Shiite Christianity in Iran

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Challenges and Opportunities for the Iranian Church

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.

 

The Pain beneath the Veil.

Iran defies global suicide statistics

Globally, men commit suicide at higher rates than women. The statistics show that men are more than three to five times more likely to succeed at killing themselves than women. But in Iran, women commit suicide more often than men. Only China compares with Iran in this grim statistic.

You may think these numbers show the despair of women in Iran, and you would be right—but they do not show its full depth. Across the world—including China—when women do commit suicide, their number one method is some form of poison, either drugs or pesticides; in Iran, the number one method of suicide is self-immolation (burning). Half of all suicides in Iran happen through burning, and for every five of these desperate acts, four are committed by women.

These Iranian women really want to take their lives in a horrendous way. They don’t want to take poison as the easier way out; they want to die with great pain. It is to the point now where suicide by self-immolation happens more frequently in Iran than in Hindu cultures, which see fire as a purifier. This trend in Iran is considered by global health organizations as a significant public health problem.

What has caused Persian women to have such despair?

According to the studies, the top motivating factors for self-immolation among women in Iran are marital conflict and conflict with other family members.

In Islam, women have no value. Millions of Persian woman endure marriages where their husband beats them up. _71130188_hijabSharia and government law approve of husbands beating their wives. Many married women are just the maid, the cook, and sex slave. The husband often doesn’t love them.
He might even be married to other younger women. What the wives like doesn’t matter, and they have no real path for speaking up. Many feel their only escape is death.

Why do women stay in these marriages?

A woman in Iran usually cannot get a divorce. The courts are against them obtaining a legal divorce. They could perhaps just leave—and some do—but, please tell me, where would they go? A divorced woman in Islamic society is considered a curse. The divorced woman opens herself to be approached for prostitution (called a “temporary marriage” in Shariah law). Any and every man can offer her some money one night at a time, creating yet another form of horrific enslavement.

Also, if the woman leaves or divorces her husband, she loses her children, who always go to the husband. So women generally just suffer in these relationships or they kill themselves with great pain and self-hatred.

There is a better answer:

Throughout history, the oppressed have always responded to Jesus best. In Iran, the most oppressed are the women.

Christ is so appealing to these dear souls who have been devalued by their husbands and society that they fall in love with Him. Suddenly they come to Christ, and they realize they are valuable and God is calling them to serve. Their commitment is tremendously high because they know where they come from, and now they are daughters of the King. This correct assessment of their self-worth brings such healing.

So when a woman comes to Christ, they become a great light. The husband notices, “You have changed.” And they have. Before they were hopeless and the husband was unkind or even cruel—the least the wives felt they could do before was be angry, answer back, and hurt their husbands in return. Now they have responded to a Greater Love, and they begin returning grace and kindness for the abuse thrown at them. It shocks everyone.

Once transformed themselves, these women are bringing healing to husbands and kids. Once transformed, these women become agents of transformation for the rest of their family and friends.

Our new initiative: Flourish

As you would guess, then, a majority of our leaders in the underground Church in Iran are women—and they are very good leaders. We want to continue reaching out to these dear sisters and equip them and develop them for the ministry God is giving them. Called “Flourish,” our new initiative is more than television programs, though it is that in part; this initiative is a call to women to be equipped and raise a new generation of leaders. It is a call to flourish in a society that expects them to wilt and burn.

Would you pray for this new initiative? My soul longs to see many, many Persian women discover their true worth as daughters of our gracious King. I pray that many will hear the call of Jesus, and know that His life is worth living. I pray that they will flourish and transform Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.

Related Articles:

Ahmadi, Alireza. “Suicide by Self-Immolation: Comprehensive Overview, Experiences and Suggestions.” Journal of Burn Care & Research: Official Publication of the American Burn Association 28, no. 1 (February 2007)

Vijayakumar, Lakshmi. “Suicide in Women.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 57, no. Suppl 2 (July 2015)

“When Home Is a Prison,” December 22, 2015.

