Christian Today Digest – June 2018

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Sometimes Christian Today also includes an article of interest, which is not necessarily a good-news item but rather one that has been included for readers to pray about.

Unless otherwise stated, articles in this magazine are transcriptions of material selected by the editor at Christian Today and were first published recently on

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World Cup: Russia’s churches use football to escape strict anti-evangelism laws

Hundreds of churches in Russia are using the football World Cup to avoid the country’s hostile evangelism laws.

Russia is now listed as one of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom because of its ongoing crackdown against religious minorities, foreign missionaries, evangelists and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The so-called ‘Yarovaya Law’, introduced in 2016, bans any evangelism or sharing of faith outside government-sanctioned churches. The crackdown on ‘missionary activity’ is part of Moscow’s anti-terrorism laws but has targeted anything from prayer meetings in homes and posting worship times on a religious website to praying in public.

So instead hundreds of churches around Moscow will use the World Cup to host big screen events over the next month. Second only to ice hockey in popularity, the football World Cup has created a frenzy across the former Soviet state. Russia’s 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in the opening game of the tournament has only heightened the excitement.

‘This is an unprecedented opportunity, especially at a time when the Iron Curtain that cracked down on Christianity during the Soviet era has been strictly limiting public missionary activity and evangelism under the guise of anti-terrorism,’ said Sergey Rakhuba, president of the US-based Mission Eurasia, which is coordinating the campaign.

‘This fresh, strategic approach, which actually is a demonstration of the power of “the gift of hospitality”, is needed in the current political and social climate.’

Small evangelical churches are hoping to escape attention from the Kremlin, which wants to avoid negative publicity over its record on human rights over the World Cup.

While religious minorities including evangelicals, who make up around one per cent of the population, have suffered under Russia’s laws, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has boomed.

After heavy persecution under the Soviet era around 70 per cent of the population are now members of the ROC and it has grown to be the largest and most powerful of the 14 Orthodox Churches with 144 million members, 368 bishops and about 40,000 priests and deacons.

President Vladimir Putin has made the national church emblematic of his socially conservative values, including his opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

But one of the victims of Putin’s Yarovaya Law is American missionary Donald Ossewaarde, a Baptist preacher living in Oryol, who was expelled for hosting a church meeting in his house. He says the ROC is used ‘as a political tool’ by Putin.

‘With his Communist KGB background I cannot believe he really is a true Christian but he finds it very useful to present himself in that way,’ Ossewaarde said in an interview with Christian Today last year.

‘So he very publicly attends services in the holidays. He and the Patriarch are often photographed together. They are obviously colleagues supporting one another.

‘They [Russian Orthodox leaders] are obviously happy he is president and he [Putin] often speaks of the Orthodox Church as the guarantor of Russian values.’

But with roughly 90 per cent of all tickets sold across the competition’s 64 matches, according to the Moscow Times, football fans coming to watch matches in churches gives Russia’s beleaguered evangelicals an opportunity.

They will be given specially designed Russian New Testaments alongside popcorn and sunflower seeds.

The booklets also contain a QR code that links with a evangelical app and 70 pages of discipleship materials.

Walter Kulakoff, the ministry’s vice president of ministries and church relations, said: ‘The strategic key to the Scripture distribution and follow-up is that it will be handled solely by Russians and registered local churches in Russia.’

Rakhuba added: ‘We are now seeing how the law is being enforced by the government, and we are becoming increasingly concerned. The restrictions have had a discouraging impact on missions, evangelism and church growth in Russia. They have forced churches and our young leaders to be very creative about how they share the gospel.’

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Researchers discover hidden texts in ancient Christian manuscripts in Sinai monastery

A team of researchers have found ancient hidden writings in early Christian manuscripts that are currently housed in the world’s oldest working monastery in Egypt.

According to the BBC , the scientists are using multi-spectral imaging to uncover the hidden texts beneath the visible texts of the manuscripts in the library of the St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.

The ancient library, which was opened to the public in December 2017, is currently preparing to release online copies of its vast collection of liturgical texts, including some of the earliest Christian writings.

At least 170 of 4,500 manuscripts reportedly contained erased texts that can only be seen with the use of new imaging technology. Some of the erased information in the manuscripts include medical guides, obscure ancient languages and illuminating biblical revisions.

The manuscripts with the hidden texts were known as palimpsests – parchments containing neglected works that were recycled by monks when they were short on materials.

