Shiite Christianity in Iran

A vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the face of the entire Middle East. But the church in Iran has unique challenges that we must address. Indeed, three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church. Yes, a crisis!

Of course, these three challenges mean that there are also three opportunities for responding and correcting the problems. I want to visit the first of these crises and opportunities today, a crisis that is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government.


Crisis 1: Shiite Christianity 


The Church is growing, numerically, very fast in Iran. Operation World lists the annual growth rate at one new believer for every five existing. But the growth of leadership, training, and teaching is not keeping up.

Ninety-five percent of believers in Iran are isolated Christians. So out of an estimated 2 million Christians, only 50,000–100,000 are connected to a church of any kind, such as underground, online, or above the ground.

Many individuals are coming to Christ—evangelism is relatively easy—but congregations are few and weak. Don’t get me wrong—the Christians in Iran, as individuals, are strong. They are dedicated and hungry to know Jesus and walk with the Holy Spirit. But when they gather, they do not automatically form healthy congregations.

medium_do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-deity“Three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church.”

Iranians have no model for healthy, biblical community. They know how to relate to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, but they do not know how to relate to each other. With so many new believers and very few mature believers, there is nobody to teach and model such biblical relationships.

As a result, Iranian cultural values define their relationships instead—this is what I call “Shiite Christianity.” Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.

How Christianity in Iran Becomes “Shiite Christianity”

When Islam invaded Iran, it was Sunni Islam. But Sunni Islam did not suit Persians well, a people long known for their emotional poetry; it lacked any emphasis on emotional experience. So they adapted Islam to fit their culture. They invented what is now known as Shiite Islam.

“Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.”

Iranians are doing the same thing, unconsciously, with Christianity. Here are some of the symptoms of the influence of the Iranian culture on the church:

  1. Overdependent on emotions. The good news is that Shiite Muslims already value emotional experience, and so they crave experience with God—a relationship. Praise God! Allah does not give them this, but Jesus does. Lives are often changed in dramatic ways for individuals and families.But Iranian Christians can become too dependent on emotions and experience, and this overdependence can be very dangerous. Without Bible knowledge, these Christians can be easily deceived since they don’t know how to discern between the Holy Spirit and a demonic spirit.
  2. Dictator Leadership. For Iranians, Allah is a dictator. The government is a dictator. Even family structures are authoritarian. So when Iranians form a congregation, they know no other form of leadership. Dictator leadership seems normal and feels natural to not only the leaders but also most of the people in the congregation. Servant-leadership, on the other hand, is a mystery to them. Most Iranians view servant-leadership as “weak leadership” and do not heed to it.When dictator leadership combines with a lack of Bible knowledge, all sorts of heresy can slip in. The result is often a cult rather than Christianity. There are many cults in Iran—some are imported and some are homegrown—but they are growing fast.
  3. Reactionary Individualism. After lifetimes of submitting to authority—often cruel authority—some Iranians become reactionary to any authority. Instead of submitting to one another in the Spirit (Eph. 5:21), they claim the presence of the Holy Spirit means they have no need to submit to or respect the teaching of pastors and leaders. This individualism makes leading and fostering unity even more difficult. There are many divisions among the believers in the few congregations that exist.

Opportunity 1: Using Media to Help Grow a Healthy Iranian Church 


While a vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the entire Middle East, a poorly trained church might end up creating more lasting damage for spreading the gospel in the region than no church at all.

This is why I have been working many years now not just to spread the gospel but to grow healthy Christian communities and transformed, mature believers.

The good thing about the media is that you don’t just tell but you can also show. The opportunity here is for us to model Christ-like community and servant-leadership while providing sound biblical teaching.

The Islamic government of Iran has outlawed any gathering of Christians and sentences those who gather in homes to long jail sentences. Under these circumstances, there is no other way to enter the homes of Christians and help them except through media.

Here are just some of the benefits of using media:

  • Media gives isolated Christians continuous access to comprehensive, sound Bible teaching.
  • Media makes available the virtual modeling of Christian community and servant-leadership in places where the infant church has been driven underground.
  • Media has the power to touch and change culture—for better or worse.

