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Romania  (Century XXII) and Portugal (Century XVII):  

Historical Parallels

"The people are so little curious that no man knows more than what is merely necessary for him"---(Francis Parry, the English envoy to Portugal in 1670)
"The bulk of the people were disinclined to independence of thought and, in all but a few instances, too much adverse from intellectual activity to question what they had learned,"---(Mary Brearley, English visitor to Portugal in the 17th Century) (Quotes from Portuguese Seaborne Empire by Boxer pp. 340-2)

In America, the proliferation of "self-help" books is an example of our culture of blaming ourselves for our problems. Here in Romania, there is a great amount of pride in one's ability and a tendency to blame others (government, history, America) for what is wrong. The classic line I get is, "strainule ("foreigner" or "stranger") just give us money and we'll know what to do with it." Yet, more humanitarian assistance has poured into Romania than into any other eastern European country with little to show for the results. While the Orthodox do not claim any confrontation between faith and knowledge (Biserica si stiinta ), many Repenters look upon education and free thinking as an enemy of faith. Fortunately, McDowell's book "Don't Check Your Brain at the Door" has now been translated. Mostly, pastors decide what is right and wrong and the people are told what are acceptable ideas and actions. Headcovering is necessary. Movies are out of bounds. A Christian can be overweight but cannot smoke.

I had been teaching the Gospel at a Repenter house church. They pressed me for an opinion about a woman's headcovering. I avoided it for some time but finally I presented a research paper stating that it was a personal issue. I invited a Scripture-based response but they declined. Instead, I was told that I could no longer take communion or speak in the church. On March 26th, I received a letter from their Scottish missionary, David, saying, "it would be pointless and unprofitable to discuss the subject at length." But he continued, "It is a very serious thing when the assembly...[disagrees] with our manner of understanding the Scriptures and [casts] many shadows of doubt in various ways over our christian (sic) life and service to the extent that they no longer feel happy for us to Break Bread with them." Division replaces discussion and education, dragging down economy and maturity. It is not hard to understand why unemployment among this assembly has been 75%.

As Romania sinks from second world Communist country to third world, it takes a path similar to 17th century Portugal when a major world power became a second-class country. "Portugal diplomats and agents abroad came back with the message that the rest of the world was moving on while Portugal stood still. These estrangeirados--their pejorative nickname--attracted deep suspicion, for they were tainted. Their dismisal was implicit in Portuguese pride. Most unfortunate. They saw what few Portuguese could or would see: that the pursuit of Christian uniformity was stupid; that the Holy Office of the Inquisition was a national disaster; that the Church was swallowing the wealth of the country; that the government's failure to promote agriculture and industry had reduced Portugal to the role of 'the best and most profitable colony of England.'"---(Landes DL. The Poverty and Wealth of Nations. pp. 134-135)

"In 1736, Dom Luis da Cunha deplored the absence of a Reformist (Calvinist) community in Portugal." (ibid, p. 136) Likewise, I deplore the shortage of Protestant missionaries and ideas in all but the most advanced parts of Romania. Fortunately, Repenters are still a minority in Romania, but their example is bringing further death and decay to a formerly prosperous country that was ravaged by communism. This is what we are occupied here in Romania. We are giving an alternative to the closed-mindedness and pride that is strangling the country. Pray for God's Word would go out.

Published in the Vox Domnului Church Bulletin 15 July 2001
Laurent J. LaBrie

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One missionary, after reading this article asserted that the Orthodox Church can be just as restrictive in the lives of its adherents as many Repenter groups.  

The Repenter house church I discussed is one case in point, but I know in Timisoara that many people who have attended Repenter Baptisti (different from synonymous groups in the country and around the world) but who are told at the last minute that they must be re-baptized the way the pastor believes or they must move their marriage ceremony to another church.  No Scriptural basis is given, just the tradition of the church.  This is an example from a part of the country that is considered the most western and progressive!  Perhaps this happens among the Orthodox but although I know more Orthodox, and they outnumber the Repenters about 40 to 1, I know of no such cases.  In fact, when one person in the wedding party is a Protestant and the other is an Orthodox, he/she is more likely to find an Orthodox who is loving and ecumenical enough to perform the ceremony than to find a Repenter.

This absence of critical intellectual debate discourages others from pursuing education.  For, if their education exceeds but differs from the person above them, most must renounce it or risk being cast out of the church.  So, why learn anything other than what your superior believes.

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