Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania: Interview with Rev. Rimas Mikalauskas
10 January 2018 | Tolle Lege
Tolle Lege: Could you tell us about the history of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania?
Rimas Mikalauskas: Our history began with the Reformation in sixteenth century, when Poland and Lithuania were one country – the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The country, however, was not homogenous. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania law was regulated by the Statutes of Lithuania which granted to the Reformed Church greater privileges concerning its property and the freedom to confess the evangelical faith. Due to this fact, it was easier for the Lithuanian Church to survive the Counter-Reformation. Another factor, that helped us to survive, was protection of noble families such as Radziwiłłs.
After the World War I, there were two Reformed Churches which had Lithuanian identity. One of them was the Church of Vilnius and the other was Church of Biržai. They could not become a one federation, because Vilnius was in the borders of Poland, while the other Church was in the borders of the Lithuanian Republic. In spite of unfriendly political situation of the countries both sides of the Unitas Lithuaniae (historical name of the Evangelical Reformed Synod of Lithuania) made attempts to keep the relationship and shared common heritage.
After the World War II, Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union. It was difficult time for the Church, for communist government forbid us to convoke the Synod, with exception of the year 1957, when we celebrated 400 years of our existence and were allowed to have an extraordinary Synod. During that time, the Church was governed by the consistory. 1
TL: What is the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania like today?
RM: Today, Evangelical Reformed Church is one of the nine historical Churches recognised by the state. Among these Churches, Roman Catholic Church was the first to sign a formal agreement with government in matters such as religious education in public schools or having army-chaplains. Presently, we have also signed this document, but we need to practically implement some of its points. We did also face challenge of resolving our legal situation after the communist period and figuring out who had right to represent the Church before the law.
Some of our congregations are in smaller towns and thus are suffering from younger people moving to cities. We still have worship services there, but no longer every Sunday. On the other hand, Churches in bigger cities like Vilnus, Kaunas and Panevėžys are growing.
Also, like many Churches in other parts of the world, we are struggling with theological liberalism in theology. Our Synod has recently ruled that we do not want to go in this direction as a Church. Instead, we would like to be faithful to the Scripture and our confessions – the Heidelberg Catechism and the Second Helvetic Confession. We did also recently prepare a Lithuanian translation of the Second Helvetic Confession. (Previously we used a Polish version of it – the Confession of Sandomierz.)
TL: We heard that you are working on the new psalter-hymnal. Could you tell us why is the new hymnbook needed?
RM: So far, we used a reprint of the 1942 hymnbook. However, recently we decided, that we need to prepare a new hymnbook that would be more fitting to our present needs. We would like, also, to return to the old Reformed tradition of having in our hymnbook a collection of Psalms alongside the selection of hymns. Our previous hymnbook was made at the time, when there was a tendency of making hymnbooks together with Lutherans and therefore it lacks separate collection of Psalms.
TL: Some time ago the Gospel Coalition 2 published an article saying that your Lithuanian Evangelical Reformed Church cooperated with certain charismatic Church in translating the “New City Catechism”. Could you tell us more about that cooperation?
RM: I think, that that Church was charismatic in 90s. Presently it is a federation of various Churches, some of which are very close to the Reformed Church. We have signed together a statement saying that we agree with respect to the doctrine expressed in Reformed Confessions and would like to cooperate. Other than translation work, this cooperation includes also religious education in schools. Evangelical Reformed Church has a program of religious education accepted by government which is used by the other denomination as well. Every third month there is also a meeting of committee comprised of delegates from both Churches, when we talk about the theology and shared projects. I can say, that we have a truly fraternal relationship, though we are two separate Churches.
TL: Thank you for the interview!
Rev. Rimas Mikalauskas – is a pastor in Evangelical Reformed Church in Biržai and vice-president of the Consistory of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania.
- Unlike in Dutch Reformed Churches, in Polish and Lithuanian Churches a „consistory” refers to the body governing the whole Church (federation), rather than a particular congregation. ↩
- https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-a-new-catechism-is-uniting-churches-in-europes-last-pagan-nation/ ↩