April 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
It is documented in ancient texts that 3rd-century Persia boasted some three hundred and sixty churches, and numerous martyrs.1 We read in the book of Acts in the Bible that in the first century A.D. there were “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia” in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost; and church tradition has it that the apostles Peter and Thomas preached the Gospel to the Parthians. In short, there was very early witness and testimony of Jesus Christ and Christianity spreading throughout the lands of Persia which we now know as Iran. The brand of Christianity that arose in Persia was never distinctly Persian as it did not adopt the Persian language, but grew out of the Syrian church. Although persecution plagued these followers of Christ from time to time—depending on the governing body in power—Christianity enjoyed steady growth. Much of this growth was the result of a Diaspora of Christians throughout Persian territories. Eventually, the Iranian Church completely disconnected itself from the western church, creating its own ecclesiastical organizations. Further divisions within the Persian Church led to significant conflict and rivalry, creating many problems among Christians and, ultimately leading to the collapse and utter defeat of the Christian Church with the added impact of Muslim and Mongol conquests in and around Iran.2 With this Muslim conquest in the 7th century Iran became part of the greater Muslim Empire. The Christian Church was weak, and Islam was in the seat of power. Over time, many Christians, Zoroastrians and others converted to Islam. Iran no longer looks like a country to which the apostles first took the gospel: the country is nearly 99% Shi’i Muslim. There is much work to be done in the foreign fields of Iran, but one must also realize that much work has already been done. We turn now to look at the history of missionary efforts in the great empire—now Islamic Republic, Iran.