• You Probably Haven’t Heard: Church in Iran Booming Despite Fierce Persecution

    Surge Summary: It’s not getting much media attention, but good news is that the Christian Church in the Islamic nation of Iran if growing and prospering despite the opposition of the Muslim religious establishment; and observers suggest the Western body of Christ could learn some vital lessons from it.  

    Here in the West, we’ve grown almost numb to disturbing news coming out of the nation of Iran. Seems like it is one gloomy, menacing update followed by another.

    What to make, then, of some heartening information about what is happening in that radical Islamic country?

    Over at godreports.com, Mark Ellis writes about Iran’s underground church – one that, for the last few years, researchers have credited as the fastest growing Christian body in the world. Not only is its numerical increase impressive, but it’s unique characteristics defy comparison with Western churches, and some well-familiar with it contend churches in America and Europe could benefit by studying it.

    “The fastest growing church in the world has taken root in one of the most unexpected and radicalized nations on earth,” according to “Sheep Among Wolves,” the outstanding two-hour documentary about the revival that has taken place inside Iran. “The Iranian awakening is a rapidly reproducing discipleship movement that owns no property or buildings, has no central leadership, and is predominantly led by women.”

    The documentary was produced by Frontier Alliance International (FAI), which supports disciple-making teams targeting the “unreached” and “unengaged” within the 10/40 Window.

    FAI claims something not making the headlines: within the land of the Ayatollahs, there is a mass exodus abandoning Islam and choosing, instead, Christianity.

    “What if I told you Islam is dead?” one unidentified Iranian church leader says on the film. “What if I told you the mosques are empty inside Iran? What if I told you no one follows Islam inside of Iran? Would you believe me? This is exactly what is happening inside of Iran. God is moving powerfully inside of Iran.”

    While, according to the documentary, many of the ruling class still cling to faith in Mohammed, “because that’s where the high paying jobs are,” the majority of the common people love God and regard Islam as the problem.

    “What if I told you the best evangelist for Jesus was the Ayatollah Khomeini?” an Iranian church leader asks. He maintains the ayatollahs brought the true face of Islam to light and people discovered it was a lie, a deception. “After 40 years under Islamic law — a utopia according to them — they’ve had the worst devastation in the 5,000 year history of Iran.”

    It’s true the Ayatollahs have schemed to destroy faith in Jesus Christ. It’s also true those efforts have backfired, serving to refine and purify the church.

    “What persecution did was destroy the church that were not disciples, and destroy the church that were about converts,” the Iranian church leader noted. “All these church planters found out that converts run away from persecution, but disciples would die for the Lord in persecution.”

    Echoing one of the final commands of Jesus in Matthew 28: 19, “God into all the world and make disciples of every nation…”, the anonymous speaker continues, “So our model inside Iran is that we don’t convert to disciple, we disciple so we can convert.”

    Often a disciple making movement (DMM) begins the first moment someone comes into contact with an unbeliever. “Everything is foundational on prayer. We find people of peace through prayer. We even find locations through prayer,” the Iranian church leader noted.

    “When we do DMM, Jesus has gone faster than us. He has come in their dreams or he’s come miraculously in their lives. When we hear this, we know that Jesus has gone ahead of us.”

    Surprisingly, their emphasis is not planting churches; it is making disciples. “He is letting unbelievers lead other unbelievers to himself and the kingdom of God. If you plant churches you might make disciples. But if you make disciples, you will plant churches,” the Iranian church leader said.

    “One thing powerful with DMM is that it is obedience-based discipleship. It is based on the authority of Scripture and every time you read the Scripture you must obey it. This is how people become conformed to the image of Christ and sanctified. They are not just reading the Bible for information. They are reading the Bible to get transformed.”

    Note: a people based approach to evangelism, versus an organization based one. Disciple individuals and expect them to follow the Savior. Encourage them personally to learn His word, be changed by it, and reach out to others to then repeat the process in their lives. The result is an expanding church.

