November 18, 2017

Olde Worlde Baptists: Liviu Olah (2)

David Potter

At the end of 1973, Olah was called to be an assistant to Nicolae Covaci, pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Oradea (now known as Emanuel Baptist Church). The call came because Covaci had suffered a heart attack and the church leaders asked him to invite Olah to be his assistant. When Covaci balked, the leaders threatened to oust him. Reluctantly, Covaci complied. As we now know, Covaci, who was president of the Romanian Baptist Union from 1968 to 1976, was collaborating with the secret police. Olah knew this at the time, but he always treated his pastor with the utmost respect.

Olah’s years of service there were very fruitful. When he came, the church was at a low ebb spiritually. Many of the members were not genuinely born again, going through the motions of religion, drinking alcohol, getting on through communism by practicing small thefts from the factory or from the field. He challenged them to repent of their sins.

His sermons were not long. He started in a normal tone of voice. As the sermon progressed, his voice rose in intensity and tonality and his delivery increased to an astonishing speed by the end. He often warned of hell and the consequences of sin. He insisted that an unrepentant life was evidence that one was not truly saved. At the invitation, a men’s choir of over 100 voices would sing. Often they sang, “Come, This Might Be the Last Call.” Normally he preached four to six times on Sunday in various locations. The sermons normally lasted from 15 to 30 minutes. On nearly every occasion there were salvation decisions.

People with whom I have talked who heard him preach tell of awakening at 2 AM on Sunday to ride the train to Oradea and allow enough time to walk from the train station to the church so as to arrive by 6 AM. The service started at 9 AM, but no one arriving after 6 could be assured of a seat inside the church. They occupied themselves with prayer and singing as they waited.

During his time at the already large Second Baptist Church, the membership tripled in size, becoming the largest Baptist church in Europe. In the first year alone, he baptized 400 new converts. Again, he was very effective in reaching the youth, much to the chagrin of the secret police. Part of the reason for the explosive growth was Olah’s defiance of the authorities by baptizing people who did not come from a Baptist background. This practice was not allowed.

In 1976, he decided to baptize 70 coverts outdoors in full view of the public. This act had not occurred in Oradea since 1942. Most of the people of the church supported this decision, but Olah experienced great pressure from a small group of pastors who were under the control of the secret police that he should not provoke the communist government. In the end, he capitulated. The baptism was held indoors. As many people observed from outside looking through the windows as were actually inside the building. From this point on Olah considered emigrating.

In 1978, he immigrated to the United States and pastored a Romanian Baptist church in the Detroit area for two years. In 1980, he moved to Dallas where he received a degree from the Criswell Biblical Studies Center. In 1984, he moved to Los Angeles, where he pastored another Romanian Baptist church until 1999. He went home to glory on July 4, 2008, his health impaired by repeated strokes over his last several years.

David Potter serves as a missionary in Hungary with Baptist World Mission.

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