteen years, therefore, we have been involved in participant observation, and yet sometimes our observations did not seem to match what we expected to see from Roman Catholics. Of course, some of our dissonance was as a result of our mistaken preconceptions about Catholicism, and yet much of it was because of a real difference between what the Church officially teaches, and the functional worldview of most Poles. Hence, I looked forward to this ethnographic project, as an attempt to better understand that functional worldview, and hopefully to gain some insight into better ways to communicate the good news of the Gospel, and especially to understand the epistemology of the average Pole.

I currently pastor a Baptist church in Lublin, Poland, and lead the WorldVenture Poland team, but I did not want to build an ethnography of evangelical Poles. I discussed the project with other evangelical pastors in our area, and with our team, and one of my team members, Bruce, in Lubin, was also interested in doing the ethnographic questionnaire among his English students. So, he met with 4 men, ages 18-38, and sent me the results of his conversations. I met with 6 people, 4 women and 2 men, ages 23-51. After preparing an English questionnaire for Bruce, I met with my friend, Radek, to correct my Polish questionnaire. As a result of our meeting, we redacted the questionnaire from 33 questions to 25, but Bruce continued to use the original. All of the participants in the research are Roman Catholic, although a few would not consider themselves faithful to or in agreement with the Church’s teaching.

I have already shared this project with my teammates and with workers from other organizations here in Poland. Hopefully, our ongoing conversation and research into the Polish worldview and our Christian witness can help us better proclaim the Good News.

  1. History and Demographics

Poland was founded in 966 A.D. when King Mieszko I was baptized into the Western Latin rite. This decision meant that Poland remained Roman Catholic when some of its southern and eastern neighbors went with the Eastern (Orthodox) Church. Being Roman Catholic also meant a focus toward Rome and the West, rather than toward Constantinople and the East. As a result, religious, cultural and political ties integrated Poland with its Western neighbors, Austria and the German states, as well as with Lithuania when it also chose Catholicism. The Union of Lublin, in 1569, created the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, a nation-state which for nearly two hundred years was among Europe’s largest countries.

Poland considered itself a bulwark against the Baltic pagans, the Orthodox Russians, and later, the Moslems from the east and south. The role of King Jan III Sobieski in the Battle of Vienna (1683) to turn back the Ottomans was crucial to stopping the Moslem advance into Europe. Poland was a relatively tolerant society, with large numbers of Jews, Orthodox, pagans and even Moslem Tatars holding positions of prominence. The Reformation also saw many converts to Protestantism, especially Calvinism. However, wars with Protestant Sweden, most notably “the Deluge” (1655-60), led to a marked change in Polish tolerance, including the banishment of the Arian Brothers (a sect similar to the Bohemian Brethren), and the death penalty for conversion from Catholicism.

The valiant defense of the monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa during the Swedish Deluge, and the legends surrounding the icon of the Black Madonna, housed in the monastery, greatly assisted in the process of counter-Reformation in Poland. Still today, nearly every high school student in Poland makes a walking pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Częstochowa. Although Poland continued to be relatively tolerant – in comparison with most other European countries – the religious beliefs of its citizens were tied to their ethnicity. Russians – Orthodox, Germans – Protestant, Jews, Moslem Tatars – and Poles were Catholic, with very few exceptions.

The Divisions of Poland among the Great Powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria in the late 1700’s, its rebirth in 1918, and World War II, led to a Poland that is today much less diverse, both ethnically and religiously. Poland is 97% ethnically Polish,[1] and is 89% Roman Catholic, 9 % non-religious, 1% Orthodox, and 0.5% Jehovah’s Witness. Lutherans are 0.22%, and Evangelicals are about 0.14% of the population.[2] The Lutheran and Orthodox adherents usually have a German or Russian ethnic background, respectively, so the common expression “to be Polish is to be Catholic” usually rings true.

