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Russian government makes it illegal for believers to share their faith privately


The Kremlin and St. Basil Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Photo: Mariano Mantel/Flickr/Creative Commons

The Kremlin and St. Basil Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. Photo: Mariano Mantel/Flickr/Creative Commons

The Russian government just passed a bill severely curtailing religious expression in that country. According to reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin has already signed off on the bill and it will come into effect on July 20, 2o16

The legislation was part of a package of bills intended to counter terrorism. However, many are concerned due to its broad reach, the law could be used by local authorities to persecute the Christian church.

Among the many features of the bill, evangelism would be limited to regular church services and would only be allowed by people licensed with an organization registered with the government. Essentially, this would stop church members from sharing their faith privately. This can include something as innocent as reading a Bible in the presence of non-believing friends.

It also forbids using the internet to share one’s faith which means that people and churches could run foul of the law by simply inviting someone to church via an email.

The law that was first drafted in April also prevents believers from holding church services in private homes. Many churches meet in houses throughout Russia. Citizens can also be punished for not reporting the religious activity of neighbors.

The Russian’s Pentecostal Union said in an interview with Forum 18 New Service that it has already received a hint of what is to come. Police visited of their small house churches at the end of June. Though the police officer did not stop the meeting, he told the group, “Now they’re adopting the law I’ll drive you all out of here.”

The fines for any Russian breaking the law range from $75 to $765 and for a religious group up to $15,265. Any foreigners caught sharing their faith would be immediately expelled.

The only group that appears exempt from the legislation is the Russian Orthodox Church that actively supports the current Russian administration. It is estimated that 70% of the Russian population consider themselves orthodox.

When the bill passed both houses — the Duma and the Federation Council — it was accompanied by a flurry of Russian propaganda. The Russian Orthodox Church is part of the nationalist expression of the Russian government.

In a letter citing its concerns about the law, the Seventh Day Adventist Church stated:

“The adoption of this legislation would put hundreds of thousands of believers from various denominations in a very difficult position.”

Evangelical churches will continue petitioning the government to modify the bill. Several said they may challenge the legislation through the courts.

However, churches are also prepared to go underground which they had effectively done in the past when atheistic communist governments persecuted Christians.

Though the Bible tells Christians to submit to government authorities (Romans 13:1-7), there is one exception. It comes into effect when the government tries to stop the preaching of the Gospel.

Early in the Book of Acts, Jerusalem authorities had the apostles arrested and thrown into a common jail for teaching and preaching the Gospel (Acts 5: 12-42).

That night, an Angel of God broke them out of their prison and as the group was leaving their cell, the angel told them to return to the temple and continue teaching (Acts 5:19-21).

The next day, when the disciples were hauled before the authorities, Peter understood the message God was giving them and told the Jerusalem leaders:

“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29 NASV)

God would break the disciples out of jail twice more — again by an angel (Acts 12:5-17) and once by an earthquake (Acts 16:16-40).

The message these jail breaks delivered was clear — God’s law was above man’s law when it came to the Kingdom of God.

Sources:

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