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My intent in this article is to present to you some of my experiences and thought concerning the natural world within which we live.  I define the natural world not only to be the living creatures of this earth, but also that which supports these creatures:  the living plants, the soil, the air – without which these creatures cannot live!

This past summer a major portion of a course I took dealt with our attitude and responsibility towards the environment.  This was a learning experience for me because at that time I had no clearly defined attitude; I had never seriously thought about concrete issues dealing with the environment!  The school at which I studied for six weeks this summer was Au Sable Institute, a Christian environmental stewardship Institute located in the north wood of Michigan.  The mission of Au Sable Institute in formal words is “the integration of knowledge of the Creation with the biblical principles for the purpose of bringing the Christian community and the general public to a better understanding of the Creator and the stewardship of God’s Creation.”  Simply put, the students study both creation and the Bible in order to better understand God the Creator and the stewardship of His creation.

It was here at Au Sable that I truly experienced the creation of God!  Let me briefly describe to you the setting of the Institute.  Au Sable Institute is tucked away in an aspen and pine woodland at the edge of a crystal clear lake.  Trails lead to the lake shore, a nearby beaver pond and more distant bogs, swamps and marshes.  There is plenty of area to explore; the classes take full advantage of this opportunity!

One field trip brought us to a Jack Pine burned area.  Earlier this past spring a fire had swept over the area leaving the Jack Pine forest in an array of burnt trees, sooty soil, and fallen, charred branches.  Yet, life was industriously struggling to become established!  Through the layer of soot covering the ground came the first sprouts of sedge (similar to a grass) and aspen and maple.  Through even the worst of conditions God sustains his creation!  In Psalm 104:13-17 we read,

“He watereth the hills from his chambers:  the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.  He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man:  that he may bring forth food out of the earth….The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests; as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.”

God upholds all things.  Sometimes we overlook the fact that God was the reason the sedge was able to grow and establish its roots in the poor soil.

An outing for my Field Botany class took us to the Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, Michigan.  One of the highlights of this State Park is a foot trail through the Virgin Pines forest.  This forest is one of the few that escaped the ax of the lumberjack in the latter 1800’s.  During this time Michigan produced more lumber than any other state – the source of wood being the white pine stands that covered some 18 million acres of land in Michigan.  As I walked amidst the 200-300 year-old trees I felt very small and insignificant.  My eyes were directed upward towards the tops of the trees which were 100-155 feet away!

As the class walked through the forest we discussed our feelings.  One thing we agreed we could not ignore was the presence of the Creator God.  A walk through the Virgin Pines is quite a spiritual experience!  Your attention is focused upward, toward the heavens, toward the Creator.  We realized the awesomeness of God’s creation.  We realized our dependency on God not only for our existence, but also for our salvation.  I thought to myself how pleased God must be of His creation!  Many times we read in Genesis 1 that what God created was good.  When God declares that His creation is good He is making a statement about its value.  Richard T. Wright, in his book Biology Through the Eyes of Faith aptly describes creation’s goodness.  He says (p. 23), “Good means having inherent worth; value is intrinsic – it is built into the things God created.  In declaring creation good, God was also declaring His pleasure with all of His creative work.  Why was He pleased?  Possibly because He saw the unfolding of creation as an obedient response to His Word; one worthy of the covenant between God and His creation.  Also, He might well have been pleased because what He saw was an expression of His wisdom; God recognized that the creation was majestic enough to show His glory.  In other words, the goodness of creation reflected God’s own goodness.”

At the time of the Fall, sin entered the world.  Is the creation still good?  Scripture gives us a clear answer:  Creation’s goodness has persisted and continues to the present.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.  Day after day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.  There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3) Other related passages of the Bible are Acts 14:15-17 and Romans 1:20.

Late one evening (back at Au Sable), a few of us who were feeling adventuresome took a walk through the woods, the moon providing us light.  We were in search of foxfire, an organism that grows on decaying organic matter and emits a phosphorescent light.  One of the instructors had told us that he had seen foxfire on an old stump near the beaver’s pond, and so we headed in that direction.  Sure enough we found the foxfire!  And yes, it was glowing in the dark!  The stump looked quite normal under the light of a flashlight but in the darkness it emitted a soft white glow.

The foxfire was exciting to “discover.”  In reflection, I thought that God did not create these things to be seen of men.  Even if we had not gone out in the woods that night, the foxfire would have been there.  With a little effort though, we had found the foxfire and enjoyed the existence of one of God’s creations.  Nature is like that – the wonder and beauty is always there – it is up to each individual to “discover” this goodness of nature.

Although in comparison to the stature of the Hartwick Pines foxfire is very small, it, too, in its own way praises the Creator.  “The creation praises God by its very existence and activity.  This is the highest purpose of the creation:  to bring glory to God.  Our responsibility as creatures in His image is not only to praise Him, but also to recognize that the rest of the creation is praising Him” (Wright, p. 25).  “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).  (Sometimes I think we don’t even see half of how these creatures praise him).

“In spite of the clear testimony of Scripture that the primary purpose of the creation is to bring glory to God, there is a prevailing attitude, even among Christians, that the only purpose of the creation is to satisfy our needs and wants.  The flip side of this attitude is to question the value of anything that apparently serves no useful purpose for humanity (what good are slugs, or slime molds, or mosquitoes, or swamps?).  This is a potentially destructive attitude, for it allows us to treat nature as if its only purpose was to fuel the engines of progress – a completely utilitarian approach that translates nature into human resources.  Not only is this attitude indefensible from a theological point of view, it is clearly part of the network of causes for the environmental problems that are plaguing us” (Wright, p. 26).  God is pleased with His creation and declares it good.  Do not forget this.  The natural world was created for man, but it was not created for man to abuse.  Man is responsible to God for his actions.

One last thought to remember: “Only God can make a tree.”

