Theological Education in Romania

Tiberius Rata

Before the fall of Romania’s government in December 1989 the Communist dictator Nikolai Ceausescu greatly restricted theological education in Romania. Christian colleges were nonexistent and seminary education, although allowed, was closely monitored by the government. This was due in part to Ceausescu’s desire to indoctrinate young and old in an atheistic mentality. He went so far as to imprison priests, pastors, and church leaders. In the realm of education Communist authorities restricted the number of students who could attend seminary. In the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest this number ranged between four and ten. After the 1989 Revolution conditions improved drastically.

The main bastion of Baptist education in Romania is the Baptist Seminary in Bucharest. Over the years it has prepared some of the best and most respected Baptist preachers in Romania. In 1991 the seminary merged with the University of Bucharest and now functions within the university as the College of Baptist Theology. It is led by Vasile Talpos, Ph.D., and Otniel Bunaciu, Ph.D. Dr. Talpos earned a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, under the leadership of Dr. Lewis Drummond, renowned writer and professor of evangelism. Dr. Otniel Bunaciu is representative of the new, brilliant generation of scholars who had the opportunity of studying abroad and then returning home to use the gifts entrusted to them by God. Dr. Otniel Bunaciu earned one of his degrees at Oxford. The students who study at the College of Baptist Theology come not only from Romania’s evangelical churches, but also from Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The school, which has some 300 students and 19 faculty members, has three primary majors: theology and social work, Romanian theology, and theology and foreign languages. Internationally, the school has a working relationship with Regent’s Park College at Oxford University, London Bible College, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX. Occasionally, faculty members from these schools teach specialty courses that enhance the intellectual and spiritual experiences of the students. Locally, the school cooperates with Emanuel University in Oradea, the Pentecostal Theological Institute in Bucharest, the Romanian Bible Institute in Bucharest, and the Adventist Theological Institute. The theology taught at the school is thoroughly evangelical, with a strong emphasis upon inerrancy. The authority of the Bible is key to the school’s mission of preparing pastors who can preach. In that respect, those who prepare for pastoral ministry complete a practicum under the leadership of local pastors throughout Romania.

The Pentecostal Institute opened in Bucharest in the late 1970s and is trying to meet the need for leaders in one of the fastest-growing denominations in Romania. Pentecostals had to overcome the anti-intellectual prejudice of those who subscribed to the sentiment, “Don’t give me exegesis, just give me Jesus.” Thus, the older generation of Pentecostals in particular received the first seminary graduates with great difficulty. Although they vary in charismatic manifestations, most Pentecostal churches in Romania support the vision of the Pentecostal Institute.

One of the most impressive academic institutions in Romania is Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. The university is a modern institution that houses 19 colleges, including law, business, and theology. After 1989 the university reasserted its multicultural character and entered the mainstream of great European research and education institutions. Besides bachelor’s degrees, the university offers master’s and Ph.D. degrees. The university offers one of the widest ranging programs in theology in Europe, including degrees in Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theology. Bishop Nicolae Ivan founded the School of Orthodox Theology in 1924. In 1952 Communists closed what was known as the Orthodox Theological Institute, replacing it with a theological seminary and a school for church singers. In 1990 the Orthodox Theological Institute reopened and now offers bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees. It offers bachelor’s degrees in Orthodox theology, Romanian and foreign languages, and social work. Two-year master’s programs are available in historical theology, systematic theology, and cultural theology. Ph.D. degrees are offered in dogmatic theology, church history, Romanian Orthodox history, and Byzantine studies.

The School of Greek Catholic Theology became part of the Babes-Bolyai University in 1991, but its origin lies with Regescu Theological School in Gherla (1853) and the Academy of Greek Catholic Theology (1931). In 1948 Communists closed all Greek Catholic schools. Today, bachelor’s students may pursue majors in Romanian theology, theology and foreign languages, theology and social work, theology and iconography, theology and journalism, and didactic theology, besides a two-year master’s degree in biblical archaeology. Presently, a collaboration in teaching and research is developing between the faculty and “Pázmány Péter” Catholic University, Budapest, Hungary. Babes-Bolyai University is also home to the prestigious College for Protestant Theology that offers bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees that focus on Reformed theology. It is the only Protestant school in Romania that presently offers the Ph.D. degree.

The only evangelical institution currently present in Iasi is the Center for Biblical Instruction “Bethlehem.” An unaccredited institution, Bethlehem has about 150 students, both from Romania and abroad. The school’s theological emphasis is dispensational, strictly following the theology of Dallas Theological Seminary. At the University of Iasi, 800 students are enrolled in the College of Orthodox Theology studying Romanian theology, theology and foreign languages, theology and social work, or pastoral theology. Currently, 214 students study in the College of Roman Catholic Theology. A rigorous six-year program prepares students to become Franciscan priests. In 2002 the College of Roman Catholic Theology affiliated with the University of Iasi, adding majors in theology and Romanian languages and literature.

One of the most visionary evangelical schools in Romania is Emanuel University in Oradea. Located in northwest Romania, Oradea seemed to be prepared for the post-revolution opportunities that arose, due in part to the presence of the growing Emanuel Baptist Church. The years of Communist persecution could not stop the work God was doing in Oradea, especially at Emanuel Baptist Church, through dedicated and visionary leaders such as Liviu Olah, Joseph Tson, and Paul Negrut. Before achieving university status, Emanuel University existed as an underground training school and then Emanuel Baptist Institute. The vision of the school is to train young people to serve and work in the world in whatever capacity they choose, while also grounding them firmly in the Christian faith. The calling of God through the apostle Peter is at the center of the school’s mission: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. . . . It is the Lord Jesus you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Presently the university consists of a school of theology and a school of management. The school of theology focuses on pastoral theology, but also offers double degrees in theology and church music, theology and social work, and theology and literature. The school of management offers courses stressing practical applications for accepted business theories. Management students benefit from practical teaching provided by Romanian and Western lecturers who are experienced in both the academic and business worlds. Emanuel University also houses three specialty study centers, namely, the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, the Center for Reformation Studies, and the Center for Counseling Studies. In the future the university plans to offer degrees in information technology, journalism, law, and political science. Emanuel University has the foundation and the vision to become one of the main evangelical institutions in Europe.

Tiberius Rata is visiting instructor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, AL.

Tiberius Rata, “Theological Education in Romania,” East-West Church & Ministry Report 10 (Spring 2002), 5-6.