Russia (MNN) — According to a recent article by Voice of America, Protestantism is on the rise in the former Soviet Union’s heartland.
Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) explains.
“We are seeing a growing evangelical presence in Russia,” states Griffith. “Protestants of every variety are showing growth, even though they might not necessarily be officially registered.
Protestantism, along with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, compose the three main branches of Christianity. The Protestant movement formed during the 16th century, when Martin Luther and other Reformists broke away from the Roman Catholic Church.
Today, the Collins English Dictionary defines Protestantism as “the religion or religious system of any of the Churches of Western Christendom that…adhere substantially to principles established by Luther, Calvin, etc., in the Reformation.”
Griffith says that of the four religions defined by Russia in 1997 as “historic” — Christian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam — Orthodox Christians may take offense to the growth of Protestantism.
“There’s a long-standing Protestant tradition within Russia, but of course, the Russian Orthodox Church has been historically dominant,” says Griffith.
Anything that’s not Orthodox is looked on with great suspicion, he adds.
“Rumors get spread about them; especially Baptist churches,” says Griffith. “I don’t even want to repeat some of the false rumors that get spread about them, but it does happen.”
Evangelical Christians face more than just rumors, though. The growth of Protestantism comes amid renewed efforts to control religious activity.
According to recent reports from Forum 18 News, there’s been an increase of legislative action affecting religious freedom. The Duma, “a rubber-stamp parliament endorsing any idea coming from Putin’s Presidential Administration,” Forum 18 reports, signed a vaguely-worded religion amendment into law on July 1.
The new amendment is widely seen as a way to protect the Russian Orthodox Church, says Forum 18, and targets actions “committed with the aim of offending the religious feelings of believers.”
Critics fear the law’s wording is so vague that it could actually be used to punish groups disliked by authorities.
“The ‘religious feelings’ category is more philosophical than legal,” lawyer Inna Zagrebina told Forum 18, “so it isn’t clear how courts will define what is meant by offending religious feelings.
“But we can definitely say that it will be the subjective understanding of each judge.”
Though the future of religious freedom in Russia is uncertain, Griffith says a glimpse into the past can help.
“What does God’s Word have to say about Christ building His Church? And, what have we seen throughout church history?” he asks.
“Whenever it seems like authorities try to stamp out the biblical Gospel, and the true biblical Church, the Church thrives; the Church survives.”
SGA supports churches and believers who are living out the Great Commission in Russia and her neighboring countries. See how you can get involved here.
Most importantly, pray.
“We need to intercede in prayer, not only for the religious freedom in Russia to continue but that it might increase,” Griffith says.
“Pray for the protection of the missionary pastors who are serving in some of these more difficult regions. Pray for their protection and that the Lord would use them as they proclaim God’s Word and preach the Gospel.”