| Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, with at
Th.D. from Boston
University is one of the founders of Willow Creek Community Church in
South Barrington, Illinois and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies
at Wheaton College where he taught for 20 years. Dr. Bilezikian is a
past President of Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon. He is the
author of Christianity 101 and Community 101. The following address was
given by Dr. Bilizikian at the 63rd Annual Convention of the Armenian
Evangelical Union of the Eastern States and Canada and the 45th Annual
Meeting of the Armenian Missionary Association of America, October
8-11, 1964, Havertown, Pennsylvania. The address was published in the
Armenian American Outlook (Fall - Winter / 1964 - 1965). At the time,
Dr. Bilezikian was pastor of the Loudonville Community Church,
Loudonville, New York.
Missions, Our Mission
Dr. Gilbert G. Bilezikian, Th.D.
There is broad scriptural justification for holding the annual meeting of the missionary arm of the Armenian churches concurrently with their convention. Missions cannot be separated from basic Christianity. The cause and the motivation of missions are inherently bound with the Christian faith and with the fundamentals of personal Christian life. It is not true that some people are called to be Christian laymen and others to be Christian missionaries. All Christians are called to be missionaries.
Jesus, in the same breath, makes disciples (followers) by saying “Come, follow me” and apostles (missionaries) by adding “and I will make you fishers of men.” He offers relief to those who “labor and are heavy-laden,” puts them on their feet and sends them away, ordering, “Go and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Not having recognized the centrality of the missionary endeavor in relation to the life of the church, we often face critical problems in three areas:
The prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and His apostles and Paul in particular unapologetically believed that preaching was the basic function of God’s people. Stripped of the proclamation of a personal gospel of redemption, our missionary endeavors become feeble expressions of secular good will inadequately motivated. The same message which should present unequivocally the person, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the motivating factor of Christian life and missionary incentive in our home churches, the same message remains at the center of our missionary outreach on the mission field. A clear, convincing, decisive proclamation of Jesus Christ is the only justification for missions. To remain Christian, the establishment of educational, social, medical, and recreative institutions is to be subordinated to the preaching of the Saviourhood of Jesus Christ.
Where a solid and valid Christian message is proclaimed, there will be men, stalwart men with drive, dedication and determination. There is no explanation for the present leadership crisis affecting churches and denominations in America apart from the dilution of the message, the socialization of the church and the secularization of missions. But let our message and our institutions become Christocentric and young people will be naturally challenged to give priority to the claims of Jesus Christ upon their lives, instead of rejecting full-time Christian services as a futile, remote and unrealistic option. Let our Sunday Schools and youth programs put the accent on service, on spiritual growth instead of striving to provide second-rate entertainment, and young people will naturally rise to take their places as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries.
What should be last, often becomes first in our concerns. However, history shows that whenever the full-orbed Christian message has been proclaimed in fidelity and prayer, financial means have become available without effort. A commitment of persons is necessarily accompanied by a commitment of their means. The adoption of tithing as a regular pattern of giving presents no problems to a consecrated, missionary-minded Christian.
Too often our major ambition in relation to missions is confined to the export of financial help. But let Christians be moved by a burning desire to export first the saving message of Christ, and the means will be suddenly viewed in their true perspective, simply as feeble means to an exalted end.
In any case, money alone is a rather impersonal witness of our concern for missionary leaders. Our privileged position requires we send them living messengers in the form of missionaries, pastors, Christian educators and nurses with money used only as the supportive element in this glorious enterprise of winning men, women and children to Jesus Christ.