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Sunday 17 March 2013

Sad Day for Salvation Army and Church in Pakistan

The BPCA is appalled to discover a case last month when a Salvation Army church drove out a pastor they disliked by registering a blasphemy case against him alleging he had defiled a bible, and acted like Muslims in forming a murderous and baying mob outside the police station where their pastor was held.

The background is one that would be familiar to some evangelical pastors in the West, but in Pakistan it took on a murderous tinge.

The pastor, Asghar Nizam Ranjha, was appointed by the Salvation Army about a year ago to pastor the congregation in Ferozewala, a satellite town just to the north of Lahore.  However, he found that one family, that of Mushtaq Masih, was effectively in control, refusing entry and attendance to anyone they didn't like.  They did this because their ancestors had donated the land on which the church was built, and so the family considered that they 'owned' it.  The pastor sought to put a stop to this activity, and the family didn't like it.  They complained four times over the year to Salvation Army to try and get the pastor transferred, but when that didn't work, the family decided to take the route of blasphemy and accused him of defiling a bible in the church to force him to leave.

Mushtaq Masih complained when talking to a journalist that the pastor was 'arrogant' and didn't mingle with the pastors of the other churches in the area, but refused to discuss the blasphemy allegations.   In any case, he stirred up many other members of the congregation and they formed a baying mob around the police station when the police called in the pastor and his accusers.  The police officer said that the pastor's manner was a 'bit harsh' but that there was no evidence that he defiled a bible.  However, saying it was the only way to avoid a violent incident, he urged the pastor to apologize and flee the area to save his own life, which the pastor did.  He had to leave the police station under police protection and was unable even to go home to collect his belongings.  The Salvation Army has transferred him and his wife and children have joined him.  He is reported to be debating whether he dare risk returning to the rented house to get his families belongings.

Mushtaq Masih menacingly told journalists 'One thing is certain. He must never return to the area, otherwise he himself will be to blame for any harm that comes to him.'

Wilson Chowdhry, BPCA chairman, said 'I was absolutely appalled when this story was brought to my attention.  When Christians act in a way that is indistinguishable from their Muslim persecutors, it is in effect a blasphemy against Christ.  When this man drives out a pastor and blames and threatens deadly violence against the victim of his false blasphemy accusations, how is he any different from Islamic extremists and thugs and crooks who do the same?  What kind of a message does this give?  How can we rebuke and call to account Muslim perpetrators and persecutors when Christians are doing this to themselves?'

BPCA trustee Nathanael Lewis added 'The fact that this man registered a case and got the police involved directly contradicts the teaching of Scripture, where we are supposed to resolve disputes among ourselves.   Christians are supposed to be a light in society, we are supposed to be bearers of a ministry of reconciliation, ambassadors for the Messiah who reconciles all things, but how can we do this, and how can we act and speak for you if you are fighting each other?  I have personally seen in the UK the damage that domineering influential church members can do to pastors, but to bring blasphemy charges is absolutely abominable and Mushtaq Masih should repent of his wickedness.  From the reports, even worse, he has involved others in his rebellion against the standards for behaviour set in the bible and without repentance will face God on judgement day.  Even if a pastor did defile the bible in some way, what is more defiling to the body of Christ is the divisive and violently rebellious behaviour against instituted authority shown here.  

The BPCA has called out against corruption by certain church leaders and Christian politicians.  At this point, we should warn Christians of the danger of acting like Muslims, and although we have not mentioned it publicly to this point, we also condemn incidents of honour killings among Christians.  They are thankfully very few, but even one is a stain on the honour of the Pakistani church and a direct contradiction of everything Christ taught.  We should remember that judgement begins in the house of God, according to the bible, and tremble.  Given this fact, and given the fact that so much of the Pakistani church, both in Pakistan and in abroad have a reputation for disunity, tribalism and other unsavoury behaviour that mirrors that of Pakistani society, we call on Pakistani churches to fast and repent, because what good is the cross of Christ if we do not live worthy of it?  We are supposed to have the opposite spirit to that of the world, not ape the world.  For a true work of God in Pakistan, there must be radical change in large sections of the church there.  We need to have true standards of excellence, unity and love.'


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