You have been hearing news over the past few weeks about Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned in Evin Prison in Iran. He was arrested in September, tried in January, convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison, and his crime was that he worked with Christian house churches in Iran. He was accused of being a threat to national security, because of his work with the house churches.
Such an accusation sounds outrageous to American ears, but it is not uncommon in countries around the world. Iran is more familiar to us, because this nation has been considered a threat to the US since 1979 when the US embassy in Tehran was invaded and many Americans were held hostage there. News of Iranian hostility to the US is common. Sadly, while the arrest of Pastor Saeed is a direct insult to the US because he is a US citizen, Iran does not limit such arrests to American visitors in the country.
On March 10, five Iranian citizens, Christians of Muslim background in Iran, were put on trial for charges related to public order, national security and evangelism. They were all arrested in October during a prayer meeting in a private home. Again, Christians were accused of being a threat to national security.
Over recent months, arrests of Christians during house church meetings or at the homes of house church members in Iran have increased. The government of Iran views Christianity as a deviant anti-government movement. That view only makes sense because the government and Islam are inextricably intertwined. The Islamic worldview is that there can be no distinction between the religion of Islam and the way of life of the people. Those who convert away from Islam are perceived as having torn the fabric of the culture.
Furthermore, the government of Iran considers Christians to be pawns of the West. The government ignores the fact that there have been Farsi-speaking Christians since the day of Pentecost. Travelers from Persia were in Jerusalem on that day. They heard Peter’s sermon, they were converted and baptized, and they took their faith with them back to the land that became present-day Iran. Sadly, the current escalating assault on Christianity recently added the shut-down of Christian worship in the Farsi language to the many prohibitions on Christians in Iran. Church buildings in Iran must be registered with the government, and the services held there must also be individually authorized. For many years, the government allowed worship in the Farsi language in two churches in Tehran, but in recent months, even those services have been prohibited. The pressure on Christians is justified as protection of the culture from pollution of Western ideas, and Christianity is viewed as a Western idea, despite its 2000-year history as part of Iranian culture.
There are many countries where it is dangerous to be a Christian. In some countries, the dangers arose via gradual cultural pressure that blended into legal and political restrictions. In countries like Iran, where Islam has become dominant through revolutionary action, the danger has dramatically increased as soon as an Islamic constitution takes effect. In other countries, Islam is becoming a threat to Christians as rebels simply overwhelm territories unprotected by weak governments, as in Mali. Some analysts actually consider Christianity to be the most heavily persecuted religion on earth at this time. Today, a Christian in the USA is free to believe and pray and worship and even wear religious jewelry, but there are forces in the culture that want to limit all these freedoms. We must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran and other dangerous countries, but we must not forget to pray for our own testimony and courage to live our faith in the face of cultural and even governmental pressures to shut up.
In the US, it has for many years been possible to be complacent about Christian faith and its place in the culture. That is not justification for failure to live our testimony, but it may serve as a partial explanation. The letter to the church at Laodicea in the book of Revelation sounds a lot like US Christians:
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” Revelation 3:14-22
Pray for Pastor Saeed, who now needs medical care due to internal bleeding brought on by torture. Pray for all Iranian Christians imprisoned for their faith, that they may have strength and courage to continue to testify faithfully. Pray for yourself and your church that you may be faithful to testify to Christ in the US culture despite scorn and smirking and even vicious assaults on you and your faith. Pray that we who claim the name of Christ may, indeed, conquer the evil that assaults us both insidiously and obviously. May each of us hear what the Spirit says.