Iranian pastor facing imminent execution for apostasy

Important update (18 November 2011): Since originally writing this post, it has come to my attention that the Mohabat News Agency describes Youcef Nadarkhani as ‘one of the non-Trinitarian Christians’. Upon further investigation, I managed to find the statement of faith of Youcef’s own church, the L’Eglise d’Iran. Regrettably, this statement studiously avoids any Trinitarian language, and thus seems to confirm the ‘non-Trinitarian’ label ascribed to Youcef by the Mohabat News Agency.

Furthermore, Present Truth Ministries, who have been actively covering Youcef’s case, recently tweeted a quote from William Branham, someone who denounced the doctrine of the Trinity and held to many other significant doctrinal errors. This in itself does not necessarily mean that Present Truth Ministries agree with all that Branham taught, but it did warrant further enquiry.

A week ago, I therefore contacted Present Truth Ministries using the form on their website, asking whether they would confirm Youcef Nadarkhani’s and their own stance on the Trinity. I have not yet received a response to that request. [Present Truth Ministries have subsequently responded. See the update below.] I will update this statement should one be forthcoming. In the meantime, while the currently available evidence is not conclusive, there does seem to be at least room for doubt concerning the orthodoxy of both Youcef Nadarkhani and Present Truth Ministries. I hope that this can be resolved with an affirmation of Trinitarian doctrine from Present Truth Ministries.

Now, the term ‘non-Trinitarian Christian’ is oxymoronic. To worship a non-Trinitarian god is to worship a false god other than the God who reveals Himself in the Bible, and thus to place oneself firmly outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy. The plight of those holding to such beliefs and suffering for them is therefore doubly tragic.

None of this negates the fact that Youcef Nadarkhani’s case highlights the oppressive nature of the present Iranian regime and the absence of freedom of religion in that country. Youcef’s plight is noteworthy, and his stand courageous, regardless of the specific beliefs to which he may or may not hold.

Nevertheless, some of those who read my original post may desire particularly to support through prayer and in practical ways those that they know believe, teach and confess the historic orthodox Christian faith. It was therefore necessary to make this statement, so that they may direct their efforts in the way that they desire. I apologize to anyone inadvertently misled by my coverage here or elsewhere of Youcef’s case.

Finally, please pray for those who consider themselves non-Trinitarian Christians, that their eyes may be opened so that they may call upon the only true God, the Triune God of the Bible – one Godhead in whose unity is three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Update: I contacted Present Truth Ministries to inform them that I had written the above, and they have now posted a statement on their blog. They have not clarified their own position, but concerning Youcef they say:

We’ve also been asked on many occasions about Youcef’s beliefs. Based upon my conversations with Iranian church leaders, they agree with the rejection of Sabellianism (Jesus Only) and Arianism. Their belief is that God is three properties in one being, a tri-unity.

Unfortunately, this language falls far short of an affirmation of the historic orthodox Christian formulation of three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity (as chapter II of the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it). The word ‘property’ in no way equates to personhood. If Youcef and Present Truth Ministries wish to be regarded as orthodox in their understanding of the Trinity, I believe they would do well to confess that understanding using the language of a classical Trinitarian formulation such as that of the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Athanasian Creed.

The ASSIST News Service reports that 34 year old pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is under a death sentence in Iran for apostasy. The Iranian Supreme Court has upheld Youcef’s sentence and he could now be executed at any time. The story has also been run by the Christian Telegraph. [Note: there is now some uncertainty over the verdict – see update 2 below.]

The ASSIST News Service quotes Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries as saying:

‘The way that this situation is typically handled is that at any time, and without advance notice, they will carry out the death sentence. First, they will ask him to recant, and if he does not, then he will be executed.

‘There is nothing more to be done to help his [Youcef’s] case from within Iran. The only thing that can affect his case now is international pressure.

‘I ask that each of you earnestly pray and follow what God calls you to do. We know that we are called to be faithful unto death and that many are killed for their faith everyday around the world, but as Christians let’s do what we can for Youcef, pray for him and raise our voices against the Iranian regime.’

Present Truth Ministries has a page recounting Youcef’s story. It also provides a guide explaining how you can help and containing extensive media contact details.

Let us remember Youcef in our prayers, and the very many others like him around the world who endure severe persecution for their faith in Christ Jesus, the only One in whom salvation is found.

Update 1: Obama administration surely aware of Youcef’s plight, but will it act? 30 June 2011

CNN covered Youcef’s case on 7 December 2010. The CNN report contains additional background information, including a call by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom upon the Obama administration to demand the unconditional release of Mr. Nadarkhani.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission with commissioners appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The USCIRF reiterated its appeal to the Obama administration on 25 March 2011.

Update 2: Continuing concern amid verdict uncertainty 5 July 2011

Present Truth Ministries has a brief report on the uncertainty over the verdict of the Iranian Supreme Court on Youcef Nadarkhani’s case.

Christian Today has also just published an article detailing the continuing concerns for Youcef despite reports of an annulled sentence. Christian Today also reports there that Youcef’s lawyer is also now facing lengthy imprisonment, having been convicted on Sunday of ‘actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime’.

Update 3: Written verdict from Supreme Court delivered 12 July 2011

Present Truth Ministries reports that the Iranian Supreme Court’s verdict has now been delivered to Youcef’s attorney. Preliminary information from Iran is that the death sentence has not been annulled, but that the Supreme Court has identified procedural flaws and has asked the lower court to re-examine the case. Keep praying!

