Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law restricts religious practice in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.
The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.
Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they will not be allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities may be forcibly disbanded.
This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.
Proposed by United Russia party lawmaker Irina Yarovaya, the law appears to target religious groups outside the Russian Orthodox church. Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.
If passed, the anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.
Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries. The “foreign agent” law, adopted in 2012, requires groups from abroad to file detailed paperwork and be subject to government audits and raids. Since then, the NGO sector has shrunk by a third, according to government statistics.
Sergey Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo.
“If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,” wrote Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”
Pray for the believers in Russia and for the missionaries who go to serve there.
Street witnessing was illegal in the first century, in the time of the Book of Acts, as were Christian gatherings. Such restrictions only caused the church to grow!
Please join me in praying for the gospel to spread throughout Russia despite these restrictions, and for the believers there to be emboldened to share their faith whatever the cost.