12.12.12. Revival at the End of the World

December 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

12.12.12

Evangelism and World Missions

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured, Media, Missions, News, Research, Video, What we do

Empowered by the vision for a continuous revival within the church of the 21st century, we have chosen to make the mission of our work this one statement: We help churches grow.

One of the approaches we have taken to accomplish this ministry goal is Evangelism and World Missions:

  • We have ministered for 25 years now on three continents, 25 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico (Map of our global ministry)
  • We have spent seven consecutive years in missionary work in Bulgaria ministering to over 300 local congregations (Map of our ministry in Bulgaria)
  • Since 1990, we have helped in the planting and team training of over 25 churches in Bulgaria as well as the Bulgarian congregations in Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Atlanta, London, Spain, Cyprus and Palma de Mallorca

Beside personal presence and team building strategies, we implement the media in virtually every approach of ministry. We have published several research monographs as well as film series about our ministry work. Our team holds a weekly TV program called the Bible Hour. (Learn how we help churches build their own and unique web presence)

See also how we help churches grow through:

Postcommunist Believers in a Postmodern World (PDF)

November 17, 2004 by  
Filed under News

samford-seal1“Postcommunist Believers in a Postmodern World” deals with the current condition of church-state relations in the country of Bulgaria. This study explores the postcommunist changes in Europe which led to the creation and adoption of the Confessions Act of 2002, a set of new legal definitions for the practice of religion in Bulgaria. Focusing on Bulgaria’s postcommunist period, this paper describes the role of the state in the evangelical revival and the Eastern Orthodox crises during the stages of adoption. This research analyzes the failure of the new legal provisions to resolve the problems faced by Christian communities throughout Bulgaria as well as the tensions created for the practice of freedom of religion and human rights. The conclusion of the paper is a call toward a new democratic paradigm for the practice of religion in Bulgaria.

Read the presentation of the paper

View the power point presentation (PPT)

Read the complete paper “Postcommunist Believers in a Postmodern World” (PDF)

Consult the text of the Bulgarian Confessions Act of 20

Postcommunist Believers in a Postmodern World (Presentation)

November 16, 2004 by  
Filed under News

samford-seal1

The research I am presenting today explores the processes and dynamics which have led to the proposal, acceptance and implementation of Bulgaria’s Confessions Act of 2002. Following the chronological order of events, the paper will show the inability of the new legal definitions to resolve the problems and limitations which Christian communities in Bulgaria have been experiencing. The tensions which the new law have caused to the practice of freedom of religion and human rights in democratic Bulgaria will be identified and analyzed as the research calls for a timely resolution and a new paradigm for religious tolerance among postcommunist believers.

Slide 2: Bulgaria is located in Southeastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Romania, and Turkey. A population of eight million lives in an area of approximately 43,000 square miles which is slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee.

Slide 3: Bulgaria accepted Christianity as its official religion in 864 AD under the rule of King Boris. Christian faith spread rapidly through the land revitalizing spiritual, economical and political life and setting the stage for the Golden century of Bulgarian culture. By the ninth century Bulgaria had spread over the larger part of the Balkan Peninsula, but in 1396 fell under Ottoman occupation. The Turkish Yoke over Bulgaria lasted nearly half a millennium until 1878. During these dark centuries, the Eastern Orthodox Church played a significant role in the preservation of Bulgarian culture. Having fought on the losing side in both World Wars in the 20th century, Bulgaria fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People’s Republic in 1944. The established Communist Regime proclaimed liberty and solidarity while limiting human rights and religious freedom. The new laws demanded conformation with government policy from all religious denominations. Churches which failed to comply were severely persecuted, properties were confiscated, pastors were imprisoned and religious activities were banned. On his first official visit to West Germany in May of 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev informed Chancellor Kohl that Moscow was no longer willing to use force to prevent democratic transformation of its satellite states. On November 9 that same year the border between Eastern and Western Germany was opened. A day later the Bulgarian communist leader of over 30 years resigned and the change toward democracy began. This meant the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

Slide 4: The first steps toward freedom were sporadic and unplanned as were the first waves of revival among the evangelical believers. Although long prophesied and fervently expected, the freedom caught the Bulgarian church unprepared. Nevertheless, evangelistic meetings in towns and villages began immediately with church no longer being underground. Dr. Penov, a professor at the Sofia University and a Parliament expert on human rights and faith confessions in a recent interview confirmed that the members of Protestant churches in Bulgarian exceed 100, 000. At the same time the Catholics are 70,000 strong and Eastern Orthodox are 6,000,000. Because of Bulgaria’s strategic location, today the country is becoming an important frontier in the war on terrorism. Since this war involves religion, Bulgaria is becoming a religious frontier as well. Such is not a precedent on the Balkans, which through history have served as religious frontiers in the Far East mission campaigns, medieval crusades, and Byzantine Christianization. Based on these historical presuppositions, today both Bulgarian culture and democracy demand a clear stand on religions.

