On December 15, 1989, a small crowd of parishioners of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Timisoara gathered in front of the church flat where their pastor lived. The occasion was the eviction orders to their pastor set for that day by a Romanian civil court. The group formed a human chain around the flat. When the police arrived to remove the pastor from the flat, the crowd had grown to several hundred strong; they were singing hymns in the brutally cold weather and from their words the police guards understood that the people were determined to stay and prevent the eviction of their pastor. The police guards returned with agents of the dreaded Communist secret police Securitate, but to no avail, the crowd refused to let them pass. For the first time in the history of Communist Romania someone was refusing to obey Securitate.
On the next day the mayor of Timisoara—the second largest city in Romania—arrived and tried to persuade the crowd to disperse. He arrived with the pastor’s family doctor to persuade the pregnant wife of the pastor to come with them to the hospital. She refused. By that time the crowd had grown beyond the numbers of the congregation, with young ethnic Romanians joining the Hungarian Reformed believers in the vigil and the human chain in the cold December day. The mayor then left, threatening to return with police water cannons.
On December 17, instead of police water cannons, Army troops took positions against the now significant demonstrations that had grown from the humble crowd of Reformed parishioners. They fired into the crowd. This did not stop the demonstrators. On December 18 tens of thousands of industrial workers in Timisoara left their jobs to join the demonstrations. By December 20 the city was out of the control of the Communist government. The insurrection spread to other cities in Romania, and on December 22 the most brutal and maniacal Communist dictatorship in Eastern Europe—that of Nicolae Ceausescu—fell.
The fall of the bloodiest and most inhumane Communist dictatorship in Eastern Europe started there, in the small humble church of the 37-year old Pastor László Tökés. Dr. Joseph Pungur of the University of Alberta in Canada writes about him:
And in the midst of all this arose that one person, Reverend László Tökés, a minister of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania in charge of the church of Timişoara (Temesvár) who, with his heroic resistance to the dictatorial Church and State authorities, single-handedly triggered a popular revolution in Romania. Within days it toppled the Ceausescu regime.
The kind of preacher we need again today
Who was László Tökés? What made him so terrifying to the regime to deserve such attention? Why did the Communist government have to send agents of the Secret Police, and later the army, to make sure he is evicted? What made those thousands of people keep vigil in the cold December nights around his house to protect a humble, unimportant religious minister? Why was it that even unbelievers were willing to lay down their lives but not let the government troops pass to his house?
Was he a military organizer of the resistance? Did he lead an opposition party? May be he was a skillful politician, experienced in the art of bureaucratic machinations? Did he make explosives, blow up bridges, start insurrections in the army?
No. He was only a preacher. No, he wasn’t only a preacher. He was a preacher with a heart for God, a preacher who believed that the pulpit was entrusted to him to preach against principalities and powers, no matter what the consequences were. He preached against the Communist regime, he preached against the oppressive policies, against the nationalist crackdowns of the regime on the Hungarian minority, and against the lack of freedom, religious and political, in his country. László Tökés wasn’t there just to preach “believe and get saved.” He was on the pulpit to speak for King Jesus in every area of life, and especially in those areas where the government was oppressive against those politically weak and poor. László Tökés was there to tell Caesar that “there is another King, one Jesus.”
And that was enough to make him so dangerous to the regime. Government institutions on all levels—police, courts, the secret police—were employed to make him stop preaching. Members of his congregation—fully supportive of their pastor—were “suicided” by the Securitate agents. His pay was stopped and his ration-card was taken away, making it impossible for him to buy even food (and his wife was pregnant at the time). One night a group of thugs hired by Securitate broke into his apartment and Tökés and members of the congregation had to fight them off with kitchen knives.
The Bishop of Transylvania, László Papp, a puppet of the Communists and a collaborationist with the government, ordered Tökés to stop preaching and officially closed his church. Interestingly enough, he appealed to the “separation of church and state,” and claimed that Tökés violated the laws of both the church and the state. The congregation stood firm, and the young pastor kept preaching. A few weeks before the events described above he wrote an open letter explaining the situation he was in:
I speak out for I cannot do otherwise, or else the stones themselves will speak, the stones of our demolished towns and monuments…. I am not a courageous man but I have overcome my fear. I am waiting for a trial at a Romanian civil court, indicted by my own bishop in order to evict me from the manse of the church at Temesvar, and to banish me in medieval style not only from this “closed” town but also from the priesthood. . . The fight is no less bitter than it was in the past, though this time the weapons are different. And the price of the siege is the same; when the castle falls, a piece of our country goes with it . . . The self-defence of the Reformed Church in Temesvár symbolizes a “pars pro toto,” it displays the “particular” as a representative of the “universal.” We are called in question, one by one, as Calvinists and as Hungarians living here. To the challenge the congregation tries to answer like David . . . it takes its stand only on a tiny foothold of the Spirit, from of the Word of God: “Fight for your brethren, your sons, your wives and your homes” (Nehemiah 4:14). “A mighty fortress is our God” sings the church congregation on Sundays, identifying themselves with its strength; they rely on that strength throughout the week.
László Papp, the Bishop of Nagyvárad, has been besieging the Church in Temesvár since April. He has banned services in the church and the works of renovation. . .He has limited the activity of the minister and the session; he has frozen a great deal of the congregational finances . . . This was the introductory phase of the siege . . . the phase of “starve them into surrender” . . . the mocking of Goliath.
But God’s plans trumped the mocking of Goliath, and the giant fell within a week after the start of the final showdown. And it all started with the humble sermons of a humble pastor in a small parish church.
If you are a Christian, and if you care about teaching your children in the way of our Lord, you should have a gallery of Christian heroes for them to imitate and be inspired by. Add a name there: László Tökés. He is part of your Christian history.
About a year ago I visited a worldview conference organized in our town by Brannon Howse. Mr. Howse was outstanding. He didn’t pull any punches. Nothing in this country was outside of God’s Sovereignty, everything was a legitimate sphere for action for us Christians. Government? Yes, government too. [For Howses’ rapid departure from these views almost immediately after this event, see our archives.]
On the way back a local pastor was with me in my car. I was excited about the conference, and I naturally was optimistic about what we as Christians could do to restore America to its Biblical roots.
In the middle of the conversation the pastor just said, “You know, this is all good, but I don’t think we can accomplish too much in these last days. We may be able to save a few souls, but we can’t stop the drift to darkness in this country. We should expect the times to be worse and worse for us Christians.”
I thought of László Tökés. He was against the worst political and government machine we can imagine. He couldn’t buy food, he was about to be evicted from his house. There was no institution to come to his defense, and there was no hope, humanly speaking. He was in a situation that no American pastor in the 20th century has been or had to be. And yet he compared himself to David against Goliath, firmly convinced of his victory, against all human odds.
He just preached against the government, against the principalities and powers, against the forces of darkness in the high places of the land. And they fell. Our pastors should learn from his example.
[This article was originally published on December 15, 2009, the 20th anniversary of the attempted eviction of László Tökés. Now almost eight years later, it is more relevant than ever.]