 

Work Cited

Wright, Richard T. Biology Through the Eyes of Faith Harper and Row, Publishers, San Francisco, 1989.

If someone came up to you and said “persecution”, what would you think of? You would probably think of certain times in history. Maybe Nero and Hitler would come to your mind. Perhaps you would not consider the times of today because of all the freedom you have: freedom to go to the school of your choice, freedom to go to church, and the freedom to work at the place of your choice. Today, persecution sounds like a thing of the past. But it is not! Right now hundreds of people are suffering for their beliefs. These people are (as Hebrews 11:25 states) “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Who are these people? Some of these persecuted people are the Christians in the Soviet Union. They are being strongly suppressed through cruel measures by the government, even though Article 52 of the 1977 Soviet constitution assures the people of the right “to profess and not to profess any religion and to conduct religious worship.” Persecution, prison, and exile for their faith have become a way of life for the Christians of Russia.

In Russia, the believers are divided into two main groups, the registered church and the unregistered church. According to law, believers must form groups and register with the government’s Council on Religious Affairs. Of these registered churches, the most famous is the Russian Orthodox Church with a membership of over 40 million. Because it is registered with the government, it is placed under government restrictions. Here is a list of some of the rules for a registered church:

1. Believers shall form groups and register with the government’s Council on Religious Affairs.

2.  The Council may object to any church leader. (On some smuggled documents it shows that the council rates the leaders on political trustworthiness. Church leaders can be reprimanded for failing to urge parishioners to love the Socialist motherland.)

3.  Churches may not proselytize or offer instruction to persons under 18 years of age.

4.  Sermons may not raise challenges to the state or to the Communist Party policies.

These restrictions make it impossible for these churches to preach the true Word of God.

So the differences between a registered church and an unregistered church is that one is accepted by the government of the Soviet Union, the other is not. The basic difference is that the unregistered church “rests entirely and completely upon the gospel preaching, fundamental teaching of the gospel. . .mainly absolute freedom of conscience, full separation of church and state.“ 1 The unregistered church believes that the Lord Jesus is the head of the church and the state has no right to dictate or interfere with the function of the church.

The members of the unregistered churches are the true Christians to whom the persecution is directed. Only the officially sanctioned Russian Orthodox Church exists in relative peace. Our concern as fellow Christians is for the children of God in the unregistered church who suffer persecution and cruelty.

The main reason for persecution is the Christian’s hunger for biblical preaching which is causing the congregation to grow. The government is trying to stop this growth. The churches are a threat to those in authority because they know “if a man believed in Christ he would never be a mindless, willing creature. The authorities know they can imprison men, but they cannot imprison faith in God.” 2

The authorities consider this belief a real threat and are scared of the rise in membership. Communists are given the idea that giving a Bible to someone is the equivalent of giving liquor to a drunkard. One patient was put in a hospital for witnessing to other people about God and was told as long as he talked about God, he would be considered a schizophrenic (a person with a mental disorder characterized by loss of contact with environment and by disintegration of personality). 3

Instead of trying to stamp out the church, Communist authorities are trying to restrict and manipulate the church. These Soviets can easily control the registered churches but this is not so with the unregistered Christians. Thus, the emphasis is placed on the persecution of the members of unregistered groups.

In June ’83, the Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party voted to redouble the government’s atheistic propaganda efforts. This includes the heavy censoring of the newsletters of registered churches. The Communist Party wants to replace the religious rituals with pageants and ceremonies that have no religious content.4 There are no religious radio broadcasts except one which features such topics as the health dangers involved in baptism, the anti-Soviet nature of the Christian Church, and the pollution of children’s minds by Christian superstitions.5 The devil works through such kinds of propaganda to pervert the minds of the Soviet people.

The tactic used to strangle Christ- simply to seal off the new generation from God’s Word. . and let Christianity die off on its own accord. The government doesn’t want children or young people to come to church. This is the reason for the law that says, “Churches may not proselytize or offer instruction to persons under 18 years of age.’’ Christian parents are deprived the right to bring up their children according to their own beliefs. The parents are threatened not to do this and are told if they don’t obey, the government has the right to do anything to safeguard children’s minds against “religious poison’’. Children are forcefully taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools to be educated. These actions contradict the truths taught in the Bible. Yet they continue every day.

The KGB (Russian secret police, like our FBI) does the dirty work for the government. The KGB tries to make all pastors agents. Those who refuse to cooperate are put in prison. It is the KGB that carries on eavesdropping, spying, and systematic following to find out where the believers are secretly meeting.

The state has found that by confiscating or destroying homes used for meetings, active congregations can be restricted. What follows is an excerpt from a Russian magazine reporting the destruction of one of thousands of homes of those that worship in hiding:

. . .the personal home of Eduard Hauf (22 Strelochnomu), in which regular worship services were held, was completely destroyed. While Eduard Hauf was at work, agents of the militia and a group of security police came to his house. They knocked in the doors and windows with iron bars and took the crying children and the grandmother in a car to another lodging. When Hauf came home, the house was completely destroyed. Wrecking equipment and bulldozers stood upon the ruins of his house.6

These actions are clearly illegal, but the people can do nothing to stop them.

When one congregation refused to accept a government-appointed pastor, the authorities padlocked the door to the church. The believers met secretly in homes where the police often disrupted the meetings, even assaulting believers physically. The police also searched the homes of church members, taking all church literature and bugging the homes to find out church plans. 7  School children are often approached by secret police to investigate the parents’ beliefs and activities.

The Soviets use many forms of degradation: slander, beatings, fines, and deprivation of work and education. It is very hard to be a believer in Russia because of the suffering that a believer and his children go through. By going to church, he runs the risk of losing his job, his security, and the opportunity to obtain automobiles, homes, and other scarce items. He receives no promotions at work, and he is placed on the bottom of the long waiting list for an apartment or car. Also the children find themselves barred from any further education such as colleges, universities, or technical schools. 8 The believer does not live in the comfort you and I have, instead he/she fights a hard battle just to be a Christian.

