Fred Saleh was an oil man committed to secular humanism. Converted to Christ by reading the Scriptures in his home country of Iran, Saleh is anointed to preach and teach. Not only does he lead The Church on the Rock in suburban Toronto, but he also oversees the burgeoning Acts 13 Christian Ministries. Through the years, Acts 13 has extended its reach from taking the gospel to Muslims and nominal Christians in Iran (Saleh's homeland) to internet and television broadcasting, international church planting and equipping, and online Christian college and seminary education.
Saleh spoke with Charisma Leader about his message, his ministry and the urgency of both.
Indifferent to the Faith of His Family
Saleh described his upbringing in Iran as "relatively nonreligious." His Armenian mother has a Christian background, and his Iranian father converted to Christianity from Islam while being educated in India. But neither actively practiced their faith, Saleh says. The couple raised their children as "good moral people" who believed in God but didn't think He was involved in their lives. As Saleh moved into adulthood, he was "pretty much a humanist by virtue of my education and involvement," he said.
Saleh and Irene married when they were both 21, about the same time he began a far-reaching and fast-rising career in the petroleum industry, including long-term service with the National Iranian Oil Company, a government-owned corporation. Familiar with Eastern culture by birth and Western culture through work, Saleh was comfortable leaving God on the outskirts of his life. But God had a much different plan.
In the early 1970s, two of the couple's daughters attended an Assemblies of God church camp in the family's home city of Tehran. There, both girls came to know Christ.
"I was very much against any type of religious behavior or religious commitment," Saleh said. "So I forbade my daughters from going to church."
But that didn't stop God. In 1973, Saleh and his wife met a missionary couple who had come to Iran from South Florida to serve as interim pastors for an evangelical church. They shared the gospel with Saleh's wife, and she became a born-again Christian.
But Saleh wanted nothing to do with his wife's conversion experience. He even threatened to divorce and leave her with their son and three daughters to raise should she be baptized. Saleh was concerned about how her conversion would look to his colleagues and the influential people in his life.
"I have a very high position in the oil industry, and I need to maintain a certain secular image. I hang out with a lot of high-ranking Americans and Iranians," he told her. "I cannot afford to have a religious fanatic as my wife."
Realizing the Reality of God
About a year later, Saleh completely turned around and joined his wife in commitment to Christ.
"God met me personally and directly by [me] reading the Bible accidentally, and coming up with a verse in 2 Peter 3 where Peter says, 'Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?' ... The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you [emphasis Saleh's], not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." So at that moment, the Holy Spirit just struck me in the head and said, 'You fool! You're one of those mockers who has been mocking Me, and yet I've been so patient for you to come to Me.' I broke down, and I realized that God was real. I realized that the way of salvation was Jesus Christ."
Saleh gave his life to Christ that day. He also started attending the Assemblies of God church in Tehran, where his anointing for teaching was recognized early in his Christian walk.
"They had actually prayed for me and laid hands on me very early, and the Lord had led them to anoint me as a teacher," Saleh said. "I already knew, because very early I started teaching. I was only a year in my faith when the pastor asked me to start some cell groups and begin to teach. I was devouring the Word of God. I was devouring every good book that I could get my hands on to understand the message and the purpose and the plan for which God had created us and saved us. So I continued to develop this gifting."
The family stayed in Iran until 1977, when Saleh was transferred to London to represent the National Iranian Oil Company in the British petroleum industry. In London, he continued his theological studies and started a ministry among Iranians who had come to the city to continue their education or to obtain residency. The Farsi-speaking home fellowship eventually became a church.
When the Iranian Revolution took place, Saleh lost his high position in the U.K.
"I was relieved of my position, because I belonged to the previous government," he said.
Saleh decided he had better not return to his country.
At the height of the 1979 hostage crisis during which Iranian students held U.S. diplomats for 444 days, the U.S. was not accepting immigrants from Iran. Saleh found that Canada was the only country that would accept his entire family.
