Hagop A. Chakmakjian, Th.D. (1900-1996) was born in Tarsus,
Turkey. He is a graduate of Saint Paul's College in Tarsus,
Tarsus, Turkey, the American Commercial College of Alexandria, Egypt,
the School of Religion, Athens, Greece, and the Pacific School of
Religion, Berkeley, California. Rev. Chakmakjian was the pastor
of Calvary Armenian
Congregational Church from 1950 to 1957. This paper was presented by
Rev. Chakmakjian in the fall of 1956, during the Annual Retreat of the
Armenian Evangelical Union of California, held in Yettem, California,
on the occasion of the 110th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical
Church. The first written edition was published in Armenian. The
English edition (below) was published by Rev. Chakmakjian while he was
the pastor of the Armenian Presbyterian Church of Yettem.
The Armenian Evangelical Church and The Armenian People
Dr. Hagop A. Chakmakjian, Th.D.
The first Evangelical Church of Armenia was organized in Constantinople (Istanbul) over 110 years ago. DO WE STILL NEED TO KEEP. The Evangelical churches separate when many changes have been introduced into the Armenian Apostolic Church since that fateful day, and at present it has a trained clergy, preaching of sermons, Sunday schools, use of the Bible, and similar practices in common with the Evangelical churches?
This paper is a modest attempt to indicate that in spite of these and other constructive innovations adopted by the Apostolic Church, the BASIC REASONS which gave birth to the Evangelical Movement remain unaltered, and that, therefore, it is indispensable to preserve the existence and identity of the Armenian Evangelical Church, as we believe that it has a specific task and a duty to perform among our people.
What, then, is the TASK of the Evangelical Church among our Armenian People? There are three paramount duties to be discharged:
First, to face and CLARIFY the criticisms raised against the Evangelical Church;We shall try to examine these three points.
However, before we proceed any further we want to make it emphatically clear that while we meditate upon these questions our MOTIVE is inquiry into or examination of the facts rather than criticism or judgment of any one concerned. We respect the Apostolic Armenian Church. Many of our Evangelical or Protestant parents came to the Evangelical fold from her bosom; wherefore it is mutually profitable to know why we are what we are. We have no intention of condemning, yet we know that we have divergent views in the understanding and interpretation of religious and ecclesiastical matters. To examine and define these might be beneficial to all concerned.
Our first task is to face the criticisms by our Apostolic compatriots and clarify the objections. We shall examine three of these censures.
1. “A FOREIGN MOVEMENT”
It has been often said that the Evangelical (or Protestant) Movement is “foreign;” that is, the (Protestant) Church Reform Movement among Armenians originated in the hands of non-Armenians, namely, American missionaries. The late Archbishop Ormanian has said: “The Protestantism of the East was an importation brought by American preachers.” Therefore, as “foreign” it is considered to be undesirable, unacceptable, even obnoxious, to the red-blooded real Armenian.
Unfortunately, our Armenian brethren do not examine impartially the pathetic condition of the Armenian people and their Church in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. We do not need to speak of the nefarious crimes committed by the Armenian Catholici and Patriarchs in the name of the Church. We do not want to repeat the superstitious lethargy that had engulfed the Armenian Church and its clergy. Our purpose is self-defense rather than offense, however much ammunition we have in our hands.
The historical fact is that just as the tide of political freedom of the French Revolution created among Eastern peoples movements of liberation and revolutionary parties, so too, the ideals of religious revolution and freedom born in Germany had begun to leaven the ecclesiastical circles of Eastern peoples. Thus, the irrepressible waves of church reformation had reached the religious and intellectual leaders of Armenians. The need of a religious renaissance had been felt for long by our forefathers. The monastics of Amrdol; the hermits of Datev; the literary and spiritual enterprises of Patriarch Golod of Constantinople; the attempts of Priest Dabajian of Samatia and his book on Reformation; the efforts of the Monastery of Armash to prepare conscientious and vigilant priests; and the spiritual thirst of the Patriarchal Seminary in Constantinople headed by Krikor Peshtimaljian; all of these indicate attempts to awaken, reform, and strengthen the Apostolic Church internally. These endeavors were not “imported” by Americans but were considered indispensable and were advocated by our enlightened forefathers for the spiritual welfare of the Armenian Church.
