Czechoslovakia divided into two distinct republics in 1993. The Czech Republic is largely irreligious, but the Slovak Republic is predominantly Roman Catholic.
In addition to Catholicism, shrines and large church buildings in Slovakia evidence Eastern Orthodoxy, and it is estimated there are about 400,000 adherents of Lutheranism.
The credal distinction between Romanism and Lutheranism was greatly blurred on 31 October 1999 when the two denominations signed a ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification’. By this their ecumenical relationship was extended and advanced.
In Slovakia, as everywhere, the cults vie for influence with the churches. There are also Baptist churches — ‘general’ and ‘reformed’.
It was to an emergent Reformed Baptist Church that I was invited this year. I had previously preached in Slovakia in 2000 in the university town of Presov; then in 2002 in Presov and Pezinok; and now this year in the capital, Bratislava.
Slovakia is an interesting country. There are a considerable number of similarities between it and Western Europe. The Slovakians are a warm-hearted, hospitable people, but comparatively few speak English.
The former communist authorities provided homes for the people by building a great number of huge (and sometimes ugly) high-rise blocks of flats. Many of these are crammed into vast, rambling housing estates.
The problems of UK cities are mirrored in Slovakia. Crime, immorality and drug addiction are widespread. But there are also many well-kept houses and bungalows.
When I visited Slovakia this June with Willis Metcalfe, we noted how attractive the rural areas are. An abundance of roses added colour to the roads and lanes. Amid the growing crops a sea of poppies waved in the breeze during our journey through the fertile plain of the River Danube. Rising up from the plains are the eye-catching mountains of the High Tatras and Kaparty ranges.
There is much of historical interest too. On another visit I had enjoyed a trip to the fascinating castle in Bratislava. From its terrace can be seen the great River Danube, which meanders through many countries to the Black Sea.
This year we viewed the astounding structure of a hydroelectric dam built across the Danube. Building began, apparently, in a spirit of co-operation between Slovakia and its near neighbour Hungary, but in the end the Slovaks completed the work.
As we toured the grounds and battlements of Red Rock castle, set in the Kaparty mountains, its magnificent location reminded me of the scenery in the film The Sound of Music.
Bratislava itself has its attractions. There is much evidence of building work in progress in the construction both of roads and bridges. Trams and trolley buses grind cheek by jowl with other traffic. There is growing prosperity, while the cost of living to a westerner remains low.
In all this context, there are those who seek to promote and maintain a biblical witness to Christ, fortified in doing so by the foundational truth of the sovereignty of God.
Generally speaking the ‘Protestant’ Church in Slovakia is liberal and lives on tradition. Its churches are full of unconverted people, weak in theology and preaching.
But the Baptist Church in Bratislava, where I ministered, is energetic in preaching the Word and seeks to reach the lost with the gospel.
The young pastor of that church translates good Reformed theological books into Slovakian. The church meets in one of the many cultural centres in the town, and, like many Evangelical churches in the UK, suffers the inconvenience of having to share accommodation with other groups.
We noticed some encouraging things during this last visit. There was a predominance of young people in each church. As far as I could see, they were mainly students. Some were young married couples, or couples about to become married. Some were in professional jobs.
The people’s spiritual interest was particularly encouraging. One ‘old’ lady of 60 had, six months prior to our visit, been saved by grace out of the clutches of Rome.
There was a hunger for the Word of God. The preacher was not subjected to the clock! There were warm, loving expressions of fellowship, as the Slovaks and Brits rejoiced together in the unity of being one in Christ Jesus.
These western visitors rejoice at the way that the gate to minister the Word in the East has opened up seemingly ‘of its own accord’. With thanksgiving we all rejoice at the evidence of a small but vibrant work of God, amid the religious superstition that abounds in Slovakia