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Rev. Giragos H. Chopourian 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 Honorary Executive Director of that organization. On the occasion of the 140th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Movement, the Armenian Missionary Association of America presented a booklet, written by Rev. Chopourian, to the Armenian Evangelical 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:

A. Our Armenian Evangelical appreciate gaining a stronger Theological identity as to who they are and what they are to believe.

B. Our Reformation began on a firm biblical foundation, which foundation has been less than clear to our people in the Armenian-American experience.

C. The placing of this confession in our people’s hands is often revolutionary.

“While preparing for these sermons, I became interested in the beliefs of the Armenian Apostolic Church as well. Most Armenians I know here in Protestant America assume that Apostolics and Evangelicals believe about the same, but differ in worship forms. This assumption, I am discovering, is due to ignorance on both sides. Although fairly clear on who Jesus Christ is, we both have been less than clear to our people when it comes to the important questions of salvation, faith and works, the Sacraments, the Priesthood, the Holy Scriptures, Worship, Eternal Life, and Missions.”

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....”

2. Ephesians 4:11: “And he gave some, Apostles; and some Prophets; and some, EVANGELISTS; and some Pastors and Teachers.”

3. II Timothy 4:5: “But watch Thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an 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).

2. The Paulicians also rejected the intercession of the saints believing that because of Christ individuals have direct access to God through Christ.

3. They condemned the veneration of the Cross on the grounds that there was no biblical authority for it and that the practice only made ignorant Christians.

4. They denounced the hierarchy of church as unscriptural.

5. They challenged the Scriptural basis of the liturgical aspects of worship and rejected the concept of Seven Sacraments, accepting only the spiritual intent of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By “Spiritual Intent” they meant that it was a matter of commitment and remembrance.

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:

1. GOD

A. God exists as creator, sustainer and governor of the universe and is the only worthy object of worship.

B. God’s nature is accepted as omnipotent, self-existent and infinite in wisdom, benevolence, holiness, justice, mercy and truth.

C. God exists in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost and the three are one. Besides God, no other being is to be worshipped and adored - no golden calf, no mammon (wealth), no philosophy, no prestige, no status - nothing, absolutely nothing, is to replace the living God.

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.

The Bible records the revelation of the Will and character of God. Christ, through His life teachings, death and resurrection, clarified God’s Will for all men to understand, practice and become perfect and holy. Thus, the Bible is the source of final authority for religious life and moral conduct. Because of this profound nature of the Bible, it is a Holy Book. The Result of this understanding has led the Evangelical to be a daily student of the Bible and to carry the burden of putting a copy in every hand and in every home.

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.

B. How can one be saved? Is it by good works? Fastings? Alms? Penance? Confession? The New Testament is absolutely clear on this point: No externals, such as observances of works, can save because justification is through faith only. Has good works no place/ Not if it is practiced for the purpose of achieving salvation. Good works are valid as the fruit of salvation. A Christian is saved to serve not to serve to be saved.

Those who enter the circle of faith are sharpened with a sense of responsibility: To achieve holiness of life; to discharge our duties to God, fellowmen and ourselves. To engage in works just as the source of a rich spring of water that rushes down to refresh thirsty souls. That will save, not pietistic practices for the purpose of earning salvation.

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.

B. According to the teachings of the ancient churches, Christian faith and life are achieved by the intrinsic power contained within the “Sacraments.” The Sacraments, as though by inoculative power in them, make every participant a believer. For the Evangelical, Creed, Baptism, Sacraments are only external “Signs” of an inner “Experience.” In other words, the Christian faith is a matter of “New Birth” rather than a process of “Naturalization,” or inherited through church procedures. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom” (John 3:3).

The unscriptural concept of inherited faith is due to the misconception that the repository of the Christian Sacraments, namely, Confirmation or Holy Unction, Communion, Penance or Confession, Ordination or Holy Order, Matrimony and Extreme Unction (The latter is not practiced in the Armenian Church) mediates between God and man the sinner through the Sacraments in the belief that divine grace dwells in the Sacraments. The priest as mediator, therefore, is invested with authority to grant absolution. When the priest, the wine, and the water to celebrate the Mass are present, the elements through transubstantiation represent the physical presence of Christ. The partakers become Christians, the administrators, the “Priestly order,” different from other men.

It should be observed then that when the priest baptizes a newborn babe, the child becomes Christian; when he pronounces absolution, the sinner receives forgiveness; when he serves communion, the wine and bread change into the actual flesh and blood of Christ and the participant becomes cleansed and justified as a believer. The Evangelical is concerned that the practice of the Apostolic Churches belittles personal faith, conversion and covenanting with God. The Evangelical Church emphasizes the fellowship of the believers who are reborn through personal faith in Christ. Baptism and Communion do not possess efficacy in themselves. They are the visible signs of an invisible experience. The preacher has no power over the life of the believer. Only the ministry of the word has virtue, power and authority over his destiny. The penitent is free to come to Christ directly for He is the only mediator and intercessor. Every believer is his own priest.


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;

2. Final authority for Christian life and conduct is the Bible, God’s revealed word;

3. Justification is by faith alone, and not by any other external means: “Lord, I believe” is the key for entry into God’s presence;

4. The true Christian knows he is an Apostle, sent out to practice the spirit of loving service on God’s creatures everywhere but specially to our Armenian nation and the dispersed communities. Life is too precious to be lived haphazardly, carelessly or ignorantly.

“What doth it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”