Starving Christianity: Hungry for the Word of God

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Challenges and Opportunities for the Iranian Church

God is moving in Iran, bringing Muslims to faith in him at a higher rate than in any other Muslim nation. A vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the face of the entire Middle East. But the church is heading toward a crisis.

In this series, I am writing about the three challenges that threaten the future of the church in Iran even more than the Islamic government. We have discussed the challenges of Shiite Christianity and Solitary Christianity. This third challenge—a growing crisis—threatens to uproot the foundation of the Iranian church.

Crisis 3: Starving Christianity

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Christians in Iran are starving for systematic truth and resources. They are passionate for Jesus and the Word of God. But the building churches are closed. Pastors and church leaders have been forced out of Iran. And the government makes it difficult to gather or talk to others openly.

The vacuum of mature teachers and experienced elders is a growing crisis for the 2 to 3 million believers that make up the Iranian church.

In America, amazing preachers and resources are everywhere. It is like a banquet table has been set for guests and filled with a feast made by top chefs. But few come. Few are hungry.

In Iran, Christians are so hungry for teaching about God’s Word that they fight for any dried-out bread crust they come across. They want it and they flock to it. But their table is empty—or worse—it’s filled with unwholesome imposters posing as real food.

In Iran, Christians are so hungry for teaching about God’s Word that they fight for any dried-out bread crust they come across.

Where can these new Christians go to find mature, faithful answers to their questions? Who will help them understand the whole counsel of God and separate what Islam has taught them from what God reveals in his Word?

Many wolves in sheep’s clothing are already stepping in, pretending to teach Christianity when they are really teaching something else. The church must make a move now to build a strong and deep foundation in Iran. Too much in the whole Middle East depends on it.

What Has Caused This Challenge?

As I mentioned in part two of this series, the Islamic government of Iran closed the doors to the building churches in 2013 and made it illegal to gather in homes. They also arrested a few key pastors and church leaders.

These arrests were no simple show of force but a distinct strategy to force all Christian leaders out of Iran. Avoiding persecution of high-profile leaders that might cause a worldwide outcry and pushback, they arrested lesser-known leaders instead and charged them with heavy offenses that carried long-term jail sentences. For others, after interrogations, they released the pastors, telling them to show up the following month for another court date and interrogation. And then they handed the leaders their passport. The message was clear: leave now or spend your life in jail.

They threatened a few pastors so that they could push all the leaders out through fear. If any Christian leader tries to go back to Iran now, they are arrested and charged. So all the mature, experienced leaders have been pushed out of Iran by force.

This purging has left the 2 to 3 million children of the faith without elders, pastors, or teachers that truly know the Bible. They are young and thirsty.

This purging has left the 2 to 3 million children of the faith without elders, pastors, or teachers that truly know the Bible.

The Immediate Danger: Cults

These Christians have so much passion—much more passion than many in the West who have good resources at their fingertips—but without biblical knowledge to have discernment, and without elders to guide them. The Bible is very new to them. They search out resources online and wherever else they can, but like hungry children who put everything in their mouths, they sometimes have difficulty knowing the difference between orthodox truth and cult heresy. How can they know what to eat unless someone older in the faith helps them?

Paul and the First-Century Church

This problem is very similar to the problem Paul faced with the first-century church. Despite opposition, the church continued to grow and spread quickly. The new Christians had only a few teachers and the Hebrew Bible. Gentiles often had neither the Hebrew Bible nor any background to understand God’s true nature. They were used to what they knew: capricious Greek and Roman gods and the type of worship those gods demanded.

In other words, they were very much like Muslim background believers who need to learn all over again the true nature of God and how he desires us to know him and worship him.

So what do we see over and over again in Paul’s letters to the churches? He warned them of cults (e.g., Acts 20:28–30; Rom 16:17). He had to explain how their cultural behavior and misunderstandings failed to fit with God’s Word and God’s standard (e.g., 1 John 4:1–3). He had to explain again and again who this Jesus was and what his followers should know to be true about God’s nature and their own salvation. He had to help them put together all the pieces of faith and knowledge and understand them systematically (e.g., 1Pet 1:18; Rom 5, 6).

