Army of the Lord is a religious movement in the context of the Orthodox Church. How would you describe its current relationship with the Orthodox Church in Romania?
In the eyes of Father Iosef Trifa, the founder of Army of the Lord, the Orthodox Church had departed from the fundamental values of the Bible and so it needed Army of the Lord. Trifa, as well as his successors Ioan Marini and Traian Dorz, saw very clearly that people needed to come to the gospel and that the Orthodox Church in Romania needed to return to her true mission: to serve God and to represent God in the midst of our nation.
During the Communist era, the Orthodox Church and many who today claim to be leaders in Army of the Lord’s national leadership council, did not want to know or hear of Army of the Lord. Now these same individuals claim to embrace Army of the Lord’s ideas and ideals. However, the ideas these individuals embrace do not reflect the true and traditional ideals of the movement. Instead, they seem to reflect primarily whatever ends the Orthodox Church has in mind. This was not the original ideal of Army of the Lord–to make of the Orthodox Church a political power, nor to put the Orthodox Church in a role of supremacy in Romania, but rather to produce a change in people and the Orthodox Church.
Today, some say two factions coexist within the Army of the Lord movement as a whole. What is your view in regard to this claim?
There seems to be a clear distinction between what I would call a legalistic faction, which in my opinion is too intimate with the Orthodox Church, and a faction which is more renewal- and reform-minded. The Lord’s Army cannot be identical with the Orthodox Church. It must be the ferment which can produce renewal and change. The renewal-oriented group, in my opinion, remains loyal to the ideals of the movement’s founders. This part of Army of the Lord is still in tension with the Orthodox Church today.
How would the other faction you described characterize the fellowships you represent?
They would contend that we represent only a neo-Protestant faction and that we are an affront to Orthodoxy and that purely and simply we’ve sold out to organizations or interests from abroad. But this conception is not true at all.
You’ve personally had contacts both before and after the revolution with individuals from outside Romania. What is the danger for Army of the Lord to be in collaboration with Christians from abroad, and do you see positive aspects of such collaboration?
We need a filter because we could easily contaminate ourselves with dangerous or heretical theology from the West. Before the revolution this wasn’t as much of a danger but now with the openness it is a danger–and not just for Army of the Lord but for other churches and denominations as well. In a positive sense Christians from abroad had on their heart to help Army of the Lord and in the difficult years brought us Bibles and instructional materials to aid in the spiritual growth of our fellowships.
You’ve had a lot of contact and help from abroad. Some would criticize you for that, saying as a result of this contact and help, the character and tenor of your fellowship has changed into something that is no longer really Army of the Lord. How would you respond to this criticism?
Certainly, if you’d compare our fellowship in Cluj with a fellowship from, say, Moldova, you would find significant differences. I see at least two reasons for this. First, Cluj is a university center where the general level of education is much higher than in other areas of Romania. The different way in which people understand and view life and worship has put an imprint on our fellowship. The second reason is the number of relationships we have with Christians from abroad. They’ve put an imprint on us, but their imprint on us has been positive because the things they’ve brought with them have had an impact especially on our young people.
In June 1993, there was a meeting in Cluj of more than 100 leaders from Army of the Lord. What was the purpose of that meeting and what was discussed?
Immediately after the revolution, when we initially organized, we called ourselves the Evangelical Association of Army of the Lord. The word “evangelical” disturbed the Orthodox Church hierarchy and they convinced a number of the more legalistic and traditionalistic members of the national leadership council that this word “evangelical” was a compromised word. We had intense debate and discussion surrounding this issue, namely, how could the word “evangelical” be a compromised term?
Finally, a number of those individuals went to the city hall in Sibiu and reconstituted the statutes of Army of the Lord. Those that were not in agreement with the change were without a statute; thus, technically, those fellowships, of which we were one, had no legal status. We found out that the “Evangelical Association of Army of the Lord” had been changed to just a religious society and that the former statute had been dissolved. This change was not just a cosmetic shift but represents a significant ideological shift as well. Therefore, we called a convocation in Cluj of all those fellowship leaders who were not in accord with this maneuver in order to discuss our future and how we understand the mission of Army of the Lord.
After this convocation and your discussion, what will be the future of Army of the Lord?
We don’t want to make a break, but it already exists. The views of the purpose and mission of Army of the Lord are different in the two factions. But I’d like to add an historical footnote here. In 1935 there also was a separation. When Trifa was excommunicated, one part of Army of the Lord went with Metropolitan Balan and the rest with Trifa. When the era of persecution came under the communists, the Army of the Lord loyal to Balan died out and the Army of the Lord loyal to Trifa flourished. I believe that in a sense this history will repeat itself.
If Father Trifa were alive today, would you say he’d be in agreement with the direction and vision you have?
A difficult question. I didn’t know him, but I know his writings. I know he accepted suffering. He accepted his excommunication instead of compromising. He was a very strong and decisive man. When he was confronted by Metropolitan Balan, who had a key role in the government of Romania back then, he stood his ground. I believe he would be a man that would give impulse and focus to contemporary spiritual life in Romania.
Tom Keppeler, formerly of Biblical Education by Extension, currently serves in Cluj, Romania, with Church Resource Ministries. In addition to four years of ministry in former East Germany, he has worked with the leadership of the Lord’s Army since 1985.