Is the Iranian Revival an “Insider Movement?”
I write specifically in response to a post on the BiblicalMissiology email forum. In that post, “Larry V” criticizes the late Samuel Zwemer, who states that believers in Christ cannot grow in spiritual vitality unless they break with Islam. Larry V writes, “At a minimum we have to say that Zwemer was not a very good prophet since this is indeed what is now happening all over the Muslim world. Some estimates say there may be as many as 1 million such believers in Iran, 800,000 in Bangladesh…”
Though I had never dreamt that the Iranian Revival would be “claimed” by Insider Movement (IM) advocates, I am shocked that it is now happening. First, Larry may be mistaking believers that meet in unadvertised, secret home meetings as inherently being “insiders.” That same logic would yield the conclusion that all Chinese house Christians are Communist “insiders.” However, I fear Larry’s misperceptions may run much deeper.
I can state at the outset that I am not directly involved in the revival inside Iran. The points I make are merely cursory and self-evident to anyone familiar with the Iranian context. Let me state the reasons why the Iranian Revival can in no way be considered an Insider Movement:
1. The Iranian Revival is a Part of a National Rejection of Islam
In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini ushered in an Islamic Revolution in Iran with promises to create a pure and just society. After 30 years of Shariah Law and Islamic governance, Islam has been largely discredited in Iran as a plausible, cohesive ideology to guide human souls in this life or the next. Many Iranian Muslims are abandoning Islam for Zoroastrianism, Baha’ism, Atheism, as well as for the Lord Jesus Christ. Though the government may punish apostates from Islam, the stigma of leaving Islam has been broken for Iranian Muslims. Nevertheless, we will see that the Iranian movement to Jesus Christ is far from a vote of political discontentment.
2. The Iranian Context does not allow for IM or “C5” Ministry
Highly contextualized methods of ministry to Muslims, such as Camel Method and “Jesus in the Quran,” typically use the Quran as a bridge to the gospel. Since so many Iranians in this generation are now experiencing a nauseous reaction to Muhammad and the Qur’an, this type of ministry is simply not plausible in Iran.
3. The Iranian Revival has had Minimal Outside Influence
All conventional foreign missionaries have long since been evicted from Iran. Iranian Christians living in diaspora have made contributions to current Iranian spiritual life through satellite TV, radio, internet and music programs. Beyond that, outside influence in Iran has been minimal–perhaps much less than in other countries being considered as IM success stories.
4. The Iranian Revival is an Indigenous, Organic, and Spontaneous Movement
Believers in Christ in Iran are largely meeting in homes. Though there are leadership development challenges, this is an indigenous movement that is propagating and multiplying on its own, by the help of the Holy Spirit. Iranian Christians have composed well over 1,000 indigenous praise songs, and mountains of new Christian poetry. I am not aware of foreign money or significant overseas denominational leadership affecting the Iranian situation, as has been cited in other countries.
5. Iranian Christian Minorities have had a Hand in Reaching out to their Muslim Neighbors
Christian minorities are frequently maligned by IM advocates for their archaic ways and indifference to the spiritual state of their Muslim neighbors. That these minorities have often been persecuted and even slaughtered wholesale by Muslims in the Middle East is often lost on the IMers, but that is a topic for another day.
Rev. Haik Hovsepian Mehr, an Armenian pastor in Iran, is a classic example of a Christ-like minister of the gospel from an Iranian Christian minority. Hovsepian stepped out beyond his Armenian ethnic language group and began ministering in Farsi to Iranian Muslims. Hovsepian led many Iranians Muslims to Christ, not requiring them to become Armenians or worship in the Armenian language (the C1 model). In fact, he was a trailblazer in modern Farsi worship. Hovsepian paid with his life for publicly defending Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian Muslim background pastor who had been jailed for apostasy multiple times. In 1994, after pleading for Dibaj’s release, Rev. Hovsepian’s body was found, a stake driven through his heart.
6. Iranian Muslim Background Believers in Christ are Willingly Suffering Martyrdom Rather Than Remaining “Inside” Islam
In accordance with Islamic Law, the Iranian government has threatened extermination of Muslim converts to Jesus Christ, as well as all those witnessing of Christ to Muslims. Nearly every month brings another report of a pastor or believer in Christ who has been detained, imprisoned, tortured, gone missing, or martyred. Iran regularly jockeys with Saudi Arabia and North Korea as the Top Three persecuting nations of Christians.
If Muslim background believers in Christ in Iran would merely take an “Insider” position, they could spare themselves all this persecution. Had they only remained “Muslims,” acknowledging Muhammad as a prophet, attending mosque, they would live in peace and prosperity. Yet it is these very believers who have decided that the Lord Jesus Christ is not “inside” Islam. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they are fellowshipping with the Son of Man inside the fiery furnace of affliction. They are not interested in the comforts of remaining inside Islam.
Rev. Hovsepian’s pleas on behalf of his friend Mehdi Dibaj would only buy the latter of few more months of life on this earth. Later in 1994, Dibaj would join Hovsepian as a martyr for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the Iranian Revival has strengthened and deepened significantly from that time until now. Let us close with excerpts Rev. Dibaj’s defense to the charges of apostasy from Islam, given at the court of Sari, Iran on 3 December 1993. You may judge whether this is compatible with what IM is advocating:
“With all humility I express my gratitude to the Judge of all heaven and earth for this precious opportunity, and with brokenness I wait upon the Lord to deliver me from this court trial according to His promises. I also beg the honored members of the court who are present to listen with patience to my defense and with respect for the Name of the Lord.”
“I am a Christian. As a sinner I believe Jesus has died for my sins on the cross and by His resurrection and victory over death, has made me righteous in the presence of the Holy God. The true God speaks about this fact in His Holy Word, the Gospel (Injil). Jesus means Savior ‘because He will save His people from their sins.’ Jesus paid the penalty of our sins by His own blood and gave us a new life so that we can live for the glory of God by the help of the Holy Spirit and be like a dam against corruption, be a channel of blessing and healing, and be protected by the love of God.”
“In response to this kindness, He has asked me to deny myself and be His fully surrendered follower, and not to fear people even if they kill my body, but rather rely on the creator of life who has crowned me with the crown of mercy and compassion. He is the great protector of His beloved ones as well as their great reward.”
“They say ‘You were a Muslim and you have become a Christian.’ This is not so. For many years I had no religion. After searching and studying I accepted God’s call and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to receive eternal life. People choose their religion but a Christian is chosen by Christ. He says, ‘You have not chosen me but I have chosen you.’ Since when did He choose me? He chose me before the foundation of the world. People say, ‘You were a Muslim from your birth.’ God says, ‘You were a Christian from the beginning.’
“They tell me, ‘Return!’ But to whom can I return from the arms of my God? Is it right to accept what people are saying instead of obeying the Word of God? It is now 45 years that I am walking with the God of miracles, and His kindness upon me is like a shadow and I owe Him much for His fatherly love and concern.”
Chilling to think of Rev. Dibaj as a modern day Polycarp. Amazing how the words of their trials parallel each other:
The quote concerning Polycarp is as follows:
Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”