Azerbaijan (MNN) — Last weekend's raid of a Baptist church in Azerbaijan seems a fitting start to the country's introduction of a newly-amended law.
An unregistered church was raided on Sunday, according to Forum 18 News Service. Joel Griffith with the Slavic Gospel Association says that without so much as a warrant, "Police and local officials of the state body that works with religious organizations conducted some sort of a raid against a Baptist church."
Forum 18 says fines for meeting without registration are expected.
The raid came just two days after parliament approved the addition of another amendment to its Religion Law. The nation will now require 50 adults to state that they are founders for a religious community in order for the group to apply for registration.
Over the course of less than 20 years, Azerbaijan has created a religion law and added 13 amendments to it, reports Forum 18. The law tightens its grip firmer around religious necks each time an amendment is added, keeping Azerbaijan in the top 25 Most Persecuted countries in the world.
The current law states that the number of adult founders needed to apply a group for registration is 10. Registration is difficult even when requirements are met, and the process can take years.
The effects of this new amendment may be even more brutal. Changing the number of founders to five times the original will make it even more difficult for small churches to gain rights.
Other concerns surround the fact that no one knows whether or not the law will be retroactive, thus qualifying previously-registered churches for re-registration if they do not meet the new requirement. If already registered groups do have to re-apply, there will be more opportunities for government officials to harass and persecute religious groups.
The amendment has not been completely approved just yet; the president needs to sign off on it first. But Griffith says he expects the law to pass.
The Religion Law and its various components have generally been in response to fear of Islamic extremism, not Christianity. But believers will be highly affected whatever the intentions.
Griffith confirms Forum 18's findings that, if passed, "It would raise the required number of adult founders for a religious community from 10 to 50. It would introduce some new controls on religious education and increase controls the state requires religious bodies or centers to have all over communities under their jurisdiction."
So what does this mean for church growth? For the spread of the Gospel? Griffith says we can only guess, but historically, these types of changes have only increased problems. God will undoubtedly prevail, Griffith says, but when churches are being raided or forced underground, caution must increase.
Prayers are in order to protect believers from coming onslaughts. Pray that SGA missionaries and church leaders would continue to boldly proclaim the Gospel and add to their numbers daily.