Slide 5: Pressured by the deadlines for acceptance in NATO and the European Union, the Bulgarian Government made attempts to provide legal solutions for the rising religious tensions. In the period from 2001 to 2002, three drafts were proposed to replace the Communist Law of Religion which had been the single guideline for the practice of state and church relationships since 1949. The draft which received most attention was submitted by the New Time political formation within the leading party of the former Bulgarian king. Several Religious Freedom and Human Rights concerns became obvious even before the Bill was ever passed. Regardless of the protest and warnings of over 40 religious, secular and non-government organizations in and outside of Bulgaria, on December 20, 2002, the bill was passed by the Bulgarian National Assembly, published by the State Newspaper on December 29 and became effective on January 2, 2003 as the Bulgarian Confessions Act. The Religious Freedom and Human Rights concerns, however, remained within its text. They are:

1. Status of Religious Confessions
2. Registration with the government
3. Relationship between Church and State
4. Religious Activities
5. Religious Freedom

The paper overviews in detail these 5 areas as follows:

Slide 6: Status of Religious Confessions

1. The Confessions Act presumes, but does not provide a definitive statement of traditional and non-traditional religious confessions.
2. It designates the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as a traditional religious confession. The special privileges granted to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church provide for a lack of equality between the religious confessions, which is in contradiction with the Constitution of Bulgaria and Article 9 of the European Convention.
3. The act allows the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to act independently from the state. This contradicts the historical tradition of the Orthodox Church. It also allows it to reform itself to the point where it has little to do with the structure, function and identity of the religious formation described in the law.
4. The Act does not address the religious needs of minority ethnic groups

Slide 7: Registration with the government
1. All denominations, with the exception of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, must register with the Sofia Municipal Court.
2. The Act makes no provision of the requirements which the court uses to grant such registration.
3. It is not clear what type of limitations or bans of religious activities are to be applied for reasons constituted by the Act.
4. The Act provides no definite procedures in cases when the court fails or refuses to register a religious group. This gives the court undefined control over the existence of a given confession.
5. There is no procedure for cases in which the court’s decision may be influenced by public opinion.
6. The role of the Directorate of Religious Affairs in the registration process is mentioned, but not clearly defined.
7. The lack of experts on all confessions within the Directorate’s structures also remains unaddressed.
8. Registration is granted only to organizations with an enforced centralized structure.This is against the traditions and bylaws of many of the confessions in Bulgaria and creates new problems on the local level.

Slide 8: Relationship between Church and State
1. The opinion of the Directorate of Religious Affairs is presumed as expertise on religious groups and denominations.
2. The Bulgarian Government provides financial support for the traditional confessions, mainly the Eastern Orthodox Church.
3. There is no concern with the tendency by certain regional authorities to enact regulations in order to limit religious freedom.
4. The coexistence between the state and the Eastern Orthodox Church, called “symphony” in the Byzantine tradition, is enforced as a rule on Protestant confessions. This is a contradiction with the traditions of virtually all Protestant denominations, which historically have declared separation of church and state.
5. The very fact that the law purposes to solve the problems within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is based on the presumption that the church is not a sufficient agent in solving its own problems. Therefore assistance from the state is necessary as it possesses the power to create the needed legal supplements.
6. The Act allows government interference in the affairs of all religious denominations.
7. The Act enforces the registration of religious communities and organizations. However, once registered, they are guided through predefined channels where the state has liberty to execute maximum control. This raises the question of the actual existence of religious liberty under the new Confessions Act.

Slide 9: Religious Activities
1. Public worship is prohibited without denominational registration.
2. There is no category concerning foreign missionaries and their activity on the territory of Bulgaria.
3. There is no provision for chaplaincy or pastoral care in the army, prisons, hospitals and care institutions.
4. Formation of political parties along religious lines is prohibited. This may exclude religious communities from important policy debates on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and cloning, which have a direct relation to the values they defend
5. Denominational hospitals, social centers and educational institutions are encouraged, but done so without creating actual opportunities for their realization.

