|FIRST, THE NEWS:||
(Note: the "prayers" link in the heading will take you to this issue's "Prayer and Praise" list.)
FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE
from Christianity Today
(4 May) Hilarion Alfeyev, the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, located 80 miles northwest of Moscow, has a very big job. As head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion is responsible for talking to global Christianity on behalf of the 150 million people in Russian Orthodoxy worldwide. Given his gift for languages, Hilarion arose as an easy pick for the job by Russian Patriarch Kirill. This year, the Russian-American Institute, a faith-based educational and support organization (formerly the Russian-American Christian University), helped Hilarion interact with a cross-section of evangelicals around the United States for the first time.
Christianity Today deputy managing editor Timothy C. Morgan interviewed Hilarion while he was in Washington, D.C.: "Do you want vigorous grassroots engagement between Orthodox and Evangelicals?" [Metr. Hilarion:] "Yes, on problems, for example, like the destruction of the family. Many marriages are split. Many families have either one child or no child. There are many incomplete families, not to speak of various homosexual unions, which are equated with the family. This completely changes the whole picture of human relationships. It directly affects the future of many nations. The sign of a spiritually healthy nation is that it expands - it grows. If it shrinks, it is a very clear sign of unhealthiness." [read more...]
KAZAKHSTAN: "GREAT POLITICAL EFFORTS ARE MADE"
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service
(6 May) Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the Mayor of the commercial capital Almaty have recently called for greater controls on unspecified religious communities, which they describe as "sects". The calls come as smaller religious communities are experiencing greater pressure including police and KNB secrret police raids, Forum 18 News Service has found. Prominent in theses measures are state-funded so-called anti-sect centres, which members of many religious communities state are encouraging public hostility though statements in the state-controlled national and local mass media.
Communities targeted have included Protestants, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses, described as "destructive religious movements." Also Ahmadi Muslims in the souther city of Shymkent are facing threats by the authorities to close their community down. It has been suggested to Forum 18 that the "anti-sect" campaign is intended to prepare the ground for restrictive laws against freedom of religion or belief. [read more...]
PROTESTANT ARRESTED FOR BRINGING BANNED LITERATURE TO UZBEKISTAN
(4 May) The leader of a missionary group called Iso Masih [Jesus the Messiah], Anvar Razhapov, has been detained in Uzbekistan, a source from the country's law enforcement authorities told Interfax on Wednesday. "Over 250 titles of Protestant literature in 350 copies were seized from Razhapov's home," the source said. "Other seized material includes 180 CDs and DVDs, 44 video cassettes, and 22 audio cassettes, which contained religious material intended for ideological control and education of young people in the spirit of Protestantism," he said. Analysis revealed that the seized evidence was illegal material banned by the country's authorities as prohibited import, he said.
A preliminary investigation has found that Razhapov ignored these rules and brought Protestant literature to Uzbekistan from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The missionary used funds received monthly from foreign sponsors to buy a number of properties in various parts of Tashkent, as well as a car. A criminal case has been opened and an inquiry is under way. Religious conversion is banned in Uzbekistan under the 1998 law on "The freedom of consciousness and religious organizations," the committee for religious affairs said. Currently, over 2,220 religious organizations of 16 denominations are operating in Uzbekistan. They include over 2,000 Muslim organizations, which is over 92% of the total number. This is due to the predominant number of Muslims in the country. Other registered organizations include 159 Christian, eight Jewish and six Bahai communities, as well as one Krishna society and a Buddhist temple. [read more...]
TURKMENISTAN: TEN RELIGIOUS PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE IN ONE CAMP
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(29 Apr) Protestant Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev is one among ten religious prisoners of conscience, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims, in the Seydi labour camp in eastern Turkmenistan. Concern is mounting among Pastor Nurliev's friends because the labour camp administration has refused to allow him medical treatment for his diabetes, for which he regularly visited a hospital before his August 2010 arrest. "Our first aim is restoring his health," his friends told Forum 18. Police who summoned members of his unregistered congregation warned: "if we find out the church has been meeting, we'll do the same to you as we did to Ilmurad."