Michelle P. Brown, professor emerita of medieval manuscript studies at the University of London, believes that the texts provide clues about the interactions between the far West and the Middle East between the fifth and 12th centuries.

The manuscripts were initially discovered in 1975, but scholars only recently discovered the hidden texts in different layers with the use of light waves.

The same techniques have been used on the faded diaries of explorer David Livingstone and manuscripts in the Berlin State Library.

According to the BBC , one of the parchments once contained ancient Greek medical advice on how to treat scorpion bites. The hidden texts state that the bite can be treated with paste made out of a plant boiled in olive oil.

Other hidden writings highlighted the “incredibly complex interaction of different cultures” in the region during the dark ages, according to Brown.

The researchers found that some of the parchments contained traces of Greek, Latin and the languages of two Anglo-Saxon tribes before it was recycled by the monks.

Brown believes that the presence of Anglo-Saxon scholars in Sinai provides support for her hypothesis that Celtic sites in Ireland were partly influenced by Eastern monasticism.

Scientists from the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library are working to photograph the manuscripts to make them available online.

Damian Kasotakis, the chief camera operator for the Sinai Palimpsest Project, has estimated that 6,800 pages have been processed by the team so far.

The monastery where the manuscripts are kept was founded in 527 by the Byzantine Empire at the foot of Mount Sinai. It has been under the protection of the Bedouin Muslim community under a centuries-old edict that is still being upheld by the Egyptian government.

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‘Michael Curry effect’: Church of England opens up congregations to black-majority pastors

Anglican congregations will be allowed to share services and preachers with black-majority churches under a major overhaul of Church of England law to be debated next month.

The move is likely to be dubbed as ‘the Michael Curry effect’ after the African-American bishop’s barnstorming sermon at the Royal wedding last month. The change will relax rules that govern what links parishes can make with other churches.

The injection of preachers from black-majority congregations, which are growing rapidly across the UK, into the CofE comes after Curry’s sermon was the most tweeted about moment of last month’s wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

‘A lot of the life of Christianity in England is in Pentecostal churches, black-led, black majority churches,’ said William Nye, general secretary to the CofE’s ruling general synod.

‘This is a framework to make it easier for parishes to work with what is the fastest growing expression of Christianity in England; to welcome them, celebrate them, work in partnership with them and learn from them.’

Historic church law previously meant that only ministers from a set list of national churches can lead prayers, preach or perform marriages in Church of England buildings. But the change will mean bishops can approve ministers from other churches, including newer independent evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic groups, to lead services.

Rev Dr Joe Aldred, a Pentecostal representative on the CofE’s synod and a bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy, said: ‘This is a great moment for relations between the Church of England and Pentecostal and charismatic denominations and congregations, including many black-led churches, as we share the task of building the Kingdom of God in this country.

‘In working together and worshipping together our churches have the potential to transform their neighbourhoods.

‘The shape and style of the Church in England has changed considerably over the years and this legislation reflects the new reality on the ground.’

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Scottish Christian teens ‘terrified’ to face deportation back to Pakistan

Two Scottish Christian teenagers have said they are ‘terrified’ of being deported after facing death threats because of their faith.

Somer, 15, and Areeb Umeed Bakhsh, 13, have lived in Glasgow for six years after fleeing Pakistan in 2012 after two Christians were gunned down in the city of Faisalabad in 2010.

The boys´ father, now an elder at Possilpark Parish in the Church of Scotland, said those responsible for the attack knew where he lived and wanted to kill him.

The 50-year-old said four of his friends have been killed by Islamist extremists and his sister-in-law’s brother is serving life in jail because of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which carries the death penalty.

However the family’s appeals for asylum have repeatedly been rejected by the British government.

Speaking on World Refugee Day the 15-year-old Somer said: ‘I love Scotland and I do not want to go back to Pakistan.

‘The thought of it terrifies me and it is very stressful to even imagine going back there.

‘I wouldn’t have a future and I can’t even read or write Urdu. I want to live here in Scotland, it is my country and my home.’

Areeb, 13, added: ‘I am so happy living in Scotland and I am scared to go back to Pakistan.

‘I am really afraid and I can’t imagine living a normal life there.

‘I am so happy living here, I am getting the right education and our lives are not under threat. I have spent most of my life in Glasgow and consider myself a Scottish boy.

‘I do not know anything about Pakistan or the language.’

Paul Sweeney, MP for Glasgow North-East, is urging immigration minister Caroline Nokes to extend their permission to stay while the Home Office examines their case.

