On Sunday, May 6th, the leadership of the Assemblies of God (AOG) Central Church of Tehran asked church members to volunteer their information in the face of the government’s demand for a list of the names and identification numbers of everyone in the congregation. Providing their names and information presents a major risk, especially for converts from Islam. “This [government move] is basically to make sure the church is not taking in new members and to make it difficult and risky for non-Christians to attend,” Monsour Borji, an Iranian Christian and advocacy officer for rights initiative Article 18, told Compass Direct News. “It is an effort to limit the church, basically.”
This latest demand from authorities signals their determination to tighten the reigns on official churches in Iran. If churches comply with the authorities demands, members may face increasing monitoring and Muslim background believers could face serious consequences. These new measures could become serious deterrents to Muslims interested in the gospel. “For a long time there has been surveillance, but this new requirement is another sign that they are seeking to control and limit attendance of those who come from non-Christian backgrounds and to keep the Muslims away,” said an expert on the region who requested anonymity.
Authorities have regularly monitored the Central AOG church for the past 20 years, and are becoming increasingly aggressive in tactics to pressure leadership and members. Borji reports that in addition to constant surveillance of leaders and occasional interrogation of church members, the authorities have recently “cut the supply line” by limiting the publication of Bibles and other religious materials. Believers at the Central AOG church are questioning whether refusing to put themselves in danger by complying with the government demands constitutes a denial of Christ. “It has created an ethical dilemma for some church members who are not sure what to do, because giving their information feels suicidal,” Borji said.
The Central AOG church is the only remaining church in Tehran that offers Farsi-speaking services on Sundays. They were forced to close their Friday service in 2009, but have experienced increased Sunday attendance since that time. The only other two churches offering Farsi-speaking Friday services, Emmanuel Protestant Church and St. Peter’s Evangelical Church, were forced to discontinue their Friday services in February. Though the Iranian regime is slightly more tolerant of Christianity among minority groups such as Armenians and Assyrians, they view Farsi converts to Christianity as enemies of the state. Borji explained, “Accepting the notion of a church that worships in Farsi is a threat to a regime that demands religious monopoly.”
Lord God, we praise You that though the kingdoms of men pass away like a breath, You are faithful through all eternity. No decree of man is beyond Your power to overcome; no regime is strong enough to bind Your Spirit from working according to Your purpose. We intercede on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Iran, especially those in the Central AOG Church in Tehran, and ask that You would guard Your children from the threats of man. In place of fear, send ever-increasing peace. In place of confusion, deliver clarity and wisdom. Even in the face of increasing danger, comfort, strengthen and embolden Your people in Tehran. In Jesus name, Amen.