Friday, September 30, 2011

Courageous Iranian Pastor Imprisoned for his faith should inspire us

I received this message in an email from an organization I subscribe to and I usually agree with their messages. This one I'm going to disagree with at least partly, so I'm not going to publish their information although I will quote from their letter:
This week, perhaps while you were in line getting coffee or enjoy any number of things we Americans have taken for granted, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani had the heart to stand up before an Islamic court in Iran and defend his Christian faith. Pastor Yousef was told to recant his faith. Pastor Yousef refused.
This is a courageous pastor who should be taken as a model for all of us. He has chosen Christ over his own life and we should pray above all that his faith would be strong and his courage not broken.
Pastor Yousef is now scheduled to be executed, as shariah law dictates he must be. The response from the Christian community online has been one mixed with revulsion and shock. Yet the governments of the world -- and even some major Christian denominations -- have been outrageously silent.
Why "revulsion and shock?" What does such a reaction tell us about "the Christian community?" Are we that unaware of the situation under Islam that any of it should surprise us? And aren't we by now only too conscious of the bizarre political correctness that has been intimidating the world into tolerating Islam? Yes, outrageously silent, but that shouldn't be any surprise either.
...In the Western tradition, “civis romanus sum” -- I am a Roman citizen -- used to be the three most terrifying words an ancient despot could hear. These words saved St. Paul from the judgment of an enraged centurion (Acts 22:27) as he demanded to be tried by a Roman court.

In fact, so severe was the punishment against those who violated the rights of Roman citizens, that Acts records the commander of the Roman garrison “was afraid, after he knew that he [Paul] was a Roman, and because he had bound him.” (Acts 22:29)
Of course pastor Yousef is an Iranian citizen and Roman concepts of law do not apply there; shariah law does. But they're working up to a point here so read on.
In later years, when Muslim caliphs attempted to levy taxes on the Christian holy sites, Byzantine emperors would disproportionately raise armies and invade Muslim lands. Horrified caliphs wisely reconsidered and discontinued the tax… until the Turks crippled Byzantium at Manzikert in 1071 and the Arabs broke the power of Crusading armies in the 14th century.

This tradition of protecting members of the body politic extended not only to Christian Byzantium, but by the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs, eclipsed in turn by the British Empire who made such a policy of protecting its citizens a hallmark of their Victorian-era world power.

The United States historically has insisted upon a similar tradition, whether it is protecting Americans against 19th century Barbary Pirates, to tackling Islamic terrorism in the modern day.

Today, the Pax Americana stands threatened by the powers of Islamic fanaticism among many others. For Christianity, the “body of Christ” remains threatened as it has been for centuries, and as Christ assured us it will be.

Yet the tyrannies of the world still prosper in the face of weakness. Why?

For those Christians living in America, we have the unique qualities of being both members of a great nation, as well as being believers in Christ. Christians around the world look to the wealth, prestige, and power of Christian Americans to come to the aid of Christians elsewhere -- no different than if a wasp stung your left hand, than one would expect the right hand would swat at the pain shared by all.

Christians in America need to be that right hand for Pastor Yousef.
But is this situation comparable to any of those this email is referring to? I don't think so. I think it is far more comparable to the situation in Jerusalem when the early church was being persecuted by the Jewish leaders for heresy and Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 6 and 7) There is a time to protect Christians from persecution with that kind of influence and force but sometimes you have to realize there may be more true fruit for the Christian cause if a person is martyred for the faith as was Stephen.

I'm NOT saying it's up to US to turn someone over to martyrdom, of COURSE we must pray for his deliverance, that IS our job, but what I'm trying to say is that maybe we need to have a bigger picture in mind while we're praying for him. Expand our prayers to include the possibility of martyrdom, pray for increased faith and knowledge of God's will, pray that he have the vision of Stephen, pray that he have the courage of John Bunyan in prison. Pray above all that God's will be done, which is of course how we are always to pray, but pray with the intention of knowing God's will better than we usually do, to know what would serve the cause of Christ in this situation, we need to pray for knowledge along those lines.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, wrote Tertullian, in a treatise arguing that Christians be delivered from the legal persecutions of his time, while making the point that their martyrdoms were not destroying the faith but causing it to grow. There is no formula in this for all times. Persecutions of Christians have been going on all over the world especially in the last few decades under Islam and there is no particular reason to think the result has been an increase in the numbers of Christians. It may be, I don't know.

But sometimes it definitely is. Sometimes people of little faith or willingness to die are persecuted and their witness unfortunately doesn't count for much, but sometimes the willingness of Christians to die for the faith conveys more clearly than anything else that trust in Christ releases one from fear of death because He conquered death. And Christ Himself taught:
Jhn 12:24-25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.

...Pray for Pastor Yousef.

Pray for his wife and two young children. Pray for those Iranian Christians who are serving the Great Commission to spread the message of Christ to the very ends of the world. Pray for all those Christians under persecution in China, Venezuela, the Middle East, Russia, Nigeria, Sudan, and for those struggling against the threat and impact of shariah law in their neighborhoods.

Pray the faith Pastor Yousef so fervently shares is lived not only in Iran, but fearlessly in places where the Christian faith is rarely tested… and therefore rarely tried.

Pray for an awakening of the Holy Spirit here in America, so that our faith may be worthy of the name Christian. Pray for us and our churches so that we may fearlessly live the Gospel. Pray for the restoration of all things to Christ. Above all, pray for the time when “I am a Christian” gives despots and dictators pause to consider the reaction of the Body of Christ.
Well, we should pray a lot of this of course, but what I'm trying to get at is that there's something wrong with the emphasis.

Here's the main point: In the case of Islam mere political intimidation isn't going to have lasting effects. Islam has immense satanic power behind it that enslaves its followers. Political clout may keep them at bay of course but is that our highest objective? Don't we want THEIR hearts and minds changed, don't we want them to see the glory of Christ in the fearlessness of His saints and be converted thereby? Political intimidation and influence WON'T SPREAD THE GOSPEL, it will at best protect those who are already Christians. It is commonly thought that the gospel spreads when Christianity is safe and more pastors can preach and so on, and there's some truth in that, but unfortunately it often doesn't spread as easily then at all, or a weaker version of it may spread easily, as so often happens in the west. The gospel goes out in its strongest converting power when it is preached under duress and received in an atmosphere of threat to one's life -- then the true power of Christ to save is grasped with the deep faith that comes with acceptance of dying for it. And political protection doesn't strengthen us but weaken us spiritually. Spiritual strength comes from utter helplessness as we put ourselves in the hands of Christ whether we live or die.

Yes, pray for pastor Yousef, that his faith not fail and that God's will be done. Pray that other Christians be inspired by his faith and fearlessness to give up their own freedom for Christ as he has done, and their lives if need be FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE UNDER THE SPELL OF ISLAM. Pray that many workers be sent into the harvest WILLING TO DIE TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL. We send out missionaries so protected by every worldly means these days it's a wonder if they accomplish anything. Power in the Christian life comes ONLY THROUGH dying.

But besides praying for this pastor in all the above ways we should also do what we can to PUBLICIZE his situation. PRAY FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT FOR THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST AND THE GLORY OF GOD IN HIS STORY.