Joseph Bondarenko was born in 1936 in the Ukraine, the son of a pastor. In 1955, he was miraculously admitted to the Institute of Marine Engineers (Naval Academy) since he was not a member of the Komsomol (All-Union Leninist Young Communist League).
At the Institute, he was threatened by the Young Communist League and even the KGB. In his own words: "Then I was called to the office of the rector of the Institute, who gave me an ultimatum: 'God or diploma—choose!' God gave me strength and courage, and I made my choice. I said: 'Serving God and my neighbor is the meaning and purpose of my life. I cannot deny Him who gave His life for me. I cannot deny God for the sake of the diploma.' So, after six years of study, I was expelled from the institute for my work among young people and for promoting faith in God."
After his expulsion from the Naval Academy, Christian disciple Bondarenko would go on to serve three stints in Soviet prison camps for his faith in Jesus Christ. Imprisoned for nearly a decade in inhuman, godless Gulag conditions, he was far away from his wife and children. Here, in the Gulag, the minister, author, theologian and public speaker became known as the "Billy Graham of Russia."
The now 83-year-old pastor spoke at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, California, last Sunday. As if having déjà vu, he said, "Everything that's happening today [in America] is almost like a movie I have already watched.
"I see a lot of parallels between the Soviet regime and things happening now because there was a time in history where they [the communists] closed churches completely, then they would reopen a little bit, and if the church was open, there were certain 'guidelines' given to pastors.
"Don't they realize what is happening now in America is exactly what happened to us in communist Russia? It started with 'Don't gather. Don't sing. Spread apart. Listen to the government.' Then it quickly turned into full-on persecution, and the church did not wake up in time. I am here to beg you to call the church to wake up, stand firm, conquer!
"The system was more merciful towards murderers, pedophiles and criminals than to Christians.
"First they took away freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and [imposed] a very strict censorship and control of all media."
America is beginning to resemble the Soviet Union with its slanted and prejudiced news media mirroring the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's news organs Pravda and Izvestia, and with Big Tech's censorship of free speech, government intrusion into religious liberty and the ostracization of the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and assembly.
"Private schools and homeschooling were completely forbidden," Bondarenko continued, "because the government was overseeing education of all people and all ages."
With that in mind, evangelical and pro-life Catholic Christians will understand that if they do not regain control of the wellsprings of liberty that are propelling the culture, sustainable freedom and liberty for our children and grandchildren are far from certain.
American Christendom has gotten itself in a terrible state over the last 100 years. Its anemic presence in the marketplace shows in its lack of power, vigor and vitality. By abandoning the public square, American Christendom has failed to realize that everyone, not just some, will suffer from the violent secular commotion against God's set boundaries of righteousness. Look at where secular government has extended its protections and piety:
—Engel v. Vitale in 1962: Removal of prayer to Jehovah God in public education.
—Abington School District v. Schempp in 1963: Removal of the Bible from public schools.
—Roe v. Wade in 1973: Slaying of unborn children.
—Stone v. Graham in 1980: Removal of the Ten Commandments from public school walls.
—Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015: Legalization of the sin of homosexuality and homosexual marriage.
—Bostock v. Clayton County in 2020: Expansion of homosexual and transgender rights.
Although false, secularism is a religion, and although producing distress and misery, it has borne much fruit since it emerged in the late 19th century. Its tempestuous Marxist trampling of America's once-Christian institutions, public schools and universities is now part and parcel of the culture. There is much that needs reversal and renewal if America is to survive.
"This is not decay; this is organized destruction," said U.S. Attorney General William Barr recently of secularism. "Secular forces and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values."
We praise General Barr for his moral stance, elucidating on the battle between the two principalities—Christianity versus secularism—vying for ideological supremacy and control of resources in the public square.
Which brings us to Pastor Ken Graves of Bangor, Maine.
Bethany Blankley reports that "Calvary Chapel of Bangor, Maine, has resumed holding indoor services while also practicing social distancing and following sanitizing guidelines, despite threats of criminal charges, fines and imprisonment [from Maine Governor Janet Mills]."
Graves is head of the board of directors for the American Renewal Project, and as such, we celebrate his Gideon stand in the public square and lawsuit against Maine's despotic Governor Mills.
"The same scrutiny as being mandated for houses of worship," argues Graves, "is not being imposed upon 'essential' commercial and nonreligious entities, including liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, warehouse clubs and big-box stores.
"The governor initially prohibited all religious gatherings, including holding services in parking lots. The initial order stipulated that violators would face criminal penalties of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"After Liberty Counsel sued, the governor said at some point in the future she would allow 'very limited worship,' but only after churches that applied with the state to reopen were approved to reopen and displayed a badge on the outside of the building signifying they had the state's approval to be open."
Remember the Soviet-style guidelines pastor Bondarenko spoke off?
While all deaths are tragic, COVID-19 deaths in Maine represent 0.001% of a population of 1.34 million.
God had great purpose in the founding of America, where in 1607 America's founders at Jamestown disembarked, erected a cross, knelt, received Communion and pledged: "We do hereby dedicate this land, and ourselves, to reach the people within these shores with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up godly generations after us, and with these generations take the kingdom of God to all the earth. May this covenant of dedication remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains, and may this land ... be evangelist to the world. May all who see this cross remember what we have done here, and may those who come here to inhabit join us in this covenant."
While contemporary America has drifted far from its founders' mission statement, the present days of adversity and the flame and crucible of trial and tribulation are reshaping a people called by His name. With that said, let us not make the mistake of going right back to "normal" after the hard times have come to an end. We must keep building on Jesus' kingdom ekklesia assignment put forth in Matthew 16:18.
Here is A.W. Pink's spiritual insight into what is required to secure God's everlasting order demands rehabilitation of American Christendom in order to reestablish the biblically based culture bequeathed to us by America's founders: "It would indeed be strange if we apprehended how that on the one hand Canaan was a free gift unto Israel, which they entered by grace alone; and on the other that they had to fight for every inch of it!"
God declares nowhere that He will preserve imprudence and presumption, in light of the butts, budgets and buildings model adopted by the church over the last century, including abandonment of the public square.
A.W. Pink's words make clear just how muddled and nonplussed the 21st-century church has become: "Nowhere in the epistles is there a single exhortation for the saints as such to engage in public evangelism, nor even to do 'personal work' and seek to be 'soul winners.' Rather are they required to 'witness for Christ' by their daily conduct in business and in the home. They are to 'show forth' God's praises, rather than tell them forth. They are to let their light shine. The testimony of the life is far more effectual than glib utterances of the lips. Actions speak louder than words."
God be praised that Gideons and Rahabs are entering the public square.
David Lane is the founder of the American Renewal Project.
David Lane is the founder of American Renewal Project.
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