  1. Social Structures

Family remains very important in Polish society. As I conducted my survey, nearly every respondent mentioned their father or, more often, their mother, as an authority figure. Those who had lost a parent believed that their dead parent still took interest in their lives, and in a couple of cases, believed that the dead loved one had intervened to rescue them from some calamity. A mass migration began in 2005, when 5% of the population moved to Western European countries in search of work, and this has begun to lead to a more mobile society, but families still remain in close proximity. Every year, the holiday that sees the most travel is not Christmas, or Easter, but rather All Saints’ Day, when families return to their home areas, and visit the graves of their loved ones. As one of my friends described it, “in this way we can include our whole family, alive and dead, in All Saints’ Day.”

The cultural diagnosis report of 2009 states that respondents listed “successful marriage” as the top (56%) condition for happiness. This also indicates the high value that Poles place on family. Once interesting trend, however, is that “friends” has doubled in importance for happiness since 1992[3]. This helps explain why one of my interviewees, when asked about ancestors influencing us, said that other loved ones who have died, not just those related to him, still influence his life today, and that he asks them for advice. Family is very important, but there is a growing trend toward looking for the most important relationships outside of family.

This post is a reflection on a guest lecture by Dr. Ed Smither in my class “The Mission of God” at Columbia International Seminary, taught by Dr. Mike Barnett. Dr. Smither has a special interest in the history of missions in North Africa, and wrote his Ph.D. on Augustine as MentorYou can (should) check out his blog: I don’t believe I can post his entire lecture – although I’d love to. I would like to post his “summary of strategies” used by early missionaries, though.

1. Proclamation (full-time, bishops, monks, lay people)
—2. Favor with kings and political leaders
—3. Monastic mission centers.
—4. Suffering (Ignatius, Polycarp, Scillitans, martyrs of Lyons, Perpetua and Felicitas, Cyprian)
6. —Scripture translation (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, Latin)
—7. Holistic mission (healing, spiritual warfare, caring for the poor)

I was most intrigued by some of the lessons learned during early Christian mission, shared by Dr. Smither. That period of history has always interested me, especially when considering the growth of the church. Two lessons especially resonated for me: the use of miracles and other power encounters, and the fact that everyone was involved in the proclamation and spread of the gospel.

Gregory Thaumaturgos, Martin of Tours, Augustine of Canterbury, Boniface – all used miracles and power encounters. Some, like Boniface, saw this as a strategic method of winning pagans by demonstrations of the power of God. I got the impression, though, that many of the others treated miracles and other manifestations of God’s power as normal expressions of their faith.

Dr. Smither summarized this as “holistic ministry,” and this does serve to underscore the importance of modern holistic ministry. In spite of my fundamentalist background, I have come to realize just how important are the manifestations of God’s power today, and how important it is to meet people’s physical needs, even while maintaining the preeminence of proclamation. Our international fellowship in Lublin began just after a miraculous healing of a Hindu American student – as a result of this very non-charismatic Baptist praying over his comatose body. (You can read that story here). It’s exciting to hear and read about God’s power manifested in the early centuries of the church, as well, and to understand that God has always been working in similar ways throughout the history of the church.

The other amazing lesson came from the way God used all kinds of people to advance His Kingdom. Usually the merchants and soldiers went first, but the priests and monks were close behind. Slaves played a key role as well, especially in taking the gospel to countries that we would today call “creative access nations.” Everywhere these Christians went – they took their faith, talked about it, and people converted.

As a “professional” missionary, it was nice to see that other “professionals” had blazed a trail as well – priests and monks. However, it was both encouraging and humbling to realize that the pioneers were usually business people. As they conducted their business, they travelled. As they travelled, they told others about their greatest treasure. Sometimes the professionals would follow and help deepen the faith of people who had already heard, but usually when a missionary monk went somewhere – the gospel had gone on ahead already. Dr. Smither called this a proclamation strategy – by bishops, monks and lay people. And it still takes everyone proclaiming the gospel to adequately reach a people for Christ. The full-time missionaries are invaluable, but so are the people involved in business as mission, the NGO aid workers, the Christian international businessmen and even the soldiers who still share the gospel.