Four years ago I started a global church called “Church 7” as a response to Shiite Christianity. By connecting believers across the globe and modeling what a community of Christians should look like through weekly worship services and live programs, Church 7 goes beyond teaching individuals. It helps point to the kind of loving community that Jesus meant His Church to be.

Join Me to Make Lasting Change for a Healthy Church in Iran

The challenge of Shiite culture changing the Iranian church is a huge one, but the opportunity for the Iranian church to change Shiite culture is just as big.

The time is now to make a lasting difference for the growing Church in Iran. I hope you will join me in praying and working for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in Iran and the whole Middle East “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, NIV).

If you want to know more about how Church 7 is changing lives, text “IRAN” to 74784 to receive more information and video links.

 

Why Are Persecuted Christians So Thankful?

You have probably read stories of persecuted Christians who have said with all sincerity that they were “honored to be tortured for Christ.” How is it that the persecuted church can be so thankful in the face of such horror, even death?

Persecuted Christians can indeed inspire and challenge us to be thankful no matter what circumstances we are in. But how do they do it? What motivates them to have that attitude of thankfulness? Here are some reasons that they are thankful even in hard situations. Maybe we can learn something from them.

1. They have first-hand experience of the transforming power of Jesus.

You see, when you come from darkness, you appreciate the light even more.

In America and the West, we often don’t realize how many Christian values have become an expected part of the culture. Yes, Western society has many problems, but we still value kindness, mercy, love, and human dignity as a part of our framework. We notice and are even outraged when these points of spiritual light are missing because we are used to them and take them for granted.

27119899 - open hands holding cross, symbol of christian faith

“You see, when you come from darkness, you appreciate the light even more.”

In Islamic countries, there is such spiritual darkness. People live with cruelty, judgment, and death as expected norms. In Islam, individual lives do not have much value. This kind of dark environment creates such hopelessness in people that Muslims who become Christians experience major change and joy.

From hatred to love, from hopelessness to hope, from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom—many Muslim-background Christians experience change in an extreme way.

This extreme change from darkness to light creates a great appreciation—thankfulness—for the One who brought about that change. And so these believers are willing and ready to suffer for Christ and not deny him, no matter how harsh the persecution.

2. They realize their desperate need for walking with Jesus.

Persecuted Christians easily realize that Jesus is all they need, so he is all they want. Walking daily with Jesus is not an option for them but a desperate need. Being willing to suffer for Christ is tied directly to thankfulness.

For many of us in the West, we know what Jesus did for us, but we do not see our desperate need to walk with him daily. If we do not read the Bible daily, pray regularly, or go to church weekly, we often don’t notice an immediate, negative impact in any kind of major or tangible way. For us, a vibrant, deep spiritual walk with the Holy Spirit seems optional. Therefore, for us in the West, we have to be intentional about remembering what Jesus has done for us. When we do that, we will be more thankful—and as a result, make a decision to walk with him daily.

3. They see suffering as a way to say “Thank You” to Jesus.

When persecuted Christians suffer for Christ, what they are doing is actively saying “Thank You” to Jesus in the best way they can. They are replying to his sacrifice with sacrifice of their own. And they are honored to do it!

Many persecuted Christians are even willing to give their lives for Jesus. Of course, Jesus does not ask such martyrdom from every believer. But we can still welcome suffering for him out of our thankfulness. The giving of time and finances is a sacrifice that the Lord recognizes and appreciates—especially when it is a result of our thankfulness for what he has done for us. It truly blesses him! Can you imagine the joy it is to know that Jesus feels blessed by something you do? The thanks you give him by willingly choosing to sacrifice your time, talents, and treasure for him?

In this season of thanksgiving, I want to encourage you to give your time and finances—not because you should, not because of obligation—but out of thankfulness.

Consider the darkness Jesus has delivered you from with his sacrifice. If you are thankful for the light, then reply with sacrificial thanks giving.