The government does not dare to act openly. Through false witnesses and false accusations, men are brought to trial, found guilty, and sent to prisons and concentration camps. A variety of excuses are used to arrest people who believe. Some members of a Christian Seminar, a group of men and women converted to Christianity, were arrested for “psychological disorders” and were forced to take damaging drug treatments.9  Many arrests were made on charges of slandering the state. Believers are arrested at prayer meetings, at work and home, and also are being seized on highways, even without a warrant of arrest.

True believers have been suffering and continue to suffer in the prisons, in exile, and in banishment. The government does try to use persuasion whenever possible but it doesn’t hesitate to use force. Interrogators will use force through beatings to make prisoners say false things to have something to charge against them. These Communists practice a modern age “stoning to death”. Prisoners are beaten until the information wanted is given or until they lose consciousness. Often the result of these beatings is damage to their inner organs. Many prisoners are beaten a few hours each day until death subsequently occurs. What a prolonged and horrible suffering some of these Christians have!

One pastor, after being tortured very badly with red-hot pokers and knives, was thrown in a cell where starving rats were driven in through a large pipe. If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him. After two weeks of being forced to stand day and night, the police compelled him to betray his brethren. He refused so the furious communists took the pastor’s son and beat him to death in front of his eyes. 10 Thousands of prisoners are tortured to death, some having their tongues cut off.

Many Christians are thrown into “refrigerator cells” until they show symptoms of freezing to death. Then doctors would rush in to take them out and make them warm. After being warmed, they were immediately thrown back into the ice-box cells to freeze. This continued endlessly and the chances of survival were very slim.11 Here is a description from a Christian who was thrown with 20 other prisoners into a tightly shut cell:

There was no fresh air. A half hour passed, then an hour. The perspiration ran down our bodies, but there was no air to breathe. Men banged on the door asking for air. The guards opened the door and released tear gas. I pressed my head on the floor for a bit of air, prayed, and was ready to die, as the gas stopped my breathing. The cell door was opened when some men fainted. 12 The tragic part of this is that these inhuman acts continue and nobody is stopping them.

People in camps are punished for praying to God and put in solitary confinement where they become severely emaciated and then die because of terrible health. After serving their terms, many prisoners are given repeated terms of imprisonment. At home, all of their possessions are confiscated so their wives and family have no means to exist. Those who are free are fined continuously and lose their jobs.

Another method of persecution in the camps is brainwashing. For years, 17 hours a day, some Christians are told repeatedly,

Communism is good!  Communism is good!  And Christianity is stupid!  Christianity is stupid! 13  Many of them after awhile will crack down and will think that what is told them is true.

Sudden deaths of certain pastors are a result of the work of the Soviet authorities through the KGB. Leaders die under mysterious circumstances. For example: Leonid Timoshchuk was tortured and killed and his body dumped in a gasoline storage tank. Rev. Bronius Laurinavicius died in a specially engineered road accident. 14 Nobody really knows exactly how many Christians are jailed. One trustworthy source identifies about 56 concentration camps. The total number of prisoners is estimated at 1,150,000! But how many of these prisoners suffer for their belief in God? We can get an idea from this instance: In the town of Angren, 23 men were sentenced for their faith in ONE month! There may have been many more men whom we don’t know about. In Russia, there are 5,092 towns. Multiply this and you get an enormous figure representing suffering Christians.

 

1  “The Word of God is Not Bound,” Eternity, 1979, p. 23.

2  Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ (Glendale: Diane Books, 1967) p. 32.

3  Michael Wurmbrand, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist,” The Voice of the Martyrs, 1984.

4  “The Soviet Union Calls for more Atheistic Propaganda,” Christianity Today, vol. 28, 1984, p. 68.

5  Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle.” Good News Broadcaster, 1979, p. 20.

6  Mark A. Noll, translator, Christians Under the Hammer and Sickle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).

7  “A Salvation of Suffering: The Church in the Soviet Union,’’ Christianity Today, vol. 26, 1982, p. 19.

8  Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle,” Good News Broadcaster, 1979, p. 19.

9  J. Garvey, “The Trial of V. Poresh,” Commonweal, vol. 110, 1983, p. 137.

10  Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ (Glendale: Diane Books, 1967), p. 36.

11 Ibid., p. 36.

12  Michael Wurmbrand, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist,” The Voice of the Martyrs (1984).

13 R. Wurmbrand, op. cit.

14  “Religion’s Fight for Survival in Russia,” U.S. News and World Report, vol. 93, 1982, p. 40.

All of history is the unfolding of God’s counsel. This not only applies to what is studied in church history, but also to what is studied in world and modern history. All treaties made, revolts, and presidents elected are taking place according to “His Story’’. Every event, however routine or usual as they may seem, all have a hand in God’s purpose for His Church. I would like to show how the signing of the Magna Carta- instigated by the hands of wicked and greedy men – had a tremendous effect on the Church of England. Although this event did not arise out of concern for the church or the people’s spiritual welfare, we know, as stated in Romans 8:28, that “all things work together for good to them that love God. . .’’ Keeping in mind this Biblical concept, I plan to demonstrate how King John’s signing of the Magna Carta in the early 1200’s provided England with an atmosphere of religious freedom and reform.

Richard I, also called Richard the Lion-Hearted, reigned in England from 1189 A.D. to 1199 A.D. Richard spent most of the time in the Holy Land where he fought in the Third Crusade. England was taxed heavily to pay for his adventures. So when John, Richard’s brother, came to the throne the barons were already discontented.

King John did not get any support. The king was cruel, treacherous, and a coward. John was a man rapid in action, of low morals, and had a “despotic temper”. The discontent of the barons grew when John lost lands across the English Channel in a quarrel with France. His reign was a succession of wrongs and insults to the English people and the church.

