Hungry for Good Bible Teaching
It was while watching the confusion, hopelessness and even suicide of his fellow university students following the Russian invasion of then-Czechoslovakia in 1968 that Langham Scholar Pavel Černý (above) felt called to abandon his studies in biology and pursue his theological education in Prague.
“I wanted to find a way to help them,” he says, “[even though] my grandfather as pastor had been persecuted, and even my father lost his job as a pharmacist, because of his lay preaching in the church.”
Pavel also came to experience challenges and oppression under the totalitarian regime of the Soviets, despite the comparative religious freedom.
“One-third of all congregations were closed down, and every pastor in the remaining churches was aware that there could be a government official in the congregation, checking on what we were saying.”
The former Czechoslovakia had experienced its share of suffering under the Nazis during World War II, particularly through the concentration camps, including the infamous Theresienstadt. “But there were good things, too,” Pavel recalls. “When we suffered together, we also prayed together and relationships were strengthened.”
“I needed to learn how to apply the Bible faithfully.”
Pavel was frustrated by the liberal nature of theological education in his country, but was not allowed to leave to pursue studies elsewhere.
“I hungered for biblical, practical theology. I could learn Greek and Hebrew in any theological school, but I needed to know how to apply the Bible faithfully.”
It took seven years to obtain a visa to spend a little time at All Saints Christian College in the UK, and even then his wife and children remained at home as surety against his return. In 1980, Pavel’s life changed when John Stott was allowed to visit Czechoslovakia, and Pavel’s church was one of the three in which he was allowed to preach.
“It was because of his status as Chaplain to the Queen that he was allowed to come – but even so he was constantly monitored by the State Secretary for Religious Affairs, ” Pavel recalls of Stott’s visit.
“My Langham scholarship changed everything!”
Over the course of several more visits, including one immediately following the liberation of 1990, Pavel heard Uncle John preaching biblically based, expository sermons, and he knew he had to learn more. He enrolled in doctoral studies, which he pursued by extension, but struggled to make progress, as by now his responsibilities included his role as president of his reformed evangelical denomination. However, when John heard of the situation, he encouraged Pavel to apply for a Langham Scholarship in 1998, which resulted in Pavel being able to dedicate time to his work exploring the theology of mission.
“My Langham Scholarship changed everything! It greatly improved my ability to teach, and helped the [Evangelical Theological] Seminary in Prague gain accreditation. I was able to then write books and articles to help build understanding as I prepared young students for ordination. But perhaps most of all I gained a deeper understanding of the need for unity and ecumenical cooperation in the mission of the church.”
Pavel’s ministry in the Czech Republic has had a major and ongoing impact, as he sees former students heading out to other countries as missionaries, planting churches at home, and even one becoming president of the evangelical seminary. At a time when church attendance has declined dramatically in the Czech Republic, with some denominations losing 50% of their congregations over the past decade, according to the recent census, the evangelical denominations are growing.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
The challenges remain, however. Pavel believes that one reason for the decline in church attendance is the strong pull of materialism, leading many to feel they no longer have time or need for the church. The importance of clear and relevant Bible teaching that points people to their need for the Gospel, then, is all the more urgent.
“Without good teaching,” Pavel reflects, “the Czech church becomes shallow and open to secularism and cults. We need prayer, we need the constant renewal of the Holy Spirit, and we need more committed workers. Especially in the context of the current migrant crisis, people are questioning the meaning of life. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”
The workers are few: This is why for nearly 45 years, Langham has been supporting the theological training of more than 300 scholars, like Pavel, who go on to multiply themselves into the lives of other biblical leaders and impact their nations with the Gospel.