The “Christians” at the end of the second decade of their history

              In the nineties[1] the so-called “Dunaföldvár sect” (also referred to as the Dunaföldvár Christians and the Holic-group) was considered to be one of the most dangerous sects in Hungary. Despite the fact that fair and legend refuting reports[2] also appeared about them the label “destructive sect” stuck to them. If we add to this that for a period of time police investigations related to Hungarian “sects” were primarily targeted[3] at this religious community, it is no wonder that all the way until the spring of 2000 - aside from their missionary work - they were withdrawn from the outside world[4]. They contacted me in April 2000, as a religious sociologist dealing with new religious movements, and they offered that - if I was interested - they would tell me anything about themselves. I spent over fifty hours among them. I had discussions with them (I corresponded with their current and former members in a group format as well as individually), I met the parents of members; I participated in weekend meetings where the members of the movement from beyond Hungary’s borders were also present, and I had two thirds of their Hungarian members fill out a one and a half hours long questionnaire. In addition to the contents of their internet homepage that commenced in the spring of 2000 - responding to my questions - they put various things in writing regarding their “teaching”, thus I inadvertently contributed to the development of their “written works”.

              It was not easy at all to authentically report about a religious community, 1) which had been barely institutionalized yet, was still in the period of organizational movement, and the members of which constantly proclaimed they had absolutely no intention of becoming institutionalized. 2) which had no official leaders, spokespersons, 3) which until then did not have written works[5], 4) which did not even have a “real” (official) name, since they considered themselves to be Christians, a community of Christians, a Christian congregation, and on their homepage[6] they were referred to as Christians. This designation was simultaneously humble (they are just simple Christians) and provocative (they are the real Christians with a capital C).

              In a sociological sense this religious community is a traditional Christian sect[7], which has operated in the form of a movement as a cluster of small communities ever since. Its teachings and customs are actually developing to this day, although they appear to be increasingly crystalizing. One of the characteristic features of this religious community was (and still is to this day) that their history, the beginnings and the founders are rarely mentioned among them. The “sect literature” discussing this religious community considers Gottfried Holic to be the founder[8], who did not complete his studies of Catholic theology because of a conflict with the Church, and as a result of his “militant sense of mission” (Szekták, 1998:192) he was even banned from the Pentecostal Evangelical Congregation, therefore in 1978 together with two former theology students they established their own community[9]. The group received significant publicity when in 1982 one of the (otherwise 22 years old) sect members was kidnapped-back from the community by force, by her parents for the purpose of subjecting her to “reprogramming”. The event was followed by a lawsuit, which was won by the girl (and the community). In the West they first expanded only in German language areas, later their small (10-25 members) communities appeared in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia as well as Romania, and soon the largest in Hungary where they have been present since 1989[10].

              Considering their beliefs they say that they wish to experience in everyday life all of what we can read about and see examples of in the New Testament and ancient Christian times. They do not want external rigidity formed by habits and absent of spiritual content, or any inappropriate dependence to hold them together. It should rather be devotion originating from inner conviction. They regard their congregation as a community of those who have accepted God’s call for a saintly life. They proclaim that they have no new revelations, or any special mission exclusively intended for them, and that they do not wish to add anything to the Bible. They consider true teaching and a life according to the will of God the two basic criteria of being Christian[11]. They voice that not only those who are evil, but also those who do not wish to serve God with their entire lives cannot be allowed into a community of saints (and theirs is such). It does not matter if we wish to live in a community with all people, if most people do not accept the invitation from God. Based on the teaching of the New Testament they cannot be in a community with nonbelievers, or nominal Christians, or those who believe in false doctrines, and the majority of mankind is included in these categories.

