FIRST, THE NEWS:
RUSSIAN MILITARY DEBUTS 'FLYING' CHURCH, PARACHUTING-PRIEST UNIT
from Christian Post
(02 Apr) The Russian military has introduced a high-tech air-dropped church along with a unit of priests trained in parachuting and vehicle assembly to serve the army and navy's Orthodox Christian soldiers in the field. The European country claims its airborne-friendly and ready-to-assemble house of worship is the first the world has ever seen, although similar structures have long been in existence. RIA Novosti, Russian's official news and information agency, shared photos over the weekend on its Facebook page of paratroopers holding exercises near Ryazan, about 124 miles from Moscow. The news agency noted that among the "ordinary paratroopers" were paratrooper priests and their "mobile cathedral."
The paratrooper chaplains are among a preliminary group of about a dozen Russian Orthodox Church priests assigned to the country's Baltic Fleet in an effort to restore full-service chaplaincy to the country's armed forces, according to RIA Novosti. Russia is reportedly planning to assign 400 military chaplains to army and naval units. A spokesman for the Western Military District told the news agency that the paratrooper priests' primary responsibilities were "to meet the spiritual demands of military personnel and to improve morale and discipline in military units." [read more...]
UZBEKISTAN: "ALL BELIEVERS ARE BACKWARD-LOOKING FANATICS WHO DRAG SOCIETY DOWN"
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service
(12 Apr) A small Baptist church in Mubarek in south-eastern Uzbekistan which has endured more than a decade of official harassment was again raided during Sunday morning worship on 24 March, church members complained to Forum 18 News Service. The secret police officer who led the raid told the Baptists that "all believers are backward-looking fanatics who drag society down." Officers filmed those praying, took their names and without a warrant searched the house where the church meets.
They seized personal notes and family photos, as well as all the money from the church's cash-box. "I don't know which agencies participated, but it definitely was not from our division," Major Rajab Shavkatov, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division of Mubarek Police, told Forum 18. The raid came two months after bailiffs seized a washing machine and other household items to cover unpaid fines handed down on church members in 2012. [read more...]
PATRIARCH KIRILL SAYS FEMINISM OFFERS WRONG PRIORITIES FOR WOMAN'S ROLE IN SOCIETY
(10 Apr) Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia said he criticizes feminism. "I consider this phenomenon called feminism very dangerous, because feminist organizations proclaim the pseudo-freedom of women, which must appear firstly outside of marriage and outside of family," the patriarch said at a meeting with members of the Ukrainian Union of Orthodox Women in Moscow. Patriarch Kirill said that the center of the feminist ideology was not family and the upbringing of children "but another function of women, which is often opposed to family values." It is no coincidence that most feminist leaders are unmarried, the patriarch said.
"I noticed this when I worked in Geneva, at the World Council of Churches, when the feminist theme was just beginning to develop," he said. Patriarch Kirill stated there was nothing wrong with women pursuing careers, politics, business and many other spheres, "which today involve men mostly," but the system of priorities should be straight. A woman is first and foremost "a guardian of the family fire and centre of the family life," the Patriarch said. "A man is gazing outwards, he must work and make money, while a woman is always gazing inwards, where her children are, where her home is. If this incredibly important function of a woman is destroyed, then everything will be destroyed - the family and, if you wish, the motherland," Patriarch Kirill said [read more...]
KAZAKHSTAN: NEVER TOO OLD TO BE FINED
by Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service
(10 Apr) Among seven members of a small Baptist church in Ayagoz in East Kazakhstan Region punished for holding unregistered religious services were two grandmothers in their late seventies, according to the verdicts seen by Forum 18 News Service. All seven were fined the equivalent of nearly two months' local average wages for a teacher. The fines followed a 4 April police raid on a prayer service. Asked by Forum 18 whether judges and court officials were not embarrassed to be involved in punishing religious believers for meeting for prayer, the judges' assistant at Ayagoz District Court laughed.
Meanwhile, a court decision on another Baptist Vyacheslav Cherkasov that Bibles confiscated from him should be destroyed has been overturned and the Bibles returned. But the fine remains. Journalist Sergei Duvanov had predicted that the book-burning would be overturned. "But this will only happen because someone was able to report on the act of vandalism being prepared to human rights defenders in Oslo and they gave it wide publicity." [read more...]