“We have to be intentional about remembering what Jesus has done for us. When we do that, we will be more thankful.”STACKED #GT Logo

Tuesday, November 28 is #GivingTuesday, a global thanksgiving movement that is helping to spread light throughout the world. If you are thankful for Jesus, would you partner with us and give sacrificially to what he is doing for Muslims and persecuted Christians in Iran?

Imagine the joy of Jesus when you say to him, “Thanks, it is an honor to serve you.”


To receive stories about persecuted Christians in Iran and learn more about how to support them and reach other Muslims hungry for the gospel, text “Iran” to 74784.


Related Articles:

Seymore, Julia A. “Christianity Thrives in Iran Despite Severe Persecution.” ChristianHeadlines.com, April 4, 2016.

Lessons from the Persecuted Church: Do You Take Jesus for Granted?

Urgent Prayer Request for Earthquake Victims

Please pray for all those affected by Sunday’s earthquake in Iran and Iraq.

As you might know, on Sunday, November 12, 2017, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the border between Iran and Iraq. Most of the casualties occurred in Iran, with over 540 dead and at least 8,000 injured.

What a great privilege that I was able to go on the air soon after the earthquake to minister to the hurting and bring hope to Iranians during this difficult time. All through this week, we have had special live programs ministering to those who have lost loved ones in this earthquake.

The Scandal That Made the Disaster Worse

There is a scandal in the midst of this disaster, causing more grief and making people even more mad at their Islamic government and its corruption.

Many of the dead were residents of government housing projects. The government built new apartment buildings, which they sold to low-income and middle-class people. It is now clear that the government cheated people by using cheap materials to save money.

Pray That Iranians Will Find Hope in Christ

The people blame the government for corruption and the death of the victims. Now they are even more bitter against the current regime.

Once again, whatever the Islamic government does, the people assign it to Islam itself. So the loss of human life in this earthquake and its grief give people another reason to reject not just the Islamic government but Islam itself.

Nearly 70,000 people are homeless. Would you join us in ministering the love of Christ to those in need? We have trusted leaders inside the country who can help the victims in the name of Christ. We are now gathering funds to help victims and share the hope of Christ with them.

Please watch my message below and consider giving sacrificially.

How to Help

To donate to Earthquake Victim Relief, go to the donation page at IranAliveMinistries.org and be sure to note that your special gift today is for the earthquake victims.

Together, we are showing the Love of Christ to the people in the Middle East. Together, we are making a difference.

Islamic Terrorism: If We Don’t Go, They Will Come

Last week I mentioned that the expulsion of ISIS from their self-styled capital in Raqqa, Syria would lead to an increase in lone wolf attacks in the West. I had hoped the next event would not occur so soon. But it did.

So on behalf of all those affected by Tuesday’s attack in lower Manhattan, I tell you this: if we don’t go to Muslims with the good news of the gospel, they will come to us with the bad news of Islamic jihad.

If We Don’t Go, They Will Come

We see this principle in the Old Testament where God wanted His people to reach out to other nations and be a witness to them. But they (the Israelites) did not do it. He even sent Jonah by force to show His love for the nations. But then because Israel did not go to the Assyrians and Babylonians, those nations came, attacked them, killed them, and took them to captivity.

This same consequence is what is happening today to America and much of the Western world. For centuries the Church has ignored the Middle East and Muslims. Only 3 percent of the Church’s mission budget is spent to reach out to 1.6 billion Muslims. Because we did not go to them with the love of Christ, they are coming to us with the hatred of Allah.

Terrorists coming with the hatred of Allah is exactly what happened on 9/11, and it is what is happening now. So the same OT principle is still valid: If we don’t go, they will come—and it will not be pretty. If we continue to disregard reaching out to Muslims of the Middle East, they will continue to come to us with violence and acts of terrorism.

Love or hate

It Is Impossible to Monitor All Terrorist Threats

Government officials feel helpless to stop it. Representative Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said yesterday that stopping terrorism in the USA is impossible. Terrorism is impossible to stop completely because an act of terrorism easily could happen on any street corner, any movie theater, any stadium, any concert, or in any shopping mall in the US.

