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Thursday, 01 September 2016 08:12

Liberty

Written by  Bob Crittendon
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News sources have been calling it a Big Brother bill, and the implications are chilling. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation that tightens restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

The amendments include laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings and went into effect in July.  An earlier report on the CT website said:

 

To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.

 

The National Religious Broadcasters website features a story with several quotes, including this from Dr. Hannu Haukka, President of Great Commission Media Ministries, which is actively engaged in Russia. He said, “This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church. Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”

 

Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, stated, “The enactment of a law restricting the free exercise of religion by any nation should be a matter of grave concern and prayerful action by Christians of all nations. Following a pattern of other human rights abuses, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is criminalizing a central duty for all followers of Christ – sharing our faith.”

 

Mission Network News quotes Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association, who says the law is meant to protect the country from further attacks from terrorists. For instance, he explains, anyone found to be financing or aiding terrorism will be severely punished, as will those who are actual participants. The sentences are 10 years to life in prison.

 

The story goes on:

 

Christians had been praying for the bill to be stopped because of what it could mean for evangelism in Russia. But, hope is not lost just because it’s been passed.

 

Griffith says, “I think, certainly, the call to prayer that we put out is by all means still valid. It’s been signed into law, now it’s all going to depend on how this gets interpreted down the food chain within the Russian Federation.”

 

SGA and other mission organizations are concerned about the anti-missionary clauses in the law. They are waiting to hear from the registered Baptist Union Church to find out how the law will practically affect them.

 

As the Christianity Today story points out, “Protestants and religious minorities small enough to gather in homes fear they will be most affected.” The story says that, according to Forum 18 News Service, opponents to the new measures hope to eventually appeal in court or elect legislators to amend them. Nevertheless, they have begun to prepare their communities for life under the new rules.

 

Under the guise of curbing terror, Russia has restricted the freedoms of members of a variety of religions.  It demonstrates the tension between liberty and security.  Putin wants a more secure Russia, so he is willing to dictate that religious groups give up their freedom. For Christians, that means being quiet about their faith or getting a permit to share it.  I believe that is an unacceptable law that contradicts what Jesus taught in the Great Commission.

 

The Mission Network News story states: “You can continue to pray for Christians in Russia. Pray that the law will not be enforced or interpreted as strictly as it is written.”

 

Even as you consider the challenges we have to practicing our faith here in America, this takes lack of religious freedom to a whole new level for post-Soviet Russia.  Let’s think about a couple of things very quickly.  Yes, this does call for prayer for Russian believers - obviously, they want to find a way for this law to be struck down or amended.  I am sure there is a greater level of fear, especially among those who meet in homes to study God’s Word and fellowship together.

 

But, as we have seen in countries where the gospel is restricted, we know that God is greater than man’s laws.  Attempts to limit religious practice in China have resulted in a church that is strong and growing; it is predicted that there will be more Christians in China than any other country in just a few years.  

 

Persecution or harassment for our faith can really help to define how strong our faith actually is.  Our convictions can be strengthened as the result of testing.  Even though we will rightly complain that our liberties are facing opposition, we can also recognize that we are being tested.  Testing, as we allow it to have its perfect work, will produce the result of a more dedicated walk with Christ.  

 

 

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