UKRAINIAN COUNCIL OF CHURCHES DISCUSSES WITH DEPUTIES PROSPECTS OF DEVELOPMENT OF LAW
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
(10 Apr) The heads of Churches and religious organizations are interested in establishing permanent dialogue with the Parliament. The readiness for constructive cooperation in the legislative process was confirmed also by the heads of the specialized committees of the Supreme Council and deputies. These questions were discussed during a meeting of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) with the leadership and members of the Committee on Culture and Spirituality and Committee on Science and Education, reported the Institute for Religious Freedom (IRF). The meeting was held on 10 April, 2013 in the assembly hall of the parliamentary committees. For the first time in the history of state-denominational relations, a dialogue was conducted in such format.
"Alterations to the Law on Higher Education, especially, in the context of state recognition of education provided by religious institutions are of significant to us. The present status of the law contradicts not only the experience of developed countries of many years but also the world history which shows that education is successfully developed exactly thanks to the activity of Church educational institutions," stated the Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP), Archbishop Yevstratii (Zoria). According to him, it is necessary to continue the work on recognition in Ukraine of Theology as a scholarly discipline to overcome the consequances of the totalitarian past. [read more...]
GIVING UP SOCIAL MEDIA FOR LENT WILL CLEANSE YOUR SOUL, RUSSIANS TOLD
from The Guardian
UZBEKISTAN: "UNBELIEVABLE" FINES AFTER NO TRIAL AND RAID WITH NO WARRANT
from Forum 18 News Service
BILL AGAINST INSULTING BELIEVERS' FEELINGS PASSES FIRST READING IN RUSSIAN DUMA
BAPTIST ALEXEY SMIRNOV ON TRACK FOR RE-ELECTION; OTHER DEVELOPMENTS IN MOSCOW
from Russian Evangelical Alliance
ALBANIAN BELIEVER NEEDS HELP IN DAVID-GOLIATH BATTLE
from Mission Network News
VOLYN COUNCIL ASKS PARLIAMENT TO PREVENT ADOPTION OF BILL 2342 INTERPRETING CHURCH DOCTRINE AS DISCRIMINATION
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine
PARENTS COMPLAIN THAT ORTHODOXY IS BEING IMPOSED ON CHILDREN
PATRIARCH KIRILL SENDS GREETINGS TO HEADS OF NON-ORTHODOX CHURCHES FOR EASTER
from Russian Orthodox Church - Moscow Patriarchate
GIFT OF HOPE OUTREACH REPORT: A RECORD-BREAKING CHRISTMAS
from Russian Ministries
CEREMONY LED BY ESTONIAN BISHOP REMEMBERS 20,000 SOVIET DEPORTATION VICTIMS
from Estonian Public Broadcasting
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We're now about half-way through the book The Ministry Driven Church. Why all these Bible word studies? Because when we examine several of the words found in the "semantic field," the context, of the word "ministry" (diakonia), then we can gain a deeper grasp of the word "ministry" itself. It also helps us understand the "semantic drift," the way our understanding of Bible words has shifted over the centuries: we see that what we think these words mean today is not what they meant in the first century. This helps us to regain the correct understanding of these important Biblical concepts and doctrines.
[This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my book The Ministry Driven Church. It's also on our website as an online course, and you can try out the course's interactive questions HERE.]
Probably the sharpest, hardest-hitting text in the Bible describing agape-love is 1 John 3:14-18 -
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love (agapao) the brothers. He who doesn't love (agapao) his brother remains in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. By this we know love (agape), because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love (agape) of God remain in him? My little children, let's not love (agapao) in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth.
Giving of our material wealth and even giving our lives because of God's agape-love that fills our hearts and overflows into actions - "deed and truth" - is the proof of our words. It may be harder to lay down our lives in the daily sacrifice of life-long loving deeds, to die a thousand deaths to self one day at a time, than to die an instant death for another person just once. Even though the word "ministry" is not mentioned in this passage, the concept of ministering is certainly present here.
Strong's Dictionaries define the noun agape as "love, that is, affection or benevolence; specifically (plural) a love feast: - (feast of) charity," and the verb agapao as "to love (in a social or moral sense): - (be-) love (-ed)."1 Only once in the New Testament is agape used in the sense of a love feast, likely referring to the Lord's Supper itself or the fellowship meal following it: "These are hidden rocky reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you, shepherds who without fear feed themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn leaves without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots" (Jude 1:12). This tells us of false "pastors" (shepherds) who brazenly commit the sin of gluttony during the agape love feast. But let us leave behind us this negative aspect, and set our eyes on the goal before us: considering just a few of the New Testament texts where agape is translated as "charity" in the KJV, for a total of 28 times. The most well-known of these, of course, is 1 Cor. 13:1-4, 8 and 13 -
If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don't have [charity] love (agape), I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don't have love (agape), I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love (agape), it profits me nothing. Love (agape) is patient and is kind; love (agape) doesn't envy. Love (agape) doesn't brag, is not proud. ...Love (agape) never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will be done away with. Where there are various languages, they will cease. Where there is knowledge, it will be done away with. ...But now faith, hope, and love (agape) remain--these three. The greatest of these is love (agape).