During this era of English history, the popery had complete dominion. The pope at this time was Innocent III, whose rule marks the golden age of the medieval papacy and an important phase in the history of the Catholic Church. Innocent was a spiritual sovereign with extensive power and had no rival. The Pope put whoever he wanted on the thrones and cast out whom he didn’t want. His decision was final in all matters concerning the bishops.

Innocent III was convinced that the papacy was established of God for the good of the Church and the salvation of the world. He also believed that the papacy was infallible. During his reign Pope Innocent was trying to make his authority supreme all over Europe. His only major failure was in England as we shall see later.

As I stated before, the king was not well-liked. The king squeezed every penny out of his subjects to pay for the wages of his soldiers. He often collected this money by unjust means. The nation was taxed almost beyond the point of endurance. Another reason for John’s dislike was his amours with the wives and daughters of the barons. These high taxes and the king’s amours

aroused the determined hatred of both the barons and the people. The subjects felt it was time to stop John’s illegal demands for money. They wanted a return of the ancient liberties which were confirmed by Henry I, an earlier English king known by his strict administration of justice. A list of these rights, called the Article of the Barons, which the barons wanted the king to promise them, was drawn up. But King John refused to listen to their requests.

The king was being pressured at this time not only by the barons but also by Pope Innocent. During his quest for supremacy, the pope ran into a barrier in England for King John refused to submit. The pope hastily put an interdict of England which cast a gloom over the nation. Still John showed unconcern and remained in his defiant mood. Innocent declared the king unworthy of his throne and deposed him through excommunication. but the Arch-bishop in England released John from the ban. The pope countered by moving Philip Augustus, the king of France, to invade England.

King John didn’t know which way to turn for he was pressured on both sides. He elected to submit to the Pope and declared that he surrendered his kingdom of England to the Pope. The king now received the support of the Pope in the battle against the barons. The barons were asked by Innocent to stop their threatening measures, and to ask the king respectfully for what they wanted.

The barons defied both the Pope and the king and threatened war. The barons prepared an army but Archbishop Stephen Langton persuaded the nobles to hold a conference instead. This took place in a field beside the Thames River in Runnymede, England.  On June 15, 1215 A.D. King John realized he had to agree to the barons general demands. He signed and officially sealed The Article of the Barons, the final draft of which is known as the Magna Carta.

The signing of the Magna Carta was not so important in what was stated in the charter but rather in the values it stood for. This was the first time that the subjects of a feudal king made the king agree to their terms. King John was forced to admit to rules. Not only this but the barons showed that they would no longer try to be independent of the king. They would recognize the king as their overlord.

Because the “Great Charter” stated that justice could not be sold, delayed, or denied to any freeman, it brought about many reforms in judicial and local administration. It was a step in the gradual growth of law. The Magna Carta became a national symbol – a battle cry against oppression. When liberty was in danger, the charter became the people’s defense. Every following generation could see its own protection.

The Magna Carta stated many provisions which allowed an atmosphere of religious toleration to arise. The people were given more liberty because the absolute power of the king over his subjects was taken away. One provision stated that no man could be imprisoned, outlawed, or deprived of property except by judgment of his equals or the law of the land. So from then on, no Christians could be persecuted or harmed before a trial by jury. There would be no Inquisitions in England. Also, the freedom of ecclesiastical elections was confirmed by the Magna Carta.

This was the first time the papacy had come into collision with modern liberty. Although the Pope declared the charter null and void, King John had signed it, making it official. England had broken the hold of the Pope and was no longer under his authority.

The people of the Church of England were captivated and charmed by magnificent churches, ceremonies, and chantings which shows the lack of strong moral Christians. The worship of relics and the veneration of the saints indicated the Biblical ignorance of the popery. These errors tend to bring about a reaction, and a reaction was now possible in England. The signing of the charter resulted in religious toleration.

England had been brought low by the papacy, but it rose again by resisting Rome with the Magna Carta. The beginning of the march of the Reformation actually begins here.

Even though it may not seem like it, there are some beneficial aspects of suffering. Suffering may be a sign of God’s favor and trust in the Christian to whom the trial is permitted to come. One Christian in Russia said that it “seems that God has selected the church for a special assignment – suffering. Knowing this, of course does not mean that our sufferings are not agonizing. But it does provide healing and redemption in our sufferings.” 15

In camps under persecution, prisoners become deeply religious people. The discovery of spiritually compatible souls reinforces their own faith. Endless hours of conversation take place to tell of their own spiritual experiences, resulting in a strengthened bond with other Christians. One leader says that they learned that they can live without church structures but not without other Christians. 16

Suffering and triumph are closely related. During suffering, the congregations give themselves completely to Christ and see the victory in Christ. The churches know the worth of God’s Word and Christ, Who was raised from the dead and Who will return again. Even in prison God is inspiring radiant hope in their hearts that Christ is unconquerable and will return.

One significant result from suffering is the sharpening of spiritual perceptions and the clarifying of spiritual priorities. Another is the increased awareness of the power of prayer. Under suffering, the churches realize their feebleness and weaknesses. The constant analysis and appreciation of what Christ means to them – in order not to yield to temptation – brings the suffering believers closer to Christ than ever before. They really begin to know what Christ means to them. They begin to know, as never before, the love of God. 17

One works better and accomplishes more when there is opposition than when everything is easy. Those Eastern Christians have a tremendous possibility of witnessing. worshipping, and serving the Lord! The terrible part is that millions have to live and undergo this cruel Communist system.

In the West. as Christians we have never been forced to become aware of the cost of belief. How much have we really suffered for our faith? Those Christians in Russia have suffered: “and their words and witness have an intensity and hope which make most of what passes for Christianity in the West look pale and shallowly rooted.” 18 Through the Christians in the Iron Curtain, Western Christians can learn about suffering for the Bible. The persecuted churches have “. . . endured prolonged, unparalleled persecution, and this experience of sustained suffering can provide instruction to the church everywhere.” 19

When we suffer a little trouble or persecution, by looking at their example of steadfast faith we can also learn to be the same way. We can realize how little we suffer after all.

