Iran (MNN) ― Yesterday marked the third day of an Iranian local court demanding a pastor repent of Christianity and return to Islam on penalty of death.
32-year old Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is the pastor of a 400-member church. He was convicted of apostasy and has been sentenced to death for allegedly renouncing his Muslim faith.
Nadarkhani's case went to the Supreme Court, but the court sent the case back to a lower court with instructions for further investigation as to whether or not Nadarkhani had ever actually been a Muslim.
In the lower courts, Nadarkhani was given three days to turn from Christ and accept Islam, a move the courts claim is necessary since Pastor Youcef has Muslim ancestry. Nadarkhani refused to reject the faith.
Sources say when Pastor Yousef was asked to repent by the judges, he said "Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?" When judges told him to return to "the religion of his your ancestors, Islam," Pastor Yousef responded, "I cannot."
Nadarkhani has used up all his chances in the court. "We hear some rumors that he could be executed literally this week-that he's had now three days which is called for in Islamic law to reconsider his decision, and he could be executed at any time," reports Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs.
Pastor Youcef's friend Firouz Sadegh-Khandjani, a Member of the Council of Elders for the Church of Iran, says according to the judicial system after three days he can be executed. He told Jordan Sekulow with the The American Cetner for Law and Justice (ACLJ) that Nadarkhani should never have been arrested in the first place based on Iranian law, but he fears the lower court might act anyway.
The consequences of an execution would not only reach Pastor Youcef and his family, but potentially the entire Christian network in Iran.
"There has not been a judicial execution of a Christian for more than 20 years in Iran. So it is not something that has happened very recently. If in fact this case happens, and Pastor Youcef is executed, that would mark a significant change in direction by the government in how they're treating the church, in how they're treating Christians, and especially those who have left Islam to follow Christ," says Nettleton.
Nettleton says such a ruling may indeed have much to do with the seemingly unstoppable growth of the church in Iran. "Obviously [this case] is designed to produce fear. It's designed to produce intimidation. [Christians] will know about it and have to work through those emotions," says Nettleton.
Despite the extremely high stakes, however, Nettleton doubts even a ruling against Pastor Youcef will deter church growth. He says people know the risks they're taking when they decide to follow Christ in Iran, especially if they are turning their backs to Islam.
Nettleton says the exposure of the case may actually be an opportunity for church growth. "There is so much disillusionment and dissatisfaction with Islam and with the government in Iran - which is run by the mullahs - that this can really be a time when people are exploring other options. And obviously we'd love for them to hear the Gospel and to meet Jesus in a personal way."
Pray is in order whatever the outcome. Pray for Pastor Youcef to be freed, and for him and his family to be safe. Pray for courage, strength and leadership in the Iranian church. Pray for Muslims to even come to Christ throughout this experience.
You can also directly encourage Pastor Youcef and appeal to your government officials on Nadarkhani's behalf by visiting www.prisonalert.com. Do this quickly, as time could be running out.
Source: Mission Network News