"We ended up in Toronto in 1980," Saleh said. "Canada was very willing to take us as a family ... And at that time, I transferred [my pastoral] responsibilities to another brother, he maintained that [London] church as a pastor, and the church today is known as the Iranian Christian Fellowship."
Retired to Serve a New Church
With the move to Canada, Saleh retired from his professional work. He founded a home fellowship, which soon became The Church on the Rock. The nondenominational, English-language church now has 300 members and at least 20 nationalities.
The Lord had even greater plans for Saleh and his Toronto church. In 1997, he launched Acts 13 Christian Ministries, an international ministry focused on evangelism, Muslim outreach and church leadership programs. The ministry's name comes from what Saleh calls a "pivotal chapter" in the book of Acts.
"That is exactly the time that the Holy Spirit says, 'Choose Barnabas and Paul for my work,' and they are sent out. And Europe is conquered by the message of the gospel at that point. And it's the only place that the Holy Spirit speaks in the first person. ... So we named it after that chapter."
Born of much prayer and travail before the Lord, the ministry came to be through Saleh's desire to "steadfastly seek and teach the whole counsel of God without compromise." He has observed a "severely compromised" 21st-century church in its "understanding and application of the whole counsel of God in preparing the saints for a truly victorious and overcoming life."
The focus of his ministry was and is on the church at large, emphasizing its key role as an all-inclusive body of believers for the fulfillment of God's eternal plan and purpose. He has no particular denomination in mind, noting that "We have all come short of the purpose to which we have been called."
Blaming, in part, a "commercialized and electronic Christianity" for a shallow salvation message of escaping hell to make it into heaven, Saleh believes serious consequences await believers who remain immature in their spiritual walk.
Raising Up a Faithful Remnant
Saleh is driven by a core message for the body of Christ: "The church has lost its vision, its direction, its quality, its mandate—and, therefore, God has, in all the eras of history, raised a group of faithful people, whom the Old Testament calls 'remnant,' the New Testament calls them 'overcomers,' who have always stood for the Lord's testimony."
Saleh emphasizes that God will always have a remnant. But these believers are not perfect.
"What distinguishes the remnant from the rest of the membership of the body of Christ is that they're not willing to bend the knee to all these pressures and compromising factors and are willing to maintain the torch of the testimony regardless of their personal interests—and to be faithful to the end," he says. "This is what the church today needs to hear, that the numbers and the majority do not dictate God's plan and purpose. God's plan and purpose are for those who are willing to stand faithfully and uncompromisingly."
Something is missing in the church today, Saleh believes.
"We are so hung up on the periphery, the parentheses, the branches, the unimportant, insignificant things that have divided the church into all these fragments, because it is based on all these insignificant and trivial things. And yet we've lost track and lost sight of what is most important: What is God trying to do from eternity past to eternity future? How do we fit that plan? What is God's plan and purpose for the church today?"
Saleh is calling for "a faithful minority within the majority to stand and to declare the whole counsel of God without compromise, regardless of their personal weaknesses, not to drop the torch of the testimony, to keep it going until the Lord returns."
He believes the greatest threat facing the church today is compromise.
He sees "contaminations" in the church, citing problems with political involvement, making church a cultural center rather than a spiritual center and making the church a religious organization rather than a spiritual body.
Instead of being just another institution that vies for attention as do politics and entertainment, Saleh suggests that "the church is an alternate society, not an extension of the secular society." He adds, "We do not claim exclusive knowledge of the truth, as many before us saw and wrote about it. All we are doing is to once again bring it out with a new focus."
Believers today look mainly for comfort, blessing and happiness, Saleh warns.
"There's nothing wrong with those. But they are not the core message of the New Testament. The core message of the New Testament is to deny our selfish interests, carry the cross and be a testimony of the lordship of Jesus Christ."
Although Saleh is warning believers, he loves the body of Christ.
"It's because of that love that I'm so zealous that I want to see God's people overcome and be victorious," he said. "And if not everyone is willing to pay the price, there will be some who would be willing to pay that price, to be part of that list of overcomers at the end, when the Lord would commend them and give them the honor of ruling and reigning with Christ in His millennial kingdom."
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