Eloquent preaching, the spiritual gift of prophecy, doctoral degrees testifying to intellectual skill and achievements, faith that removes huge obstacles, sacrificing our wealth and even our lives - all these are worthless if we don't have agape-love. When our spirit is motivated by agape-love we will be patient with the slow learner and the stubborn teenager, we won't envy others' possessions, appearance or accomplishments, and we won't show off or brag about our own. Agape-love endures forever, even after gifts of prophecies and tongues, eloquent sermons and vast knowledge have all faded away. Greater even than faith and hope is agape-love. This certainly brings into focus the motives behind our actions of practical ministry and self-sacrifice.
Although "charity" has a different connotation in today's English language, the KJV use of the word "charity" conveys in an excellent way the sense of agape as ministry. Webster's Dictionary defines "charity" in various ways:
In a general sense, love, benevolence, good will; that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good. In a theological sense, it includes supreme love to God, and universal good will to men. ... Liberality to the poor, consisting in almsgiving or benefactions, or in gratuitous services to relieve them in distress. Alms; whatever is bestowed gratuitously on the poor for their relief. Liberality in gifts and services to promote public objects of utility, as to found and support bible societies, missionary societies, and others. ... A charitable institution. Charity-school is a school maintained by voluntary contributions for educating poor children.2
Paul, in writing to his young apprentice-pastor Timothy, gives us an excellent description of how "charity"-love fits into Christian ministry: "Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in [charity] love (agape), in spirit, in faith, and in purity. Until I come, pay attention to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching" (1 Tim. 4:12-13). It follows and describes a "way of life," one's habitual conduct, and is followed by "faith, purity, reading, exhortation, and teaching," traits traditionally associated with a pastor. But agape-love comes near the top of the list, and shines its glow over all the other characteristics of a pastor. The Apostle Peter gives us another list of spiritual qualities: diligence, faith, moral excellence, knowledge, patience, self-control, godliness, "and in godliness brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, [charity] love (agape)" (2 Pet. 1:7). Here "charity" or agape-love is the capstone that crowns all other virtues.
In contrast, the Apostle John records the words of Christ to the church at Ephesus: "I know your works, and your toil and perseverance, and that you can't tolerate evil men, and have tested those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and found them false. You have perseverance and have endured for my name's sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you left your first love (agape)" (Rev. 2:2-4). All of our works, toil, perseverance, striving for virtue, against false apostles and evil men is of no value unless we maintain that burning agape-love for the Lord Jesus and for others. Our ministry to Christ and to the widows, orphans, poor, lame, maimed and blind amounts to nothing without agape-love.
The final passage using "charity" in the KJV which I would like to consider is Rev. 2:19-21 -
I know your works, your [charity] love (agape), faith, service, patient endurance, and that your last works are more than the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
The Apostle John here places agape-love in stark contrast against sexual immorality. Works of charity are incompatible with fornication. Since the 1960s we have witnessed in the West the "sexual revolution" that excuses sexual immorality by claiming that it is "free love," thus hijacking the concepts of freedom and agape-love to justify fornication. These people assert that cohabitation outside of marriage is acceptable "as long as they love each other." The toleration and patience described in 1 Cor. 13 and elsewhere in the Bible is vastly different than the pseudo-toleration of relativism described in Rev. 2 that says anything goes if people "love" (feel passion toward) each other. The problem is that passion fades away, but true love endures: agape-love never fails.
When passion fades, the relationship falls apart, and statistics show the ex-sex-partners will very likely never establish a permanent marriage with anyone else. The damage to society in terms of abortions, abandoned children, single-parent households, venereal disease and population decline is incalculable. As we see in this passage also, having women in prominent positions in the church is not a new phenomenon. Here it manifested itself in two forms: teaching that sexual immorality and idolatry are acceptable, and actually practicing sexual immorality. St. Paul makes abundantly clear in 1 Tim. 3:12 and Titus 1:6 that the qualifications for those who do ministry (diakonia) and pastors include monogamous marriage. People who are sexually immoral are disqualified from any type of ministry or diakonia. But as this passage shows, we should give them opportunity to repent, not immediately anathematize them.
Endnotes to Chapter 9:
1. Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, op. cit.
2. Webster's 1828 Dictionary, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).
2. Webster's 1828 Dictionary, (www.e-sword.net, 2004).
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Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...
Bob & Cheryl
p.s. The Church is not a welfare program, it's more like an NFL team - No Free Lunch.
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