Pastor Nurliev led Light to the World Protestant Church in the town of Mary east of Ashgabad. Arrested in August 2010, he was given a four-year labour camp term in October 2010 with "forcible medical treatment" on trumped-up charges of swindling. His community insists the charges were fabricated to punish him for his religious activity. He had tried in vain to register his church. In December 2010 he was transferred to the Seydi labour camp. [read more...]
RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS TO INSIST ON AGREEING TO ALTERATIONS IN RELIGIOUS LAW WITH COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(6 May) Under the chairmanship of a Ukrainian deputy, member of the Collegium of the Christian Democratic Union, Volodymyr Marushchenko, the first session of a work team on promotion of activity of religious organizations was held. The team is composed of members of the Secretariat of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) and Ukrainian deputies, members of the group of "Right of Choice" deputies, reports the Institute of Religious Freedom.
The working team was established according to a decision taken during a meeting of the group of "Right of Choice" deputies with the AUCCRO on 6 April, 2011 to facilitate settlement of urgent issues of ensuring of the activity of religious organizations. At the session, V. Marushchenko informed the participants of the steps taken by the group after the meeting of 6 April, in particular, an address to the President of Ukraine as to extending the powers of the Ministry of Culture in the area of state-confessional relations and taking steps to preserve and duly ensure the activity of religious departments on matters of nationalities and religions in order to ensure pursuing of the unified state policy in the respective areas. [read more...]
IN RUSSIA, 82 PER CENT OF THE PEOPLE BELIEVE IN GOD
from Spero News
RUSSIAN CHURCH HOPES MOSCOW AUTHORITIES WILL BAN GAY PARADE
DEADLINE QUICKLY APPROACHING FOR DISABLED MINISTRY TO THE UKRAINE, SAYS GAIN USA
from Mission Network News
DISAPPOINTMENT IN INSTITUTIONS AND LOW LEVEL OF LIFE TURNS UKRAINIANS INTO ONE OF MOST RELIGIOUS EUROPEAN NATIONS
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
EUROPEAN COUNCIL OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO MEET IN MOSCOW FOR THE FIRST TIME
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
SUMMER OF HOPE: CAMPS BRING HOPE TO ORPHANS
from Russian Ministries
UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCHES VIE OVER CATHEDRAL
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
15,000 ORTHODOX BELIEVERS TAKE PART IN LITURGY CONDUCTED BY PATRIARCH KIRILL OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUS IN UKRAINE
from Ukrainian News Agency
ETHNIC RUSSIANS TO LOSE MAJORITY IN RF POPULATION BY MID-CENTURY, SCHOLAR SAYS
from Window on Eurasia
See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!
The first news article above - FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE - mentions the Russian American Institute in Moscow, where Cheryl and I have taught. We're pleased to see how they arranged to have Metr. Hilarion tour the U.S. and speak at Dallas Theological Seminary and other venues. At the end of the article it lists several other valuable links, among them Will the 21st Be the Orthodox Century? by Dr. Bradley Nassif, a world-renowned authority on Evangelical-Orthodox dialog and a personal acquaintance of mine. We encourage you to read both articles in full!
John Calvin picked up St. Augustine's doctrine of predestination, and developed his own theology, teaching that God has predestined some to be eternally saved, others He has predestined to be damned, and there is nothing you can do about it. His followers teach that we can have "assurance of salvation" because "once saved, always saved." This has led to the widespread notion among many Christians in the West today that if you are one of "the elect," you're saved - you have a guaranteed ticket to heaven. It can lead to the heretical reply - "Yes, of course!" to "Shall we continue in sin, so that grace may abound?" (Rom. 6:1). Or as Dostoyevskii's evil character Rasputin said: "The more sin, the more grace!"
