A brief review of Austrian religious history which led to the formation of a private Christian university, "Campus Danubia" in
Vienna, October, 2018
For many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church was the only recognized religion in
is how the the term, "Holy Roman Empire" originated. The Hapsburg lineage ruled
much of Europe for six centuries.
During those years, there were no printed Bibles, mass was in Latin and access to God's Word was reserved
for members of the clergy. The only "gospel" that most people received was that which was depicted in
art forms such as music, paintings and graven images.
Martin Luther's "protestant" reformation was sparked by the posting of his 95
thesis in 1517, but it was more of a proclamation than protest. The translation
of the New Testament into the language of the common people in 1522 injected
fresh life into the Christian church in Germany and reformed teachings swept
rapidly across Europe. Within a few short years, a majority of Austrians had
joined the reformation. Many churches and even some monasteries became
The Council of Trent was called in 1545 to deal with the reformation. After 25
sessions in 18 years under three Popes, the Jesuit Order was formed to deal with
these "heresies" and the brutal "counter reformation" began in earnest.
Austrians were commanded to either return to the fold or leave their homeland.
Thousands refused to recant resulting in a mass exodus of Austrians
and the slaughter of thousands who refused to return to the Catholic Church or leave their homeland. Not a
few of these pilgrims sailed to the "New World".
It was not until October 13, 1781 (six days before the American Revolution
ended), that Emperor Joseph II signed the "edict of toleration" allowing
protestants to live in Austria. Leaders in the Habsburg regime and Catholic
Church were shocked when over 76,000 citizens immediately declared themselves to
be protestants. There would have been many more, but anabaptist groups
especially, feared that the edict was
a ploy to trick them into revealing themselves. For many years non-Catholics continued to be suppressed.
For instance, Churches were not permitted within 50 meters of any roadway or to have steeples
until after 1850.
Following World War I and especially during the Allied Occupation after WW II, several other religions received
recognition as churches by the Austrian government. Although few Jews were left
in the country, recognition of the Jewish religion was practically mandated
following the holocaust.
The Mormons received recognition through the influence of a high-ranking American General, and the
Methodists received state recognition after a wealthy member of the church donated a valuable property in
central Vienna to the Austrian Socialist Party. Other churches such as the Baptists were free to have houses
of worship, but these were treated as private clubs.
After Austria joined the European Union in 1996, the matter of limited religious freedom became an issue in
the European Parliament. Because there were no borders between member states, citizens of member
nations were demanding the same recognition and treatment across the EU. In 2013, various religious groups
began negotiating with the Austrian government and some received limited recognition. Baptists, for instance,
formed a loose alliance with other evangelical churches in order to meet membership requirements set by the
One Baptist pastor jested at a conference, "Now we can visit our members in jail." Prior to recognition, Pastors were
often denied permission to visit their own church members in hospitals outside of normal visiting hours. Most
public hospitals allowed it, but some Catholic institutions still show resistance. When our children attended
public schools, they were listed as having no religion. Baptists are still not permitted to baptize teens
without parental consent and they enjoy no tax benefits, but they can no longer be "bullied,"
labeled as heretical sects in the secular press or denied freedoms enjoyed by other religions.
Our Involvement with Bible Training Institutions in Austria
During our 38 years as missionaries in Austria, we were involved in five Bible School projects. The first
project was in Maria Ansbach, near Vienna. Missionaries serving with the European Evangelistic Crusade felt
that the evangelical churches of Austria needed a school to train workers and pastors. We were still in
language study, but when fellow missionaries learned that I had worked several years in construction and
had helped to build churches in America, they conscripted me to help prepare a house for the school. Four
students were enrolled from September, 1965 through June, 1967, after which the school closed its doors.
The second project was an evening Bible school of the Linz Baptist Church. It lasted
from April to November, 1971.
Around the same time, in September, 1971, Southern Baptist missionaries working with the Salzburg Baptist
Church opened a third Bible Institute. I only taught there a couple of times before the school closed in
The fourth school was founded in the Mennonite Brethren church of Linz in September, 1973 and did fairly
well for five years. I taught and provided the school's printing needs. I was
also present when Leaders of three
major evangelical denominations met to discuss the possibility of starting an Austrian Bible School, but
the project never came to fruition.
In 1980, we moved from the Linz area to a young church Ampflwang. We started an Austrian Bible institute in 1984
(described in Chapter 21 of my autobiography).
The history of that school reminds me of Joseph's interpretation of
Pharaoh's troubling dream. There were seven bountiful years followed by seven
The school began small and continued to grow until 1991.
In that year it was decided that we should purchase property instead of leasing. Three properties presented
themselves as possibilities. We personally wanted the school to remain in Ampflwang where we could either
purchase our leased campus and build or purchase another suitable property. I made it clear to the
Board that I could not move with the school to a distant location because I was our Mission's Field Director
for Austria and responsible for six couples working in Upper Austria. The Board decided to purchase a property in Wallsee,
Lower Austria, on the Danube River. The "lean years" began almost immediately,
and in 1999, the school closed as a dormitory
style school. The format was changed to offer Christian training in urban centers. The Wallsee property was
sold and the name was changed to "Evangelikales Bildungswerk Österreich".
After we retired from Austria in 2002, some Christians still felt that Austria needed a Bible School
and not just "Training Centers." Two small Bible Institutes were founded to meet that need. One of these
was started by a former Board member of the school that we founded.
When Austria recognized evangelical churches in 2013, it automatically became obligated to recognize their
educational institutions under the same criteria as they would similar institutions of learning. Leaders
of the school we founded in 1984 and of the two more recently organized schools prayerfully decided to
join forces in order to meet requirements for state recognition as a private Christian university. The more
than 700-page application was presented to the Austrian government in February, 2018. For the next seven
months there was a lot of interaction between the proponents of the university and government
representatives, but during this period, positive steps were also taken in faith that the Lord would
answer the prayers of Austrian believers. They were praying fervently that the application would be accepted.
Although the school was not yet a recognized university, Fall classes were set to begin as usual.
Meanwhile, God was doing amazing things to show his favor for the project. The city of Vienna opened a
brand new Central Railway Station in 2013 and real estate in that area became extremely desirable.
Main entrance to the Central Railway Station by day and by night
In God's providence, a Christian Real Estate broker built a modern office building next
to the station. When he learned of the ambitious university project, he offered to lease the lower
floors to the school. Construction workers have been busy all year preparing a new home for the university.
The new office building, the bottom floors of which will house the university.
Construction was completed in time for Fall classes to begin.
It was decided to have a dedication service for the facilities on October 5th even though
the government had not yet granted university status.
Surprise! Just three hours before the dedication service began, a message arrived saying that the application
had been approved! Many tears of joy were shed as prayers of thanksgiving ascended heavenward!
Students are Rejoicing!
Many of these books came from our Bible School library
God is still writing His-story!