7 Reasons Why Reformed and Presbyterian Churches Should Send Missionaries to Poland
September 17, 2012
Reaching Poland is critical to mission work in both western and eastern Europe. Yet Reformed Christians have ignored this reality for years and have neglected to send missionaries to this large European country. My goal here is to make the case for Poland's importance to confessional Reformed/Presbyterian mission work and provoke a discussion concerning the issue.
Without further ado, here are the top seven reasons why Reformed/Presbyterian churches should reconsider Poland as a crucial base for mission work in Europe:
1. Attachment to Christianity. In the whole European Union, Poland is the country most dedicated to Christianity. Poles have seen themselves as defenders of Christianity ever since King Sobieski's Vienna victory in 1683. Unlike most other European nations, abortion is illegal in Poland and public schools openly teach religious (Catholic) doctrine. However, anti-clericalism is growing, which provides a unique window for confessional Reformed churches to offer Rome-free Christianity.
2. Hurting State of Polish Protestantism. The mainline Polish Reformed Church is very small and weak, unable to respond to the needs of Polish society. Further, Polish Protestants make up one of the smallest communities in Europe, numbering less than 100,000 in this country of 40 million. Most Poles have never in their lives met another Pole who is a Protestant. A Polish woman who worked (not as a professor) at Harvard University once told me that there is "no such thing" as Polish Protestantism. Reformed missions, if irenically conducted, could strengthen the tiny Polish Protestant community, offering theological materials helpful to all Protestants. Just today I received an email from a Polish Baptist pastor/church planter who'd read Michael Horton's Putting Amazing Back into Grace, asking me to translate and publish the book in Poland.
3. Deeply Confessional Culture. In contrast to many evangelical missions, confessional Reformed missions would not deconstruct the high view of church and sacraments embedded in Poland's Catholic-minded culture, but would instead reform it and use it to explain Reformed doctrine.
4. Strategic Location for West-East-West Exchange of Ideas. Poland's unique geographical location is significant for a West-East-West exchange of ideas. This was true during the early modern period and it is true today. If you have doubts, just read Calvin's dedicatory to his commentary on the book of Hebrews, or remember that Poland was the first nation to liberate itself from the Communist regime in 1989. Also, the first country to accept a Protestant Confession of Faith (the Augsburg Confession) was Prussia, which at that time was a vassal of the Polish Crown and is now part of modern-day Poland. Finally, during the Reformation, Poland (together with Lithuania) was the largest European country except for Russia, and included modern-day Ukraine and Belarus. A robust Reformed mission work in Poland would radiate to and affect the east and the west.
5. Economic Growth and Prosperity. Poland stands out in the European economic landscape, as it's seen steady growth without a downturn in recent years. This makes Poland a promising candidate for economic leadership in central Europe. It also increases the likelihood of future financial stability, and perhaps even self-sufficiency, of a Reformed mission work.
6. Politically Strategic. Poland's political importance is growing, since its geographic location between Germany and Russia automatically makes Poland the protector of Europe's most sensitive border. Note that Mitt Romney singled out Poland, England, and Israel for visits during his recent overseas tour. Like South Korea, Poland could serve as a base for Reformed mission work to the east, with its close proximity to eastern Europe and Russia. Poland's membership in the European Union and Schengen area allows border-free travel to the west, which means Poland could provide an ideal headquarters for Reformed/Presbyterian missions in Europe.
Further, the late Karol Wojtya (Pope John Paul II) charged Poles with the re-evangelization of western Europe - a task which, in many ways, is being carried out successfully, as Poland continues to export a high number of priests to parishes all over Europe. A Reformed/Presbyterian mission work could use this cultural fervor to its own advantage and explore ways to bring the gospel to secularized western European Protestants.
7. Forgotten Polish Reformed Heritage. Historically, Poland, together with Lithuania, has an honorable Reformed heritage and produced and hosted some of the great theologians (and heretics!) of the Reformation and Post-Reformation era, including Mikoaj Rej, Janaski (Johannes a Lasco), Faustus Socinus, Jan Makowski (Johannes Maccovius), Bartholomew Keckermann, and Jan Amos Komeski (Comenius). Thus a Reformed/Presbyterian mission work could take historical and national root so that its presence would not be perceived or treated as a foreign element in the national culture.
Dariusz M. Bryko received his MA in Church History from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his PhD in historical theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. He initiated the work of Tolle Lege Institute, taught theology at LCC International University (in Lithuania), and most recently was a research fellow at Biola University's Center for Christian Thought. His book, The Irenic Calvinism of Daniel Kaaj: A Study in the History and Theology of the Polish-Lithuanian Reformation, was published this year with Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.