Against the frequent accusation that obeying a missionary instruction their religious community “fishes” for members from other congregations, their defense is that other churches which proclaim to be Christian allowed the world into their churches, therefore they cannot be considered real Christian congregations, thus the members go for missionary work not into real Christian congregations, rather into circles where presumably they will find people for whom the will of God is important. While in the beginning of the nineties they practically performed missionary work exclusively at religious conferences where many young people attended, later they have rather spoken to average people. They do not consider themselves a congregation of Adventist, Charismatic or Neo-Protestant characteristics. They consider the ideas of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant “institutional churches” correct regarding the following points: The entity of God, the Deity of Jesus, Christology, the dogma of the Holy Trinity, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell:

              According to Catholic theologian, Csaba László Gáspár, “the writings describing the beliefs of the Christians reflect the momentary self-consciousness of a group that lacks a historic dimension and permanent existence (therefore has no knowledge of the problems of long term sustainability). They presume that the direct norm of correct interpretation is inspired conscience, which is removed from the historic dimension of human existence in an absolute manner. Since there is no interpretational canon, a verse from the Bible can be associated with anything at any time. The application of the Scripture without context can be considered freshness, which is important and productive, but only if they themselves regard it as the first step and count on the necessities that arise as a result of changing times. Only time can decide this. And the fruit is still ripening. The rigid separation of the Christians from the world shows the lack of experience about the enduring conflict between faith and everyday life, with the related naive exegesis”[12].
              Since they cannot find a relevant citation in the New Testament for this, they do not celebrate[13] holy mass separately, considering their entire life to be a holy mass. Just as Jehovah's witnesses, they do not have feasts, since the first Christians did not have feasts either, and because for those who love each other every day is a feast. In addition to their own compositions, their song book contains the songs of various denominations.

              Before joining most of them were active seekers, many of them explicitly God seekers[14]. Six of them have been members of two or more religious communities. To the question “What did you first find the most attractive in this community?” most of them responded that the Christians live according to the Bible, they care for each other with love, they are honest and they devote[15] their entire lives to God. Two thirds of the respondents did not remember anything the acceptance[16] of which caused them significant difficulty. The others mentioned the renunciation of marriage, the schedule, theological questions, acting without acknowledgement, self-examination, the practice of love and complete devotion.

This religious community operates in the form of an international movement to this day, which is the loose cluster of small communities with 10-20 members based on brotherly relationships (partially cohabitating and in all cases maintaining close daily contact), without any institutions, a hierarchic structure, and without spiritual and administrative leaders. Ten years ago the total number of members was estimated to be about 200, in Hungary 60-70, and they believed that the number of members who left (c.a. forty) was not more than the number of those who joined. Based on all of this, the movement could not be, and to this day cannot be characterized as dynamically growing, or eroding, or having a broad scope of effect, or having powerful influencing force. What is certainly thought provoking: in the nineties at least a thousand times as many people were terrified of these 60 persons in Hungary (labeling them a destructive sect).

              For the questions “In what way do you participate in the community’s life? What is your position, role, task in the community?” they generally gave two types of responses: a portion of them answered that the given situation always determines the task, the other portion stated that these were according to their God given strength and talents, a third said that everyone participated in everything. The most frequently mentioned task types - other than missionary work - were encouraging and enthusing their companions, teaching and consoling, professional tasks (car repair, construction management, cooking). In this community which (in their opinion) is similar to an ancient Christian congregation, the only persons who carry more responsibility than the average are the “elders”, in the Biblical sense of the word. Although there are no leaders, they explained that there are prestigious persons among them. For example, according to many of them Gottfired Holic is not their founder, he is just one of those members who are more “persistent in faith”, “live more devoted lives”, are “experienced”, who have “great biblical knowledge”.

Ten years ago the Christians were a movement developing, changing and maturing before our eyes. Their customs (conversation walks in pairs, weekend meetings, the ceremonies, the wrestling) and their developing own language[17]all formed the impressions of a religious congregation with a characteristic image.

              By the fact that the majority of them had forsaken their parents’ home and moved under the same roof with their brothers, their lifestyle and system of relationships considerably changed, at the same time two fifth of the respondents did not change their place of employment after joining the community.[18] Those who worked within the community did so in two types of work position: car repair and providing for their companions (cooking, shopping, cleaning). However, the range of interest of their overwhelming majority fundamentally changed: the Bible was placed in the center. They tried their best to meet every day to encourage each other and enrich each other spiritually, and to spend as much time together as possible. Just as the first Christians, they discuss God in a community (not individually, personally). Regarding property community, which primarily means providing voluntary assistance, they believe that the sharing of material assets naturally arises from their close spiritual relationship and their trust vested in each other.