To be fair with John Calvin, we should recall that Calvin himself did not believe an individual could know for sure that he was among "the elect," but later teachers of Calvinism have modified his ideas. Certainly, God foreknows and foreordains those whom He has "elected," but we mortals do not have God's mind. We can only theorize about God's predestinating people: from our finite human perspective we do not foreknow the future, and thus we must make moral choices limited by our own free will, our limited rationality and our external circumstances. To deny that we humans can make moral decisions would destroy the concept of sin: our moral responsibility for doing right or wrong. It would also introduce universalism and spiritual relativism: you can believe whatever you want because it doesn't make any difference - see 2 Kings 17:27-34. Lastly, it would eliminate the imperative to spread the Gospel, because if God has already decided who's "in" and it's irrevocable, there would be no reason to encourage others to believe in Christ.
A recent commentary on this notion of being "the elect" is the article "Evangelicalism's narcissism epidemic", subtitled "Living in the Age of Entitlement" that states, "a narcissist is someone who has an 'overinflated view of his own abilities,' and is simply 'overconfident' and sees himself as fundamentally superior, special, entitled, and unique. Narcissists want to feel important even when they are not. Moreover, they often use other people in a 'grand game of deception,' the authors note, adding, 'If you do this well - convincing yourself and everyone else that you are as terrific as you think you are - you can be a winner in the game of self-admiration.'"
"Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 20:16). God's calling is His part, but our response to His call is our part: we must choose to be among the elect. (It's interesting that Jesus said this at the end of His parable about the workers in the vineyard: we will be surprised at who's "in" and who's "out.") God's invitation is to everyone: He "desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). But obviously, if a person doesn't respond to Christ's invitation to "deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23) - to be a disciple of Christ - he is not going to be saved. Such people are involved in a "grand game of deception," self-deceived and possibly drawing others into this deception of "eternal security" and "once saved, always saved."
On the other hand, however, this doesn't mean that we should constantly be fearful of losing our salvation at God's slightest whim, that He is a capricious deity like Zeus sitting on a cloud and willy-nilly casting thunderbolts from heaven to burn us to a crisp and cast us into the pit of hell. God is love, His hesed ("loving-kindness" or "mercy") endures forever: when we pray "Lord, have mercy!" we aren't begging an angry God not to arbitrarily whack us; rather, we are acknowledging God's merciful and loving nature. But if we need it, He might just whack us: "My son, don't take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives" (Hebrews 12:5b-6).
St. Paul wrote - "being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). We can have confidence, not totally guaranteed assurance, but a reasonable expectation that God will keep us from falling into mortal sin. God's love isn't an iron-clad guarantee that we can be really stupid or sinful and get away with it, without sincere repentance and change of behavior: St. Paul wrote a few verses later - "This I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment" (v. 9). In response to God's love, our love must grow "in knowledge and all discernment." Again, St. Paul writes - "Therefore don't be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17).
Also, it's not enough to think that all we need to do is to love God and everything will be OK because "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28). This verse, however, ends with the words - "to those who are called according to His purpose." As stated above, being "called" implies responding to God's invitation by obeying Him. Love includes obedience to Christ's commands: "Even as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love; even as I have kept My Father's commandments, and remain in His love" (John 15:9-10). Love for God and our neighbor is not merely a vacuous, warm-fuzzy feeling: it sometimes involves "tough love" - "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good" (Rom. 12:9). St. Paul calls "hypocrisy" the notion that we should simply love-love-love everyone and everything without discriminating between good and evil.
So salvation is a process: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved - "So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13); and "...that I may know Him [Christ], and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I don't regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:10-14).
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Prayer and Praise:
S. Pray that Evangelicals in Russia will heed Metr. Hilarion's call to work together on social issues such as family and population growth.
M. Intercede with God against the state-funded so-called "anti-sect centres" that target Protestants in Kazakhstan.
T. Pray for Anvar Razhapov, a missionary who has been detained in Uzbekistan for bringing in recordings and literature.
W. Ask the Lord that Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev in Seydi labour camp in Turkmenistan will receive needed medical treatment.
T. Pray that the working team on the activity of religious organizations in Ukraine will lead to expanded religious liberty.
F. Ask God to give us believers wisdom, knowledge and discernment in our life of discipleship, following Christ daily.
S. Thank the Lord that He is faithful to His promises to us, and pray that we will remain faithful to Him.
Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.
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