We are pleased to learn that Gul Masih will begin 1995 a free man in Pakistan with no death sentence for blasphemy hanging over his head. Four years is a long time to spend in prison on trumped-up charges without the comfort of family, and under constant threat of abuse. We thank God that he has answered the prayers of many friends around the world for this brother’s release.
At the same time we are aware that freedom is more than the absence of locked doors and iron bars. News that another Pakistani, previously acquitted of a similar charge, has had to flee his home and country following persistent death threats against himself and his family reminds us that true freedom includes aspects of life far beyond physical confinement. True freedom must include freedom of worship, expression and association; freedom to live safely among family and friends without fear of persecution or intolerance.
Haik Hovsepian-Mehr paid the ultimate price in this world for contending for freedom to worship God in Iran. All he asked was the fight to preach the gospel to his fellow citizens and to live in obedience to the pattern set out in the Word of God. We trust that as his widow enters 1995, and especially as she approaches the first anniversary of her husband’s death, she will know the comfort of the Holy Spirit and, increasingly, the freedom to worship so much sought after by her husband. As Christians we must always contend for freedom of worship, and the fight to preach the gospel to every creature. And what we seek for ourselves we may not deny to others who may choose to follow their own way and reject God’s way. Yet we must be diligent to use the privileges of freedom actually to take the gospel to sinners through our preaching and witness; to present Christ as the only Saviour and warn of impending judgement for all who neglect so great salvation.
The gospel we take to the world is a gospel of freedom; freedom from the curse of the law, from bondage to sin and subservience to Satan. Freedom to live to the glory of God and to the praise of Jesus Christ. It is a gospel of free grace, unfettered from works righteousness or earned favour; a gospel of liberating power, able to cast off the deadening bias of the natural man and bring to new life the spiritual creation. Long may we value the privileges of freedom of speech and freedom to preach. May God grant us discernment to preach the true gospel of sovereign grace and forgiveness of sin by the substitutionary work of Christ, and the wisdom to redeem the time while it is yet day for the night of restriction may yet close in on us.
We continue to hear of churches and individuals throughout the country who are being troubled by the Toronto Blessing phenomenon. It is interesting to note the similarity of disorder encountered by missionaries in China during the 1930s. Some church leaders in Northern Ireland who at first welcomed the pseudo blessing are reported to be increasingly anxious about the direction the fad is taking and the resulting chaos inflicted on their congregations.
Advocates continue to malign those who wisely dismiss the whole delusion as fleshy gratification and manipulation of the naive. Yet we fear that there will be lasting damage done to impressionable and trusting individuals who are caught up in the hype and excitement of the moment, and who later find themselves coming back to earth with a bump. While we must be firm in condemning these sensual expediencies and clearly distance ourselves from them, we also need to be sensitive in our support of those troubled souls who will need encouragement and counsel when this bloated bubble finally pops.
There is a sad gulf between the sensation seeker who crowd Toronto-style churches in search of the latest craze and those believers who contend for the faith under threat of persecution in so many parts of the world today. Shall we remember the life and mourn the passing of the martyrs of Iran and then go down to church for a good giggle? Or shall we rather take a stand for the sake of Christ and the gospel and by the grace of God step into the breach left by the promotion of our brethren to glory. May 1995 be the year when the Christian church in our land gets serious about bringing our families and neighbours to Christ as we take Christ to our families and neighbours.