A few months ago, after my presentation at a conference about reaching out to Muslims with the love of Christ, I talked to a top homeland security officer. He said, “We are on the defensive in America, and that is a weak position. It is impossible to monitor all potential terrorists and stop them before they do their acts of terrorism.” He then continued, “There are many threats that Homeland Security thwarts before they happen, but unfortunately it takes only one person that we miss to bring terrorism to the US.”

Moving to the Offensive

Being on the defensive is a weak position. Jesus commands us to go (Matthew 28:19). We must be on the offensive with the gospel and love of Christ towards Muslims. We must go. The gospel is powerful but only if it is shared (Romans 1:16). Perfect love casts out the Islamic spirit of fear only if it is expressed (1 John 4:18).

Living on the defensive, in constant fear, or in search of ways to protect ourselves against inevitable attacks is not the answer to Islam. Neither is it the answerto return violence with violence. The only response with long-term impact is to aggressively love Muslims and share the gospel with them.

The good news is that God has done His part by opening the hearts of millions of Muslims towards the gospel already. The bad news is that the Church is pretty much asleep and is not doing its job. And yet the worst news is that, as a result, terrorism will increase in the USA. The news we get in the future will be based on the choices we make and the actions we take now.

We can be fearful of Islam.

We can be indifferent to Islam.

Or we can proactively obey Christ
and go share the gospel with Muslims.

Please join me in going on the offensive.


Related articles:

Henney, Megan. “New York, Terrorist Attacks ‘impossible to Stop’: Rep. Collins.” FOXBusiness, October 31, 2017.

Shariat, Hormoz. “Defeating ISIS—Quenching the Flames of Jihad.”

Photo: Copyright: paktaotik2 / 123RF Stock Photo

Defeating ISIS—Quenching the Flames of Jihad

Some people hear me talk about Islam and think I hate Muslims because I want to offer them something other than their beliefs—and because I speak truth about what the Quran teaches. Do you think I hate Muslims? Islam was mine from birth. I practiced it for many years. These were and are my people. I have received the threats on my life. And I love them still. They are God’s treasure. I am giving my life for them.

Do you love Muslims? Perhaps you fear what they might do in your city and around the world. Perhaps you fear that they might spark a blaze of terrorism that destroys all that you own and love. What can you do when the threat of jihad presses in like an uncontrolled fire that turns on a whim and consumes everything in its path?

soldiers against a sunset
Islamic soldiers

Two recent events are pressing on my heart this week: the California wildfires and the war on ISIS. They are completely unrelated…and yet the same.

We Have Backed ISIS into a Corner

Last week, American-backed forces drove ISIS out of the caliphate’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, in Syria. You probably have seen the news reports. While some Western officials are celebrating, the mood for many is somber. European officials tasked with protecting their citizens from attacks—like the Champs Elysees killings, the Manchester concert bombing, the Barcelona van ramming, and the London subway bomb—know that the battle is far from over. American forces, hopefully, have learned from the Taliban and Al Qaeda what happens when a void is left in Islamic jihad leadership. The battle is far from over.

The reality is that when you kill a Muslim, 100 more will rise up in his place. The theology and culture of Islam—the Spirit of Islam—is anger, violence and revenge. Allah asked Mohammed to take revenge. Islam gives honor to those who kill and die for the faith. An Islamic jihadist facing defeat and dishonor is like a cornered animal—he’s at his most dangerous state.

The Enemy Is Not Just ISIS; It’s the Theology of Islam

Let’s make no mistake—ISIS is not the sole enemy. The enemy is the Spirit of Islam. There have been many “lone wolf” attacks, and yes, many have been connected with ISIS. But ISIS is not the common denominator; Islam is the common denominator. Islam makes people captive to fear and anger.

As Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani said before his death last year, “True defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight. We would be defeated and you victorious only if you were able to remove the Quran from the Muslims’ hearts.”