Many people will raise the argument that this persecution is not a big problem. It is larger than it seems because the Russian government covers up a lot of the persecution, so it is not known to the world. At conferences the Soviet Union tries everything possible to cut down the time to be spent discussing human rights.

Some people then will argue that evangelists like Billy Graham come back from Russia with all these reports of the freedom of religion and that it’s not as bad as some say. This is not true, for Billy Graham is a hoax and the U.S.S.R. through Graham was pretending to demonstrate religious tolerance. Rushing from one appointment to another, Graham saw only what the authorities wanted him to see. Not only this, but it seems like Graham said only what his hosts wanted him to say. Graham said that believers who refuse to register with the state are likely to have “difficulties”. The congregations of the churches Graham entered consisted of one third KGB agents. one third international participants in the disarmament conference, and one third older women.20

In one church when a woman draped a banner over the balcony that said, “We have more than 150 prisoners for the work of the gospel” and was subsequently hauled away, Graham just explained, “We detain people in the U.S. if we catch them doing things wrong.”21  Director Jerry Goodman of the National Conference of Soviet ‘Jewry called Graham’s remarks “. . . a disservice to Jews and Christians who are being persecuted in the Soviet Union. “22

Maybe the things he said were not so bad, but the problem lies with the things Graham didn’t say. Graham ignored the persecution subject because he didn’t want to embarrass his hosts. Another reason why he didn’t say anything about Soviet religious oppression is because then he wouldn’t have further possibilities to preach in the U.S.S.R. “There’s something wrong when in order to preach the gospel you turn your back on those who live the gospel.”23  Graham betrayed the religious people in Russia. “Graham should have spoken out firmly, clearly, and specifically against religious repression in the Soviet Union, and he should have done it publicly. 24  Graham was an “unwitting prophet of Soviet propaganda.” 25

Graham is not helping the people that are being persecuted and need help. Six people were seeking immigration to any land that would let them have religious freedom. They sought a visit from Billy Graham but he actually refused. Finally, Graham consented to go and pray with them but there were to be no reporters or photographers and there were to be curtains. After Graham left, one of the six was physically sick, (she had dared to hope that Graham would intercede for them).26  Many people who have tried to tell the story of how life is in the U.S.S.R. should and probably do feel the same way.

When these false evangelists, such as Graham, take trips behind the Iron Curtain, they do not raise their voices in objection to the suppression. By not raising their voices on behalf of the suffering millions, these leaders participate in and are guilty of suppression.

The first reaction of people when they hear about these suffering Christians is that they are glad they do not have to go through this. Then some people like to know how they can ease the situation. We must be aware that we can be used to help the many Christian prisoners and their families who need aid. Just a simple card sent to a prisoner or a family would provide the Soviet authorities with evidence of the publicity these prisoners have received and could help alleviate a prisoner’s situation. There are organizations which have been formed to send aid and Christian literature to these needy people. Two of these are The Society of St. Stephen and Jesus to the Communist World, Inc. Write to me for further information concerning these organizations.

Because there is a great lack of Bibles and Christian literature, one work of organizations is to distribute the needed materials throughout the U.S.S.R. Churches with 200-300 people do not possess one single Bible. Bibles are selling on the black market for more than $100. This shows that Russians are willing to invest their hard-earned money to obtain a copy of the Word of God, giving it priority over most material things. 27  Believers do get Bibles. The Christians in Russia do not ask for much, they just need the tools (Bibles. . .) to work with. We must not abandon these people and forget about them’. We must offer support to these Christians.

The believers are risking their lives by writing and signing their names to petitions sent to the government and world. This is the only way to be heard and they want help which is not available. These believers desperately need to be upheld by the believers in the West. The human rights stand taken by the U.S. and our government is rather profitable and important concerning the Christians in Russia. We should show everyone that we care and will not forget. This can be done by showing the Soviet officials the price of such behavior. The arrangements the Soviets make with the U.S. depends on the support in Congress from the U.S. people. This kind of persecution should end that possibility of support. 28 American support does help. Pastor Georgi Vins says from personal experience, “Whenever there was support action in the West I was treated better by wardens and prison administrators. When there was no support, conditions immediately became worse.”29 A few letters to our congressmen would make a great deal of difference.

The most simple and most important kind of help is prayer. We must share the griefs, and help the churches bear the heavy cross. Those Christians who remain steadfast amidst all the persecutions deserve our prayers. Offering our prayers is the least we can do for our fellow saints. As Richard Wurmbrand says, “One third of the world is entitled to one third of your prayers, of your concerns, of your gifts. . . . In prison I saw men with 50 lb. chains at their feet, praying for America. But in America you seldom hear in a church a prayer for those in chains in Communist prisons.” 30 Take heed to the words of Hebrews 13:3. “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” Let us remember our fellow saints in all of our prayers and with our gifts.

 

15 ”A Salvation of Suffering: The Church in the Soviet Union,” Christianity Today, vol. 26, 1982, p. 20.

16 Ibid., p. 20.

17 Rev. Haralan Popov and Rev. L. J. Bass, Torture and Triumph in a Communist Prison (Glendale: Underground Evangelism, 1967). p. 46.

18 J. Garvey, “The Trial of V. Poresh, ” Commonweal, vol. 110, 1983, p. 137.

19 “A Salvation of Suffering: The Church in the Soviet Union, ” Christianity Today, vol. 26, 1982. p. 19.

20 William F. Buckley, dr., “The Irreverent Dr. Graham, ” National Review 34 (1982) :718.

21 “Questionable Mission to Moscow, ” Time, 1982, p. 60.

