Steadfast Guest — After Three Years, Freedom by Pr. Timothy Winterstein

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:26-28, ESV).

Evil always likes to hide in the darkness.  Until it gains the approval of the majority, or fears no consequences, sin loves dark corners and shadows and the blind spots of human ignorance or apathy.  You have to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight, sang Bruce Cockburn.  And today the darkness has been bloodied.  Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been released from prison in Iran, where he has been held for almost three years on charges of apostasy from Islam, as well as evangelizing.  On its website, “Present Truth Ministries” quotes a Luther-like Nardakhani in court:

During one hearing he was told to recant and he responded, ‘You ask me to recant.  Recant means to return.  What do you wish me to return to?  The blasphemy that I was in before Christ?’  The judges responded, ‘To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.’ Youcef replied, ‘I cannot.’”

The effort to get Nadarkhani released seems to have been spearheaded by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ, obviously not to be confused with the ACLU).  This American organization offers legal services when rights, especially religious ones, have been inhibited.  The ACLJ was in contact with the U.S. State Department and was instrumental in making people aware of Nadarkhani’s imprisonment (especially through Twitter, with over 3 million people re-tweeting the ACLJ’s “Tweets for Youcef.”)

It is unclear in what tradition or denomination he serves.  (Wikipedia says he is a pastor in the Evangelical Church of Iran, which may or may not be the same as the church that belongs to the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.  According to Present Truth Ministries, he served a number of house churches.)  But what is clear is that social media makes it nearly impossible for this kind of darkness to hide for long.  Who knows if we in the U.S. would even have heard of Nadarkhani and the persecution of Iran’s churches if it weren’t for the internet and the way that news spreads there?  How often is a news story blown open by someone with a video camera on her phone, or someone who re-tweets a celebrity or politician behaving badly (to wit: Anthony Weiner)?  It is almost impossible to hide.  Nearly everyone with a cell phone can take a picture or upload a video to Facebook or Twitter, almost instantaneously.  The rapidly accelerating speed of communication means that if enough people care, an issue or a problem can go viral on the internet within minutes.  If enough people re-tweet or share from Facebook, the newspapers and television anchors are almost forced to cover whatever the hot topic of the moment is.  Which makes it all the more strange that as I look at various news sites (the BBC,—whose last story is from July 10, The New York Times website), none of them have picked up on the story as of yet (3:45 pm Central on September 8).  It is, however, at the top of‘s “Trending Worldwide” stories, and it seems to have been picked up by numerous Christian websites.

There are obviously many angles to this story, including the U.S. relationship with Iran, the question of American dedication to religious freedom around the world, the attempts of Iranian authorities to smear Nadarkhani with charges of rape after the initial charges of apostasy were made known, and others.  But the fact is that very little of this would be known to us if the internet and social media were not so prolific.  Would the so-called “Arab Spring” demonstrations have succeeded (though how “successful” they have been is open to future scrutiny) without the help of social media?  How many more crimes would be covered up if someone did not have the digital evidence?  Technology makes it possible to shout from the rooftops (for good or ill) what is whispered in private rooms or government cells.  This holds both a promise and a warning for Christians: if enough people shout something on the internet, the authorities intent on suppressing religious freedom will face incredible pressure, and this might, in the long run, help free persecuted Christians like Pastor Nadarkhani.  On the other hand, let beware the pastor with pornography on his computer or the teacher who verbally abuses a student; the professor who posts something controversial on the university website or the denominational bureaucracy that tries to slip something past congregational members: there are fewer and fewer places for darkness to hide.  The only sure refuge for sinners filled with that darkness is in the open wounds and the empty tomb of Christ.  If Christ is enough for a Christian imprisoned for three years in Iran, then He is also enough for us, though we have very little fear  of that kind of persecution.  Our part may not yet be to suffer physically.  Instead, in the Body of Christ, we continue to pray and work, even “Share” and re-tweet, for persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who are still being jailed, beaten, and killed for their witness to the Christ who is Lord of us all.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein

[email protected]

Trinity and St. Paul’s Lutheran Churches, Fisher and Euclid, Minnesota

Associate Editor’s Note:  Thanks to Pr. Winterstein for writing this article up for BJS on my request, it is much appreciated.  Sometimes we ask certain folks to write articles, sometimes they are submitted.  Please feel free to submit an article to us.


