You’ve probably read articles with some variation of this headline in recent days: ONE YEAR since the world as we know it (depending on the author) “changed,” or “shut down,” or “ENDED.”
It does seem as if we managed to cram a decade’s worth of uncertainty into just the past 12 months. And uncertainty is the father of fear.
Christians—many of whom, like me, were taught as children a song about building our house on the immovable ROCK of Jesus Christ—are often as susceptible to fear as everyone else.
In the past 12 months, I’ve seen so many social media posts and read many editorials from Christians stoking fear. Fear about election results. Fear about the government leveraging a virus to control or close down churches. Fear about whether our government will protect religious freedom, or instead force secularist standards on churches and Christian-owned businesses.
We are wise to watch carefully our government leaders, to pay close attention to the words they say and the bills they pass. But when I hear these “woe to the church in America” warnings, I am encouraged that God is greater than any opposition.
As I reflect on places around the world where Christian brothers and sisters have no religious freedom, and where their government actively opposes every form of Christian activity, I’m reminded that it is often those places where God is moving most powerfully.
In 1979, there was a massive shift in political power in Iran. The Islamic Revolution put the mullahs—Islamic leaders—in charge of the entire nation. They promised a nation run strictly according to Islamic principles, as if the Quran was the constitution and Imam Ali head of state.
For Iranian Christians, and those praying for them around the world, it must’ve seemed like the worst news possible. What place would there be for Christians—especially “apostate” converts from Islam—in the Islamic Republic of Iran? Many believed the end of the church in Iran was at hand.
Forty years later, those pronouncements seem laughable. Today, according to Joshua Project, the fastest-growing church in the world is in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Looking at Joshua Project stats, we can confidently say that more Muslims have come to Christ in Iran in 41 years since the Islamic revolution than did so during the roughly 1,400 years between the advent of Islam and 1979.
It has not been an easy road for my Christian brothers and sisters there. Pastors like Haik Hovsepian and Mehdi Dibaj were murdered. Pastor Hossein Soodmand was executed. Every above-ground, “building church” that held services in Farsi—the national language of Iran—has been closed.
House church meetings are raided by authorities. Christians are interrogated, arrested, tortured and sexually assaulted. I will never forget a conversation with an Iranian Christian who told me that he and his wife had discussed in depth her response if she were to be arrested and raped because of her witness for Christ.
It has not been easy. There has been much suffering. Yet gospel workers inside the country, as well as secular survey results, confirm that hundreds of thousands of Iranian Muslims have come to Christ.
As the government became more strictly Islamist, the people became less so. Iranian evangelists VOM works with estimate nearly three-quarters of Iranians have rejected Islam. As the government became more openly hostile to Christianity, the people became curious about how Jesus and His “good news” could be a threat to their nation.
I have Iranian friends who point out that Ayatollah Khomeini—the stern face of the Islamic Revolution—drove so many people away from Islam that he can rightfully be called the greatest force for propagating Christianity in the history of Iran!
God is perfectly capable of advancing His Kingdom and His purposes, regardless of government efforts to stop Him. That is not only true in Iran, but in the United States as well. His will cannot be stopped by government edict or pandemic precautions. No act of Congress will thwart Him.
I pray—and I hope you do, too—for God’s will to be done on Capitol Hill, and in our state capitals. And, more importantly, I pray for God’s will to be done in our churches, and in my own heart.
But when I hear friends say the Biden administration or the Equality Act, coronavirus restrictions or some heretofore unknown threat will be the end of the church in America, I can only smile and think of the place with the fastest growing church in the world—the Islamic Republic of Iran.