Generally, all writings about them accused them of overdriven asceticism: they have an insufficient diet, they do not sleep enough. In contrast, I observed that although they do not make eating a central issue, their diet is healthy, diverse and even professional (there is a professional dietician among them). Consuming alcohol, coffee and sweets, and smoking cigarettes are not prohibited, but they consider all these harmful to one’s health. They considered the accusation baseless that they avoid sexuality, romantic relationships and marriage because of their missionary work and the return of the Lord, and that for this reason they expel those who wish to get married (Szalai, 1999:88), at the same time they admitted that they regard romantic relationships untimely today, but they frequently voiced that they treat all this not as a dogma, rather as a practical matter. They also admitted that currently there are no romantically involved couples or married couples among them.

              To the accusation that they condemn sexuality, but opposite gender members of the congregation regularly wrestle with each other, they responded that this is on the one hand a form of expression of brotherly love, on the other hand physical exercise and a manifestation of homo ludens, and they assured me that so far very few abuses have occurred.         

              Among the values considered the most important by them they mentioned, love, honesty, humbleness, responsibility, justness, soberness, perseverance and hope. When I examined their value system with the Rokeach Value Survey, from among the instrumental values honesty, self-control, responsibility, broad-mindedness, helpfulness, forgiveness and obedience were chosen by most[19], while from among the terminal values (in order) salvation, freedom, wisdom, true friendship, happiness and a world at peace[20]. They most vehemently rejected (in order) wealth, comfortable life, love, exciting life, social recognition and self-respect.

              The “elders” of the community stated that they only expel someone if they cannot help the person any more, but they consider it possible that exactly this event may facilitate their conversion, and in this case readmitting them is not out of the question. Those who have remained saw the following as the most frequent causes of leaving: 1) they disagreed with the teaching; 2) they were unable to maintain this lifestyle that was too difficult for them and required too much self-restraint; 3) worldly things became too important to them: work, career, family. I felt it necessary to add the following myself based on the interviews conducted with those who left, regarding the causes of their departure: a) they considered sexual self-restraint an excessively difficult requirement; b) they wanted to start their own family; c) they found a congregation more suitable for their ideas or they established a congregation themselves; d) they regarded themselves unfit for the community lifestyle, they thought there was not enough space and time for privacy; e) they could not reconcile the two different callings, (missionary devotion and the “individual”, “worldly” one chosen by them, for example art, science, public life); f) they wanted to try what they were capable of alone and independently.

A portion of those who left the “sect” described it in rather dark terms. At the same time not only those who left voluntarily but also those who were expelled did not have a negative opinion of the community, moreover some openly expressed that they have not found a community similar to this ever since.

              Ten years ago I opined that this sect absolutely cannot be classified among destructive religious phenomena that violate human dignity and endanger society. Although, I did not find their certain activities justifiable, such as the “fishing” missionary method at religious events. Even if I considered disputable their qualifications set excessively high, their critical opinions (also open for criticism), their beliefs, value system and lifestyle from a theological, psychological or sociological aspect, I believed that a direct condemnation of them would rather qualify the condemner negatively. I admitted that some kind of elite-consciousness is undoubtedly characteristic of them (since they firmly proclaim that they have met individual Christians, but they have never seen an authentic Christian community), but I felt that this originated from the joy of being the chosen, rather than from the pride of those who consider themselves the only ones to achieve salvation. I opined that the lifestyle offered by the Christians - just as the paths of monasteries or other spiritual movements that set high qualifications - is a path only passable for few people, as it appeared to be proven by their very low number. In addition to all this, I thought that despite their oddities and weaknesses they enrich our society as valuable diversity, they constitute an interesting - although barely audible - tone in Hungary’s religious life.


