For many years, Iran was one of the most difficult regions of the world to reach with the gospel. In 1979, however, there was an Islamic Revolution in Iran. The ruling monarch, Shah Pahlavi, was overthrown, and in his place an Islamic Republic was birthed, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Sharia law became the law of the land, and Muslim clerics became the heads of state. Many in those days believed Iranian society would flourish. The new regime made great promises about rights and economic progress and that the laws of man would be replaced by the laws of God, they claimed.
Near the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, we see that the prayers of many Christians have been answered, and the climate in Iran is vastly different. The gospel has spread throughout the land despite increased persecution of Christians. In 1979, there were about 500 known Christians in Iran. Today, the average estimate of Christians range from 300,000 to upwards of one million, according to missions experts. Operation World continues to list Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. In fact, more Iranians have become Christians in the last twenty years than in the previous 1,300 years, since Islam came to Iran.
Several factors have contributed to the rapid growth of the church in Iran. Here are four of the most important.
1. Disillusionment with Islam
Since the time of the revolution, the Islamic regime, which promised much in the way of economic development and freedom, has not delivered. Rather than prosperity and growth, the economy stagnated. The people also have been oppressed, women punished for not covering their hair, and others punished for speaking out in protest. As a result, the country has isolated itself further from the rest of the world. Because the Islamic Republic has tied religion and state so closely together, the people’s disappointment with the government has led to great scepticism of Islam. Consequently, Iranians have become increasingly open to hearing the Christian message.
The rise of persecution against Christians in Iran has served as a sign of the rapid growth of Christianity. In the 1990s, several key church leaders in Iran were killed. One of the most famous martyrs, Mehdi Dibaj, gave a defence before the Islamic courts prior to his death that has become a rallying cry for many Christians in Iran. Dibaj declared, “I would rather have the whole world against me, but know that the Almighty God is with me; be called an apostate, but know that I have the approval of the God of glory. Life for me is an opportunity to serve him, and death is a better opportunity to be with Christ.”
Examples like this have emboldened the church. One faithful brother in prison recounted the moment he received news that many of his colleagues were being arrested. Briefly, he considered fleeing but remembered the words of Jesus from John 10, that he is not the hired hand who sees the wolves coming and flees, but he is rather the good shepherd, who lays his life down for his sheep (John 10:11–12). He went home knowing it would lead to his arrest, but he saw prison as an assignment by God to reach many within prison. This persecution has served to motivate further evangelistic zeal among Iranian Christians.
3. The Diaspora and Use of Media
A countless number of Iranian Christians have been scattered around the world. Many of these saints sense a unique calling to continue supporting the work of gospel advancement within Iran from the outside. The advancement of technology through the Internet and satellite TV has made the Christian message more accessible to Iranians who may have never even met a Christian. The diaspora Christians have been active in broadcasting the gospel and Bible teaching into Iran. In the last decade, social media also has been a powerful tool to reach Iranians and teach them the truths of Scripture.
4. Bible Distribution
Although persecution has not produced the results that the Iranian authorities wanted, they have continued to work hard to stamp out the message of Christianity. The Bible (especially the New Testament) is banned literature in Iran. But the people have been hungry for the word of God. There have been over two million New Testaments printed in recent years for dissemination in Iran, and about 180,000 entire Bibles have been distributed within the country. As Paul told Timothy, “The word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9).
Source: International Prayer Council
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