It’s totally underground, without a church structure, and predominantly led by women.
And it is growing faster than any other church in the world.
The courage and genuine faith it takes to follow Jesus and grow the church in a hostile culture, American Christians can learn a lot from the Iranian church.
Long ago, God promised that he would make a new covenant. And this covenant would be unlike the old covenant. Rather than be subject to the law, He would write the law on our hearts. (Jeremiah 31:32-33).
Hallelujah! Through Jesus, God has fulfilled this promise!
Yet, why do we still cling to the Law? Why do we replace Jesus as Lord with rules, regulations, and church structures?
Perhaps it is because it feels easier to follow a check-list than the Holy Spirit. Rules are tangible and have an appearance of holiness, but God calls us to something much deeper and far richer.
The Iranian church is a beautiful example of what it looks like to walk by the Spirit, rather than cling to rigid structure.
Iran is a predominantly Muslim country with a larger part of its culture that is openly hostile to Christianity.
Our Iranian brothers and sisters suffer persecution because of their unwavering faith in Jesus. Not only does this demand our empathy and prayer, but it also should lead us to praise the strength of their faith.
Due to persecution, the Iranian church is kept hidden. Believers meet together in secret, praying silently and whispering praises to God.
They do not have the luxury of a rigid church structure, they just have each other.
The Iranian church functions around discipleship; the goal is advancing the gospel. Rather than discipling converts, these Iranian believers begin discipleship at the moment they meet a person. They invite others into their lives and show them Jesus.
Following Jesus’ example of discipleship is what builds steadfastness during severe persecution; it causes believers to stand firm in the midst of raging storms.
Jesus does not simply call us to convert people, he wants us to disciple others as he demonstrated for us. He does not simply call us to show up at church on Sunday to check off the box.
God calls us into a genuine relationship with love for people in our everyday life; we can show Jesus to our co-workers, friends, employees, and gym buddies. We get to invite people into more.
It’s easy to cozy-up in our Christian bubbles. We go to church once a week, help with the offering, maybe even lead a community group, and call it “Christian life.”
All of these things are good and valuable and honorable. However, if we’re not careful, these good things may become distractions, or even idols.
Jesus never constructed a church building or appointed pastors or worship leaders or deacons. He discipled people. And the people are what made up His church, His body.
The church in Iran mirrors this image. There is no centralized leadership structure, as we see in many churches with which we are familiar.
Rather, church looks a lot like the early church we read about in the new testament: each believer teaching, singing, admonishing, and praying, according to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
The Iranian church is not a building, or a stage, or a lecture; it is a group of believers spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, while multiplying their numbers day by day.
This begs the question: how did we curate such particular, regulated, structures for church functioning? And, is it all necessary?
Jesus calls all believers to serve him, using whichever gifts received by the Holy Spirit, who “alone decides which gift each person should have” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
What would happen if we set aside all of our ideas of church structure, qualifications, and norms, and started over with defining “the church?”
If the goal is purely to advance the gospel, what changes should be made in your life? In your church?
Who are the people in your life who you can lead in the ways of Jesus?
And don’t forget to pray for one another; pray for your brothers and sisters suffering for the sake of Christ, and praise God for their beautiful faith, which produces eternal rewards.
May Jesus alone be your Lord and advancing the Gospel be your aim.