The transfer of some Americans from Malta on account of a war and their arrival in Constantinople in 1830 coincide with this period of spiritual and educational awakening among our people. Americans acted as voluntary helpers to encourage these internal leavenings with the knowledge, consent, and blessings of the Patriarchate only for the benefit and welfare of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Krikor Peshtimaljian himself was the leader of “The Union of the Pious” which longed and was organized for the spiritual reawakening of the Apostolic Church, just as today there is a similar group called “Christosasiratz” (Christ-lovers) consisting of Apostolic believers. PESHTIMALJIAN WAS NOT “IMPORTED” FROM NEW YORK OR BOSTON!! AND HE WAS NOT OFFERED FLOUR TO ADVOCATE THE REFORMATION OF THE CHURCH!!
Armenian history itself testifies that the movement of reawakening and reformation of the Armenian Apostolic Church was Armenian in its early origin and inceptions. When the Americans arrived, they found among our forefathers a ready soil and desire for the spiritual revitalization of the Apostolic Church and assisted in the development and progress of that internal movement. One wonders if it was wrong to inject blood, nourishment, and life, to a new-born but very weak baby!
This is the movement which is called “foreign” - odar - the beginnings of which could be well extended back to 17th century and to the Hermits of Datev. IF ITS OUTCOME seemed unpalatable, we should locate the guilty parties in the light of historical facts.
But, let us assume that the Protestant reform movement among our people was of “foreign” origin. WHO has decreed that IF something is “foreign” it IS bad and SHOULD BE rejected? IF this were a valid reason, as Armenians we must reject many other things. First of all, we must divest ourselves of the Armenian alphabet and literature, because in its origin our alphabet is “foreign” - odar. A Priest, Daniel the Assyrian, had first formulated it and St. Mesrob Mashtotz supplemented and perfected it. Shall we throw out the Armenian alphabet because it was something of “foreign” - odar - origin? Where would Armenians be today IF St. Mesrob had said: “This alphabet is of ‘foreign’ origin; we do not want to use it?”
Or, take St. Gregory the Illuminator, the pride of the Armenian Apostolic Church. His father Anak was of Persian descent. Thus, by birth St. Gregory was not an Armenian. In childhood he took refuge in Caesarea. There he received altogether a Graeco-Roman education, intellectually as well as religiously. He introduced into Armenia a state church of the Greek type in its rites and ceremonies which only a century later began to receive Armenian national color. To this day we have the echoes and traces of Greek rite in such appellation or response as “Proskoume” during the reading of the Gospels. We do not need to speak of the scores of church saints commemorated in the Armenian Church which have little, if any, trace of Armenian in them. Should we reject St. Gregory as “foreign” and abandon the Armenian liturgy because of its Greek origin and is based on the primitive liturgy known as that of St. James who was not an Armenian?
And again, should we not reject our national hero Vartan whose father and clan were known as “Jenatzi” having taken refuge in Armenia?
We can also point out as “foreign” the monophysite - one nature - doctrine of the Person of Christ as accepted by the Armenian Apostolic Church, which was the creed of St. Cyril of Alexandria. IF the Armenian Apostolic Church can accept the “foreign” teachings of a “foreign” Egyptian, would it be a sin for the Evangelical Armenians to follow a German (Luther’s) or American (missionaries’) doctrine of the Christian Gospel?
IF we have to reject all that is “foreign” in religion, we must renounce the Christian faith, the Holy scriptures, Jesus Christ, because Jesus, his apostles, Moses, the Old Testament prophets, were all “foreign” Jews and not Armenians. Should we return to the worship of Asdghik and Anahit and disown Christianity as of “foreign” origin?
