“At 4 o’clock in the morning, the doorbell rang, then again and again. There were three strangers there —two were wearing suits and one a military uniform. ‘We have a search warrant,’ said their leader, then he pushed me back and intruded into the sleeping house.
“Within three hours they rummaged everything—books, beds, cabinets, drawers. When at about 7 the sunshine shone through the window, they ordered me to go with them for a ‘little inquiry’….”
Thank God, this is not a story of the present. But it is not fiction either. It’s a real story. This took place in the life of a Bulgarian pastor, Haralan Popov, in the first years of the communist regime.
Earlier this year, our parliament tried hard to violate [our] fundamental rights. For now, it looks like evangelical churches won a victory. The relative freedom we have enjoyed will, more or less, continue.
Bulgaria’s restrictive law-making is happening against the backdrop of a new wave of persecution in the Middle East, India, Northern Africa, and China, as well as the resurgence of nationalism in Europe.
Many fear the church won’t be able to do the Great Commission. Our wings will be cut off and we won’t be able to fly to the unreached; our legs will be amputated so we can’t go to the needy; our hands will be broken and unable to reach the hungry.
During communism, the church survived but didn’t thrive. She was deprived of her best leaders, had no access to the public arena, and found evangelism a risky business.
Other voices say the church needs to be shaken up and sifted, so the chaff is separated from the wheat (Matthew 3:12). The proponents of this view point to communist China. In the last 30 years, Christianity has grown to more than 100 million adherents in China.
Though persecuted, the Early Church, also grew rapidly in number. Persecution caused many to flee and take the gospel to the ends of the Roman world.
If we believe God is our King, no restrictions in secular laws should be able to hinder the gospel.
Personally, I think as Christians we should treasure and defend our freedom of religion because God created us with this “unalienable right.” Religious freedom is rooted in the Scriptures and is at the heart of the gospel.
God doesn’t coerce but invites his followers in a relationship with Him. God is love, and love presupposes freedom. Christian commitment to religious freedom reflects our beliefs about the character of the Creator.
Secondly, the struggle for religious freedom is part and parcel of the second great commandment to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:38). God has given each human being dignity. When the basic human right of religious freedom is not granted, human dignity is damaged.
And, last, restrictions on religious freedom hinder people from hearing the gospel and receiving the greatest gift imaginable: salvation and eternal life.
It is true Christianity in China is growing rapidly, in spite of restrictions and pressure from the state. Yet, how can we be sure it would not grow even faster if freedom of religion were made available in the vast country. The rapid evangelization of South Korea provides a case in point.
Plato said, “The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Once we paid that penalty. We are still recovering from that evil. May God give us wisdom and courage to defend our religious freedom and make sure all Bulgarian citizens have access to the gospel.
Trif Trifonov and his family serve as missionaries in Bulgaria. The World Missions Offering provides some of his support. This blog is excerpted from an article written for ONE Magazine. Read the whole article here.