Ph.D. (1914-2006) was born in Adana,
Cilicia. In June 1945 he received simultaneously a Bachelor of
Arts degree with honors from the American University of Beirut and a
diploma in religious education with distinction from the Near East
School of Theology. He received his Master of Religious Education
degree from Andover Newton Theological School and obtained a Doctor of
Philosophy degree from Temple University of Philadelpia in 1971. Rev.
Chopourian has served as pastor of a number of Armenian Evangelical
Churches. He is the past Executive Director of the Armenian Missionary
Association of America (1976-1987) and was awarded the title of
Director of that organization. On the occasion of the 140th Anniversary
Armenian Evangelical Movement, the Armenian Missionary Association of
America presented a booklet, written by Rev. Chopourian, to the
Churches and the Armenian Communities in North America as a ministry of
evangelism and teaching. The text of that booklet is below.
Fundamental Armenian Evangelical Teachings
Rev. Giragos H. Chopourian, Ph.D.
All religions, or parts of them, such as denominations, have a way of deteriorating. It happens when followers gradually distance themselves from the essential and fundamental truths and teachings of the founder. This is true whether it is Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism or Judaism. Unfortunately, it has been true in the case of Christianity as well. Superstition, tradition, dogmatism and extraneous practices have and do make their entry.
One natural consequence of such deteriorating trends has been a call for return to the teachings of the founder - a call for reform!
The Reverend Roger Minassian, a colleague in Christian ministry serving in the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church of Fresno, wrote:
“Recently I and my congregation have become quite excited by a historical discovery, which many of you may already know about. In reading Leon Arpeés, A Century of Armenian Protestantism and G.H. Chopourian’s, The Armenian Evangelical Reformation: Causes and Effects, (both available through the AMAA) I was impressed with the biblically-sound confession of faith which launched our movement as a separate church on July 1, 1846. By preaching a series of sermons on this confession, I have also discovered the following:The Rev. Minassian’s emphasis on the rediscovery brings to mind the story of an ascetic. Having withdrawn to the desert and pitched a tent, he discovered his prayers and devotions were interrupted by desert rats. He asked a friend to find a cat for him. He had not requested a cat with special features so he readily and happily accepted the pitch black cat his friend brought to him. Two generations later, there were many more tents in the desert area the ascetic had first settled. They had been attracted there as a result of the quality of Christian devotion the Founder had. Each ascetic had a pitch black cat tied to the tent like the Founder had done. But the ascetics did not know why they had a cat tied to the post of the tent. neither were there lives like that of the Founder.
Life is too important for God’s creatures to be ignorant of truth, especially, of Christian truths of redeeming nature.
Armenians in general are ignorant of the occurrence of Reform Movements among Armenians. Most of those who are aware, are prejudiciously informed about one Reform Movement, the one that occurred in 1846 when the Evangelical Church of Armenia (Hayastaniatz Avedaranagan Yegeghetzee) was founded. “Prejudiciously” informed because the criticisms that are directed against the Movement are unfounded (one can’t respond to those criticisms because they need to be treated as a separate chapter). Few, for instance, realize that there were other Armenian Evangelical Reform efforts in the Seventh and Ninth Centuries each lasting two centuries and which some writers believe were the harbingers (forerunners) of the Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther in Germany. The Evangelical Reform efforts referred to are the (1) Paulician Movement from the Seventh to the Ninth centuries and (2) the Tonrakian from the Ninth to the Eleventh.
But first, a definition of the word EVANGELICAL.
Evangelism is derived from the New Testament Greek word “Evangelistis,” viz., a proclaimer of the “Evangelion” or Gospel. In the New Testament the word is used three times of a traveling missionary.
1. In Acts 21:8: “And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came into Casesaria: and we entered into the House of Philip the EVANGELIST....”The Evangelist therefore is one who reveals the Gospel by broadcasting the Evangelion (the Gospel of Christ). In a wider sense the term “Evangelical” has been applied since the Reformation (1517) to “the Protestant Churches by reason of their claim to base their teaching preeminently on the ‘Gospel’.” The term has been in long use in Germany (Evangelische Kirche); Switzerland; England; and the United States, which received all forms of it from immigrants from Europe and England. Theologically, Evangelicals have held these beliefs: (1) The verbal inspiration of the Bible; (2) The Scriptures the sole binding authority over the Christian (not the Church or Church tradition); (3) The near return of Christ to redeem His elect; (4) The supreme importance of “Kyrigma;” (5) Justification comes by faith alone; (6) Rejection of five of the seven Sacraments and acceptance of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the two valid Sacraments; (8) Depravity of man; (9) God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as a Unified Trinity.
