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27 December 2006

Iran Arrests Eight Leaders of Indigenous House Church Movement

medium_Islamic_RegimeGroups_md.jpgCWNews.comIRAN (ANS) -- Leaders of the Islamic republic's indigenous "Jesus Only" movement were raided and arrested by Iranian secret police last Sunday (December 10), according to Compass Direct News

Police began arriving unannounced in the early morning hours to search their homes in Tehran, Karaj, Rasht and Bandar-i Anzali.

Barbara G. Baker, reporting for Compass Direct News, says that according to one source, those arrested have been told they face 10 accusations, including evangelization activities and actions against the national security of Iran.

The news service reports that Police authorities reportedly confiscated computers, CDs, tapes, Bibles and printed evangelistic literature found in the homes they searched, quoting a report on the Farsi Christian News Network website.

Over the past five days several members of the house church movement have been called in for a day or more of interrogations and then released. But eight remain under arrest, including one woman.

The pastors and active members still held in custody were identified as Behnam Irani and Peyman Salarvand, from Karaj; Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Shirin Sadegh-Khandjani and Hamid Reza Toluinia, from Tehran; and Yousef Nadarkhani, Parviz Khalaj and Muhammad Reza-Taghizadeh, from Rasht.

Two of the prisoners, Seyed Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad from Bandar-i Anzali and Bahman Irani from Karaj, were recently set free.

Police authorities have apparently warned members of the religious community of 600 or more not to send any news about the arrests outside of Iran, the news service said.

As an indigenous house church movement, the "Jesus Only" group describes itself as a nondenominational Christian community of "free evangelicals," reflecting theology somewhere between Baptists and Pentecostals. Iran's evangelical community, however, questions some of the group's unorthodox doctrines, including rejection of the Trinity.

Over the past year, says Compass Direct News, Iran's harsh Islamic regime has targeted various Christian groups known to use literature and other means to spread their faith among the majority Shiite Muslim population.

In at least eight known incidents this year, the news service states, former Muslims who had converted to Christianity were arrested and held in custody for several weeks before being released. In most cases, they were forced to pay large bail amounts and told their cases remained open for possible criminal prosecution.

Compass Direct News says that under Iran's strict apostasy laws, any Muslim who leaves Islam to embrace another religion faces the death penalty.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Ciarapica, writing for the websites www.voxdei.org and www.aleloo.com , also reports that in all eight people were arrested, including six pastors. However, a pastor was released early in December after a few weeks in jail.

Ciarapica writes that the movement, entirely organized by local believers, has been plagued by persecution for many years.

He says: "Several brothers have lost their jobs at the same time. Homes have been systematically searched. One sister spent a night in a sinister secret service prison after attending a party at the embassy of Ivory Coast."

Ciarapica also says that one of the believers, Issa Motamadi, was imprisoned for several weeks, found guilty of giving his son a Christian forename. He explains that a child born with a Christian forename is spared from the charge of apostasy, which can lead to death sentence in Iran. Despite repeated claims, Iranian authorities refuse to register Christian civil status and impose Islamic education on children.

Ciarapica writes that: "Rumors have been going on recently, accusing the movement of modalism (the heresy according to which Godhead is composed of only one person manifested in three forms) or misappropriation of funds, in order to discredit it in the West. Questioned on these subjects, a leader replied: 'No Council has the right to define who God is. Theologians Karl Barth and Karl Rahner were aware of the problem. We are neither Trinitarians in the sense defined by the Council of Nicaea, nor Modalists, nor Arianists, nor Unitarianists. Limiting God is like attempting to build a tower that will reach the heavens.' "

Under such a critical situation, says Ciarapica,"we should set aside some minor theological nuances that risk to create unnecessary divisions between Christians. Instead, we need to focus on the fact that brothers and sisters in Iran are facing death sentence because of their faith in Jesus Christ. This is an hour for unity, not for theoretical debates. As Etienne van Holderbeke from Awake Ministries puts it, how dare we justify passivity in the name of menial divergences while the body of Christ is being attacked ? History has taught us where such an attitude led."

He adds: "Whatever one might think of the movement’s theology, not that far from messianic definitions on 'tri-unity' of God, one has to admit it figures among the main Protestant churches in the country. The charge against them is mainly evangelization. For this, the believers were arrested."

About 100,000 Iranians may have received Christ over the past few years

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