July 2, 2020
by Rev. Tat Stewart
A History of the Underground Church
In 1980, when I was attending Farsi services in Iran, a dark cloud of fear hung over the churches. The common belief then was that the advent of the Islamic Republic of Iran would be the end of Christianity in Iran. Now forty years later with all church buildings closed to Muslim background Christians, what is the state of Christianity in Iran?
What a lot of people don’t know who are unfamiliar with Iran is that since the Revolution, Christianity has experienced explosive growth. I believe one of the reasons for that has been the lockdown of church buildings. Even before the government closed the church buildings, many church leaders under the leading of the Holy Spirit saw the writing on the wall and began to prepare believers to take evangelism and discipleship outside of the buildings. They began to do more training of lay people and provide them with resources like Gospel tracks and videos such as “The Jesus Film.” They set up small fellowships where the new believers did not even know the key leaders of the building churches. Thus, a totally new underground church was born. When the government bore down on the churches and closed their doors, the Church was prepared for the fires of persecution, resulting in house churches springing up all over the country. There is a lesson here for all of us. The ministry of our local churches must not all be centralized in a building but in people who are trained to share their faith and nurture other believers outside the walls of the established church building.
New Tools Breathe Life into the Church
In more recent years, Christian satellite television and social media have played an increasing role in the life of the Church in Iran. Where satellite brought teaching and worship television programs, social media brought more interpersonal contact and the opportunity for pastors to grow networks of believers. With the advent of the COVID-19 virus and the use of Zoom and other platforms for maintaining contact with each other, we are now seeing even more folks being drawn into the fellowship of the viral Church. The platform God has given SAT-7 for the past few decades to use these tools to equip church leaders to make disciples in harder to access places like Iran has become increasingly important in this digital landscape.
These channels of communication are also providing opportunities for Iranian leaders in the diaspora to teach and encourage the Church in Iran. Since I preach every week on Zoom in Farsi, I get to see firsthand the power of the Word of God at work. I recently did a webinar in Farsi on how to have a Biblical view of the coronavirus and the suffering that it has brought, and I had over eight hundred viewers worldwide. After my teaching, I answered questions from viewers for an hour.
If you could listen in on one of these Zoom worship services, you would hear amazing testimonies of what God is doing. You would hear how drug addicts are being set free, how Jesus is healing the sick, and how those in despair are receiving new hope. You would witness intense, fervent prayers for the lost and for the needs of one another. We are reminded that God uses our trials as a means to advance His kingdom. These are no doubt hard days for a multitude of Christians around the world, but we should be looking for what God is doing through these difficulties.
Lessons for the Church Today
What lessons can we learn from the Iranian Church’s experience? We learn that God is sovereign and His will is never thwarted (Job 42:1). He will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. As wonderful as buildings are, providing us with great places to meet, the early Church met in public places and homes, reminding us to focus on Biblical functions rather than on forms. God is challenging us not to pour new wine into old wine skins but to be looking for the new ways He is at work in the world today.
How You Can Help
Will you help SAT-7 continue broadcasting Biblical truth directly into people’s homes? Every $1 helps provide programs to 1 viewer in a Middle Eastern country like Iran for an entire year! Please consider supporting the growing Church across the Middle East and North Africa with a monthly donation or help with a gift of any size.
Rev. Tat and Patty Stewart have been ministering to Persian speakers around the world for the past forty years. Tat is one of the founders of SAT-7 PARS, as well as being an on air teacher on Christian discipleship. He is Editor in Chief of “Shaban Magazine,” which is designed to provide theological and pastoral guidance for the emerging Persian church. Tat is also the Founder and Executive Director of Talim Ministries (www.Talimministries.com), which provides mentoring and Christian literature for Iranian church leaders. Tat and Patty have served for over twenty years as World Witness missionaries (currently serving as volunteers). They have been married for over fifty years and have two children and five grandchildren.