Bishop Steinbach Elected as the New President of the Synod


Following Bishop Zoltán Balog's devotional, the formation of the session and the presentationof the agenda, the Synod meeting continued in a closed session. The meeting took note of Bishop Zoltán Balog's resignation as Ministerial President of the Synod and acknowledged his service in the Church in a formal resolution.

The Synod then unanimously elected Bishop József Steinbach, head of the Transdanubian Church Dirstrict, as Ministerial President. Following Zoltán Balog's resignation on 16 February, the Ministerial Vice-President, Bishop Dániel Pásztor, assumed the role of the interim President. With the election of Bishop József Steinbach, Bishop Pásztor will remain the Synod's Vice-President until the end of his term in 2026.

Read the Synod Resolution on the Acception of the Resignation

The Synod of the Reformed Church in Hungary notes the resignation of Bishop Zoltán Balog from the office of Ministerial President of the Synod.

The Synod of the Reformed Church in Hungary expresses its appreciation and gives thanks to the Almighty God for all that the faithful church-building ministry of Bishop Zoltán Balog has brought about in the first three years of the 15th cycle of the Synod. He has humbly worked with uninterrupted tirelessness in recent years, serving our beloved Reformed Church, our Hungarian nation, and the Christian unity, even before his service in the Synod started.

As a bishop, he became the pastor of pastors; he sought to renew the life of our Reformed Church, to make the functioning of our national church better organised, and to serve the survival and growth of our Hungarian nation through the proclamation of the truth of the gospel. His goodwill for our church and nation is evident in his public engagement at every point.

In his diverse ministry, he has made mistakes in his public role, which have been severely criticised by some parts of society, biased media representatives, and some of the truth-seeking members of our Church. Dissenting opinions are respected. For this mistake and its consequences, Bishop Zoltán Balog has apologised in various fora, but also here in the Synod community, with a repentant heart. Let us pray to the God of forgiveness that he may find peace and absolution in his soul, as well as in the community of Hungarian people and Reformed believers. Regardless of the person of our resigned pastoral president, we are still burdened with problems that we are committed to solving for the unity of our church.

We ask Bishop Zoltán Balog to remain and take part in the work of our Reformed Church and to continue to use his God-given talents, knowledge, and experience for the benefit of our Church. We continue to need this in the future. We ask for God's rich blessing on his life and ministries!

We accept with humility the fair criticism against Bishop Zoltán Balog, but the undignified attacks on his person in recent months are considered by the Synod, on behalf of our Church, an attack on the Church. Therefore, the Reformed Church in Hungary firmly rejects any interference from outside or from within that would infringe on our Church's internal autonomy. We also reject any attempt to use the legitimate criticism of the church membership, amplified by the media, for party political purposes.

The consistent position of the Reformed Church of Hungary, in line with the statement of Bishop László Ravasz published in 1946, is that "The Church must necessarily engage in high profile, principled politics. But the church must keep away from everyday street politics."

Read the Inaugural Address of Bishop Steinbach

We are informed by the Word of God, and the bible passage of the day is eloquent.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us.”

We can only come before the Lord with repentance, in confessing our sin. We do not point to the other, but we repent ourselves. Now we stand before the Lord with a broken heart. In preparation for tomorrow's holy communion, we confess our individual sins.

Blessed be God for the message of His Word, the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, who redeemed and saves us; He is faithful and just, forgives our sins, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us. We stand before Him, we cling to His grace, we rely on Him.

Therefore, we are full of hope and joy, humble ourselves, are not afraid, and see ever more clearly that our task, in every area of our ministry, is to proclaim the universal Christian Gospel to all peoples. So, we do not turn to spectacular substitute activities that would replace this ministry. This is how we can have fellowship with the Lord and with one another to fulfil this most important ministry.

God’s word also suggests that there are times when it can best be proclaimed by living it out, by walking the path of sanctification so that the Lord shapes us and we become more authentic. So that others, while observing our lives, will ask us questions, the answer of which will be the Word of God.

There are times when we need to listen more than speak and quietly do our own work in our own place while building the kingdom of God. In other words, we are not walking in darkness but in light, shining forth the light of the Lord and serving the glory of God, and our lives will become purer and purer.

The above only confirms that faith comes by listening and that we always preach God’s Word with preparedness, faith, and boldness at each occasion and at all times, prepared by the Lord.

"How precious is your love, O God," we read in Psalm 36. God's grace is not a cheap grace, but a precious grace earned through blood, which cannot be abused.

