Since September, the nation of Iran has been in a state of turmoil and pain. Iranian men and women, young and old, are in the streets crying for justice, freedom, and liberty from the dictatorship of the Islamic regime with one resounding slogan: “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,” which means “Woman, Life, Freedom.” They have been motivated by sadness, anger, and grief.
It is not the first time that Iranians have taken to the streets since revolution began in 1979. The current protests, however, are unlike any previous because they are not limited to a specific group or social class. Anti-regime protests have erupted in more than one hundred cities of all thirty-one provinces of Iran. These protests began in response to the death of twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish girl who died in the custody of morality police after being detained for an alleged violation of improperly covering her hair. Over the course of the protests, revolutionary guards, militias, and secret police have brutally killed at least 250 protesters, including twenty-nine children. Many more have been injured, with some of the injured being arrested after being hospitalized.
I asked a small group of my Christian friends from different denominations what biblical topics most Iranian Christians would like to learn about, and they named justice, hope for victory, supporting the oppressed, their role as individual Christians and the role of the church in political processes, and whether the church is to be passive. They understand that Christians are to seek to submit to God’s will and divine providence despite persecution, with love, prayer, and forgiveness, avoiding hate of authority.
Our country and compatriots are confronted with difficult times. Since the Iranian people have been stifled for years by the Islamic religious regime, how will current events affect the church’s growth in Iran? What obstacles will it present for believers? Some Iranian Christians believe that the current events will be a benchmark. In a free Iran, many Iranians, especially young people, may become liberal and drift away from religion, and Christians will face increased pressure. One Christian said: “These days, I have noticed that the church is not as ready as it should be for these developments and does not have a plan for the future of free Iran as it should. So true spiritual revolution will not happen until the church prepares for Iran’s evangelization and shares the truth of Scripture.” Some Iranian Christians think that freedom of religion in a free Iran would allow for systematic evangelism, and God’s message would spread. Yet many Iranian Christians have recognized in the context of recent events that growth is often not very fast in free societies when Christians are far from persecution and opposition.
Many Iranian Christians think that we must take a bold stand for humanity, human rights, and justice, since we are made in God’s image. As stewards of God’s creation, we have authority over creation for the sake of others, but we should not use violence or conceal sin with sin. Instead, we should loudly speak the truth of the Bible because Christ builds His church, and the Bible cautions us not to rely on kings (Ps. 146:3). Even our enemies are made in God’s image. God gave leaders their authority; therefore, we should ordinarily submit to them (see Rom. 13:1–2). When authorities disobey God’s Word, however, we must obey Christ. When we must defy state authority to follow Christ, we preach the gospel and call them to repentance.
No regime can stop God’s sovereign will or obstruct His plans, which He ordained for His own glory. He will accomplish His good purposes (see Isa. 46). There is a time when God brings kings and removes them (Eccl. 3:1; Dan. 2:21). We must not forget that God alone “executes judgment” (Ps. 75:7) because “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17). This helps us see that God uses even politics and wicked rulers to fulfill His purposes. That is why Westminster Confession of Faith 23.1 assures Christians that “God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good.” We Christians are confident that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Even when corrupt persons misuse their governmental position, we can be Christ followers in this world, for God is working for His own glory and the good of His people.
We must also realize that our government cannot save us—only God can save. In the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles never instructed the church to transform pagan government via political administration. The Apostles instead stated that the church is to proclaim the gospel.
Our goal, even during protests, is the pure teaching and preaching of the Word of God. When Christians equate Christ’s kingdom expansion and influence with government policies, they distort the church’s ministry and purpose. Our Christian mission is to proclaim the gospel and preach against sin. Only when Christ transforms the culture will the culture change. Throughout two thousand years of church history, believers have survived and lived even under pagan rulers, all the while knowing that they, and not their government or society, were the world’s light and salt (Matt. 5:13–16). They honored, respected, and prayed for their leaders as Paul instructed (Rom. 13:1–8), and they left a great example for us to have hope in God’s protection alone.
Jesus Christ alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). His death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father (Mark 16:19) are what we need to believe and proclaim. While we pray for the people of Iran and their freedom, we fix our eyes on Christ, who is the source of our peace, satisfaction, hope, and joy, because “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps. 127:1–2).