Life consists of “give and take.” Many material and cultural blessings we enjoy are of “foreign” origin. Had we rejected the"foreign”ns of material progress, we should revert to a primitive status. Shall we accept material progress by "foreign” means but condemn and reject spiritual progress under the guise of “A Foreign Movement?” As Evangelical Armenians we have no reason to feel embarrassed even if this movement were “imported” as a “foreign” influence. It means that as Church loving people our forefathers in Constantinople discerned the need and value of religious reform and vitality and all honor to them that at the risk of many sacrifices, insults, and outright persecutions chose the road of spiritual and moral progress, leading us to the freedom of the Gospel of Christ.
The second accusation of the Armenian Evangelical Movement is schismatism, that is, the assertion that it divided the Church and broke the unity of the Armenian people. It is true that on July 1, 1846, the “Evangelical Church of Armenia” was formally organized in Constantinople. But why did this event happen? What is the historical reason or cause behind it? It is alleged that the American missionaries came and “separated” the “Protestant Church” from the Mother Church. Is this true?
The American missionaries reached Constantinople first in 1831, and immediately established friendship with the ruling Patriarch, Stephen “the dove,” with Krikor Peshtimaljian and with the Patriarchal Seminary. It is essential to know what happened between 1831 and 1846, when the Evangelical Church of Armenia was born. Records in our hands indicate that the intention of the progressive or reform minded people WAS NOT to organize themselves into a separate church until they were forced to do so. They were all faithful Apostolic Armenians. According to Utujian’s testimony, there was very cordial relationship between the Patriarchate and the “reformists,” as well as between the Americans and the Armenian authorities. The Patriarch had even invited the Americans as “guests of honor” to the ordination of fifteen candidates for priesthood. For seven years, until 1837, there were no public meetings held by the Americans. In 1837 a missionary named Dwight began to hold religious meetings in his home. The opposition by the Amiras - lay rulers of the Church - to the idea of reform multiplied the zeal, fervor, and number of the advocates which led them to the organization of “The Society of the Pious” in 1838, and later “The Temperance Society.” This movement was blessed by Patriarch Stephen “the dove” but his opponents plotted and forced his resignation and elected Archbishop Hagopos Seropian, the Primate of Marsovan, who had been called to assist Patriarch Stephen.
Thus, the members of “The Society of the Pious” waited and worked patiently from 1838 to 1846 as advocates of a reformed Apostolic Church and lived as faithful members of the Church of Armenia. IF they had one guilt it was that they gathered together for Bible study and mutual spiritual edification. The much maligned Americans helped and nourished them at this point, while attending the Apostolic Church services and participating in the liturgy of the Mass with the members of “The Society of the Pious.” They were even privileged and allowed to preach in the Apostolic Church!
Unfortunately, however, when Matteos Choohajian was elected Patriarch in 1844, the situation deteriorated and opposition turned into persecution of those great souls who were the members of “The Society of the Pious,” and of all who associated with them and with the Americans. When the Amiras - the ruling class - suspected that the outcome of the reform movement would be social equality and freedom which would deprive them of their rule, as they were later by the coming of the Constitution of 1860, they were determined to extirpate once and for all this struggle for liberation, and Patriarch Matteos became the sorry tool of their scheme. IF there is to be sought one blameworthy of the separate existence of an Armenian Evangelical Church, that person is this high ranking but very fanatical clergyman who proved to be a calamity to the adherents of the movement of reform, and by his unchristian persecutions forced them to be organized as a separate “Evangelical Church of Armenia.”