A Theological Foundation

After the biblical message, as a brief theological foundation, let me turn to the practical theological, homiletical principle that Craddock formulated in his book "Preaching”, which goes far beyond the art of preaching itself and extends it to all our ministries since all the Church activity is preaching.

I hope that without any particular comment, we will perceive the relevance of these principles about the ministry of the Word, which can almost be programmatic, but which I will also explain in specific and concrete terms.

The sermon starts from silence. The silence of authentic people, says Craddock, is not a silence of mystery or attention, for when they have broken their silence and spoken, their words become authoritative, clear, sartorial, and evocative. Of course, there are negative and painful silences, silences that arise from fear, depression, cowardice, and guilt. That is not the silence we are talking about here. The silence of God is an integral part of God's revelation. The Word that comes out of silence accurately describes Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Word. If our preaching, and all our ministry, emerges from silence in this way in the time that God prepares - because it is preceded by serious and active silence, that is, preparation - then our sentences are eager to be spoken briefly and concisely. Some people are uncomfortable in silence. Increasingly, we are all children of a culture that puts everything out in public, where everyone can talk about everything without stopping. Such a culture is suspicious of silence and feels it must speak out at all times and in any case.

Preaching is heard like a whisper. The revelation, the self-revelation of God, is not apparent to everyone. For God did not break the silence by shouting, but by whispering. God did not dip his finger in the cloud to write "I love you" in the sky for all to see. During Paul's conversion, those with him presumably saw some light, but they did not see Jesus; they did not hear the heavenly word. Few preachers can claim that their call was so loud that their whole family could hear it. God's revelation in the created world, but not even in Jesus Christ, became a resounding cry that was obvious, convincing, and moving to all. Even in Jesus Christ, revelation is a whisper. God, in Jesus, veiled himself in the flesh, so when Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as the Son of God, he did so by the Holy Spirit. In the context of faith, it is a matter of the believer making a decision, taking the risk, saying yes instead of no, leaning forward, hearing the whisper, and believing it to be the saving voice of God. We ourselves, surrounded by many “but,” "because of," and "despite,” have made the decision and come to the point where we have seen His glory (John 1:14). Our faith, which is so clear to us, is not so evident to others. Let us not be impatient, critical, or condescending to those who have not heard or seen what we have seen and heard. Paul knew that preaching the cross of Christ as the power and wisdom of God was a scandal and foolishness to many, but he was nonetheless unwilling to turn a whisper into a shout; even though all do not hear the whisper .

The sermon shouted from the rooftops. The Word of God is a whisper when it enters the ear, a shout when it leaves the lips. What you hear whispered in your ears will be proclaimed from the rooftops (Matthew 10:27). What was hidden is revealed, making the future of Christ present. ‘Shouting’ does not refer to the manner of the presentation of the message but to its publicity, its open communication, its universality, importance, and urgency, and the content and manner of its proclamation; this means that this proclamation may always bear the hopeful gospel of Christian salvation and redemption and that it may do so with Christian love and steadfast fidelity. The cry is a warning to all the forces of evil; there is another voice, another claim on human life. It is of the utmost importance for all to know this, even for those who do not belong to us. But the call is always a whisper, for we are neither the proclaimers of a show booth nor peddlers of the gospel. To preach means to shout the whisper. This means speaking boldly and clearly, but with confidence in the Word, since the seed itself carries its future, while respecting even resistance to the message on the part of the listener, since only silly sermons and news spectacles do not arouse resistance.

Called to Ministry

Following the biblical message and the theological foundation, let me draw on them to give some specifics for our ministries.

How do I stand here? With humility, with fear; yet with faith, with hope, with daily assurance, with love for the cause of Jesus Christ and for our Reformed Church, and with prayer that the Lord may make us fashioned (2 Corinthians 3:5), for there is more service and responsibility to be done, and we can only be moved by it.

A few words about the last few months. I believe that the Lord will turn bitterness to our benefit (Isaiah 38:17). Therefore, we trust at all times! (2 Corinthians 5:6) In the large family of the Reformed Church in Hungary and the Hungarian Reformed Church, with unity and humility - even in critical times - we have done our best to carry the cause of the afflicted, the abused, and those in need with the love Jesus Christ through us. This can be proven by many who also know without a doubt that in our Church, abuse of any kind is unacceptable! I am also convinced that in reality we have as many congregations as there are self-supporting communities relying on their own giving. I have always urged the congregations of the Transdanubian Church District to be self-supporting through faithful, grateful giving and exercise prudent moderation in taking over institutions. At the same time, the churches have received predominantly public funding for public services, for the restoration of their public educational and social infrastructures, and for the renewal of their churches, which are part of our townscape and our Christian heritage. Property once taken from churches was returned in ruins in the 1990s after the political changes. We receive the same subsidies for public services as all other state institutions. Our kindergartens and schools are a blessing, our social services have waiting lists in the hundreds, our congregations are an integral part of the community life of any settlement.