Paul turned to the prevailing tool of the day to counter the rise of cults and the misunderstandings of the faith: he used high-tech media. Yes! At that time, the most advanced media was writing letters and passing them from city to city and village to village for believers to study and copy down. Today, media looks like social media apps, satellite TV, and the internet.

Opportunity 3: A Bible School through Today’s Media

The advances of technology mean that many Iranians do have access to some form of digital Bible that they can download and even pass on to others. But we cannot stop there and say, “They have God’s Word in their language. That’s all they need.”

If the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8, who was likely a Jewish proselyte, needed Phillip to explain how Isaiah 53 shows Jesus coming as a suffering servant, how much do more Muslims—people who have been fed much misinformation about Jesus—need a Phillip to explain the Bible systematically?

Social media, satellite TV programs, and all kind of internet resources—this technology is a huge opportunity for the church to reach out to believers in Iran and help them mature in Christ.

The 412 School of Ministry

That is why we are using the best high-tech media we can to create an online 412 School of Ministry, based on Ephesians 4:12. This school will provide systematic training for the church of Iran, develop leaders who can discern truth, disciple others, and model Christ not only in their understanding but also their actions.

A Call to All

Iran is the Muslim country most open to the gospel. Islam is being defeated at an enormous rate, making Iran the gateway to Christ for the entire Middle East. If we leave them to themselves at this critical moment and do not help them to develop a mature faith and systematic understanding of the Bible that they can pass on to others, we will be responsible for one of the great failures of the church in the twenty-first century.

This opportunity is not just a call for me and Iran Alive but for all mature followers of Jesus Christ to use the media of today to provide a sound, systematic foundation for a hungry church.

If we leave them to themselves at this critical moment and do not help them to develop a mature faith and systematic understanding of the Bible that they can pass on to others, we will be responsible for one of the great failures of the church in the twenty-first century.

Let’s take some of the banquet feast from our table in the West and share it with our brothers and sisters in Iran. Join Jack Graham, Pete Briscoe, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Recovery International, World Amity, Michael Yusef, and Christ for Crescent Moon—some of the people and ministries who already partner with us—to send systematic Bible teaching to millions of Christians who are waiting and ready to learn. These believers have a chair and want to pull it to the table, if someone will only put something good to eat on their plate.

We need you to join us. Don’t miss this great opportunity.

For more information on how to partner with us or how you can be a part of our 412 School of Ministry, you can contact me at hormoz@IranAliveMinistries.org or (469) 982-0000. Or text “Iran” to 74784 for more information.

 

 

Signals of Change: How Christian Broadcasters Are Changing Iran

World News recently published a feature article that highlights what Iran Alive and other Christian broadcasters are doing to contribute to the fastest growing evangelical population on the planet.

I have reposted an excerpt here, with a link to the full article on their website. I pray you will find it encouraging, and remember us in your prayers as well.

Signals of change

by Mindy Belz

Protests in Iran have met censorship and brutality, but Christian broadcasters use daily media to spark lasting reformation. (Associated Press)

It’s noon in Dallas and 8:30 in the evening in Tehran when Hormoz Shariat, founder of satellite television’s Iran Alive Ministries, steps to the camera to begin the station’s daily live satellite broadcast. The 62-year-old Iranian-American pastor, wearing rimless glasses and a suit and tie, strikes a friendly posture whether he is preaching to a large studio audience or seated in comfortable chairs with his co-hosts. But he takes the one-hour live show very seriously: With a prime-time slot beamed from Texas into the Islamic republic, Iran Alive’s Christian programming has an estimated audience of 6 million people.

