If You Want to See “Freedom of Worship” – Look to Russia!

Posted on September 28, 2016 in Religious Freedom by

russian-orthodox-christiansThe difference between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship” is very distinct. The fact that our president says he believes in “freedom of worship” over “freedom of religion” is a warning to be taken seriously.

A group of Pentecostals were meeting in a home church group when the local police came and said they would drive them from the home in accordance with a new law. That new law allows “freedom of worship” but severely restricts “freedom of religion.”

Recently in Russia, a proposed law received overwhelming support from lawmakers and was approved by president Vladimir Putin. That law put restrictions on missionary work, teaching, preaching, or seeking to “recruit” people into a religious organization. The law also restricts people from sharing their faith in their home, online, or anywhere outside of a church building.

This is important because so often we hear our own president declare his support for “freedom of worship” and then explain that people should always be free to worship and express their faith at church without fear. This might sound promising but, in reality, it is a concerning choice of words. The difference between freedom of religion and freedom of worship is critical and should be understood by every Christian.

As illustrated by the new laws in Russia, freedom of worship can be confined to the place where worship is expected to take place. The government that enacts a law allowing freedom of worship can define the place where worship is expected to take place. This makes it possible to declare the church as the only place where worship can occur. By doing so, the government can boast of their support for freedom of worship while in reality being severely oppressive to Christians and others that seek to share their faith outside the church walls.

What is taking place in Russia is some of the most severe persecution of religious freedom in decades. A recent article reports on what will now be required for Christians to share their faith:

“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.”

We may be tempted to think nothing like this could ever happen in the U.S. But, our own president has often spoken of his support for “freedom of worship” rather than “freedom of religion.” This means that already there is an ideology that supports laws similar to the one passed in Russia.

We can already see hints at similar laws being accepted with the normalization of Christian business owners being forced to violate their conscience or face prosecution. The baker in Colorado, the photographer in New Mexico, the florist in Washington, these are only a few of the business owners that have been told to violate their conscience or else. When freedom of religion exists such violations of conscience don’t take place. But if freedom of worship is the standard it becomes easy for the government to attack expressions of religion outside the church walls.

The intent of our Founders behind religious freedom was to make sure every person had the ability to live according to their deeply held religious convictions. This means that whether inside the church, or outside, people should be free to share their faith and express their religious convictions. Increasingly, however, governments are becoming more hostile to expressions of religion that are not politically correct. Opposing abortion, same-sex “marriage” and any other politically motivated cause for religious purposes has become dangerous.

The answer to opposition of a political agenda is to confine the opposition to the walls of their church. This is precisely what Russia has done and what some American lawmakers would eagerly support. But this is not religious freedom and it doesn’t eliminate The Great Commission for Christians. In Russia, many Christians are prepared to go underground to meet and share their faith because they recognize the authority of Christ over that of the state.

One person, quoted in the above mentioned article said:

“They say, ‘If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith.’ The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”

While I’m sure no one desires to endure fines, prison, or any other persecution for simply living out and sharing their faith, they are prepared. I wonder if we are prepared for such attacks fro our government if (when) they come? Some have stood firm in the face of losing their business and homes due to the attacks of special interest groups and the government. But how will the church of Jesus in America respond in the face of widespread persecution?

That’s an inevitability we need to be prepared for.

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