What needs to be done? First, we must thank God for those who have gone before us as ministerial, ordained presidents over the past thirty years, not forgetting the lay presidents, to mention them in just one sentence (Hebrews 13:7). Bishop Dr. Loránt Hegedűs for the establishment of the Károli Gáspár Reformed University, Bishop Dr. Gusztáv Bölcskei for the establishment of the Hungarian Reformed Church unity in the Carpathian Basin, Bishop Dr. István Szabó for the settlement of our basic treaties, Bishop Zoltán Balog for the momentum of the last three years.

The momentum of the last three years is also directly relevant to us. Our thanksgiving in this regard is only underlined by the fact that our thanksgiving is only complete with repentance. We all see grace every day and every minute for our lives and ministries. The big question is how the church can engage in public life without compromising its authentic and universal ministry of prophecy, teaching, pastoral care, and evangelisation. We, therefore, give thanks for the past three and a half years of pastoral, gospel-centered, and prayerful piety. We give thanks for the unity we have experienced in the Presidential Council during this period. A process has been set in motion that has moved everyone and everything. Perhaps many of us were frightened by this, by the pace itself? We have established the most important areas of ministry based on the principles and concepts we adopted together, bearing in mind the whole Carpathian Basin. In this work, we have considered the ambitious renewal programme established under Bishop Bölcskei, the work of the Church Revision Committee between 2012 and 2014, honouring the work of our predecessors and not reinventing everything. The Synod Office was restructured, delegating tasks and responsibilities to those with faith and expertise. Serious and vital missionary work began, the Gyökössy Institute for Pastoral Care was reorganized, the ministry of the Hungarian Reformed Church in the Carpathian Basin remained vibrant, with blessed events of “Unity days,” while this organization legally included Hungarian Reformed church bodies and church organizations throughout the world. We celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Károli Gáspár University of our Church by erecting a memorial plaque to the honor the founding bishop. The reform of training for becoming ministers began, the Reformed National Strategy was adopted, and new thematic years were launched, with uplifting programmes culminating in the national pastors' meeting.

What should be done after all this? When I talk about this, I always do so with a spirit of prayer, asking the Lord to go before us, to act through us, and to shut the door to where we should not go... We have been rocked , we need now calm, to listen to the Word, pray, and return to ourselves while turning to the Lord, serving again in unity, f,aith and hope. The Lord may grant us forgiveness, renewal , and the courage to do our best. We need to stabilize, to restore our credibility to those whom we disappointed. At the same time, we ask: stop hurting us; let us serve; may those forgive us whom we hurt, allow us to repair what we destroyed; may other denominations give us a brotherly hand...

We want to continue the work we have begun. We have highly skilled and committed staff in the Synod Office, with whom we have confidence and whose expertise we continue to rely on. We also want to encourage them and strengthen them spiritually. At the same time, I am convinced that now, precisely for these purposes, we must take a step back, work more slowly and quietly, but with the same devotion, with the same courage of faith - for blessing does not depend on external hustle and bustle - and at the same time invite the Lord who sanctifies and gives credibility to our work. At the same time, we live in a world where we have a lot of work to do beyond legislation and operation, though these are also important responsibilities. As I have said, in the areas I have mentioned, these tasks are ongoing. We are improving where necessary, while continuing to pay attention to our prophetic role, to our confession, teaching, pastoral care, and, above all, evangelisation, according to the theological principle. Still, I could also list here public education, our church aid, our University, Bethesda Hospital, communications, or our Pension fund. It is very important to work for the Reformed unity in the Carpathian Basin. We think of everyone; we try to listen to everyone; not by might, not by power, but by the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). We see congregations, pastors, deans, elders, parishioners, presbyteries, and church districts as one body, including all our public and social institutions, all our offices and departments, so that we may strive as members of the body of Christ, not to annihilate but to help one another (Ephesians 5:29-30).