Slide 10: Religious Freedom
1. The Confessions Act does not provide an atmosphere for preventing discrimination and harassments against “non-traditional” religious minorities.
2. Neither definite procedures (delays, appeals, nature and role of the Directorate of Religions), nor substantive criteria for registration are clearly defined.
3. The Act fails to recognize explicitly the freedom of conscience, as well as the right not to believe, and does not clarify the rights of the believers within unregistered religious communities.
4. The Act regulates the right and practice of belief, while the right and practice of personal convictions of Communist or atheist types are not regulated by such legal document.
5. The Act implies a limitation clause as it demands that, “Freedom of religions shall not be directed against national security, public order, people’s health and the morals or the rights and freedoms of persons under the jurisdiction of the republic of Bulgaria or other states.” Such reading is problematic, as it enforces standards not found under Article 17 of the Vienna Convention.

Slide 11: Church in the Hands of an Angry State
Religious freedom and human rights advocates warned that the attempts of the state to establish a totalitarian order in the church after fifteen years of democratic transition are unacceptable and may lead to further religious and political conflicts. Unfortunately, their warnings remained unheard.

Slide 12: It was during the development of this research, that such warnings became reality. On July 21, 2004, in a preplanned action upon the Chief Prosecutor’s order, the police stormed through 250 churches in a controversial raid to restore ownership to the official Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Father Pissarov, priest at the Dormition Orthodox Church in the capital Sofia locked the sanctuary doors to prevent police from entering. The special force’s team first scattered the citizens who were protesting around the church and then using a police vehicle pulled the temple doors open. Although the priest was unarmed and did not resist the arrest, five policemen held him on the ground while others were kicking him in the face with their army boots. Father Pissarov was hospitalized with a serious concussion, broken teeth and torso injuries.

The controversial police actions revealed that the new Confessions Act is already failing to respond to the social and spiritual needs of Bulgaria’s postcommunist context. It is unfortunate that its malfunctions prevent an atmosphere of religious freedom, pluralism and tolerance where everyone can freely experience the right to believe. Thus, the Bulgarian Confessions Act of 2002 cannot and should not be the legal text operating in Bulgaria when the country is accepted into the European Union. Forced to be unconcerned with political and social issues under Communism, the Church remains distanced from culture and society to the point of a minority complex. In the totalitarian context, the role and functions of the Church were imposed and strictly regulated by the government. As a result, today the church is failing to recover and reclaim its Biblical identity and is becoming simply a state institution with dictated interests in predetermined areas of social life.

The Confessions Act of 2002 attempts a return to an autocratic style of government, turning the postcommunist Bulgarian context into a postcommunist regime for the religious communities. In the journey of democracy such approach is without excuse. The state cannot and must not attempt regulatory interference with the rights of the church through predetermined legality and pressure of public opinion. The government cannot and should not allow tradition to dictate special privileges for any denomination. When the state fails to be the initiator of actions against discrimination and oppression, the Church must and should assume this role. And these should be the foundations of practicing religious freedom in 21st century Bulgaria.

In conclusion, please allow me to say just a few words about the rather shocking photos in this presentation. The three pictures seen here are from the mentioned police raid. The background picture is of the skull of a monk by the name of Gregory who died for his faith in 1979.

I am not a political figure and I do not have the power to change the laws in Bulgaria.
I am not a legal expert and I do not have the knowledge to draft a more suitable legal paradigm for the practice of religion in my home country.
I am not a publicist and I cannot influence public opinion.
I am not even an Orthodox priest and I can very easily satisfy my internal urge for justice by saying, “This is none of my business.”
I am just a simple preacher from Bulgaria belonging to a church which has suffered half-a-century of Communist persecution and I am simply asking the question “is it true that if I don’t speak now, when they come for me, there will be no one left to speak.”

I saw this conference as an opportunity to speak against the factors which threaten religious freedom in my home country and manipulate the Bulgarian people to return to another totalitarian regime. Therefore, today in the city of Birmingham, which has become a monument of human freedom, I present the case of all Bulgarians who desire religious tolerance, democratic pluralism and equality for all and I ask for your prayers, support and active participation in the process which will guarantee religious freedom for postcommunist believers in postmodern Bulgaria.

Read the presentation of the paper

View the power point presentation (PPT)

Read the complete paper “Postcommunist Believers in a Postmodern World” (PDF)

Consult the text of the Bulgarian Confessions Act of 20