Let us get back to the early Evangelical Reform Movements among Armenians. The first organized and strong resistance against the established Armenian Church came from the Paulician-Tonrakian Movement which showed Adoptionist-Unitarian strain of the so-called Monarchian type that some have suggested was evident among Armenians in the first three centuries. (The Adoptionist view, considered to be heretical, originated in Spain in the Eighth Century according to which Christ was considered to be in His Humanity, not the true, but only adoptive Son of God. In other words, Christ was Son only metaphorically. The Unitarian view, on the other hand, rejects the doctrine of the Trinity of Christ in favor of the Uni-personality of God. The unfortunate thing about the Paulician-Tonrakian Movement was this particular Adoptionist-Unitarian emphasis which gave the conservatives cause to suppress it). The movement extended in time from the middle of the Seventh to the middle of the Ninth Century for the Paulician portion, and from the middle of the Ninth to the middle of the Eleventh for the Tonramian portion. It was almost after complete annihilation that the sect showed itself active again under Smbat in the village of Tonrak, from where they received the last-stated name. Joining the Great Exodus at the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, many Tonrakians settled in Russian-Armenia. In the period between 1837-1945 the Synod of Etchmiadzin held an inquest into the tenets and usage of the sect at which time a manuscript volume was seized from the secretaries, The Key of Truth. This Armenian text turned out to be “a copy of a copy” made in 1782 from a lost sample by a certain John Vartabedian. Conybeare published the text in 1898 with an introduction and translation. The “Key,” suggesting their roots might be in Paul of Samosota, makes it clear that the Paulicians and the subsequent Tonrakians were Unitarian-Anabaptists (we might define Anabaptists to be Rebaptizers since they rejected that infant baptism was true baptism) believing Christ to have become the head of a new creation by wroth and by obtaining adult baptism.
Arpee and Conybeare both demonstrate that the beliefs of the Paulician sect were diametrically opposed to the traditions and beliefs of the Armenian Church. The Paulicians held to the following doctrines which contain important Evangelical teachings.
1. They held against the beliefs of the Church that Mary was a perpetual virgin. They maintained Mary bore other children after Jesus. (This is an opinion that is held to be true by all Evangelicals today).For such beliefs and others these believers endured “Scourgings, Imprisonments, Tortures, Reproaches, Sufferings and al the tribulations of the world” (Conybeare). The Paulician-Tonrakian Movement was crushed in its effectiveness by the combined strength of the state and the church between the Seventh and Eleventh Centuries.
However, resistance to the “Errors” of the Armenian Church showed itself again in the Eighteenth Century with the criticism of Priest Dibajian. A prominent Armenian historian wrote the following about him:
“But long before the coming of the Protestant Missionaries of the East, an Armenian Priest in 1760 had raised a voice regarding the Reformation of the Armenian Church.” (Y. Kassouny) Priest Dibajian is given the honor of being the first in modern times to attempt the reformation of the Armenian Church. In an unpublished book, he had exposed the glaring errors of his church, the inconsistencies in faith, practice and conduct of the priests and bishops, and the superstition of the people. He had tested every principle and ceremony against the high standard of the Bible, with the exception of the doctrine of justification by faith to which he had made no allusion. Priest Dibajian raised his voice while at Samatia quarter of Constantinople and hand-written copies of his book found circulation until 1820. Dibajian’s reflections about the past showed evidences that the Fourth and early mid-Fifth Century Armenian Church had a simple, apostolic form of worship, and was considered to be “A fellowship of believers” and not a hierarchy of priests.
We have taken a long, circuitous route to come to the current Armenian Evangelical Church (The Evangelical Church of Armenia) and to the tenets, but better, to the teachings it holds.
Does the Armenian Evangelical Church have a formulated updated Creed to which one can go for instruction? Technically speaking, the answer has to be in the negative. No Theologian has written on the Theology of the Armenian Evangelical Church. We have no specifically formulated, researched and written creed. That is because the Armenian Evangelical is satisfied by his ability to refer to The Book; and by the facility by which he can refer to the general prevailing Evangelical tenets of the main Protestant Denominations and the Lutheran Reformation.
The Evangelicals do have, however, the confession of faith that the forty members of the first constituted church accepted. All the important Evangelical beliefs are contained therein, a summary of which follows:
A. God exists as creator, sustainer and governor of the universe and is the only worthy object of worship.2. THE BIBLE
Where does a Christian go for final authority on questions of belief and conduct? Does he go to a Priest, Monister, Bishop, Pope? Does he rely on tradition, dogma, creed? The Evangelical Armenian has been taught, and hopefully he has learned, that final authority is in the Bible. All are called to submit to the Bible as the final authority - Popes and Catholici, Patriarchs and Priests, Emperors and Eminent laymen - because the Scriptures are the inspired revelation of God.3. JESUS CHRIST
A. Christ is the only savior, mediator and intercessor between God and man. No other mediation is acceptable. Relics, pictures, crosses, images confession, forgiveness (absolution) uttered by priests in the name of Christ are worthless efforts for salvation. Only a personal response to, a close relationship with Christ, are acceptable avenues of salvation.4. CHURCH AND SACRAMENTS
A. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches accept and practice Seven Sacraments and consider a Church is a Church when unbroken grace is transferred by the laying of hands on the servant of the Church. Evangelicals are not threatened by the continuity concept of grace. They believe where Christ is present with his Holy Spirit, there is the Church. They reject assigning any intrinsic or inherent value to the laying of hands. Ordination is seen as full commitment to serve Christ.5. PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL
Finally, the Evangelical believes that the Gospel is the appointed instrument of Christ for the conversion and edification of humanity. That is because wickedness prevails in the world and all are destitute of holiness. Christians are expected to obey Christ’s command: “Go Ye Into All The World, and Preach the Gospel to Every Creature.” In conclusion let us summarize the most fundamental truths revealed in the Scriptures:
1. Evangelicals believe in the priesthood of all believers: Spiritual life is based on personal relationship with and discipleship to Christ, and all believers are priests;“What doth it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”