    It looks like, against all odds, it’s working in Iran!

    Another unique feature of the burgeoning church in Iran: just over half of the disciple makers — about 55% — are women, says one Iranian leader.

    “What’s fascinating right now is that the most powerful leaders in Iran are women, but it’s not in a bombastic, humanistic way…in fact, they are the most gentle women. They are leading this movement, going out in the highways and byways sharing with prostitutes, drug addicts, with everybody they come into contact with, and that takes courage. They are courageous women.”

    One of the U.S.-based leaders with FIA emphasizes the vital point that these women laborers in Iran have not adopted a feminist theology. They are not adherents of an anti-male, bitter, man-hating ideology.

    “In a biblical way they are submissive to proper structure and the order of the church, but when it comes to what Satan is doing, they are fierce. These are not like modern angry liberal women that are just upset. No, there is a gentleness and submissiveness that is beautiful and follows the biblical pattern.”

    And how about this unexpected tidbit? Contrary to the stereotype promulgated by the mainstream media which focuses on mobs of angry, fist-shaking Muslims chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, “Sheep Among Wolves” presents a different dynamic at work beneath the surface.

    “The most mind-blowing aspect of the church in Iran is that central to their redemptive theology, and their understanding of not only who Jesus is, what he came to do and what he will return to do, is a covenantal theology that has Israel at the center.

    “When you ask most people what the most existential threat is to Israel and they will say Iran – and that’s true. But behind the curtain of what God is doing, God is raising up one of the fastest growing movements of former Muslims that are falling in love not only with the God of Israel, not only Israel’s king, not only Israel’s Messiah, they are actually falling in love with the Jewish people. As a result of this you have a prayer movement in Iran that is crying out for the salvation of Israel.”

    The film provocatively observes one Iranian couple that took advantage of an opportunity to relocate to the U.S. After living in America for some months, however, the wife expressed a desire to return to her native land. The reason? She told her husband: “There is a satanic lullaby here. All the Christians are sleepy and I’m feeling sleepy.”

    One leader with FIA notes the alarming nature of her conclusion. “That story was disturbing because that woman was discerning a threat to her faith that was a greater threat than the kind of persecution that happens in Iran. She saw that spiritual sleepiness is a greater threat to her faith than persecution.”

    The film mentions the only church in the book of Revelation not critiqued by Jesus was the one under persecution and suffering. One Iranian believer challenges,

    “If freedom is such a great thing for the Kingdom, then why is Europe and America in the state they are in?”

    “When we walk outside, we really don’t care if we get arrested, we are not upset if we get arrested. What is 50 years in prison compared to eternity with Jesus?”

    The filmmakers insist these Iranian believers have wisdom to impart to their Christian brethren worldwide.

    “I believe that what is happening in the church in Iran is going to become a measuring stick for the global body of Christ. It is not something we will be able to admire from afar. It is going to be something we are required to participate in. It is going to disrupt our lives,” one U.S.-based leader with FIA says.

    “I believe the Lord is going to take this issue of the testimony, the story, the witness of the church in Iran and thrust it into the heart of the global body of Christ, that we would follow in their footsteps and learn from them. I believe the Lord is putting this message on blast for us to prepare us for the days ahead.”

    The book of Isaiah, hundreds of years before Christ’s advent on planet earth, assured us, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever.” (Isaiah 9:7)

    Jesus Himself specified, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18).

    Nothing in either of those promises qualifies them with, “Unless, of course, a rabid band of virulent, anti-Christian Muslim fanatics decides to oppose the church of Jesus Christ.”

    The expansion of the body of Christ in Iran reminds us Matthew 4:16 is still being fulfilled: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”.

    Even in the deepest parts of apparent darkness, it seems, the glory of the Gospel will prevail.

    H/T: godreports.com, Mark Ellis

    Image: Screen Shot: <em>Sheep Among Wolves</em>; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmgVo_uQAnQ

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