[1]             They were accused of such things as: “brutal brainwashing in the name of the Bible”, “members had to renounce their parents, those who wanted to abandon the sect were scared with the horror of going to hell”, “they teach that those who get married go to hell”, “the members had to wrestle with each other, including boys with girls, to conquer their carnal desires, since romance was prohibited”, “it was impossible to initiate a conversation with them, they were completely introverted”.

[2]             Which reveals that as the followers of Christ, “with a completely devoted life” they aspire to realize the love that is described in 1 John 3:13-18. (Hangyál, 1992:5)

[3]             The police did not initiate prosecution against the religious community in a single case. The Deputy Prosecutor General responded to the petition contesting the grounds for the fact finding investigation conducted by the Paks Prosecutor’s Office: “No data suggesting reasonable suspicion of any criminal act was presented. The endangering of a minor, or perverted lifestyle, or incitement for the commission of a criminal act, or the violation of personal liberties did not exist.”      

[4]             Although during the media campaign directed at them in 92-93 they tried to step into the public light several times, they even gave interviews to newspapers and television, they experienced that their words were misrepresented several times, thus they withdrew.

[5]             In addition to the contents of their internet homepage that commenced in the spring of 2000 - responding to my questions - they put various things in writing regarding their “teaching”, thus I inadvertently contributed to the development of their “written works” in the tenth year of their history.


[7]             It can be considered its characteristic that it cannot be classified among either the typical Adventist or Pentecostal-Charismatic sects.

[8]             In German language areas they are often listed under the name Holic-Gruppe.

[9]             The community itself knows the development of their community as follows: “Our founder and leader is solely Jesus Christ. In the course of history Jesus has always called people to follow him. We are neither the first nor the last Christians. Since God constantly calls people, it should not be considered extraordinary that a few Christians found each other in Vienna in the beginning of the eighties of the twentieth century.

[10]           Soon after the community in Budapest, communities were formed in Győr, Szeged and Dunaföldvár. A significant portion of local residents saw one of the “mischievous sects of the great damned democracy” in the religious group that repaired cars and lived together in the former Dunaföldvár Soviet barrack. Although in 1992 they estimated fifty to one hundred brothers in Hungary, at that time their only cohabitating community was the one in Dunaföldvár. The locals suspected dishonest business and slave labor in the car repair shop, and regarding the “commune” they had even worse ideas. The old buses were purchased in the West very cheap (with official documentation), and after bringing them into a better condition they were used to maintain contact with Hungarian and foreign brothers. Despite the fact that this, as well as other things were clarified by the reports of the County paper, the label cannot be removed from them. Subsequently, the community that had become unwelcome in Dunaföldvár searched for a close-to-nature location where they could easily go for hikes and where they could also spend their weekend meetings under relaxed conditions, and which would be easily accessible for their brothers who live elsewhere. They found this in Kis-bükk puszta, near Oroszlány. The car repair shop was also moved here.

[11]            If a religion or religious group is Christian can be determined based on whether its teaching and lifestyle is Biblical. They believe that it is not more difficult to determine if specific members are Christians.

[12]            I quoted from the handwritten comments of Csaba László Gáspár from ten years ago.

[13]            They still do have some ceremonies (although a portion of the members do not consider these actual ceremonies). Thus, for example they baptize those who are converted with their assistance. Anyone among them may baptize. The public confession of sins is also among their “ceremonies”.

[14]            Several of them have been members of two or more religious communities.

[15]            One of their characteristic, frequently used expressions.

[16]            Within the community, since the reaction of their family and friends was a serious shock for many of them.

[17]            The mobile homes named Mammoth, Frog and Lamb, the song books called “folders”, the expressions “devotion”, “spiritual love” and “Holy Ghost”.

[18]            Those who were still learning when they joined have mostly completed their studies since.

[19]            The most vehemently rejected included, cheerfulness, cleanliness, ambition and politeness

[20]           They most vehemently rejected (in order) wealth, comfortable life, love, exciting life, social recognition and self-respect.