Yesterday on facebook my friend and preaching colleague, Wilson Adams, posted a prayer request for the Bulgarian brethren.
Demetra Dimitrova from Sofia, Bulgaria, sent Wilson “an urgent note asking prayers for her country.” Apparently “a controversial new law is before the Bulgarian Parliament that could keep minority faiths from freely worshiping, teaching, and evangelizing.”
In America, we take religious freedom for granted. The very first Amendment to our constitution guarantees religious expression. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
We often thank God in our prayers for the “freedom of worship” and allude to the fact that other countries around the world do not enjoy that blessing. However, we are often unaware of specific situations that Believers face in countries unfriendly to Christianity.
Several religious journals including Christianity Today and the European magazine Evangelical Focus have highlighted the main concerns of the Bulgarian bill.
•Only Bulgarian citizens will be able to lead in religious activities and only if they’ve had theological training in Bulgaria or their foreign school is approved.
•Only Eastern Orthodox and Muslim believers will be able to train (preachers).
•A foreigner will only be able to preach if doing so with a Bulgarian ordained minister.
•Foreign donations will only be allowed for building construction or social aid and will need government approval. No salaries of (preachers) for example, could be paid from abroad.
•No religious activities can take place outside of buildings designated for them.
•Only religious groups with +300 people will have legal status.
One European religious leader correctly expressed concern over the proposed law this way. “These efforts to interfere with theological education, restrict missionary and worship activity, and control international donations in fact wrongly extends government power into the internal life of Bulgarian religious communities.” “No state,” he added, “should be in a position to control the training and activities of (preachers), nor should a state favor one faith expression over another.”
In 2001 Religious liberty lawyer Viktor Kostov wrote for Christianity Today about the struggle to grow a healthy church in a country that he called “stuck in a wounded culture” and “haunted by totalitarianism.”
American Christians who haven’t visited countries where religious freedom is suppressed find it difficult to imagine living in such a situation. Yet, we have many brothers and sisters around the world who face persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Recently about 2,000 people met for a peaceful protest and prayer rally at the Bulgarian capital to express concerns over the proposed law. One minister in the group said, “We have not gathered to overthrow the government, to support any political party or to stand against any religion. We are here to defend the right to free faith expression for everyone.”
The apostle Paul’s admonition to Timothy is especially appropriate as we pray for the Bulgarian brethren.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:1-4)
As Wilson observed, “God is opening doors and Satan is trying to close them.”
Take a moment now and pray for the Bulgarian brethren. Pray this law will not pass. Pray for their strength, courage, and faithfulness. And pray that God’s Word will have “free course” in the country of Bulgaria.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman