Are Covert Christian Converts…Converts?

As I scanned a recent U.S. News magazine I came across an article entitled “Covert Christian Converts.” It seemed fascinated by the lifestyle of a young man and his family in Iran who had converted to Christianity from Islam. Apparently, in Iran there have been discussions concerning the penalty of apostasy from the Islam religion. The inevitable punishment is death. Because of this, and other harsh persecutions that would daily present themselves to these converts, they live a dualistic lifestyle – a private life and a public life of equally dual devotions.

In private, this family, who apparently received Christ via Christian television programming in Iran, whereby they contacted the hotline and prayed with a counselor standing by, leads a life devoted to Christ, praying and humming hymns to Him, while enjoying Bible study.

In public, however, they are of the strictest devotion to Islam, attending to their rituals with as much tenacity as any other Muslim. The testimony of the article leads us to believe that this other life is lived in fear of death.

I’d like to give a few considerations and then ask for your biblical and thoughtful insights:

1. Living in America, one thing that becomes clear to me is that I have no experience or idea of suffering and persecution, much less the threat of my life for the sake of Christ. The closest I have come is in the reading of the Bible, Foxes Book of Martyrs, and three days with an underground church in Israel. Though America is growing intolerant with evangelical Christianity (which is to be expected), it is still a country that largely celebrates its multi-faceted diversity even in the things of religion, even in the way of biblical Christianity. Therefore, I admit beforehand, that I am not as sympathetic towards this family as perhaps I ought to be, or at least, I am not as associated with the reality of their circumstances. I also understand that they may not have met another Christian in the whole country, much less had any biblical discipleship, encouragement, or accountability. All of this taken into consideration (which is alot):

2. There is no such thing as covert Christianity. Our Lord declared that if we confess Him before men that He would confess us before the Father, but that if we denied Him before men that He would deny us before the Father. To Christ, and to the apostle Paul, to believe in Christ was to lose one’s life for the gain of eternal life, it was to deny oneself, and to take up our personal instrument of death every day for His sake and the advanement of the Gospel. In Paul’s mind, believing in Christ and suffering for His sake were inseparably linked as dual graces of God and by a life lived in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (which is the sure sign of true faith and of our ultimate salvation; cf. Philippians 1:27-30). Jesus literally lived the Gospel into operation, and He both suffered and died for it (through which death the Gospel offer was codified and made available to every sinner). Christ was constantly on mission; Christians are constantly on mission – and suffering is the expectation not the surprise. If you are a Christian, you are a Christian outloud! It is not a life of ease that we live for, but rather a life eternal!

3. We are either with Christ or against Christ. We either gather with Him or we scatter. Our Lord was black and white without a hint of gray. There is no dual citizenship for the Christian in terms of devotion. Although we belong to a heavenly citizenship and exist in an earthly realm (see Augustine’s 800+ pages in The City of God), the object of our devotion, love, priority, and allegiance is God and our purpose to glorify Him by loving sinners with the truth of His reign in Christ – in the midst of the world of unbelievers who are immersed in the culture, and largely, anti-God, and in opposition to the Gospel of Christ. We ought never to feel at home in the world! In attempting to come up with a comparable situation of an American convert to Christ who continues to live in religious compromise, the closest that I can come up with is an antinomian life, one who professes Christ as Savior but denies Him as Lord, who abuses the freedom of grace to the negation of obedience of God’s Word…but to me, I think the Word of God is clear that we ought not be to quick to receive such into the kingdom of God’s eternal glory in Christ! It seems to me that at the heart of this situation there is too great a care given to their own temporal life and lifestyle, and not enough care given to the name of Christ and the advancement of the Gospel in Iran by that testimony. The main reason for their conversion by the testimony of the young man was that Christianity offered them a more free religion. But have they mistaken the paradigm of Christian freedom: we are free from all to be servants of all (See Luther’s Christian Liberty)!

4. Within the same article, testimony was given of a man who having been converted to Christianity from Islam refused to deny his Lord and was imprisoned for it for ten years. Another Christian pastor in Iran managed to make enough of a stink about this man’s situation, that he was released. However, not long after, both, the convert and the pastor were found slain because of their testimony, the pastor being stabbed 26 times. Are we to make no distinction between these men and this family? I would say that there was something imputed to them by God that was principally different than in this recently converted family. The question is what? Was it a true faith? Or was it just a greater knowledge of the grace and the glory of the name of Christ? The answer is an eternal one. In other words:

5. What do we make of such conversions in countries where the threat of one’s life for the sake of Christ is a probability rather than a possibility, if with their lives they deny their Master so as not to suffer persecution for His name’s sake? I think that this question is an important one, for it concerns the theology of missionaries, as well as the depths with which a missionary needs to go in discipleship to secure a firm understanding that the converts are actually Christians, for what does it do for a missionary to secure a decision for Christ when the convert will not confess Him publicly at the expense of his life? Is not to die gain?

Moreover, it is a worthy meditation for the pastors of local churches in America who have members of that body serving in the Gospel in foreign countries and at home- what do we make of their reports concerning conversions? What do we consider missionary activity, or missionary endeavor? How should we pray for converts in such places? How do we communicate to our stewardship the authenticity of a God-work (cf. Philippians 1:6)?

But it also concerns the essential fortitude and disposition of believing in Christ, for as Christ taught, and as the apostles knew, and as the church father’s knew, and as many today are knowing, and as I pray that we will come to know, that to be raised from the dead through faith in Christ by the grace of God means not only to live for Christ, but to share in His sufferings becoming like Him in His death that by any means possible we may attain the resurrection from the dead! Let us therefore become courageous in the face of persecution knowing that this is the cost and gain of faith in Christ and that the Gospel will progress through the grace of suffering for His name. We must remember that the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.

What do you make of such situations? What conclusions do you come to? What biblical thoughtfulness might you add to these things? What themes, or practical insights? What might you subtract or revise? Thoughts welcomed!

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