When by persecution and excommunication these Apostolic pious Armenians were expelled from the bosom of the Armenian Apostolic Church and deprived of the civil protection of the Patriarchate; when their dead remained unburied, infants unbaptized, young people unmarried, and all legal protection denied, THEN AND ONLY THEN they were forced to be organized as “Protestant millet” - Protestant community - because they were refused and rejected by the “Armenian millet,” viz., the Armenian Apostolic Community. To ensure and safeguard this right of protection, they were required to sacrifice the freedom of their conscience. A group of forty persons, whose “proclamation” appears in the Preface, refused to do this. Honor to these modest Apostolic Armenians who, true to the spirit of St. Gregory the Illuminator and the hero Vartan, preferred and risked imprisonment, beating, vilification, rather than sacrifice their freedom of conscience, and organized themselves as “The Evangelical Church of Armenia.” Had they not been organized as “Protestant millet,” either they had to remain deprived of all family, marital, economic, personal, and civil rights, or deny the freedom of conscience which had led them to initiate and advocate the reform movement. They preferred freedom of conscience and persecution rather than abject obedience to a fanatical class and protection. AND, in those days there were NO Armenian massacres, orphans, refugees, or the NEED to be Protestants to secure some FLOUR, as some of our brethren still assert, ignoring the irrefutable historical facts and events.
This group of Apostolic Armenians who had to get organized as “The Evangelical Church of Armenia,” and their descendants, are accused of factionalism or shismatism. They are maligned that they broke the unity of the Armenian Church and nation. It is forgotten, however, that our Apostolic forefathers for fifteen years (1831-1846) took not steps whatsoever to establish an independent church. For fifteen years these Apostolic Armenians and their American friends remained faithful to the liturgy and worship of the Armenian Apostolic Church, relying on the power and ultimate victory of moral, spiritual, and intellectual truths. even Patriarch and Catholicos blessed and encouraged this spiritual movement and fermentation. If we need to search for guilty parties for this “break,” may we be forgiven to say that they are Patriarch Choohajian and his Amira-advisors who seem to have acted as shortsighted, bigoted, retrogressive, even ignorant, ecclesiasticists rather than true, church-loving Christians.
But, again if breaking away from an established “Mother” Church is such a calamity, we should admit that the Armenian Apostolic Church herself committed such a great evil. In the reign of King Bab (circa 373 A.D.), the Armenian Church declared herself “autocephalous” or independent, and from that time to this she has remained a “national” church rather than subject to the Greek church for the ordination of its Catholicos. Obviously, this step broke once for all the Unity of the Church Universal, and that on nationalistic-political grounds. Should we condemn our forefathers and expect that the Apostolic Church return into the bosom of the Greek (Eastern Orthodox) fold?
Or, Shall we denounce the Apostolic Church for rejecting the Chalcedonian, two-nature doctrine of the Person of Christ, and for breaking away from the Church Universal - Eastern and Western - and formally adopting its own ecclesiastical calendar (506 A.D.)? Shall we condemn our forefathers for this “monophysitic” schism? Undoubtedly, there were historical reasons which, perhaps unwillingly, led them to this conclusion, but we view them and these eventualities with understanding rather than disdain.
Similarly, there were historical factors and reasons which forced the formation of an independent “Evangelical Church of Armenia.” Fair-mindedness demands that in stead of condemning it as “schismatic” we should study and examine the condition and conduct of the Armenian Apostolic Church and its authorities in mid-19th century and try to determine who the offenders were - the advocates of church reform or the enemies of that movement.
Lastly, Evangelical Armenians have been criticized as being unpatriotic. It would be helpful if our Armenian brethren defined for us the meaning of “patriotism.” IF it signifies the love of one’s own country and devotion to the welfare of his people, we can point to those Protestant Armenians who have served with self-sacrifice the Armenian orphans, widows, sick, children, and the general public during massacres, epidemics, deportations, or periods of peace and prosperity, be they in schools, refugee camps, deserts, humble villages, or cities. Do we need to recall the names of men like Schmavonian, Kisag, Bezjians, Levonians, Papazian, Krikorian, Ashjian, Khantamour, Eskigjian, Shirajian, Benneyan, Khazoian, Amirkhanian, and many others like them, whether ministers of laymen, who have served every class of Armenians without discrimination, staunchly supporting and defending every worthy Armenian enterprise? Is there any chapter or committee of Armenian General Benevolent Union where the Armenian Evangelical men and women have not sacrificed time, money, and energy, with the same devotion, if not more, as their Apostolic brethren? IF “patriotism” means to love and serve the sons and daughters of one’s people and nation, we can testify with heartfelt gratification that the birth and existence of the National Tubercular Sanitarium of Lebanon were conceived and actualized by an Armenian Protestant minister - Rev. Yenovk Hadidian of Beirut. Hundreds of “Apostolic” Armenian children are educated in our "Evangelical” Armenian schools without discrimination. Evangelicals have contributed generously to all worthy campaigns on behalf of the Armenian orphan, refugees, and schools. In most of Armenian communities Vartanantz and Armenian National Memorial of April 24 are celebrated by the Apostolic and Evangelical churches cooperating and participating. We can say with humility that Protestant Armenians have assumed the role of leader as well as laborer wherever there have been initiated educational, benevolent, and cultural projects.