Update 4: Translation of Supreme Court verdict 21 July 2011

Present Truth Ministries has published an unofficial translation of the Iranian Supreme Court’s verdict on Youcef Nadarkhani’s case.

Update 5: Case to be re-examined on 25 September 23 September 2011

Present Truth Ministries writes:

Youcef Nadarkhani remains inprisoned in Rasht under the death sentence for apostasy. We have learned that the re-examinaton will take place on September 25, 2011. The local court was ordered by Branch 27 of the Supreme Court to examine specifically whether he was a practicing Muslim between the age of accountability, 15, until he became a Christian at age 19. After they review the case, it will be referred back to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

Behnam Irani remains in prison in Karaj, and recently five other Christians were ordered to report to prison to serve a one year sentence in Shiraz. This is part of a larger campaign by the Iranian government to purge the nation of Christians. Many government paid mullahs have issued statements during sermons encouraging the police to do more to put an end to the Christian movement in Iran.

I would like to invite each of you to join me on September 24th (because of the time difference) for a day of fasting and prayer for brother Youcef and his case. Let’s join forces in this spiritual battle and keep our brother continuously covered in prayer.

Update 6: Pastor Nadarkhani refuses to recant during trial 26 September 2011

Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Youcef is standing firm despite demands during court hearings that he recant his Christian faith.

Update 7: Washington Post, Telegraph and New Statesman blogs cover Pastor Nadarkhani’s plight 28 September 2011

The Washington Post, The New Statesman, and The Telegraph, a major UK newspaper, both cover Youcef’s case in their blog sections.

The Telegraph article also links to Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s campaign page, where you can email the Iranian embassy. CSW says that the next 24 hours are critical to stop the execution of Pastor Nadarkhani.

Update 8: Iranian officials interview Pastor Nadarkhani – verdict on 10 October? 6 October 2011

Present Truth Ministries has an article outlining New Developments For Youcef Nadarkhani, which also contains helpful suggestions for your prayers.

Update 9: Verdict delayed again 10 October 2011

Present Truth Ministries writes:

The delivery of Youcef Nadarkhani’s verdict has been delayed again by the court in Gilan province. The reason for the delay, according to his attorney, Mohammed Dadkhah, is because they have referred the case to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is very unusual for a court to ask for the legal opinion of the Supreme Leader. Continue to pray and take action for him.

Present Truth Ministries had earlier posted an item with video of Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) speaking on the US Senate Floor about Pastor Nadarkhani’s case.

9 thoughts on “Iranian pastor facing imminent execution for apostasy”

  1. Dear Daniel,

    Will pray for Youcef and his faithfulness to Christ and that the Glory of the Father will be manifest in this young mans life.

    Only by His grace, charisse


    1. Hello Charisse – that’s a positive development, thank you! And thank you too for continuing to remember Pastor Nadarkhani in your prayers.

      I’ll email you my email address.

      Peace and grace.

  3. Dear Daniel,

    As we know nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy when we are abiding in Christ. It will be interesting one day to know the outcomes of this situation.

    Could Youcef be made aware of the misunderstanding of the Trinity and ultimately have God reveal the Truth of Himself? Did the world catch a glimpse of the brotherly love shown by Christians who were supporting one they thought to be a brother in Christ?

    Another very important aspect is the whole “understanding” of the Trinity. In an apologetics course recently taken I was made aware of how terribly unversed I am on the Trinity. It is to my shame what little understanding I possess. My ignorance on the Scriptures that explain the Trinity as well as Scriptures that can be ripped out of context and twisted to support a nontrinitarian view, was a surprise even to me.

    So, to that end this has been a very beneficial post.

    Blessing to you and yours, charisse

    1. Hello Charisse – thank you for your further thoughtful comments. God will no doubt accomplish His purposes, even through the present situation.

      With regard to Youcef and his church’s understanding of the Trinity, my impression from everything that I have read (and I must stress that it can be no more than an impression) is that the Trinitarian Christians in Iran view the Eglise d’Iran with some suspicion precisely because that body will not subscribe to a standard, orthodox Trinitarian formula. Clearly, from what Present Truth Ministries have been saying, this isn’t a new issue, and they have been asked many times before about Youcef and the Eglise d’Iran’s position on the Trinity. Furthermore, the Eglise d’Iran’s statement of faith is very careful in its language. Consequently, I’d be very surprised if its non-orthodox position is anything other than very carefully formulated with a full awareness of the orthodox Trinitarian view.

      I found it particularly interesting that Present Truth Ministries said nothing in their response about their own position, even though I specifically asked them about that (in addition to Youcef’s). Their response also rather pointedly failed to affirm that Youcef believes there are three persons in the Trinity. Asserting a tri-unity of three properties is, in my view, entirely compatible with the heresy of classical modalism, and does nothing to dispel the concerns of Trinitarians. (Modalists, of course, are generally happy to affirm an economic trinity, where God manifests Himself in three different ways or with different properties. What they will not do is affirm an ontological Trinity, in which the very nature of the Godhead itself subsists in three distinct persons of one substance, power and eternity.)

      Finally, you are absolutely right that formulations of the Trinity are a minefield for error. (And how encouraging to know that you’ve taken a course covering these things!) That’s why, of course, Christians tend to stick to the historic formulations, carefully developed to avoid the potential pitfalls. While naive mis-statements made in ignorance are understandable (and readily correctable), a steadfast refusal to adopt historic, orthodox creedal or confessional statements concerning the Trinity inevitably raises suspicions.

      Thank you again for your comments here.

      Peace and grace.

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