That’s nearly 8 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. Whether Iran has 2 million Christians—an estimate Shariat believes is not inflated—or closer to 500,000, as some experts claim, “that’s a lot of Muslims watching us,” he concedes. In addition to Iran Alive, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has Persian-language programming in the Middle East, and Cyprus-based SAT-7 PARS also carries round-the-clock Persian-language Christian shows.

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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.

 

Loving Muslims: The Best Way to Stop Islam

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. —Ephesians 6:12, NIV

When people hear me talking or read my posts that say ISIS and terrorists are following the true Islam, some accuse me of hating Muslims. I do not hate Muslims. I love them. All people are treasures in God’s eyes. Muslims are treasures, and Jesus gave His life to buy them back—redeem them.

Muslims are not our enemy.medium_do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-deity Satan alone is our enemy, and Muslims are his captives whom we are called to set free. To set the Muslim captives free, we must strike a blow against Satan, and we do that by loving Muslims.

We Love Muslims by First Praying for Them

A huge part of loving Muslims is praying for them. The spirit of Islam blinds them to the truth of Christ. Islam is a spirit and not just a theology or a philosophy. You cannot reason a Muslim to Christ because Islam does not allow Muslims to think about and question what they believe.

In the past month, Muslims across the world celebrated Ramadan, a month-long time of fasting and recommitment to Islam. It’s a spiritual battle month because during this time Muslims are recommitting themselves to the spirit of Islam, and Satan is re-enslaving those that belong to him.

Ten ministries coordinated by author Tom Doyle and CBN News recently joined in a worldwide effort “to encourage Christians to pray specifically for a move of God’s spirit to draw Muslims to Jesus Christ during Ramadan.” Voice of the Martyrs, one of the ministries that participated in this Facebook Live event, has written about the event and my participation here.

I had the honor of being the second speaker for this CBN broadcast. Hundreds of thousands viewed it and prayed along with me despite some technical difficulties with the video. You can find the broadcast here. (Please scroll through the first few seconds to get to where I begin speaking.)

I want to thank the Lord publically for these prayers and His response. I know He hears and is moving even now to remove the blindness and fear from hearts and to draw Muslims to Himself.

Even though it is no longer Ramadan, we must continue praying for Muslims. Jesus is attractive. The message of the Gospel is sweet. But why don’t Muslims believe when they hear it? Because there is a spiritual battle for their souls that is trying to keep them in slavery through fear and intimidation. We can win this battle first through prayer and then through loving them.

We Must Love Muslims by Also Praying for Ourselves

We must pray for Muslims, and then, as our next step of loving Muslims, we need to pray for ourselves.

Terrorism and Islamic jihad are scary. I do not want to belittle the brutality and evil of what we have seen and heard, especially in recent months. But as Christians, we must remember that God is love and that love casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:8, 18). So if we are fearful and hateful of Muslims—even if we are indifferent!—that is not of God. The spirit of Islam is the spirit of fear and hate. May I even say that if you are fearful and hateful towards Muslims, you are submitting to the very spirit of Islam? So we must pray for our own hearts to be filled with God’s love—to be free from fear and hatred.

When we share the truth with love, the captives will be freed. Please join with me to confront the spirit of Islam with the best weapons we have: prayer and love.

Related articles:

VOM. “Praying for Muslims: Hormoz Shariat.” Persecution Blog. Accessed August 1, 2016.

CBN News. “Ramadan Prayer Outreach to Muslims Reaches over 7 Million People.” CBN.com (beta). Accessed August 2, 2016.

Urgent: God Wants to Save Iran

My dear friends, may God richly bless you in this new year. I thank you for all you have accomplished through Iran Alive Ministries in 2015 even as I pray for what God will do through us all in 2016. I pray earnestly for the year ahead because in looking back over what God has done in Iran and the world in the past year, the word on my heart for 2016 is “urgency.”

Major events are happening in the world very fast. Look at ISIS and the spread of terrorism in 2015 alone! Yet there is also another growing trend of which most of the West is unaware. Iran is the most open Muslim country in the world right now to the Gospel. It is the only Muslim country where Christianity is growing and Islam is experiencing its greatest defeat in its 14 centuries of existence. The government is threatened by this, but they haven’t been able to close the door of Christian growth.

