For more than 20 years a militant Islam has tried to annihilate Christianity in Iran. After gaining control of the nation’s institutions, it declared that there was only one valid religion – Islam! All other faiths and ideologies were proscribed. It ruthlessly consolidated its hold and began spreading Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideology to other countries.
Over seventy thousand enemies of the Islamic revolution were executed within nine months of the Ayatollah’s triumphant return from exile in France. Almost all were connected with the armed forces or pro-western political groups.
Initially there was tense but peaceable coexistence between Khomeini and the left-wing groups which had helped him topple the Shah. During the first few weeks they co-ordinated their actions in arresting, torturing and murdering their common enemy.
But it soon become evident that coexistence between secularists and Islamic purists was not possible. Disagreements gave rise to tensions which erupted into violent armed conflicts.
Having gained control of the police and military, Khomeini decided to annihilate the left wing. Within weeks any who escaped death or imprisonment had gone underground or fled the country.
In the meantime, the Christian churches of ethnic Armenian or Assyrian backgrounds were allowed a quiet existence, as long as they worshipped within the confines of church buildings and under the watchful eyes of revolutionary religious police.
This applied also to sixty small Reformed or Evangelical churches. But all first or second generation converts from Islam to Christianity were ordered to recant or face imprisonment, torture, and ultimately death. The majority of such believers went underground.
Christian leaders of Muslim background who did not leave Iran were hunted down. Some were betrayed by family or friends, others by false believers or informers, planted within underground churches by the religious police.
‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’. Whether this has already been fulfilled in Iran, only God knows. What is apparent is that the numbers of Muslims coming to a saving knowledge of Christ in Iran is much greater than twenty years ago.
The underground church has grown twenty-fold. While no one knows the exact number of believers in Iran today, there could be between 40,000 and 90,000.
Iran’s population is about 75 million. The government has repeatedly admitted during the past three years that less than half its population is fervent in its commitment to Islam. The Islamic revolution has brought suffering to many.
The once-prosperous industrial sector has collapsed. Many have lost loved ones in the war with Iraq or as a result of political purges. The ruling religious class has amassed much wealth but has earned the resentment and mistrust of ordinary people.
People no longer believe that revolutionary Islam will improve their lives. The ruling class is embroiled in ideological differences and assassinations. People are more daring in their disregard of Islamic ‘revolutionary dress’ codes. Many are showing an interest in the way of Christ.
When will freedom for gospel faith and worship come to Iran? No one knows. Yet we can trust the sovereign Lord and rely on his wise ways. We can give thanks for the recent lessening of pressure against believers and that the church in Iran is growing faster than in many parts of the ‘free’ world.
We can also give thanks for the courage and joyful lives of our suffering Iranian brothers and sisters, and for growing opportunities to reach out through radio to Iran and the other Farsi-speaking countries, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.
We can pray for our brethren and help resource gospel broadcasts, the distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, and the support of evangelists and church leaders.
Above all, we give thanks for all that the Lord is doing with his faithful people in Iran.