These are some of the obvious evidences that the Armenian Evangelical community is patriotic and loves his countrymen as much as his Apostolic brethren. An Evangelical pastor or preacher with his church serves our Armenian people with as much devotion as an Apostolic bishop or priest. If, with them we take into account the singular services of our Protestant “laymen” in the Armenian General Benevolent Union, compatriotic unions, Knights of Vartan, and many other educational and cultural undertakings, it remains a PUZZLE to know on what grounds the Protestant or Evangelical Armenians are castigated as “unpatriotic.”
IF by "unpatriotic” is is meant that the Evangelicals are not members of “political parties,” this must be a new historical discovery, as we know that only a negligible portion of the Armenian people are members of political parties. Is not the “neutral” Apostolic Armenian patriotic? If we are not mistaken, the modern Armenian political parties arose around 1860, but we think Armenia, Armenians, and “patriotism” should be a little older than 1860. Therefore, NO political partisan should have the arrogance of appropriating to itself the virtues of patriotism. IF there were no sincerely patriotic Armenians long before the political parties were born; and IF these sincere patriots had not preserved and perpetuated Armenian nationality with its culture, our political partisans would not have had a nation to boast about. And we feel humble and proud to repeat that among these truly patriotic Armenians who lived LONG BEFORE political parties did were the members of the first generation of Armenian Evangelicals.
Some have condemned the Turkish speaking Evangelicals of Cilicia and elsewhere as unpatriotic, forgetting that the Apostolic brethren in Cilicia also were Turkish speakers, using the Turkish language for their sermons and Gospel reading during their worship. This was a historical imposition of the Turkish rule in this region.
However, which is truer patriotism: to worship God, sing, pray, and preach in Turkish, or to dance, curse, profane, and sing ugly ballads in Turkish, as was done by many of our Apostolic brethren and still is being done in many weddings and picnics even in a free country like U.S.A.?
The fact that Evangelical Armenians were and are patriots was best proven during the persecutions and massacres of 1895, 1909, and 1915. Every fair-minded and honest Armenian would confess that Evangelicals were equally devoted and sacrificed in wars of self-defense of Zeitoun, Van, Ourfa, Shabin-Karahissar, Aintab, Jebel Mousa, and other cities.
Finally, IF it is expected that we should preach “revenge” as token and proof of “patriotism,” we pray and trust God this will never happen. It is very doubtful that the policy of revenge and retaliation by our political parties was wise or beneficial. Witness the ruined cities and villages of Turkish Armenia and Cilicia where once there were flourishing Armenian churches, schools, and cultural centers!
In conclusion, we would declare that history refutes the calumny that the Armenian Evangelical (Protestant) Church is “foreign,” “schismatic,” and “unpatriotic.” Even though our Apostolic brethren should refuse to admit it, “the stones will speak” and prove that “The Evangelical Church of Armenia” is that which its founders wanted it to be - namely, AN ARMENIAN RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT, assisted by kindred minded people everywhere, guiding the Armenian Apostolic Church into spiritual revival and imperative reforms.