5 Reasons Iran’s Youth Are Ready to Choose Christ

It used to take me weeks or months working with Persians who were interested in Christianity to convince them to choose Christ. For the older generations, the spirit of Islam lay heavy on them, a blindfold on their minds that prevented them from grasping the Gospel, truth, or often even logic. Fear of Islam and fear of the government would paralyze them.

But young people in Iran are now so open to Christ.ap_995965368922 The generation in their early twenties and younger often call or write to say, “I was watching your satellite TV program, and something in me said I need Jesus, and I’m ready.” No questions about Islam and Christianity. No fear of Islam or the government. Just, they are ready to choose Christ.

Why is this happening now? What is the change? Let me offer five reasons based on the regular testimony we receive from Iran’s young people.

  1. The depth of hopelessness is immense.

Young people under 25 look at their older siblings who have worked so hard to earn bachelor degrees, master degrees, and even PhDs and see that they are miserable. War and decades of harsh rule and sanctions have caused those in their thirties to early forties to name themselves the “Burnt Generation.” They can’t find jobs, they can’t afford to get married, and they have no future. So the younger generation says that even if we work hard, that’s our future. Life is empty.

  1. Sex and drugs have become normalized in the youth culture.

With no future or greater purpose to live for, young people even as young as 12 and 13 fill the void with promiscuous sex and drugs. In the larger cities, this destructive lifestyle has become so normalized among the youth that if a young person avoids these “fixes” for their hopelessness, they are considered weird and are ostracized.

  1. The spirit of fear has lifted from them.

While it is true that the Islamic government of Iran forbids such partying, the news media regularly report arrests of young people taking part in these activities. Unlike their parents and older siblings, who fear the consequences of such actions, the younger Persians assume that partying is the only pleasure they have.

They don’t care what the consequences are; they are not really afraid of the government. They say, “Kill me, kill me. I’m dead anyway.”

They aren’t afraid of Islam or Allah. They have rejected all religions and wanted secularism; they want to be like Americans.

  1. They discover that Christianity has a loving and forgiving God.

Yes, the drive toward secularism can become a challenge for sharing the Gospel. But these young people reject all religions because they assume that Christianity is just like Islam—or worse. So from just one broadcast on our Iran Alive satellite network, Network 7, they begin to see that Christianity is not what they thought before. The program speaks to what is in their hearts: that if there is a God, He is a loving and forgiving God.

Suddenly, they realize this Jesus is exactly what they need. They want Him, and they taste the hope He can give them. Now their lack of fear for the government and their understanding that they were “dead” in their life before Jesus becomes a huge positive for following Jesus. They are ready to live and die for Christ. The depth of their commitment frequently brings me to tears when we talk. We have to remind them to be careful so they can live and minister as long as they can!

As disciples, these young believers are ready to listen and be corrected. Unlike their parents, who would be offended by direct correction, the young people love straight talk. They become soldiers for Jesus, ready to run for the Lord.

  1. Jesus is moving in Iran, testifying about Himself through dreams and visions.

More than anything else, young people are choosing Christ because He is choosing them. We regularly receive testimonies from those to whom Jesus has appeared in a dream or vision. God is moving in Iran, according to His promise Jeremiah 49:38, “I will set my throne in Elam (Iran).”

This generation is so ready, so desperate. Give them a vision, give them a goal, and they will run with it.

We have in this current time an amazing opportunity to reach out and raise an entire generation of soldiers for Christ. I am grieved because time is passing, and we are merely harvesting the edges of a vast, ripe field. Many contact us weekly, and we cannot disciple them all in a meaningful way due to limited resources. We have to take in a few, and leave the rest outside the door.

Would you consider praying and thanking God for these young people? Would you consider joining in our efforts to give the youth in Iran hope in Christ and to transform Iran in this generation? You can find out more about our ministry through this link.

When Home Is a Prison

I recently was amazed by the deep faith of a lady in Iran who allowed Jesus to help her love the woman who stole her husband. She might be unique in her devotion to love her enemy, but she is not alone in her suffering. Many women in Iran are trapped by marriage laws that turn their homes into prisons.