‘I have met the family and was disturbed to learn that they are at risk of deportation to Pakistan where they have already faced discrimination and very real death threats for their Christian beliefs,’ he said.

‘This family have already contributed a huge amount to our local community of Possilpark in Glasgow through the parish church and are exactly the sort of people that our country should be welcoming with open arms, not casting out to a dangerous future.

‘It is shocking that a highly skilled and motivated family like this have been kept in limbo for so long, unable to work or even drive a car.’

He added: ‘They are in every respect naturalised Scottish boys, having lived here for more than six years now and quite apart from the dangers they would face, it would be inhumane to deport them to a country they have barely any memory or knowledge of.’

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‘Politicians are only human’: Why this local councillor is urging Christians to pray for them

We’re used to seeing politics on a grand scale as the Westminster drama plays out endlessly on our radios and TV screens. The lobbyists and think-tanks target the national scene. But politics is local, too – and a new initiative from a Christian councillor in South Gloucestershire aims to connect Christians with those who represent them on their doorsteps.

The Christians in Politics Councillors Prayer Network is the brainchild of Helen Harrison, former mayor of Thornbury. It’s billed as ‘a great way for those across all parties and denominations to connect, to share experiences, to talk about the issues they face and to strengthen one another in prayer’.

Starting out as a quarterly prayer breakfast gathering in South Gloucestershire, the network has now grown to include a bi-monthly prayer email sent to councillors nationwide – and Christians in Politics wants it to grow even more.

It began when Helen became mayor of Thornbury in 2016 and decided to reach out to people of faith who held council-related roles in the county. She decided to host a prayer breakfast for Christians serving in local politics, and the response led her to start a quarterly prayer breakfast attended by a mix of councillors and council staff. The experience, she tells Christian Today, proved to me that there is a need and desire for prayer and mutual faith-led support for Christians in local politics’.

This is not least because it can be a very challenging role.

‘Some of the decisions that councillors have to make can be quite contentious, especially if they appear to favour one section of the community more than another,’ she says. ‘So that can be hard, and my prayer at those times is always for wisdom, to find the way forward that is the right way, and not just the easy way, or the way that suits the most vocal residents.

‘Being gracious in front of angry and dissenting residents can be hard, especially when you know that the essence of their argument is flawed. So responding calmly and carefully has to be the order of the day in those situations, even when that’s not what I feel like doing.

‘Like many towns we are being subject to a lots of housing developments, and of course there has been a lot of anger against the council for that as we are seen to be the ones that are letting it all happen. Those situations have again required wisdom, grace, and a willingness to repeat many times the explanations that undo the false myths and set the record straight regarding what we as a town council can do, and what is beyond our control and remit.’

Politics – whether at a national or local level – can be a high-stress, confrontational business. Is it still possible for political adversaries to lay their differences aside and pray together?

‘Obviously not everyone agrees on everything, and the different stances of the different parties can get in the way. But at the end of the day we are all seeking to serve our community together, and in general there is more that joins us than divides us,’ Helen says. ‘I think as Christians we have the privilege of knowing that party politics isn’t the be all and end all – we serve a higher God, and can come together across the parties in prayer and unity to seek ways to fulfil what is on his heart.’

And she’s passionate about seeing more Christians getting involved in politics. ‘ Politics is the arena where the decisions for our country are made, and if there is no real Christian voice speaking into that arena, then how can God’s values be articulated into it? Without Christians speaking into the debates, the range of arguments and perspectives will be lopsided, and could give space for more radical and one-sided views taking centre stage.

It doesn’t mean becoming an MP, or giving up the day job even. Becoming a local councillor, like I am, is a voluntary role that can be fitted around paid employment. But it is such a positive way to serve the community, to be at the heart of what is going on, and to be involved in a positive way in decisions that are being made, that I really would encourage people to consider how they can get more involved.’

And she urges prayer for politicians, who have huge responsibilities and need great wisdom. The sort of decisions they have to take, she says, are complex and ‘far less black-and-white than folks on the outside might think they are – so prayers for clarity and discernment are needed, as well as courage to take what can be really tough decisions’.

They are also only human, needing to juggle their work and public roles and their family and private lives: ‘They are just as likely to be trying to cope with an elderly relative, or an illness in the family, or missing out on bedtime with young children, as anyone else. So prayers for them as individuals, and for their families, are always good to have,’ she says.

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