Our second task is to testify to the fundamental convictions of the Armenian Evangelical Movement. The basic reasons that gave rise to this movement still are dominant and unchanged. The prayers and efforts of our forefathers and of Evangelical churches have been to achieve the “reformation” of the Armenian Apostolic Church. However, this word is general and abstract. We should try to specify what we mean by “reformed church.” Simply put, it means the “reformulation” of the religious teachings and understanding of the Church. Let us consider this under three headings:
1. What is Christian faith and life? According to the teachings of the Armenian Apostolic Church and all ancient churches Christian faith and life consist of baptism and credal confession. If one is born of “Christian” parents, baptized in the font, and later confesses the Creed, he becomes a believing Christian, he is a Christian. Excommunication, anathema, penance, are means of warning. Essentially, by their intrinsic power, the “sacraments” make every participant a believer. So, “once a Christian, always a Christian” is the child who is baptized by the Church.
The Evangelical, or Protestant, conception is the opposite. Creed, baptism, sacraments, are only external “signs” of an inner “experience.” According to the Evangelical understanding, the Christian faith is a matter of “new birth.” Its essence is personal and conscious commitment to Lord Jesus Christ. This is the emphasis of our Lord and His apostles. “Except a man is born again he cannot see the Kingdom” (John 3:5,6). “The just shall live by faith”erted Apostle Paul. This faith is the personal faith of the individual, not what he inherits from his father, mother, or forefathers. Here lies our positive task.
"New birth,” “discipleship to Christ,” “personal commitment” are different experiences from what our non-Evangelical brethren understand Christian faith to be, because, as stated, according to ALL ancient churches and the Armenian Apostolic Church, to be Christian means to be born of Christian parents, to be baptized, and to participate in the Sacraments. “We have Abraham to our father” said the Jews. “We have the Apostolic Church which baptizes, confirms, and seals us by its holy sacraments.” In other words, it is the Church and its Sacraments that make Christian and save, whereas the Evangelical Church asserts that “the righteous shall live by faith;” the righteous is saved only by the free grace of Christ and by personal commitment to him.
Here lies our most important service among our brethren: to declare by life, deed, and word that WE BELIEVE IN PERSONAL FAITH which leads to true repentance, regeneration, and unreserved dedication to Christ. This is an undeniable experience, because it is personal, and we are called to witness to it.
2. What is the Church and its Clerical Order? The erroneous notion of inherited faith is due to misconception of church and clergy. With all ancient churches, the Apostolic Church also believes that the Church exists as the mediator and repository of the Christian sacraments, called khorhoort (mystery) - which are Baptism, Confirmation or Holy Unction, Communion, Penance or Confession, Ordination or Holy Order, Matrimony, (and Extreme Unction which was rejected by the Armenian Church). It is believed, further, that the Church should be established by an Apostle, thereby securing the title “Apostolic.” The Church administers and transmits the above-named six or seven sacraments in which dwells divine grace and through which men are saved and become Christian. Consequently, the Priest or the “Clerical Order” is invested with authority as the agent and administrator of the sacraments of the Church. It is maintained that when the Priest, the wine, and the wafer to celebrate the Mass are present, there is the “Church.” These elements through transubstantiation (being changed into actual flesh and blood of Christ) represent the physical present of Christ. Those who partake in them become Christians, and those who are ordained to administer the sacraments become the “priestly order,” altogether separate and different from other men.
Therefore, when the Priest, in the name of the Church, baptizes a new-born babe, he becomes Christian. When he pronounces absolution to a repentant sinner, he receives forgiveness. When he distributes the bread and wine of communion, transubstantiated by his prayers, the participant becomes cleansed and justified as believer. Thus, there remains no need for personal faith, new birth, or commitment, as the faith transmitted through baptism is renewed through the instrumentality of the sacraments.