22 “The Russia that Billy Graham Saw,” U.S News and World Report, vol. 92, 1982, p. 6.

23 “Graham in the Soviet Union: He Takes it on the Chin from the Press. Is Religious Freedom Relative?,” Christianity Today, vol. 26, 1982, p. 49.

24 “How the Press Got it Wrong in Moscow, ‘ ‘ Christian Century, 1982 :718.

25 “Questionable Mission to Moscow,” Time, vol. 119, 1982, p. 60.

26 William F. Buckley, Jr., “The Irreverent Dr. Graham, ” National Review 34 (1982) :718.

27 Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle,” Good News Broadcaster, 1979, p. 19

28 Anthony Lewis, “Soviets Stepping Up Suppression of Judaism. ” The Grand Rapids Press.

29 Richard Shumaker, “Vins at Wheaton,” Eternity, 1979, p. 23.

30 Sabina Wurmbrand, The Pastor’s Wife (New York: The John Day Company, 1970) p. 212.

 

LIST OF WORKS CONSULTED

* “A Delicate Balance, ” Newsweek, CIV ent Dr. Graham, ” National Review, (September 24, 1984), 38. XXXIV (June 11, 1982), 718.

*”A ‘Peace Invasion’: Journey to the de Chalandeau, Alexander. The ChristUSSR,” Christian Century, CI (August ians in the U.S.S.R. Chicago: Harper 22, 1984). 765 ff. and Company.

*”A Salvation of Suffering: The Church Deyneka, Peter Jr., and Anita. A Song in the Soviet Union,” Christianity in Siberia. Elgin: David C, Cook Today, XXVI (July 16, 1982), 19ff. Publishing Co., 1977.

*”A Small View of the Soviet People and Garvey, J. “The Trial of V. Poresh, ” Their Religions. ” Soviet Life. (October, Commonweal, CX (March 11, 1983), 1979). 46ff. 136-138.

*Beeson, Trevor. “Russia Tightens the Squeeze on Religious Dissidents,” Century, XCVII (May 7, 1980), 510 ff.

*Bourdeaux, Michael, “Pilgrimage to Siberia,” Christianity Today, XXIII,” (September 7, 1979), 22ff.

*Buckley, Jr.. William F. “The Irreverent Dr. Graham, National Review XXXIV (June 11, 1982), 718

*de Chalandeau, Alexander. The Christians in the U.S.S.R. Chicago: Harper and Company.

*Deyneka, Peter Jr., and Anita. A Song in Siberia. Elgin: David C, Cook Publishing Co., 1977

*Garvey, J. “The Trial of V. Poresh”, Commonweal, CX (March 11, 1983) 136-138

*”Graham in the Soviet Union: HeTakes It on the Chin From the Press. Is  Religious Freedom Relative?,” Christianity Today. XXIV (June 18. 1982), 717 ff

*”Graham Will Preach in Moscow,” Christianity Today, XXIV (April 9, 1983), 44

*Harris, Rosemary; and Howard-Johnston, Xenia, ed. Christian Appeals from Russia. London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1969.

*”How the Press Got it Wrong in Moscow, ” Christian Century, XCIX (June 23, 1982), 717 ff. *Klewin, Thomas W. “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle,” Good News Broadcaster. (May, 1979), 19-20.

*Koziol, Jack and Vera. Report on a trip through the U.S.S.R. (August 30-September 30, 1983). *Lewis, Anthony, “Soviets Stepping Up Suppression of Judaism, ” The Grand Rapids Press. *Nicoli, Pastor. Persecuted But Not Forsaken. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1977.

*Noll, Mark A., translator. Christians Under the Hammer and Sickle. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972.

*Popov, Rev. Haralan; and Bass, Rev. L.J. Torture and Triumph in a Communist Prison. Glendale: Underground Evangelism. l967.

*”Questionable Mission to Moscow, ” Time, May 24, 1982, p. 60.

*”Religion in Russia,” America, July 21-28, 1984, p. 21.

*”Religion in the U.S.S.R.: How Much Freedom is Enough?” Christianity Today, October 8, 1982, p. 46 ff.

*”Religion’s Fight for Survival in Russia.” U.S. News and World Report, August 2, 1982. p. 37 ff.

*”Religious Oppression gets Airing at Helsinki Review Conference, ” Christianity Today, January 2, 1981, p. 61 ff.

*Shumaker, Richard. “Vins at Wheaton,” Eternity, August, 1979, p. 21-23. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr . ” Breznev Cannot Look a Priest Straight in the Eye.” Christianity Today. June 6, 1980, p. 13.

*Stevens, A. “Suffering in Russia” World Press Review, 29 (August, 1982) :61.

*Stobbe, Les. “A Conversation with Pastor Georgi Vins,” Christian Herald, July-August, 1980, p. 18 ff.

*”Surviving in Russia: Religious Believers Adapt to Adversity, ” World Press Review, 29 (August 2, 1982) :61.

*”The Anti-Religious Meeting, ‘ ‘ Christian Herald, November, 1981, p. 72 ff.

*”The Conversation of Billy Graham,” Progressive, August, 1982. p. 26 ff.

*”The Russia that Billy Graham Saw,” U.S. News and World Report, May 24, 1982, p. 6.

*”The Soviet Union Calls for more ‘ Atheistic Propaganda, ” Christianity Today, December 14, 1984, p. 68 ff.

*”The Soviet Union Has Failed to Stamp Out Christianity, ‘ ‘ Christianity Today, May 7, 1982, p. 38 ff.

*”The Word of God is Not Bound,” Eternity, August, 1979, pp. 19-20.

*Ugolnik. A. “The Godlessness Within: Stereotyping the Russians,” Christian Century, November 9. 1983, pp. 1011- 1014.

* “Unseparate Church and State,” Time, June 23, 1980, pp. 70-72.

*Vaghin, E. “Dostoevsky Behind Barbed Wire. ” National Review, (August 5, 1983) : 938.