We may have pushed ISIS back, but we are far from claiming victory. Lone wolves and sleeper cells will continue to be inspired by whichever leader or organization takes up the mission of the Quran: Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS—or whatever we will call ISIS 2.0.

The Gospel Solves the Problem of Revenge

Yes, it is good to make terrorists weak. Yes, we must stand up and fight. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. A nation must defend itself. Military might can be a good thing. But it will never be a long-term solution to peace. For this enemy, defeat only kindles more anger and fanaticism.

In past weeks, a video of a tree in California burning from the inside out went viral. This tree and this wildfire that killed many and destroyed much is like an observant Muslim lit up by the Spirit of Islam. You can attack the flames and spray them with water, you can build barriers and backfires to contain and defeat, but hot spots will smolder and rekindle and flames will leap from one place to another. The heat will sustain itself under the ashes, in the heart of a tree—wherever it can find protection.

The only way to truly put out the fire is to quench its burning desire to reignite—for a Muslim, this means we must solve the problem of revenge. We must love them with the gospel. As the Bible teaches us, we have to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

I often feel people think my message sounds like a pastor’s broken record, an empty solution that ignores the realities of terrorism and war. But I have seen the results over and over again. The love and self-sacrifice of Jesus cools the ground and quenches the flame in the Muslim heart. They no longer have to be angry and seek honor through revenge. The good news is that millions of Muslims are also fed up with the message of hatred, violence, and revenge. They are questioning the teachings of Islam and are open to the message of the gospel.

When a Muslim hears and accepts the gospel, Jesus transforms them. He puts out the destructive fire and makes them a light to hundreds. And right now, Jesus is turning many fires into lights in Iran and the Middle East. The mainstream media won’t tell you this. The Iranian government won’t tell you this. But Jesus is the great firefighter for the Muslim world. So the violence is causing Muslims—who aren’t allowed to question—to question Islam. And Jesus is drawing people to him.

Do you love Muslims? God does. He sees all the destruction caused by fire and jihad, whether in California, Europe, or the Middle East, and he weeps for the many people here and there, who are his treasure. They need the gospel. If you have it, help me share it.


Related articles:

Coker, Margaret, Eric Schmitt, and Rukmini Callimachi. “With Loss of Its Caliphate, ISIS May Return to Guerrilla Roots.” The New York Times, October 18, 2017, sec. Middle East.

McDermott. Matthew. “Watch an Eerie Tree Burning from the Inside in California Wildfire.” Video on NationalGeographic.com. October 17, 2017.

A 9/11 Prayer for American Unity

A prayer for unity between one another…and between us and God

 

At this anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of how much I love America. This country is where I was saved and my life was changed. I got my education here, and I’ve served the Lord here for many years. I thank God for America.

Watch my message here.

But my heart grieves when I see Americans stepping away from God. Here we are free to worship Jesus, but He doesn’t always seem that important to us.

I am constantly humbled by our dear persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran—for them, to choose Christ is to choose to be transformed; it’s not just a conversion to another religion. What good would it do them to be persecuted for Christ but not have His peace? What good to claim His name but not new life?

Suffering Brings Unity

Yes, for these dear brothers and sisters, their circumstances drive them into a closer relationship with the Lord. Suffering can bring unity—both with God and with others who are suffering.

This unity with God and others is what I am praying on this 9/11 anniversary for America.

Disasters Bring Suffering

In the past few weeks, Americans have sadly seen much suffering in terms of fires and flood. Fires up and down the state of California have burned tens of thousands of acres and property.

California Fire
At least 19 large wildfires were burning across the state over Labor Day weekend, including a record fire in the Los Angeles area

 

People in Houston, Texas, are sorting through what remains after Hurricane Harvey dropped nearly four feet of water over a huge area.

Flood-Texas
A wide area along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana experienced devastation and record flooding August 25 to 29

And Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina are just beginning to see what must be done after the fury of Hurricane Irma.

