The apparent freedom of Christian churches in Communist countries tends to disarm many Western observers. Churches are open; worship services are undisturbed; and most people are free to exercise their religion.
While the previously dominant position of the large established churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Calvinist and Lutheran) has been curtailed, smaller denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Brethren, Pentecostal) have lost comparatively little of their former freedom. Sometimes, in fact, Communist governments favor the latter more than the historic established groups.
Governments are even giving some financial help. After the Hungarian uprising in 1956, for example, the government helped churches to repair their damaged buildings. And in Budapest the First Baptist Church received substantial gifts of money to rebuild its organ.
But there is another side to this picture. Churches are not permitted to teach Sunday school classes or young people’s groups. While worship is unrestricted, ministers are not. They can preach only with permission from the state. The required license must be validated periodically. In some cases these preaching permits are revoked. Although prayer meetings and other smaller meetings may be conducted by any member deputized by the local pastor, only authorized people can occupy the pulpit and conduct services.
Denominational literature, moreover, must serve the state by alloting much space to the so-called Communist peace movement and by supporting government actions. Editors are government-picked fellow travelers or party members. That is the price exacted for government permission to publish materials.
While some Christian leaders are allowed to leave the country for short periods, they must have ...1
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