In contrast with this conception, the Evangelical Church follows the teaching of Christ about the Church. Jesus said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there.” Therefore, Evangelicals maintain, where Christ is present with his Holy Spirit, there is the Church. The Church does not depend on apostles, sacraments, priests, ministers, mediators, or buildings. The Church is the fellowship of the believers who are born of God through personal faith and where the Spirit of Christ is present. Baptism, communion, and other rituals are useful and helpful means of edification but do not possess virtues or efficacy in themselves. THEY ARE THE VISIBLE SIGNS OF AN INVISIBLE EXPERIENCE. By them the believer declares his discipleship to Christ. Consequently, the preacher or priest has no direct power or authority over the life and destiny of the believer except by the influence created through the ministry of God’s Word. Each and every believer, as the child of the Heavenly Father, is free to come to Him directly in the name of the only Mediator and Intercessor, Jesus Christ.
Herein lies the second fundamental principle of Evangelicals, that every believer is his own priest, free to go to God with confession and repentance and to receive free forgiveness in the name of Jesus. This is the reason of the emphasis of supremacy of personal faith and commitment. Ceremonial purification, baptism, communion, penance, credal confessions, all are external signs but lacking saving and sanctifying power in themselves without the personal faith, sincere repentance, and wholehearted dedication of the individual and the forgiving and accepting grace of God in Christ.
Therefore, to us it seems strange to insist that the “Loussavorchagan” church is “Church” because it is “Apostolic” but the Evangelical is just a “faction” because it is not “Apostolic.” By this assertion, our Apostolic Armenian brethren are unconsciously classifying the Apostles superior to Christ. We know that Thaddaeus and Bartholomew, the traditional founders of the Armenian Church, have died, and are not with us, while Jesus Christ has conquered death and is everliving and present among us. And if Christ is present in the hearts and gatherings of the believers as He has promised, there should be the Church because there is the Head of the Church. One wonders who is greater, the Son of God or his followers the Apostles, and which is the true Church, the one where the Saviour Himself is personally present or the one established by His representatives who have died and departed and cannot be present.
We have every respect for the “Mother” Church, but we find it rather absurd that our brethren find it hard to accept the Evangelical churches as “Church” and their ministers as rightful and valid clergy.
Here is our second positive task: to witness that a church is “Church” not because it is “Apostolic” or “Evangelical,” or possesses a clerical order and administers sacraments, but it is CHURCH because CHRIST HIMSELF IS PRESENT THERE, whether “Loussavorchagan” or “Poghokagan.” We must testify that every Christian believer as a child of God, is a “Priest unto God” and has the privilege of direct access to God as his Father> (Following scriptural passages are worth careful perusal: Ephesians 2:1-12; First Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 1:5-6). We should further stress that to be Christian means to yield to Christ our will, heart, mind, and to follow Him in everyday life; and that we should use sacraments, priests, ministers, and the church only as the means and channels to lead men to the all-sufficient Lord Jesus Christ and His eternal redemption.
3. The third duty of Evangelicals is to specify where rests religious authority. According to the older churches, the source of religious authority is the Church, with its General Councils and Clerical Order. IT alone has the right to interpret and teach the Christian doctrines. Therefore, the study and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures are reserved to the Ecclesiastical Councils and the clerical order, having the Catholicos, Patriarch, or Pope as leader or head. The “laity” has no right to interpret the Bible as it is devoid of the sacrament of Ordination.
The Evangelical Armenian Church, with the Protestant churches, emphasizes the Bible as the final authority in the realm of Christian life and doctrine. Emperors, popes, catholici, patriarchs, priests, ministers, as well as laity (men and women) should submit to the authority of the Bible by personal commitment rather than superiors’ orders. This is the natural outcome of the tenets of the Evangelical Church regarding the Christian faith and life. IF one can approach God directly as a child and can speak to Him personally without the mediation of a priest or minister, it is only natural and necessary that God also must be able to speak to man personally and authoritatively. each and every Christian should know personally what the will of the Heavenly Father is for him and how he can glorify Him. THIS is revealed in the Word of God, conveyed and interpreted to every believer and reader of the Bible by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is called “Holy” because we find in it the record of the revelation of the Holy Will and Holy Character of God, manifested supremely through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of the Holy Saviour,, and inviting men to a life of holiness and perfection “as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Thus, the Bible becomes the source of final authority for religious and moral guidance.