Flood-Florida
After hitting hard several Caribbean islands, the record-breaking Hurricane Irma swept over the entire peninsula of Florida and into Georgia and South Carolina

Many, many people have lost loved ones, property, jobs, school, and hope for economic prosperity in the near future. This suffering is similar to what our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters in Iran experience on a regular basis.

Are Disasters God’s Judgment?

Some people are saying that all these disasters are a judgment from God. I don’t know if we can make that claim or ever know that for sure. Disasters fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike. The difference is the end result.

So I am praying that through this suffering, more of us in America will come to God—that we will know and love and lean on Christ. I am praying that through this suffering, more of us in America will work to bring peace and comfort to our neighbors.

Romans 8:28 reminds us that God can use everything for our good. May all this suffering in America bring much good to the hearts and souls of America.

And may we always rise above our own suffering to help our persecuted brothers and sisters. If we have each other and God, we have much.

__________________________________

Category: Current Events

Keyword(s): praying for unity

Tags: persecuted church, anniversary of 9/11, God’s judgment, Christian transformation, suffering and loss

Related articles:

“Hurricane Irma’s Path of Destruction Retraced.” NBC News. Accessed September 14, 2017.

Shariat, Hormoz. “Lessons from the Persecuted Church.”

Wang, Amy B. “Largest Fire in Los Angeles History Forces Hundreds to Evacuate.” Washington Post, September 2, 2017, sec. Post Nation.

Oppression Causing Astronomical Spread of Christianity in Iran

Do you know that I am constantly humbled by the young people of Iran? They come to Christ in record numbers and serve God with passion and great love for Him. And they share their Savior even more when the government tries to stop them.

Youth in Iran Choosing Christ

Last week, Fox News spoke with my friend Mani Erfan, CEO and founder of CCM Ministries. Mani has been on our board of directors, and together we have served the underground church movement in Iran for the last fifteen years. Fox News reported an astronomical increase in Iranian citizens converting to Christianity in recent years. Mani explained, “It’s been predominantly young people. We call it an awakening.”

If the current trend continues, experts predict that the number of Christians in Iran will soon exceed 7 million.youth-tv-3 It’s true that due to restrictions and persecution, no one can count with full certainty the number of people adhering to a faith outlawed by the Islamic regime. But we at Iran Alive know through our daily interactions with Iranians that far more Muslims are committing their lives to Jesus than is often told to the public by news and tabulating services.

Therefore, it is very possible that Christians will account for 10 percent of Iran’s population by 2020.

Middle East Paradigm Shift

This number constitutes a major paradigm shift not only for Iran but the whole region. War with the Islamic State (ISIS) has decimated the numbers of Christians in regions such as Iraq and Syria. A majority have been killed, forced to convert, or have fled. Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians in 2003 number only a possible 275,000 now.

So when I often say that I expect that Iran will become a Christian nation in this generation and a light to the whole Middle East—even to Israel—this is why: Iran’s Christians are multiplying and becoming an army of love and good news, reaching out to their neighbors and pointing them to the true Savior. The youth have seen the ugly insides of Islam and a repressive regime—and they have discovered the love and joy of Jesus. To them, there is no comparison, and no other option for them other than to surrender their lives to Christ, whether that means living or dying for Him.

Iran—A Spiritual Battleground

But, my dear friends, this astounding growth of Christianity—and with it the growth of secret and illegal church meetings in homes—also means that Iran will continue to be a major spiritual battleground over the next few years and beyond. Satan is losing his stronghold over Iran. A losing enemy is a dangerous enemy.

We must increase our commitment to pray for our dear brothers and sisters in Iran—and we must also pray for those dear Muslims on whose behalf God is working even now, to draw them to Himself. We must increase our commitment to support the growing but fledgling church in Iran as it works to disciple its members and throw off the chains of an oppressive regime.

I am honored to be a part of this great turn in the history of the Middle East. Won’t you join me?

Chiaramonte, Perry. “Underground Church Grows in Iran Despite Regime’s Efforts.” Fox News, November 28, 2016.