Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence has ordered the last two officially registered churches holding Friday Farsi-language services in Tehran to discontinue them. This news is especially concerning because it is one of the few opportunities for non-Christians to hear God’s Word in their native tongue.
These two Presbyterian churches, along with the Central Church of Tehran Assemblies of God church exist primarily to serve the Armenian and Assyrian communities. Their Sunday services in the Armenian and Assyrian languages meet on Sundays and may continue legally since they serve minority groups. However, even if Farsi services were offered on Sunday, few Iranians are available to worship then because their day off during the week is typically Friday. The Friday Farsi services have been important for Tehran’s converts to Christianity as well as for Muslims interested in Christianity. The Central Church of Tehran (AOG) was forced to close its Friday Farsi services in December 2009.
“This decision means that there are now no Farsi-language services on Fridays in any officially registered church in Tehran,” an MEC report issued this week stated. Because these churches belong to minority groups, government officials cannot stop them from operating but are doing what they can to limit them and the spread of Christianity to Farsi speakers, an Iranian Christian who requested anonymity told Compass. The source said that the newest restrictions have cut the two churches’ attendance by half.
“Authorities want church operations to stop, but because these churches are established by Armenians and Assyrians and their leaders are Armenian and Assyrian, they can’t stop them,” the source said, “but they can stop the Farsi-speaking services.”
The MEC report stated that “the order to stop Farsi services is consistent with the authorities’ policy of restricting Christian activities to these traditional communities,” indicating that Tehran is determined to eradicate access to Christian worship for the country’s growing number of Christian converts.
Authorities have prohibited musical worship and Bible distribution at the Central Church of Tehran, the largest and most visible AOG church in the country. Last December officials enforced a policy under which only invited guests could attend a Christmas service at the church.
The Iranian Christian said authorities have recently pressured leaders of Emmanuel and St. Peter’s churches to turn over the national identity numbers of Christians to officials. As a result, many Christians from these churches, as well as from the Central Church of Tehran, have lost their jobs. “We have some people who were fired from their jobs,” the Christian said. “The authorities pushed the bosses to fire their Christian employees.”
The source explained that this is a new tactic by the government to discourage Iranians from becoming Christians and to deter Christians from being involved in church. “If I have too many difficulties in my life, I won’t have time to be involved in church, and people will see how difficult it is to be a Christian,” the source said. “This is not a good face for the Christians. The others see and say, ‘Oh, they became Christians and God stopped His blessing to them.'”
Most Iranian Christian converts attend underground house churches that belong to various networks. For their own protection, these Christians often do not know about other house church networks. Authorities often detain, question and put pressure on converts from Islam, viewing them as elements of Western propaganda set against the Iranian regime; as a result, the converts are forced to worship in secret.
There are an estimated 350,000 Christian converts from Islam in Iran. “I believe 100 percent the whole movement in Iran is in God’s hand,” the source said. “This pushing [of the government] can stop the church buildings, but they cannot stop the Kingdom of God.”
Father, as Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” We do not understand Your ways, but we pray confidently that You will not allow this restriction to stop the progress of Your church in Iran, but rather You will use it to send a wildfire of revival across the land. As Your church is forced further underground, we pray that You will strengthen her in the Word and will grant opportunities to share Your gospel message with many. In the name of Jesus who has already won the victory, Amen!