21 Century Bulgarian Evangelicals

September 30, 2007 by  
Filed under Research

By Kathryn Donev, M.S.Bulgarian evangelicals remain in almost complete agreement on issues such as the person and work of Jesus Christ in the salvific mission of God and the importance of the Holy Spirit in the mission of the church. These are strong Biblical points that should be used to correct the recognized error of past church splits. Because these also serve as the cornerstone of Pentecostal doctrine and practice, a movement toward unity within the Bulgarian Protestant movement should be initiated by Bulgarian Pentecostals. However, before such initiation can be realized, Pentecostals must reach a balance between their numerical advantage and their social action. Bulgarian evangelicals are together on many social issues. These commonalities should be used to build unity and construct strategies for the future development of the movement.

From an environment of uncertainty and hopelessness, the Bulgarian Evangelical believer turns to the continuity of faith in the Almighty Redeemer. Pentecostalism as practical Christianity gives a sense of internal motivation to the discouraged. In a society that is limited in conduciveness for progression of thought or self actualization, one finds refuge in the promises of Christianity. It becomes a certainty which can be relied upon. Historically, having undergone severe persecution, the Bulgarian Evangelical believer is one whom possesses great devotion to his or her belief. Having to defend the faith fosters a deep sense of appreciation and in an impoverished country, faith becomes all some have. Christ becomes the only one to whom to turn for provision. In the midst of this complete dependence is where miracles occur. Furthermore, it is in the midst of miracles where the skepticism which is prominent in postcommunist Bulgaria is broken. When those who believe are healed from cancer and even raised from the dead, there is no room for disbelief or low self-esteem.Surrounded with insecurity and uncertainty, the Bulgarian Evangelical believer finds great hope and comfort in the fact that God holds the future in His hands. Christianity is a reality that is certain. While having lived in a culture of oppression and persecution, the Bulgarian Evangelical believer now can trade a downtrodden spirit for one of triumph. The once atmosphere of turmoil is being transformed to one of liberation in the Spirit where chains of slavery are traded for a crown of joyous freedom.

iving in the 21st century in a context of postcommunist and postmodern transformations, Bulgarian evangelical believers must remain true to their historical heritage and preserve their identity in order to keep their faith alive. This unique testimony must be pasted on to future Bulgarian generations by telling the story of the true Pentecostal experience.

Practice and Politics

September 25, 2007 by  
Filed under Research

By Kathryn Donev, M.S.

Most of Bulgarian protestant believers pray (88%) and read the Bible (77%) on a daily basis. Over half (59%) have read the whole Bible at least once and own more than 50 Christian books. Only a third fast more than once a week. The majority recognize the use of alcohol as sin (60%) and only a tenth have ever tried drugs. Thus, Bulgarian evangelicals are more traditional than contemporary in conviction, more practical than theoretical in teaching and more conservative than liberal in practice.

A certain level of negativism regarding politics and political order is inherited among Bulgarian evangelicals from the times of the Communist Regime. This feeling may be represented in the broader Bulgarian context by the fact that 80% agree that the average Bulgarian has lost faith in general. The church is not a political organization for most Bulgarian evangelicals (62%) and 57% claim it is not Biblical for a Christian to be a politician. Perhaps, this is the reason why over half (53%) would not vote for the Bulgarian Christian Coalition as a political force formed to represent evangelicals in Bulgaria. The same attitude applies to the broader political scene, as almost half (42%) of Bulgarian evangelicals did not intend to vote in the 2006 Presidential Elections and 48% actually did not vote. However, a much larger number (79%) intend to vote for an evangelical candidate for president. Perhaps, this is the number which the Bulgarian Evangelical Coalition should take into consideration when modeling their future political platform to gain much needed support within the evangelical churches.

Such a political alternative has been much awaited as the majority of evangelicals (64%) feel there is no religious freedom in Bulgaria. As in many other areas of the Bulgarian reality, true religious tolerance is replaced by the monopoly of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Evangelicals have not been heard in the legalization of a number of issues like chaplaincy, capital punishment, euthanasia, abortion, organ donation and so forth. Perhaps, this is the reason why attempts to constitutionalize Eastern Orthodox monopoly are generally met with strong resistant from evangelical circles. This is why a large majority (80%) demand a new Bulgarian law of religion.

Bulgarian Evangelical Theology

September 20, 2007 by  
Filed under Research

By Kathryn Donev, M.S.

A great majority (97%) of Bulgarian protestant believers accept the evangelical doctrine of receiving Christ as Savior as mandatory for personal salvation. In this context, over three-fourths affirm the existence of free will (86%), as part of one’s personal choice to be saved (75%) and respectively to loose one’s salvation (76%).

Water baptism is viewed as unnecessary for salvation (85%), yet people baptized in water as children, as is customary in Eastern Orthodox tradition, need to be baptized again after conversion (70%). Almost two out of three (64%) claim that infant baptism is not a Biblical teaching.

Much more attention is paid to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and praxis of the church. Although the majority (72%) claims that baptism with the Holy Spirit is not necessary for salvation, a close number (76%) attend a church where speaking in tongues is practiced and 63% claim to have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A striking majority (90%), which apparently includes people not baptized in the Holy Spirit, affirm that the gifts of the Spirit are still operational. Additionally, two out of three Bulgarian Evangelicals are pretribulational in eschatology, which however is not always based on dispositional interpretation.