“A great door for effective work has opened to me,

and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:9 NIV)

But because the western Church is afraid of Muslim terrorism and has no working strategy to stop it, many in the Church have stayed spiritually blind to what God is doing in Iran. God wants to save the nation of Iran and make it a light in the Middle East.

We must work with urgency while this great door is open.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;

night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4 ESV)

I fully believe that Iran will be the first Muslim country to bring the Jews to jealousy according to Romans 11:11 (“salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious”). The Iranian government has continued to proclaim that its greatest enemy is Israel, shouting, “Death to Israel!” and “We will wipe Israel off the map!” But I believe when the Jews see that the country that threatened their existence has suddenly turned friendly and started loving them, they will wake up to Christ’s message and become jealous of Christian faith among Iranians.

This transition is already happening.

In a country where Christianity is forbidden,

Muslim hearts are turning to Jesus

by the thousands every month.

Let us praise God for these Christ connections in 2015:

32,902—Phone and email communications

9,750,914—Total website hits and views on social media

67,810—Evangelistic chat room attendance

8,760—Hours of broadcasts

 

The number of people who have prayed with us

to receive Christ since our first broadcast in 2001:

32,418

 

Praise God for His work in the lives of Persians through Iran Alive Ministries. Our overall strategy is working! Here are a few main parts of that strategy:

  1. We are working toward not just converting people but also transforming lives. We teach not “easy believism” through television (as most Americans think of TV believers) but total surrender of life even unto death.
  2. We are targeting not only the masses to come to Christ but also those at the top: government officials, marketplace leaders, high-ranking military commanders, and top clergy. Yes, these top officials are secretly coming to Christ and sharing with us that they have done so.
  3. We aim not just to train church leaders but also to develop society leaders in government, media, arts, the marketplace, and education. As an example just this past month, a secular media mogul came to Christ. He and his family own the largest network of secular satellite channels in Iran. I am discipling and guiding them to be effective for Christ right where they are.

God wants to save Iran. Pray with me that we can transform it into a Christian nation in this generation!

How Do You Provide Church for 2 Million Believers in Iran?

In Iran, there are no above ground churches.  Even underground churches, while effective and growing, are only accessible to 1% of all believers due to fear and security.  That is where our Global Church for Iran, or Church 7 strategy, provides a lifeline for the estimated 2 million believers who have no other option for church of any kind.  No option for fellowship, discipleship, training or encouragement that is readily available and enjoyed by those of us in the West.

Watch this exciting video to see what Iran Alive Ministries is doing about this problem.

Transforming the Masses by Reaching a Few

Without question, Satellite TV is a tremendous vehicle for reaching vast numbers of people with the saving Message of the Gospel.  In Iran, it is the safest, most effective and efficient method of reaching millions of people who are hungry for hope.

We believe that a conservative estimate of viewers of our network to be between 3 million and 6 million people inside Iran at any given time.  When you consider that there are around 1 million believers in Iran, the overwhelming majority of our viewers are Muslims who are seeking and not yet followers of Christ.  Many of these people are high-ranking government officials, top businessmen and key politicians who are looking for hope themselves.

Recently, one of these men called our Counseling Center Ministry to tell of his experience watching our programming.  Watch the video to hear his story and learn more about our 2-fold strategy.

Our God is Not a God of Depression!

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“Our God is not a God of depression, but He is the God of joy!” —Bahar (name changed to protect identity)

Only days ago, we received the following email from a viewer inside Iran.  What struck me deeply, was her proclamation, “Our God is not a God of depression, but He is the God of joy!”  To you and I, this may seem like a sweet, but logical conclusion that any Believer would make.  I want you to know that this is nothing short of miraculous coming from a former Muslim… particularly a woman!