I would like to highlight a few thoughts beyond these. Grant peace, O Lord, in the world; while we face the question of whether we can promote peace, at least among ourselves, we are also called to work toward reconciliation in a divided world, as Paul did in Corinth - to which the Second Letter to the Corinthians bears witness -; not making cheap compromises, not relenting the gospel and truth of Christ, but giving up our own self-centered righteousness, so that we can manage conflict in a Christlike way, working for peace. Give us peace, Lord, where our brothers and sisters are suffering from actual war in Ukraine and Transcarpathia, full of faithful perseverance against "fightings and fears within, without." Grant, Lord, that we may build bridges, for we cannot give up those who are indifferent – eG. 40% of the Hungarian population, according to the latest census - nor those who think differently from us. I referred to this in the theological reflection above. We must find ways to one another in Christ, however impossible it may seem, for what is impossible with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). We need a holy resolution and dedication, but the Lord gives the results in all our ministries according to His perfect will and purpose. Let us first talk about our inner issues among ourselves, in private, in small circles; we don’t have to discuss everything immediately in public.

May I also say a few words about my personal testimony. I was not prepared for this service. Trusting in the saving grace of God, I accepted the nomination for the sake of our beloved Church. With two and a half years left from this legislation period, I was more in the state of mind of letting things go. I will try to do my best, expecting everything from the Lord, trusting in all my brothers and sisters, and asking for the Lord's supreme power; but I ask for support, help, patience, love, and above all, prayer. During my ministry as a Bishop, I have tried to listen to everyone with a pastoral spirit; responding almost immediately to every phone call, message, request, meeting, congregation, institution, and comment. I don't know how that is possible at this level? Obviously, delegation of tasks works, but you will know that in pastoral ministry, there is much more to it than this leadership theory. Personally, I thank God for giving me the strength to serve with dedication at all times, despite all my miseries and weaknesses. Even in the midst of conflict, I testify to the power of Christian gentleness.

My certainty comes from our common foundation: the cause of Jesus Christ is a cause full of eternal hope at all times. The Church can be hurtful, repulsive, sometimes seemingly extinct, but God's love is always at work. Jesus Christ is risen; He has won the ultimate victory over sin, sickness, death, and evil. This redeeming love calls us to repentance and reconciliation because God is a God of joyful life in fullness, and He did not intend for us to live the life we are living in the world. We believe and confess that God is a redeeming, saving God who grants peace in the risen Jesus Christ, who is a loving Lord to all. We pray for our beloved Church, for the cause of Jesus Christ, and know that God's saving grace will preserve His people in all circumstances. As a sinful and miserable, fragile but redeemed, justified, and sanctified people, we confess, for the cause of Jesus Christ and for our own, "I trust in God, I will not fear..." (Psalm 56:12)

Prayerful closing

Living God, who became our Father in Jesus Christ!

We praise you as our Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Saviour! In our praise we acknowledge that You alone are Lord!

Lord, help us that in our praise we can give thanks also for the bitter trials, for You are at work for us in them, purifying us, teaching us humility, maturing our faith and our ministries.

In our exaltation there is the confessing prayer: do not let us fall into the snare of the evil, but lift us up, look down on us, tear up the sky and come down to us. Blessed are you for that your saving; Christlike mercy is greater than your just punishment.

Our exaltation is also a confession of our certainty, for we know at all times that no one and nothing can separate us from your love . Therefore, you keep and preserve your people from the beginning of the world to the end and beyond. We praise You because Your cause is always a victorious one, because in Jesus Christ, You have conquered sin, misery, sickness, death, and the power of evil once and for all.

Thus, we intercede for one another, for your people, for our country, for our world. Lord, have mercy! Lord, nourish us with your Word and help us, instead of acts of compensation, to be fulfilled in your service, to proclaim your Gospel! Lord, have mercy! Lord, give us unity and faithfulness, putting aside all individual grievances, interests, and reasoning! Lord, have mercy! Lord, grant that we may not be afraid but courageous and strong, for You are with us! But we also ask that this strength may not be our feeble and destructive human strength, but Your strength and courage, in which the power of the Spirit of gentleness is at work, and only builds, doesn’t destroy! Lord, have mercy!

We rely on you, our risen Lord! We are full of hope! Thank You that You have already heard us! Glory to You, forever and ever!

József Steinbach was born in 1964 in Veszprém. He is married with two children. He graduated at the Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary in 1999 and then received a Degree in Anthropology, Ethics and Social Sciences at the Pannonia University in Veszprém in 2008. Since 2009 he has been the columnist of weekly devotional series in the Reformátusok Lapja” (Reformed Journal). Besides serving the church, he is teacher and researcher in the field of homiletics. Since 1999 he has been a lecturer in the Practical Theology Department at the Reformed Theology Academy of Pápa.  He is the President of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Hungary. He has been serving as the bishop of the Transdanubian Reformed Church District since 2009 and has been reelected.