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White Unto Harvest

Russia: Belgorod Applies
Anti-Missionary Law

    (June 01, 2001) The regional duma (parliament) of Belgorod region, approximately 450 miles south of Moscow, has passed a local law sharply restricting missionary activity. The new law is supported by the local Orthodox bishop and the governor, but opposed by Belgorod's Protestants, some of whom have already had it applied against them.

    According to Keston News Service, a Pentecostal church was denied permission for public events in the city center in April as an official claimed the possible presence of children without written permission of their parents meant the events would violate the law, although the Orthodox had no problems holding public Easter celebrations with children present.

    Unlike many similar local laws in Russia, "On Missionary Activity on the Territory of Belgorod Region" is not just confined to foreign citizens, although they are specifically prohibited from conducting missionary activity if they have come to Belgorod for a different reason.

    Residents of other Russian regions intending to carry out missionary activity in Belgorod must also submit to the local authorities a document confirming their affiliation to a particular religious organization, a copy of their invitation to the region, an itinerary of their stay, and proof of local registration.


Bible Commentary
Joe R. Price

This reminds me of the visionary "invitation" (plea) to Paul to "come over to Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:9-10). I don't think Paul said, "No, you have to first send us a written invitation before we can preach in your country!" He instead concluded "that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." Paul and Silas would be thrown into prison there, accused of teaching "customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe" (Acts 16:21). Nevertheless, the Lord blessed their work (Acts 16:25-40).

We are to, as much as possibly, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18). But when the Lord's will and work conflicts with man's law we must "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). We should not allow the edicts of men to prevent us from doing the work of God.

From: The Spirit's Sword, Volume V, Number 13, June 3, 2001

Further comments:

We appreciate both brother Price's sharing the above news article with us and his comments. In our efforts to evangelize the world we need to realize that the Bible shows us that governments do not always work for the good of those over whom they rule. The text Joe cited in Acts 5 shows us that the government in Jerusalem was against the very preaching which our Lord had ordained for "every creature" (Mark 16:15; Acts 5:28; cp. 4:18). In the case of the Macedonian call, Paul and Silas ended up being imprisoned by the authorities in the very city to which that call had led! Let us notice a few helpful points along these lines.

  1. The apostles were not lawbreakers. Both Peter and Paul taught obedience to government (Romans 13:1ff; 1 Peter 2:13-17). However, both recognized the Lord's ultimate authority on this earth (Matthew 28:18). "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (1 Corinthians 10:26). Accounts of Paul's appearances before governing authorities show us his willingness to be completely subject to lawful authorities (Acts 24-26). However, at the same time, he recognized God's higher authority and endeavored to get those in power to submit to it (Acts 24:24-25; 26:25-29). This gives us the concept we must keep in mind in our missionary efforts as well as all dealings with civil government. In the above mentioned news story, the authorities in Belgorod quite simply do not have the right to restrict the teaching of God's word. A brother would not sin in trying to spread the gospel in such cases. I can remember, during a visit to a Moslem country years ago, where teaching the Bible was outlawed. While I was there to work with Americans in that country, I did get the addresses of some nationals with whom I talked and mailed each a copy of The Hutto-El Dareer Debate on Islam after my return home. We should not flaunt such refusal to obey man's decrees, nor should we scoff at government officials. Rather, we should keep in mind the example of Paul before Felix and Agrippa.


  2. The Lord worked with them. After refusing to heed the government's warning of Acts 4:18 we read, "And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people" (5:12), and "Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (5:14). In this same chapter, we read of Peter rebuking the dishonesty of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-10). We rightly infer that the apostles were not being in anyway dishonest in their preaching Christ in disobedience to the government. Rather, they were recognizing God's higher law and God worked with them as they walked by faith. In spite of government interference in Jerusalem, Philippi and Thessalonica people were added to the Lord and churches were established (Acts 2-5; 16:11-40; 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3). God blessed the efforts of those who so trusted and obeyed him.


  3. We must search for windows of opportunity when governments have closed doors. It may be that we meet someone from a country with laws similar to those of the city of Belgorod. We might meet them on the internet, in a third or our own country, or in some other way. We can use such opportunities to make contact with them to teach the gospel. Many foreign exchange students from Europe have been converted during their stays in the U.S. Perhaps we might meet one from a country like that described herein. We can carry tracts with us during visits to countries with such laws or seek addresses of interested parties among the population to whom we can send tracts. Seeking to obtain literature in the language of a given country is always helpful, but would be especially so when dealing with a country with such restrictive laws.

Let us not be cowed or discouraged by man's attempts to thwart God's purposes. We must have the faith of the early disciples and scatter the seed of the precious gospel on all soils. May God bless us in our efforts to recognize his supreme right to rule in this earth.

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