*Vins, Georgi. Testament from Prison. Elgin: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1976.

*Wurmbrand, Michael, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist.” The Voice of the Martyrs, November, 1984.

*Wurmbrand, Michael. “Punished for Heart Attack,” The Voice of the Martyrs, March, 1985. *Wurmbrand, Michael, “Religion Promotes Red China’s Economy,” The Voice of the Martyrs, January, 1985.

*Wurmbrand, Michael. “Soviets Prepare Genetic Weapon,” The Voice of the Martyrs, February, 1985.

*Wurmbrand, Richard. If that were Christ, Would you give him your Blanket? Waco: Word Books, 1970.

*Wurmbrand, Richard, The Soviet Saints. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1968.

*Wurmbrand, Richard. Tortured for Christ. Glendale: Diane Books, 1967.

*Wurmbrand, Richard. Underground Saints. Old Tappan: Pyramid Publications, 1969. *Wurmbrand, Sabina. The Pastor’s Wife. New York: The John Day Company, 1970.

If someone came up to you and said “persecution”, what would you think of? You would probably think of certain times in history. Maybe Nero and Hitler would come to your mind. Perhaps you would not consider the times of today because of all the freedom you have: freedom to go to the school of your choice, freedom to go to church, and the freedom to work at the place of your choice. Today, persecution sounds like a thing of the past. But it is not! Right now hundreds of people are suffering for their beliefs. These people are (as Hebrews 11:25 states) “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” Who are these people? Some of these persecuted people are the Christians in the Soviet Union. They are being strongly suppressed through cruel measures by the government, even though Article 52 of the 1977 Soviet constitution assures the people of the right “to profess and not to profess any religion and to conduct religious worship.” Persecution, prison, and exile for their faith have become a way of life for the Christians of Russia.

In Russia, the believers are divided into two main groups, the registered church and the unregistered church. According to law, believers must form groups and register with the government’s Council on Religious Affairs. Of these registered churches, the most famous is the Russian Orthodox Church with a membership of over 40 million. Because it is registered with the government, it is placed under government restrictions. Here is a list of some of the rules for a registered church:

1. Believers shall form groups and register with the government’s Council on Religious Affairs.

2. The Council may object to any church leader. (On some smuggled documents it shows that the council rates the leaders on political trustworthiness. Church leaders can be reprimanded for failing to urge parishioners to love the Socialist motherland.)

3. Churches may not proselytize or offer instruction to persons under 18 years of age.

4. Sermons may not raise challenges to the state or to the Communist Party policies.

These restrictions make it impossible for these churches to preach the true Word of God.

So the differences between a registered church and an unregistered church is that one is accepted by the government of the Soviet Union, the other is not.  The basic difference is that the unregistered church “rests entirely and completely upon the gospel preaching, fundamental teaching of the gospel . . . mainly absolute freedom of conscience, full separation of church and state.”  1  The unregistered church believes that the Lord Jesus is the head of the church and the state has no right to dictate or interfere with the function of the church.

The members of the unregistered churches are the true Christians to whom the persecution is directed.  Only the officially sanctioned Russian Orthodox Church exists in relative peace.  Our concern as fellow Christians is for the children of God in the unregistered church who suffer persecution and cruelty.

The main reason for persecution is the Christian’s hunger for biblical preaching which is causing the congregation to grow.  The government is trying to stop this growth.  The churches are a threat to those in authority because they know “if a man believed in Christ he would never be a mindless, willing creature.  The authorities know they can imprison men, but they cannot imprison faith in God.”  2

The authorities consider this belief a real threat and are scared of the rise in membership.  Communists are given the idea that giving a Bible to someone is the equivalent of giving liquor to a drunkard.  One patient was put in a hospital for witnessing to other people about God and was told as long as he talked about God, he would be considered a schizophrenic (a person with a mental disorder characterized by loss of contact with environment and by disintegration of personality).    3

Instead of trying to stamp out the church, Communist authorities are trying to restrict and manipulate the church.  These Soviets can easily control the registered churches but this is not so with the unregistered Christians.  Thus, the emphasis is placed on the persecution of the members of unregistered groups.

In June, ’83 the Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party voted to redouble the government’s atheistic propaganda efforts.  This includes the heavy censoring of the newsletters of registered churches.  The Communist Party wants to replace the religious rituals with pageants and ceremonies that have no religious content.   4  There are no religious radio broadcasts except one which features such topics as the health dangers involved in baptism, the anti-Soviet nature of the Christian Church, and the pollution of children’s minds by Christian superstitions.   5   The devil works through such kinds of propaganda to pervert the minds of the Soviet people.

The tactic used to strangle Christianity is simply to seal off the new generation from God’s Word . . . and let Christianity die off on its own accord.  The Government doesn’t want children or young people to come to church.  This is the reason for the law that says “Churches may not proselytize or offer instruction to persons under 18 years of age.”  Christian parents are deprived the right to bring up their children according to their own beliefs.  The parents are threatened not to do this and are told if they don’t obey, the government has the right to do anything to safeguard children’s minds against “religious poison”.  Children are forcefully taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools to be educated.  These actions contradict the truths taught in the Bible.  Yet they continue every day.

The KGB (Russian secret police, like our FBI) does the dirty work for the government.  The KGB tries to make all pastors agents.  Those who refuse to cooperate are put in prison.  It is the KGB that carries on eavesdropping, spying, and systematic following to find out where the believers are secretly meeting.

The state has found that by confiscating or destroying homes used for meetings, active congregations can be restricted.  What follow is an excerpt from a Russian magazine reporting the destruction of one of thousands of homes of those that worship in hiding:

… the personal home of Eduard Hauf (22 Strelochnomu), in which regular worship services were held, was completely destroyed.  While Eduard Hauf was at work, agents of the militia and a group of security police came to his house.  They knocked in the doors and windows with iron bars and took the crying children and the grandmother in a car to another lodging.  When Hauf came home, the house was completely destroyed.  Wrecking equipment and bulldozers stood upon the ruins of his house.   6

These actions are clearly illegal but the people can do nothing to stop them.