Depression and suicide are pandemic in Iran, especially among women who have virtually no value in an Islamic Theocracy where they are treated with disdain and cruelty.  For Bahar (name changed to protect her identity) to draw this conclusion and embrace the identity of a valued daughter of the living God is one of the most tangible evidences we see of life transformation.

Here is her email:

Hello Dear ones,

I thank God for all of you at Network 7 for walking with the strength of the Lord. There is one thing that gives me a lot strength and it is that all of you always have smiles on your faces and are joyful.

I have decided to walk with the strength and joy of the Lord this week and receive my strength from Him. I want to claim the truth as to what an incredible God I have and what amazing things He is doing for me. I have come to know that our God is not a God of depression, but He is the God of joy and wants His children to live peace and joy! You prayed a prayer a few weeks ago and said that God cares about our tears and collects them with His hands. This strengthened me and made me realize that God is next to me, which I do not take it for granted. I proclaim that my God is a living God and close to me.

I felt like I should email this to you and tell you that I love you guys so much.

May the joy of the Lord be with you.

Bahar

Please join me in praying for Bahar to be joined by millions of other Persian women who will encounter the living hope found only in Christ and find their value in the finished work of the cross for them.

Transformed by God’s Word

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“Thank you for teaching God’s Word to me. I am grateful for you all.” —Amir

Recently, I received a touching email from one of our Church 7 members via our Counseling Center Ministry. God is penetrating the hearts of Iranians unlike any other time in history. Amir is being transformed through hearing God’s Word and applying it’s teachings to his life. Here is what he wrote to me:

Dear Pastor Hormoz,

I would like to share a testimony regarding the topic of the Samaritan woman, which you have been preaching about for the past few weeks.

I always tried to have a good relationship with my family and others, but it had been so difficult for me and I prefer to be alone because these relationships have caused me so much sadness and stress in the past.

When I heard the sermon, Christ met me like He met the Samaritan woman and changed my life. I now love to meet new people, spend time with my family and I even love my enemies. It is so strange, but I do not feel like I did before and I am not upset with anyone anymore.

I have a joy that comes from the inside and I like to transfer this joy to others. I really receive more than I give and I enjoy these relationships with people in ways that I never thought I could. Now I understand what life is really all about.

Thank you for teaching God’s Word to me. I am grateful for you all.

Amir

Please join me in continuing to pray that millions of Iranians will be transformed by the Word of God, just like Amir!

“We Are No Longer Orphans”

Although illegal to own, satellite dishes are pervasive inside Iran
Although illegal to own, satellite dishes are pervasive inside Iran

As you know from reading my previous posts, there are no above ground churches inside Iran.  Until a few months ago, there was actually one building church, the Central Church of Iran, that was allowed to exist.  It was highly regulated and everyone who walked in the door was registered with the government.  Many of them were harassed and persecuted as a result, even though the church was allowed to exist.

It too has been closed, leaving every Christian in the country with the choice of finding an underground house church, or plugging in to Church 7, our global satellite Church for Iran.  You can read more about this strategy in my post, “Our House Was Converted into a Church”.

Below, I have copied an email we just received from a Church 7 member, whose family found themselves orphaned after the Central Church of Iran closed it’s doors.  I know you will find it encouraging.  There is no doubt the Lord is using Satellite TV to transform Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.

Hello,

My name is Amir and I am a member of Church 7. Through this letter, I want to thank you for not leaving us alone. You provide food for us who are alone in Iran.

My wife and I always cancel our plans on Friday nights in order to participate in Church 7. Sometimes we even invite friends to come to Church with us by telling people that Church has not been closed after all. We record all of Church 7 programs and when we gather with our friends, we watch them and worship together.

The Lord has been faithful, just as he promised, and has not left us alone. Even after the closing of the Central Church of Iran, of which we were members, we have not become orphans. We have a Church to go to, where we worship and receive our teachings.

I want you to know that we love you all and to let you know that for us, your programs are a living hope.

Amir