 

Before the revolution in 1979, the minimum age for marriage was 18 for women and 20 for men. Restrictions against polygamy meant men with special circumstances had to get judicial permission to take a second wife—or face jail time. The first wife also had to give her husband legal written permission before he could take another wife.

 

What does the law in Iran say now regarding marriage?

After the revolution, these protective laws were largely repealed or set aside. The minimum age for marriage fell to 13 (sometimes 9) for girls and 15 for boys. The religious regime, in accordance with the Quran, also abandoned restrictions on polygamy.

 

A man now has a legal and religious right to permanent marriage with up to four wives. He has no need to establish cause for taking another wife or solicit judicial or spousal permission. Therefore, even the requirement that a man establish financial ability to maintain his wives has no review or oversight. He alone can decide what is right for himself.

 

In addition to these permanent marriages, since Iran is a Shiite state, a man can contractually enter an unlimited number of temporary marriages (called Sigheh). The length of these temporary marriages can be from 15 minutes to 99 years. Yes, many view this as merely legalized prostitution sanctioned and supported by Islamic law.

 

In contrast, a wife must obey her husband in everything, and since his marital desire may arise at any time, she may not even leave the home without his permission. If a couple does divorce, the custody of her children is automatically given to her husband. I know many women who are suffering from physical and emotional abuse and have to endure and even quietly serve their abusive husbands because they do not want to be separated from their beloved children—the only source of meaning and joy in their lives. These laws reduce women to property and enslave them sexually while giving men free rein to sidestep moral obligations of faithfulness and love within a relationship.

 

What does the God of the Bible say?

Although these women are trapped in loveless and abusive marriages with no legal recourse, they are not unloved. Jesus loves them. And as each woman begins to understand that only Jesus’s love and presence can truly fill her heart—and as she receives that love—she is able to endure the rejection and even forgive her husband. We have many testimonies where the wife’s forgiveness and a heart filled with the joy of Jesus have caused the husband to take notice and also seek salvation in Jesus. The love revolution that begins in the hearts of these rejected women plays a significant part in transforming Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.

 

Did you know that Iran Alive takes special care to broadcast several satellite television programs addressed specifically to women so that they can hear the Gospel within the safety—and sometimes the prison—of their own homes? Please keep praying for the millions of Persian women who do not yet know the love of Jesus.

Related Articles: I Want to Share My New Husband with You

Persian New Year, Nowruz – Ending & Rebirth

Haft Sin on the Iran Alive Ministries (Network 7) set
Haft Sin on the Iran Alive Ministries (Network 7) set

Thursday March 20th, Iranians rang in the Persian New Year.  Nowruz, meaning “new day,”  always begins on the first day of spring. It represents two ancient symbolic concepts: Ending and Rebirth, or, more specifically, the ending of evil and rebirth of good.

Awaiting arrival of Nowruz, Iranians prepare the haft sin, or the seven ‘S’s. The haft sin sofreh includes seven items starting with the letter S:

  1. sabzeh – sprouts, symbolizing rebirth
  2. samanu –  a sweet pudding made from wheat germ symbolizing affluence
  3. senjed –  the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, symbolizing love
  4. siib –  apple, symbolizing beauty
  5. somaq – sumac, symbolizing sunrise
  6. serkeh – vinegar, symbolizing age and patience
  7. sombol –  hyacinth, to denote the coming of spring

For the remaining thirteen days of the New Year celebration, Iranians gather together and celebrate. Relatives come and visit the older members of the family and in return, the elders pay their respect by visiting them back. On the last day, as is the tradition, Iranians picnic in the suburbs, dance, sing, and play outside until the night forces them back to their homes.

The clerical establishment ruling Iran have long tried to stop Iranians from celebrating their long tradition of Nowruz. Even under though the people of Iran are under constant oppression, they have not given in and continue to be proud of their Persian heritage and cling to the hope of a fresh start.

Lets us pray that with this New Year that love will conquer hate and that the people of Iran will meet the only Source of true hope, Jesus.