Iran (MNN) — Christians in Iran are facing even more persecution. International Christian Concern has learned that the Iranian government forced the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran to shut down its Friday worship services. The incident took place October 30. Some fear this episode in the beginning of a new campaign of government suppression of public Christian worship gatherings.
According to reports by Farsi Christian News Network, Rev. Sourik, the bishop of the Assemblies of God churches in Iran, resolved to close the church on Fridays, the weekly Islamic day of prayer, after encountering acute pressure from the security network within the Ministry of Information.
Initially, Sourik resisted the government sanction. However, the Revolutionary Guard demanded that the church close Friday public services by October 31, and threatened to shut down all services and close the church permanently. Sourik ultimately submitted to the government's ruling out of concern for the congregation. "The announcement of the termination of the Friday services was received with shock and utter surprise, and resulted in many openly weeping in the church service," reported FCNN. The church leadership affirmed that its Sunday services will remain open.
The Assembly of God Church in Tehran is among the largest church buildings designated for public worship in Iran, a country where the majority of Christians observe their faith in underground house churches. Registered "above ground" churches in Iran have been allowed relative independence to worship freely while being closely monitored by the government. However, ICC sources fear that the closure of Friday services–a heightened trend of government coercion upon "above ground" churches–may commence.
The targeting of registered churches discloses a regression in Iran's policy of toleration toward Christians who choose to worship publicly. "I believe the main reason they closed those service is to send a strong signal to all Christians inside and outside Iran that they will not tolerate Christianity in Iran. Its purpose is mostly to intimidate," said one ICC source.
Historically, it has been the underground church, not the open public churches, that have faced the brunt of government-imposed oppression.
Iran issued no official statement explaining the reasons for its recent crackdown.
Aiden Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, says, "We oppose Iran's resolution to prevent the Christians of the Assembly of God Church in Tehran from fellowshiping freely on Fridays, or any other day of the week. We urge Iran to respect the rights of Christians to practice their faith freely without government interference, or authoritarian rule."
Clay adds, "History has shown us that external persecution actually causes the church to grow."
Clay says that the services have had "great success in bringing in new believers, converting Muslims to Christ, and I think Iran views that as a threat."