[In 2008 J. C. Choate went home to be with the Lord. For decades he and his wife were Church of Christ pioneer missionaries in several different countries. For many years he also edited a magazine, The Voice of Truth International, Box 11218, Springfield, MO 65808. This article appeared as a re-run in the memorial issue of that magazine. –AVW]

(Foreword: This was first written in 1965, during our years in Karachi, Pakistan.)

Recently a man stopped at our gate here in Karachi, and stood looking up at the sign “Church of Christ.” After a few minutes he came inside the gate and rang the door bell. We invited him in, and an amazing conversation followed.

Dr. A. S. Khan is originally from Iran. He said he was checking out the sign that identified us as the church of Christ, wondering if he would feel able to fellowship us. We had never been under such an investigation, so we were very interested in what Dr. Khan had to say. His first astounding statement was that there are approximately 750,000 people in the area of Azerbaijan, and extending on up into Russia, in a very mountainous region along the common border of the two countries, who claim to be just Christians!

My wife and I have had subsequent meetings with this gentleman and have been even more thrilled with what we have heard. This past week we sat with Dr. Khan for some time and questioned him extensively concerning this group and their practices. We were amazed at the answers he gave. We deliberately did not tell him what we believed until we had the opportunity to hear what he had to say.
On the basis of what was discussed, it appears that these people and the American churches of Christ are very close indeed.

Dr. Khan talked at length to give us the background of which he is still a part. He said that this group of people dates back to the birth of Christ. The “Wise Men,” from what has now come to be called Iran, saw the star and followed it, ultimately finding the baby King. They stayed for a while and then returned to Iran by a different route.

Heard Peter at Pentecost

About twenty-five years later, when the child would have become a man, a group of twenty-five men made a trip to Israel to see what had become of the one they had worshiped as the new King of Israel. They remained for several years and were present on the day of Pentecost to hear Peter’s sermon. After that they came home.

Later, another group made a trip to that part of the world. They also spent several years, with the last part of the time being in Antioch. When they returned home, they brought with them a book containing “The Sayings of Christ,” which Dr. Kahn says corresponds closely with the writings in the present day New Test-ament. Dr. Kahn explained that the faith of these people has been handed down from father to son through the years, and that they have not changed. He said that although he has traveled a great deal and has searched for others with like faith, he has not left his original beliefs.

Persecution Hindered Evangelism

As to being evangelistic, they have not been, other than to teach the truths to their own children, because of persecution. First they were persecuted by the Catholics, then by the Armenians, then by the Muslims. So they have remained to themselves through the centuries, living in a mountainous area. Although they call themselves Christians, they are known by the government as “the Nazarenes” even to this day.

They Are “Christians Only”

This body of people, according to Dr. Khan, believes that Christ established the church and that all other churches or denominations are the anti-Christs. They look to Christ as the head of the church, with no earthly head or headquarters. They are Christians only. They meet each Sunday for worship, having the Lord’s Supper, prayer, Bible study, singing (vocal music only), and giving.

When asked how many come together for worship in his home congregation, he said 5000. He said they there are numerous assemblies with two- to three hundred to two- to five thousand meeting for worship. Each congregation is independent and has its own elders. They also have a program for the education of their children, providing three hours a week of Bible training in addition to what they receive on Sunday. The women do not preach or teach publicly but they do teach the children and other women.

Dr. Khan told us that although they believe in immersion (for adults only), they immerse three times, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. They recognize Easter and Christ-mas, but both at the same time, on March 4. They believe that Christ was born and resurrected on the same date. On that day they have a gathering and a sermon about His resurrection.

With the exception of these points, we found no differences. There probably are others, but it is amazing to run across someone in this part of the world with such a background. We concluded that there must be something to his story, for he knows a very pure New Testament Christianity, and in every way speaks as the oracles of God, without denominational jargon. In these years of living on this side of the world, we have never talked or studied with anyone who, from the beginning, had such a clear understanding of the Truth.

Being cautious, we asked ourselves what he had to gain if he was trying to deceive us. He asked for no money, and he offered to go with me to his home in Iran. I was eager to do this, and we discussed potential timing. As it turned out, he was out of Karachi at the only time that I could work such a trip into my schedule (we moved to Sri Lanka shortly thereafter), so I decided I could not make that trip alone. It was a great disappointment that I was not able to trace the story to a proven conclusion. However, the people with whom I talked at the stopping point did tell me that there used to be many Christians in that area, but that because of persecution they had moved into the mountains, which was also what Dr. Khan had said.

Perhaps someday, conditions in Iran will again be such that someone can investigate this story fully. Knowing how many scams there are in the world, my skeptical human nature listened in doubt. Yet every time I recall the detailed biblical truths Dr. Khan spoke in those visits, I am convinced all over again that there must have been historical truth in his story, too.