From a theological standpoint, Bulgarian protestant believers are fundamentally Biblical and conservatively-evangelical in doctrine, especially in their sotierology, and more Biblical than sacramental in practice. The majority of Bulgarian protestant believers are Pentecostal/Charismatic in experience, leaning toward a personal experience of the faith and supporting a more experiential personal salvific conversion, rather than traditionally inherited national religious confession. The genuine experience of God produces in a desire to practice the Biblical truths and be led by the Spirit, while expecting a soon and sudden return of the Lord.

Bulgarian Evangelical Church

September 15, 2007 by  
Filed under Research

By Kathryn Donev, M.S.

Most of Bulgarian protestant believers (73%) attend weekly services at churches with membership over 50 members (71%). The majority of these congregations are young and were established after the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (68%). This is also the time when most of their members converted (71%). These numbers are easily explained with the Communist repression of faith and religious experience during the Regime (1944-1989). Perhaps the great number of recent church splits (75%) is a direct result of this repression. Despite the scars caused by splits and misfortune, the larger part of the congregation is generally happy with their pastor (78%) whose role in ministry is largely apostolic (64%) and is not necessarily a male figure (46%). The last two characteristics are new for Bulgarian evangelical congregations that historically have supported a strong, congregation-focused, male pastor figure.

Unfortunately, the noted historical discontinuity is obvious in all areas of church life. In attempt to break free from the image of a conservative, isolated, underground church, most young Bulgarian congregations are inclined to new teachings and experiences which largely affects their corporate identity as congregations, as well as the image which they promote to other confessions or nonbelievers. A rich historical heritage remains unclaimed and unexplored as an instrument to preserve church identity and claim social space that historically belongs to Bulgarian evangelicals.

Bulgarian Evangelical Believers

September 10, 2007 by  
Filed under Research

By Kathryn Donev, M.S.

It is reasonable to ask the following questions: why is Pentecostalism so attractive to Bulgarian culture in the beginning of the 21st century? How is Pentecostalism responding so well to the need for faith within the postcommunist Bulgarian society? What is the reason Pentecostalism has spread so rapidly in the postcommunist age? Is Pentecostalism simply filling a spiritual gap or is it successfully responding to postmodern thinking?

The answers to the above questions are found in Pentecostal theology that affirms the “five-fold Gospel.” A survey conducted in the period 2004-2006 via Bibliata.com, a Christian Bulgarian media consortium, asked one hundred randomly selected Bulgarian Protestants about the fundamentals of their faith. Based on the survey results, the constructed profile of the average Bulgarian Protestant is: (1) fundamentally evangelical in doctrine, (2) more Armenian than Calvinistic, (3) more Pentecostal/Charismatic in experience, (4) more traditional than contemporary in conviction, (5) more theoretical than practical in teaching, (5) more conservative than liberal in practice and (7) more agreeing than disagreeing in fellowship.

Pentecostalism in Bulgaria

September 5, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Research

al-nevsky.JPGBy Kathryn Donev, M.S.

As the first Slavic nation to adopt Christianity, Bulgaria began Protestant work on the Balkan Peninsula in the 1800s when British and American missionaries were allowed to enter the Ottoman Empire. In 1868, the first Bulgarian Protestant Church was founded in the town of Bansko. By the time Bulgaria was liberated in 1878 and became an independent Balkan state, Protestantism was well established in the Bulgarian culture. In 1920, Ukrainian immigrants Zaplishny and Voronaev preached in the Congregational church at the Black Sea port city of Bourgas, where several were baptized with the Holy Spirit. This event marked the beginning of Pentecostalism in Bulgaria.

During the Communist Regime, the Bulgarian Church of God remained underground and was severely persecuted by the authorities. In 1949, Communist authorities tried and convicted fifteen protestant Bulgarian leaders on false charges of treason and espionage. Due to this persecution there arose division among Bulgarian Pentecostals that was prevalent and continued throughout the Communist Regime. Read more

Effects of Communism Analysis

September 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Research

By Kathryn Donev, M.S.

The collapse of Bulgaria’s previous social order, communism, left the country with a moral and ideological void that was quickly filled with crime and corruption. A culture originally shaped by communism currently is influenced by capitalism and democracy. Postcommunist mentality with definite Balkan characteristics rules the country as a whole. This mentality holds captive nearly every progressive thought and idea. In the Postcommunist context, the atheistic mind is a given and even when an individual experiences a genuine need for spirituality, in most cases he or she has no religious root to which to return other than Orthodoxy. This lack of alternative or spiritual choice produces a pessimistic morale.

The domination of the Ottoman Empire, and 45 years of being under communist rule appears to have instilled within Bulgaria’s national identity not only this pessimistic morale but also a deeply rooted sense of mistrust and low self-esteem. It was reported in a 2004 Bulgarian-Finnish study that Bulgarians are overwhelmed by skepticism and have low national self-esteem. This mentality results in a lack of success on the part of the country as a whole. Low self-esteem typically gives rise to what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The lack of self-esteem leads to low efficacy levels coupled with negative thinking that reinforces feelings of ineffectiveness, which influences the entire country. The result is a sense of learned helplessness where one is not successful. This mentality in addition to feelings of low self-esteem and mistrust or insecurity creates an atmosphere of mediocrity devoid of motivation.