Slovakia, like Poland, Spain and Italy, is predominantly Catholic, even though it has many churches claiming to be Protestant. These include Baptists, Moravians and various kinds of Brethren.
However, in Slovakia, Protestants are largely ecumenical and liberal in theology; and the real, regenerate church — believers saved by grace, through faith in Christ — is only small in size.
Before the Reformation — during the early 15th century — the ministry of John Hus of Prague exerted an influence on Slovakia, albeit a much smaller one than in his native Bohemia.
During the 16th century the Reformation spread quickly from Germany and found fertile soil in Slovakia. There it continued for several decades, although it was German Lutheranism that flourished rather than Swiss Calvinism — as is reflected by a fairly large Lutheran community today.
Then, 400 years ago, came the Counter-Reformation with its Jesuit leadership, and harsh, repressive re-catholisation. This forced the lands corresponding to present day Slovakia to revert to Catholicism, which remains the situation today.
During the last 15 years — since the overthrow of Communism in Czechoslovakia’s ‘velvet revolution’ — evangelical churches in Slovakia have moved in a more ecumenical direction.
Since 1989 the only Protestants who have experienced rapid growth are the Charismatics. This is especially true of the more extreme factions in this movement, with their ‘word-faith’ and ‘signs and wonders’ teachings.
Other Protestants in Slovakia are heavily influenced by German liberal theologians like Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and Rudolf Bultmann. Many pastors and teachers quote these as their favourite theologians. The Slovakian Protestant ethos is neo-orthodox and neo-evangelical.
An official concordat was signed in 2000 between the Slovak Republic and the Roman Catholic Church. Currently another Slovak/Vatican contract is being drawn up covering Catholic education in state schools.
Catholicism is extending its influence to every area of life, including schools and educational institutions of every type. Other state registered churches have followed the trend and also signed special accords with the government. Even Evangelicals are forming official ties with government institutions.
The ‘Christian’ book market is crowded with books of doubtful spiritual value. On the one hand there are books by extreme Charismatics such as Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Paul Yonggi Cho and similar teachers. On the other hand, there are Christian counselling books that depend heavily on secular, psychological theories and sell in their thousands.
Often it seems that all the unhealthy and dangerous Christian innovations of the UK and USA will inevitably enter the Slovak scene. The classic example has been the Toronto Blessing, which came to Slovakia via the UK, and swept through many churches affecting thousands of believers.
I discovered the doctrines of grace in the autumn of 1998 while living in Presov. The same thing happened to an American missionary pastor in the same city, whose Bible studies and reading of Reformed literature brought him to a crucial change in his soteriology.
Back in 1998 I knew only a handful of Calvinists — all of them members of this church in Presov. Today, I know of several tens of people who are committed to the ‘Five Points of Calvinism’ — total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints — as the explanation of the way that God saves sinners.
More and more Slovakian Christians are discovering that the Bible teaches the electing grace of God. So there has been encouraging theological progress since 1998. I believe that in the future even more will discover the depth, beauty and soundness of Reformed theology.
Several years ago, works by British Puritans and other stalwarts of the Reformed faith like C. H. Spurgeon and J. C. Ryle were virtually unknown. Only a handful of people, who were proficient in English, were blessed and nourished from these literary jewels.
But, today, by the grace of God, there are two small publishing bodies translating English Calvinistic literature into Slovakian. One of them, called ‘Ordo Salutis’, is in Slovakia; the other, called ‘Pilgrim’s Reading’, operates in Bohemia.
Since Slovaks can read the Czech language, and vice-versa, books published by both groups are being disseminated in both countries.
There have been opportunities over the radio too. Recently, parts of Holiness by J. C. Ryle were broadcasted by TWR Slovakia, and John Owen’s Mortification of sin is being prepared for a radio series.
Slovakia desperately needs sound doctrinal teaching, grounded solely on the Bible, whether through sermons, books, tracts or radio programmes.
In my opinion, this requires nothing less than renewed and fervent expatriate and indigenous missionary activity — aimed at planting local churches and training new national ministers to follow on the work.
There is little prospect that the established churches in Slovakia are going to reform themselves along biblical lines. They are moving further and further away from the Bible and the Reformation principles they once espoused.
Also it seems unlikely that there will be any acceptance of the doctrines of grace by those many churches devoted to the ‘insights’ of psychology, entertainment and subjectivism.
I am convinced that those who want to make a lasting impact for good in Slovakia must keep clear of the ecumenical movement. They must engage courageously in the lonely task of building independent local churches, by the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
May God grant new gospel light to this spiritually deprived nation!