On October 15, members of the Annual Council heard a report on the church in Hungary, where a breakaway group has existed for some years. The three-part presentation was given by Edwin Ludescher, president of the Euro-Africa Division; G. Ralph Thompson, secretary of the General Conference; and Neal C. Wilson, president of the General Conference. A summary of the three statements follows:
The problems in Hungary go back nearly forty years. Both groups, the official union church and the dissident (Egervari) group, are to be faulted the former for acting at times contrary to the procedures set out in the Church Manual, the latter for pursuing a course out of harmony with the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy. The Egervari group has set up its own organization, with ministers and buildings.
Elder Ludescher became president of the Euro-Africa Division in 1975. He recounted in detail the steps he had taken to try to bring about reconciliation of the two groups. The Euro-Africa Division took initiatives in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1984, at times with the participation of General Conference leaders--R. H. Pierson, Alf Lohne, and (for twelve days in January, 1984) Neal C. Wilson and G. Ralph Thompson. On several occasions it appeared that reconciliation would be achieved, but each time the Egervari group backed away at the last moment.
In light of these years of fruitless efforts to achieve reconciliation, Ludescher concluded of the Egervari group: "If even an angel from heaven should come and urge them to reintegrate, they would say, 'You come from too far away; you don't understand.'"
The chief complaint currently raised by the Egervari group is that the union has membership in the Council of Free Churches (CFC), and therefore is joined to the World Council of Churches. The CFC is recognized by the authorities for purposes of printing, issuing passports, and so on. Egervari himself had at one time been secretary of the CFC.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has never been a member of the World Council of Churches. Membership in the CFC does not involve alliance with the WCC, since membership in the latter is limited to individual churches; it is not open to councils of churches. The Seventh-day Adventist Hungarian Union church is not a member of the main ecumenical body of churches in Hungary The Hungarian Ecumenical Council. However, the General Conference and Euro-Africa Division leaders have counseled the union leaders to consider carefully the appropriate time and method of withdrawing from the CFC, inasmuch as membership in it is a cause of dissension.
In January, 1984, he and Elder Thompson made intense efforts to effect reconciliation. In May, 1983, the Egervari group had said they would abide by his counsel; in the January discussions he spent thirty hours with the Egervari group and thirty-eight hours with the union group. Reconciliation seemed imminent, but when negotiations broke down, Wilson appealed past the leaders of the Egervari group to its members publicly. He stated that he was given every courtesy and assistance to accomplish his mission by the president of the State Office of Church Affairs, the Honorable Mr. Imre Miklos.
The dissidents (or breakaway group) allege that membership in the Council of Free Churches is the stumbling block, but this objection emerged only after the General Conference and division leaders had promised to remove a variety of obstacles. Such obstacles include opening the way for full and immediate restoration of about seven hundred individuals who had been improperly disfellowshipped, holding of a union session for the purpose of electing union leadership, the establishment of two properly functioning conferences so that all the authority would not be vested in the union, the reinstatement of several former pastors who had been dismissed, and the proper auditing of financial records. "They want the family name, but they don't want to live in the same house," stated Elder Wilson.
We are very sympathetic to individuals who claim to be brothers and sisters in the faith, and we have a pastoral concern for each soul, but the General Conference cannot recognize the Egervari group, since it is a countermovement and a self-appointed, independent organization that recognizes no authority and is in open rebellion to the official policies of the world church. After the January, 1984, meetings, the group applied to the Hungarian authorities for recognition as a separate organization, but twice has been denied. There is an unfortunate attitude of self-righteousness on the part of the group, and they judge the official church to be in apostasy. In the latest application they make the claim that they are not Seventh-day Adventists but are Sabbathkeeping, Christ-expecting Christians, and that they interpret certain distinctive doctrines in a different way. It is a sad story, but we know the Lord can change, wonderfully change, the most hopeless and discouraging situation when it is for the vindication of His truth and His name.