Steadfast Guest — After Three Years, Freedom by Pr. Timothy Winterstein — 9 Comments

  1. I urge caution with regard to this man. I am very thankful that he has been released, but there is strong evidence that he is not a Trinitarian Christian and, therefore, not a Christian. Perhaps it is a form of “invincible ignorance”—I don’t know. But Present Truth Ministries, which has been in direct contact with him and is a sort of North American theological ally, is not Trinitarian, and its website presents Youcef’s views here:

    Months ago, I contacted the ACLJ and asked specifically for them to put this matter to rest—demonstrate that he is not a modalist, etc., and they ignored my request and continue on with their massive P.R. campaign. There are Calvinist pastors in Iran who have said plainly that the “Church of Iran” is a modalist house-church cult after the manner of William Branham, and that it has damaged their ministries. It is incredibly difficult to contact these people. Still, we cannot talk about impending martyrdom if the man in question is not a believer. Nonetheless, I have prayed for his release and salvation.

  2. Thanks for the link to that page. If he is not a Trinitarian, it would not be a Christian martyrdom.

    I think that, although this was not a point I made above, even if it were Buddhists or Hindus or Mormons, religious freedom is good all around. And if some religious people are being persecuted, eventually all (or all except the prevailing one) will be persecuted. “First they came for the non-Trinitarians…”

  3. Delivered from one darkness to another equally as dark. I pray that he can receive the teaching needed to move him from darkness into light as regards the Trinity and the true God.

  4. The so called “Arab Spring” seems to be the coming of winter for the Coptic Christians in Egypt (10% of the population and present in Egypt 600 years before the Islamists who wish to suppress them). Christians were persecuted after we invaded Iraq, and are being persecuted wherever the “Arab Spring” brought the Islamists to power.

    Very little is said by our government about persecution of Christians!

    Instead it tells us how “peace loving” the Muslims are! No doubt that’s why our troops in Afghanistan have to live in fear of the men they are training to take over the country! (There are now no Christian churches in Afghanistan.)

  5. As far as I know, we are dealing with Nestorian Christianity. This was present, even when the Shah, was in power, over 40 yrs ago.

    This man, was willing to forfeit his life, rather than deny Jesus Christ is Lord. Iran, has been closed, for over 4 decades, those who know if the LCMS or WELS, were on the ground there, at any time, in the past, would know.

    I do not think it wise, to discuss what we have no idea, was even allowed to be heard, let alone taught, in over 4 decades. We all take great care, both in our own Congregations, Synods, & Country, as to doctrine. We can, it is a freedom we are afforded under our laws. Not so in Iran, or many Middle East countries. Proclaiming Christ as Lord, gets you killed, over there.

    He is free, the world we run in, knows. Now, in Christ, maybe this man can learn in freedom, about the Trinity.

  6. Joe,
    Right to say, I should think. Considering what has occurred today, those who are willing to forfeit their lives, refusing to recant Jesus Christ is Lord, need our prayers.

    Where ever they may be. These are perilous days, for children of Christ.

  7. I was confirmed in St. Thaddeus Lutheran Church, Tehran, Iran…I think around 1975… The pastor was an ALC Missionary for decades there until the Revolution (I left in 1978). The pastor has since died, but I am now in touch via Facebook with his family…trying to see if they know of any legacy continuing over there… I was recently a cultural envoy to Azerbaijan several times for the State Dept. and had the opportunity to worship in a former German/Russian Lutheran Church in Baku…there was actually a small remnant worshiping there before a huge non-denom came in for a later service. (By the way, I am a chaplain at the Lutheran Home in Livonia, MI and SMP Pastor at Living Word in Plymouth, MI.)

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