Thursday, June 3, 2010

Protestants and Catholics Now Majority in Russian Siberia, Far East and Other Border Lands

I remember not too long ago when two very young, just fresh out of high school, men came to my apartment and asked me to help sponsor them for a mission trip. I courteously invited them in so that they could explain what they are interested in doing and how much they wanted. They explained to me that they were members of a local Baptist Church who wanted to go abroad to Greece to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to help the people there to develop a "deep personal relationship" with Christ. Being Greek Orthodox (I didn't have the opportunity to tell them I was Greek Orthodox at this point), I asked them what religion or spiritual belief they thought the Greeks had. They responded that they really didn't know. I then filled them in that about 95% of Greece belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church and that the additional 5% is subdivided between Greek Catholics, Moslems and a few Protestants. They either couldn't or didn't believe that. But, it didn't matter, because we then got to the crux of the conversation. They said that regardless of what Christianity they profess, they don't have the basic freedoms that we have as Americans and that their brand of Christianity would be more appealing. I then bluntly stated, "So your intention is to make them Americans rather than Christians." Both looked at me, not knowing what to say. I thanked them for coming over and showed them out.

As I read this article about Protestants, particularly Lutherans, Baptists and Pentecostals along with Roman Catholics becoming the dominant Christian confessions in Holy Russia, I am reminded of the story I told above. Most of the Protestant Missionaries in Russia are from America. And I'm really puzzled about how misinformed these missionaries are about the religious and spiritual life of the land they are sent to. Many of these good intentioned people sent to these places are simply misinformed and I believe that such misinformation is disseminated by the people who send them, people who do know that Russia is an historically Orthodox country whose religion was all but stamped out by the atheist Communists and has enjoyed brief periods of revival, but nothing systemic. The senders see this as an excellent opportunity to spread American ideas of freedom and liberation which are, frankly, at odds with what Christ means when he uses such terms in the Gospel.

Now, the argument that I often hear is since the Orthodox Church isn't making any great gains to keep these people in their church, the responsibility falls to others who will. I will certainly concede that the Church could do a lot more, but it is still recovering from the communist era. It's only been 20 years since the undoing of the Soviet State and will require a lot more than that to undo the damage of over 80 years of oppression and systematic eradication so that the Church can effectively minister to its lost flock again. The people in these border lands are already Christian, Orthodox Christian nominally. They may not have a priest to minister to them or have to wait years before a priest can actually come to them. But that is no grounds for sheep stealing.

I always react with amazement as to how many heterodox Christian confessions can't wait to spread their Gospel to lands which are already Christian. They go to places like Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Greece, other dominantly Orthodox countries. They try to make Americans out of these people. Why go to these places rather than preach to those who are truly lost such as the people in Iran, Afghanistan or even Saudi Arabia? Could it be that to spread the Gospel in such lands you may actually have to suffer for it, even die?

Now, you may argue that the Orthodox go to countries where there is an already established Christian confession. You have Orthodox in Lutheran Germany or Orthodox in Anglican Britain or Orthodox in Catholic France. That is true, but they were not sent there as missionaries but to minister to the great number of expatriates who fled Russia following the 1917 Revolution as well as other Orthodox countries following the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe in 1945. This is not sheep stealing; it is ministering to those Orthodox Christians in the "diaspora." But when the Russians came to Alaska in 1794, they spread the Gospel to the Aleuts, Inuit and other natives who had never heard it before. When the Protestants and Catholics got there about 100 years later, they decided that these Orthodox people weren't Christian enough and started to persecute them and force them into their brands of Christianity.

Sheep stealing needs to stop. I have no problem with Catholics or Protestants telling others of Jesus Christ especially those who have never heard it before. I don't believe the Protestants nor Catholics have the full Gospel or the full faith, but salvation is between persons and God.

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