Recently I went to Elam Ministry’s service of dedication, to mark the translation of the whole of the Bible into modern Persian.
Immediately I was captivated and lifted in my spirit. My first impression was the sheer beauty of the Iranian people, all dressed as befitted coming before a king — King Jesus! Oh what delight! And what joy in their singing as they praised Jesus!
Then I was awestruck by their stories. Christians in Iran are paying a high price for their faith in Jesus. They have lost jobs, homes and even custody of children. Some have been physically abused. Hundreds are rejected by friends and family. And some are unjustly detained in Iran’s notorious prison system.
There are many martyrs and everyone in that room knew a martyr. Iranians are killed or imprisoned on false political charges relating to their Christian faith; usually they are convicted of ‘undermining national security’ through attending or organising house church meetings, or sharing their faith.
Years of acute suffering in Iran have created a deep thirst for truth in the hearts of Iranians. As a result, there is an overwhelming demand for the Word of God in Iran. Wherever the Scriptures reach, people are turning to Christ.
Elam Ministries completed translation of the New Testament into modern Persian in 2003. Since then, they have published more than 1,000,000 copies, including 200,000 copies with Psalms and Proverbs. Iranian Christians have been eagerly awaiting the completion of Elam’s Old Testament translation, so they can read and study the entire Bible.
Monday evening was a major milestone when the translation was completed after 18 years of work. What vision! What faith! Being with the people of God in that room, I was reminded very dramatically of the power of God’s Word.
In that room I saw the effect of those who truly believe that the Scriptures are sharper than a double-edged sword that pierce, those who truly believe that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. Armed with this simple confidence, these ‘ordinary’ people, at huge personal cost, have taken great risks to ensure that others encounter that Word of God, in which lies great power.
And the result has been remarkable — against all the odds, great gospel growth. In 1979, there were fewer than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 believers in the nation.
Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years, such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime. Iranian Christians believe that it is possible to see their beloved nation transformed within their lifetime.
The key to the Iranian story — their simple but costly confidence that the Bible is powerful — was the message that really stayed with me. And it comes as a huge challenge as we consider the situation in the UK.
We have churches in every town; we have access to as many Bibles as we want, but we seem to have forgotten the power of the gospel message, which is more powerful than any political or social plan we might devise.
In sharp contrast to the Iranians, who want to know how to live under the kingship of Christ Jesus and bring everything into alignment with it, Christians in the UK often seem to want to modify the Word of God, to conform to our culture when it should be at the forefront of shaping culture.
We have lost confidence that God’s Word is good for all; the blueprint for living in every aspect of life; public truth to be proclaimed in the public square.
As I met the Iranian men and women who, over the last two decades, have been imprisoned for Christ and have risked their lives to translate the Bible in order to help people to live in the light of it I considered my own walk here in the UK.
In the last two decades, we have not witnessed a growing, vibrant church, willing to die for Christ, but rather a timid church afraid to upset the culture.
I know we haven’t witnessed killings or imprisonment, but we have seen people lose jobs and livelihoods; we’ve seen foster and adopted children taken away from Christian parents, because they refuse to conform to an ‘equalities’ agenda; and we have seen increasing monitoring by the State of parents who choose to home-school.
What does God require of us? An unflinching belief in the transformative power of his Word; and recognition of how precious, correct and life-giving his Word is. What does God require of us? He requires obedience to him and to his Word. Changed people change culture!
This comment is edited, with permission, from the Christian Weekly News (26/09/2014), of Christian Concern. The author is CEO of Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre