The work of the gospel in Albania began with the apostle Paul. In Romans 15:19 he says “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ.” Titus also would have passed through Albania on his way to Dalmatia; modern day Croatia (2 Timothy 4:10).
Yet from around the second century to the 1800’s we have no record of any evangelical witness, any evangelical churches or indeed evangelical believers. Through the British and Foreign Bible society the New Testament and other Scriptures were translated into Albanian and sold by travelling evangelists in the 1860’s and 70’s. Gerasim Qiriazi, an Albanian from what is now called Northern Macedonia, was employed by the Society and came to Albania. He was used of God to establish an evangelical church in the south western town of Korçë despite deep opposition from the Greek Orthodox church there. Qiriazi was revolutionary as he preached in Albanian rather than using Greek as the Orthodox did. His sisters also left a mark on Albanian history by opening the first school to use the Albanian language. Evangelicals also had a key role in the formation of the official Albanian alphabet. However evangelical influence was restricted to the area around Korçë.
After the Second World War the most brutal communist regime seen in Europe came to power. In 1967 Albania was declared the world’s first atheistic state. Since communism fell 30 years ago there has been an unprecedented amount of evangelism and church planting. However much of this has been by Pentecostal and charismatic groups. The prosperity gospel and a pragmatic approach to church life and ministry is widespread here. The problems and weaknesses of Western evangelical church have been imported by missionaries.
Three key things have to be understood about Albania. It has never been touched by the Reformation. So Reformation thought has never impacted the nation. There is simply no heritage from the Reformers for churches to stand on. It has not had an underground church during communism like other nations in Eastern and Central Europe. A few believers did survive communism but Albania has had to start from ground zero in terms of church life. Albania also has an essentially pragmatic attitude towards religion. Albania prides itself on religious harmony; between Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox. Most people do not practice their religion and are happy to celebrate feast days of other religions. This relaxed attitude is often seen even in evangelicalism with regards to church life. All kinds of doctrines and practices are tolerated. The only thing that is not tolerated is “intolerance!” Having clearly defined doctrine is therefore a rarity.
What then of Reformed Baptist churches?
It is a joy to see two churches emerging in the capital city Tirana. The “Faith Bible” church is one of them. The pastor, Fabjon Ivanaj, had been working with Campus Crusade and then started this church. Then he went to the Eurovangelism conference held in Tirana and heard Phil Heaps, Barry and Regan King and Kevin Felix Hollington preaching the biblical gospel and biblical ways of presenting it. This revolutionized his understanding. He then read Piper’s “5 points” and began listening to people like R.C. Sproul and Steven Lawson. He devoured books by Spurgeon and the Puritans and then presented the Reformed faith the leadership group in the church. The church is now firmly committed to the Reformed faith and is thirsty to learn more and to grow.
Marsel Lela is pastor of the Disciple’s church in Tirana. He left a career in journalism to enter the ministry and has been growing in his understanding of the Reformed faith. Whilst Marsel is committed himself to the Reformed faith many in his church have been brought to faith in churches that have radically different doctrines. Pray for me as I preach on the doctrines of grace at the Disciples church monthly that God might use His Word powerfully and that the members of this church would embrace the Reformed faith wholeheartedly.
The “Way of Peace” churches in Fier and Patos are also growing in their understanding of the Reformed faith. These churches emerged in the early 1990’s as fruit of radio ministry by the European Christian Mission. They have both a Calvinistic statement of faith and are firmly Baptistic in practice but have been deepening in their understanding of the doctrines of grace of late. The arrival of James Goodman from Grace Baptist church in Stockport has been a great help in bringing the churches further forward. Their sister church in Tirana also holds to these convictions.
Latest Baptisms in Fier and Patos.
So what is being done to promote the faith outlined in the 1689 confession?
First efforts are underway to translate the confession itself into Albanian along with the catechism written by Benjamin Keach. Albanian evangelicalism is not confessional and shies away from any clear statement of faith. Even the Reformed Baptists here have not got a confessional standard to walk by. The Reformed Presbyterian churches here have translated many confessions but are obviously not Baptistic. We are aiming to print the 1689 Baptist confession to promote the historic faith of the Baptists but also we hope to have it put on a website where it can be downloaded for free. We are also translating the commentaries that Parrēsia is putting on its blog from various contributors to give more explanation to the confession.
We are also seeking ways in which we can encourage and work together as Reformed Baptist churches and hope to have a conference God willing in November of this year to promote the Reformed Baptist distinctives and to cultivate fellowship between like-minded churches. The greatest task however is at a local level; to help churches understand Reformed doctrine and to order themselves accordingly.
What can you pray for?
Please pray that these churches would grow in their understanding of the Reformed faith. Pray too that doctrines held by Reformed Baptists such as the Christian Sabbath and covenant theology may be taught, understood and embraced. Pray that God will continue to raise godly elders in these churches who are committed to the Reformed faith and practice.
Pray that Albanian leaders like Fabjon and Marsel will influence their peers and be a driving force for reform. Other churches in Albania do hold to a Reformed and Baptist confession of faith but are not openly Reformed Baptists. A number of churches are growing in their understanding and moving to this position. Many do not have a defined membership.
Pray for Reformed Baptist churches in other countries to partner with churches like these in things like conferences, teaching and training to deepen their understanding as well as helping in things like summer camps and outreaches. Pray too for theological training so that elders might be well equipped in the Biblical faith. Pray for workers that we might strengthen existing churches and see Reformed Baptist churches planted throughout this land.