Russia (MNN) — “I’m already a Christian.”
This is the response Christians in partnership with Slavic Gospel Association often hear when they share the Gospel with families in the former Soviet Union.
Eric Mock says many Russians consider themselves to be Christians, especially as part of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest denomination in the country. “They call themselves Christian because they call themselves Russian. It is very similar to what we’ve seen in America, where close to 70% of Americans call themselves Christian.”
As in Russia, many people in the United States would identify themselves with large Christian denominations, such as Evangelicalism or Roman Catholicism. But fewer would have any significant understanding of the beliefs within either denomination or of the basic Christian faith. Many see Christianity as an ethnic or nationalistic identity.
Mock says, “I’ve heard before the term ‘CE Christians’ or Christmas/Easter Christians. As it is in American society, it is true in Russian society; most of them either attend church or hold to Christian traditions during Easter and Christmas. Outside of that, they have absolutely nothing to do with the Church, but they would still call themselves Christian.”
And it isn’t just a cultural version of Christianity that can make it difficult to share the Gospel. Mock says, “We’re in Central Asia and parts of Russia, where Islam is held to as almost as a cultural norm. When you’re in countries like Tajikistan, it’s 99% Muslim. But if you talk to the believers, maybe 850 of them amongst six and a half million Muslims, they will tell you that most people are what they call folk Muslims. They call themselves Islamic only in a [nationalistic sense].”
In these situations, even following Jesus can be seen by neighbors as a betrayal of one’s country. Mock says, “I have actually seen church services where teenagers have come to faith and they stopped the service realizing the teenager would have to go home with a Christian family and they could not go home to their own family. If the [family] found out that they had come to faith, violence could even follow.”
Mock says many Muslims are coming to faith in these countries despite the risk and loss of community. Pray that the Church will grow in these countries and that the hope of Jesus Christ would replace religious nationalism.
The header image shows a Russian Orthodox church. (Image by Eliane Meyer from Pixabay)