When one congregation refused to accept a government-appointed pastor, the authorities padlocked the door to the church.  The believers met secretly in homes where the police often disrupted the meetings, even assaulting believers physically.  The police also searched the homes of church members, taking all church literature and bugging the homes to find out church plans.   7   School children are often approached by secret police to investigate the parents’ beliefs and activities.

The Soviets use many forms of degradation: slander, beatings, fines, and deprivation of work and education.  It is very hard to be a believer in Russia because of the suffering that a believer and his children go through.  By going to church, he runs the risk of losing his job, his security, and the opportunity to obtain automobiles, homes, and other scarce items.  He receives no promotions at work, and he is placed on the bottom of the long waiting list for an apartment or car.  Also, the children find themselves barred from any further education such as colleges, universities, or technical schools.    8   The believer does not live in the comfort you and I have,  instead he/she fights a hard battle just to be a Christian.

The government does not dare to act openly.  Through false witnesses and false accusations, men are brought to trial, found guilty, and sent to prisons and concentration camps.  A variety of excuses are used to arrest people who believe.  Some members of a Christian Seminar, a group of mem and women converted to Christianity, were arrested for “psychological disorders” and were forced to take damaging drug treatments.   9    Many arrests were made on charges of slandering the states.  Believers are arrested at prayer meetings, at work and home, and also ae being seized on highways, even without a warrant of arrest.

True believers have been suffering and continue to suffer in the prisons, in exile, and in banishment.  The government does try to use persuasion whenever possible but it doesn’t hesitate to use force.  Interrogators will use force through beatings to make prisoners say false things to have something to charge against them.  These Communists practice a modern age “stoning to death”.  Prisoners are beaten until the information wanted is given or until they lose consciousness.  Often the result of these beatings is damage to their inner organs.  Many prisoners are beaten a few hours each day until death subsequently occurs.  What a prolonged and horrible suffering some of these Christians have!

One pastor, after being tortured very badly with red-hot pokers and knives, was thrown in a cell where starving rats were driven in through a large pipe.  If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him.  After two weeks of being forced to stand day and night, the police compelled him to betray his brethren.  He refused so the furious communists took the pastor’s son and beat him to death in front of his eyes.   10    Thousands of prisoners are tortured to death, some having their tongues cut off.

Many Christians are thrown into “refrigerator cells” until they show symptoms of freezing to death.  Then doctors would rush in to take them out and make them warm.  After being warmed, they were immediately thrown back into the ice-box cells to freeze.  This continued endlessly and the chances of survival were very slim.   11

Here is a description from a Christian who was thrown with 20 other prisoners into a tightly shut cell:

There was no fresh air.  A half hour passed, then an hour.  The perspiration ran down our bodies, but there was no air to breathe.  Men banged on the door asking for air.  The guards opened the door and released tear gas.  I pressed my head on the floor for a bit of air, prayed, and was ready to die, as the gas stopped my breathing.  The cell door was opened when some men fainted.    12

The tragic part of this is that these inhuman acts continue and nobody is stopping them.

People in camps are punished for praying to God and put in solitary confinement where they become severely emaciated and then die because of terrible health.  After serving their terms, many prisoners are given repeated terms of imprisonment.  At home, all of their possessions are confiscated so their wives and family have no means to exist.  Those who are free are fined continuously and lose their jobs.

Another method of persecution in the camps is brainwashing.  For years, 17 hours a day, some Christians are told repeatedly,

“Communism is good!  Communism is good!”

and

“Christianity is stupid!  Christianity is stupid!”     13

Many of them after awhile will crack down and will think that what is told them is true.

Sudden deaths of certain pastors are a result of the work of the Soviet authorities through the KGB.  Leaders die under mysterious circumstances.  For example:  Leonid Timoshchuk was tortured and killed and his body dumped in a gasoline storage tank.  Rev. Bronius Laurinavicius died in a specially engineered road accident.    14

Nobody really knows exactly how many Christians are jailed.  One trustworthy source identifies about 56 concentration camps.  The total number of prisoners is estimated at 1,150,000!  But how many of these prisoners suffer for their belief in God?  We can get an idea from this instance:  In the town of Angren, 23 men were sentenced for their faith in ONE month!  There may have been many more men whom we don’t know about.  In Russia, there are 5,092 towns.  Multiply this and you get an enormous figure representing suffering Christians.

 

1.      “The Word of God is Not Bound,” Eternity, 1979 p. 23.

2.     Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured For Christ (Glendale: Diane Books, 967) p. 32

3.     Michael Wurmbrand, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist,” The Voice of the Martys 1984

4.     “The Soviet Union Calls for more Atheistic Propaganda,” Christianity Today, vol. 28, 1984 p. 68

5.     Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle.” Good News Broadcaster, 1979. P 20

6.     Mark A Noll, translator, Christians Under the Hammer and Sickle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972).

7.     “A Salvation of Suffering: The Church in the Soviet Union,” Christianity Today, vol. 26, 1982, p. 19

8.     Thomas W. Klewin, “Communism Just Can’t Win This Battle” Good News Broadcaster, 1979, p. 19

9.     J. Garvey, “The Trial of V. Poresh,” Commonweal, vol.110, 1983, p. 137

10.  Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Glendale: Diane Books, 1967) p. 36

11.  Ibid., p. 36

12.  Michael Wurmbrand, “Lutheran World Federation Headed by a Communist”, The Voice of the Martyrs (1984)

13.  R. Wurmbrand, op. clt.

14.  “Religion’s Fight for Survival in Russia”, U.S. News and World Report, vol. 93, 1982, p. 40

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