Luther or Khomeini?

On this day after All Saints, what does Martin Luther have in common with the Ayatollah Khomeini? Very little, except for each man being radically committed to his faith. The radicality of Khomeini has produced thousands of refugees fleeing Iran because of its religious oppression, while the faith of Luther has been a means of conversion for thousands of these Iranians immigrants to Christianity. Germany is home to the largest Iranian community numbering 150,000. In an article in Christianity Today titled The Other Iranian Revolution (July/August 2012), Matthias Pankau and Uwe Siemon-Netto chronicled the impact of the gospel on Germany’s Iranian population, especially among the Lutherans. Twelve years ago, a tiny independent Lutheran church in Leipzig began teaching German as a second language to refugees. The church used Luther’s German translation of the Bible as a textbook. Many believe that this translation actually created the modern German language so it had a dual purpose of teaching German as well as the gospel. One young convert, a direct descendant of Muhammad, said “I heard for the first time that God is a loving Father who desires a personal relationship with every human being. This was news to me because Islam taught me the image of God was a distant, punishing deity.” Another said, “Islam is like a rope ladder on which people try to reach God. They manage to climb a few rungs, but with each sin, fall off the ladder and must start all over again. Christians, by contrast need no ladder because Jesus comes down to earth for them. Christians have salvation. Muslims don’t.” At a time when only 13% of residents living in the part of Germany that used to be communist call themselves Christians, there is a spiritual awakening taking place among displaced Persians. Many report having visions of Jesus which sound convincing enough even to Lutheran clergy who share Dr. Martin’s distaste for “religious enthusiasm.” These visions share a distinct pattern reported throughout the Muslim world. “Muslims see a figure of light, sometimes bearing the features of Christ, sometimes not. But they instantly know who he is. He always makes it clear that he is the Jesus of the Bible, not Isa of the Qur’an and he directs them to pastors, priests, congregations, or house churches where they later hear the gospel.” The reports estimate that 500 Iranians are becoming Christians every year in Germany. However, one official with the International Society of Human Rights suggests, “The real figure could well be a thousand, perhaps thousands.”  It is also estimated that every day 17 million of Iran’s 79 million people listen to programs via Christian satellite radio and TV from abroad. Don Richardson once said in his excellent book Eternity in Their Hearts, “God who has prepared the gospel for the world has prepared the world for the gospel.”

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