The Evangelical Church believes that every one finds in the Bible satisfaction for his religious, moral and personal needs and longings. Therefore, it has been the continuous practice of Evangelicals not only to use the Bible but also to put it in the hands of every believer, in every home, and anywhere and everywhere that may open before them.
We are happy that this Evangelical Movement was instrumental in the translation of the Scriptures into modern or vernacular Armenian and in its distribution among Armenians in general. We are gratified to observe that this modern Armenian Bible is found in the homes of many of our Apostolic brethren also.
However, it is imperative to emphasize that we should read and study the Bible with the intention of obeying its commandments. We are living in times of confusion. We need desperately a decisive voice to say to us: “THIS is the way, walk ye in it.” As a people we are divided and need an authoritative voice to declare to us: “Armenians, this is the road to unity, walk ye in it.” THAT VOICE comes to us from God through Christ in His Holy Word which should be heeded for personal, ecclesiastical, and national salvation.
So, we see here another obligation of the Evangelical Church, namely, to testify among our people to the spiritual light, religious authority, and personal guidance we discover in Holy scriptures. It is superfluous to state that we cannot witness to the power of the Bible if we use it only as a magical charm. We can testify that the Bible “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” only if and when we read it regularly, persistently, prayerfully, with serious intention of obeying its light and statutes in our daily living, personal behavior, and social relationships.
This, then, is the third positive task of the Armenian Evangelical Church among our people - to use, obey, and witness to the precepts of the Bible as our supreme authority in godliness, discipleship to Christ, love of men, and the proclamation of the Gospel to all creatures.
The last task confronting Evangelical Armenian churches is to “evangelize” or leaven our people with the ideal of spiritual reawakening and vitality. This means an apostolic mission and commission to our Apostolic brethren, to witness to our spiritual convictions about religion, worship, church, sacraments, priesthood, ceremonies, Biblical authority, personal faith, and Christian life and conduct. Evangelicals have nothing to be ashamed of their independent church, but much to glory. In our understanding, Christian faith is personal, aggressive, progressive, tolerant, and a liberating force. The earnest passion that dwelt in the hearts of our forefathers in the 1850’s should capture our hearts and minds and constrain us to imbue the hearts of our people with the same understanding and desire of spiritual regeneration without making them “protestants.”
Again, the Evangelicals have the calling of being apostles of everyday-Christian-life. The Gospel teaches us that Christ’s demands do not end with Sunday worship but that they must be lived every day and every hour in all spheres and areas of life - at home, workshop, school, recreation, and in national as well as political life. It must be pointed out that our God, the Father of Lord Jesus Christ, is not a partial Father, that He does not have favorites, but that He rewards the good that dwells in all men and hates the evil of the hearts of any people, be they Armenian or Asian, Protestant or Loussavorchagan.
IN CONCLUSION, the CHIEF duty of Evangelicals, then, is to declare that Christ must be accepted as personal Saviour, Master, and Example; that we must learn to turn to God personally and freely as the child to his Father; that we should study and obey the truths in the Bible as they apply to our personal, collective, and ecclesiastical activities and problems; and that we should testify to and proclaim above noted spiritual realities wherever kind Providence has put us.
By witnessing and testifying to the task of Evangelical Armenians among our people we do not want to imply that the Armenian people should not work for or cannot realize a UNITED REFORMED ARMENIAN CHURCH. The ecclesiastical and lay leaders of the Apostolic and Evangelical communities should discuss, think, write, and plan in this direction. But, in the meanwhile, the Evangelicals, humbly and prayerfully, should remain faithful to the FUNDAMENTAL IDEAL with which our Evangelical forefathers launched out, that is, a spiritual life based on personal discipleship to Christ our Saviour; loyalty to the authority of the Bible as the record of self-revelation of God; loving service to our Nation and to all peoples surrounding us; and stressing and striving to realize a spiritually revitalized and “reformed” Armenian Church.