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This Pentecost, let's remember the Iranian church — one of the world's oldest

  | Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

Memories are short and important information can get lost over time. That collective memory fog and subsequent events can shape what future generations believe or think, and consequently how they act.

Take Iran for example. A series of events occurring back in 1979 in Iran profoundly reshaped the country’s landscape, namely the overthrow of the Shah, the rise of the Ayatollah, eruptive protests, and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

Because of these events, the Western world thinks of Iran as an Islamic nation. But the truth is, Iran is home to the oldest church in the world. 

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You see, on The Day of Pentecost, as documented in the New Testament Book of Acts, the global church was born. Iranians were there and among the very first converts to Christ.

As we read Luke’s account in Acts 2, something amazing occurs. The Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and their followers, giving them the ability to speak in other languages. The multitude gathered in Jerusalem for the Shavuot holiday stood bewildered by what they saw, recognizing that these men were from various regions, each with its own language.

Acts 2 reads:

“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia’”

Luke then lists a slew of other nationalities present. 

But did you notice the first three mentioned, “Parthians and Medes and Elamites?” All of these people groups were from Persia, which is known today as Iran!

This diverse gathering in Jerusalem underscores the multinational impact of Pentecost, making it a foundational moment not just for those in Jerusalem but for many distant lands, including Persia.

Acts continues: 

“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

The events that unfolded in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago continue to resonate in the religious landscape of modern-day Iran.

After Pentecost, Christianity spread around the world. Christianity took root in Persia very quickly, and early Christian communities flourished.  

However, Zoroastrianism, a false religion, held power in Iran. The Persian government was Zoroastrian, and Christians faced persecution. The Persian dynasty believed Christians were supporters of the rival Roman Empire and imposed heavy taxes on them. When Christian leaders refused to impose these taxes on their fellow believers, the ruler at the time declared that Christians would be put to death for disloyalty.

Despite being a minority, Christianity continued in Iran. Zoroastrianism was eventually replaced by Islam. Christians faced hardships such as forced conversions and martyrdom. Yet, they persisted, adapting to the changes in culture and politics over the centuries.

In modern times Iranian Christians continue to show resilience. They practice their faith in a Shia Muslim society, despite strict regulations imposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. These rules particularly target those who convert from Islam. The light of Christ cannot be snuffed out as many, even today, gather for worship in underground churches, secretly practicing their faith to avoid persecution.  

Even more astounding, Christianity is growing in Iran! Those very first Gospel seeds — planted by those initial Parthians, Medes, and Elamites who returned and shared their newfound Savior — have now grown into a vast number of vibrant, Bible-believing, and Jesus-worshipping churches.

I believe Iran will be the first Muslim nation to turn to God. God says in Jeremiah 49:38, “I will set my throne in Elam.” 

Iranians were there at the very birth of the Christian church and will, by God’s grace, continue to be used to win more and more Muslims to Christ. 

Dr. Hormoz Shariat is the founder of Iran Alive Ministries, which uses Satellite TV to reach the millions of lost and broken people in Iran and the rest of the Middle East. He is the author of Iran’s Great Awakening.

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