H. Tootikian was born in Kessab, Syria in
Lebanon he attended the American University of
Beirut and the Near East
School of Theology. Upon graduation from seminary
in 1959, he served
the Armenian Evangelical Church of Damascus from
1959 to 1960, and the
Armenian Evangelical Congregational Church of
Cairo, Egypt from 1960 to
1965. Rev. Dr. Tootikian did his graduate work at
and Andover Newton Seminaries, earning two masters
and a doctorate
degree. Rev. Dr. Tootikian has served the Armenian
Memorial Church of
Watertown Massachusetts from 1965 to 1975.
Rev. Dr. Tooktikian is the Pastor Emeritus of the
Armenian Congregational Church of Greater Detroit.
Rev. Dr. Tootikian has served as the Moderator of
Evangelical Union of North America and the
President of the Armenian
Evangelical World Council. In addition he is a
scholar, and prolific writer. His article
below was published
1996 September/October edition of the AMAA News on
occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Founding
of the Armenian
The Armenian Evangelical Witness to The Armenian People
Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian
On July 1, 1846, thirty-seven men and three women established the Armenian Evangelical Church in the “mission chapel” at Pera, Istanbul (then Constantinople). Four years later, on November 27, 1850, the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Medjid, granted formal recognition to the newly established church.
The rise of Armenian Evangelicalism reveals that the causes of “separation” were not random but a direct outcome of the Armenian Renaissance in the nineteenth century. It was part of the great upsurge of Armenian intellectual spirit. There was a revival of thinking in the social, economic, and religious realms. Some reform-minded Armenians insisted that the Armenian Apostolic Church should be revitalized. Their goal was the enlightenment of their Mother Church.
These reformists provoked strong retaliation from the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul. Eventually, it was the act of excommunication by Patriarch Chouhajian that forced them to organize themselves into a separate religious community, the Protestant Millet. It was this separation which resulted in the formation of the Armenian Evangelical Church.
Undoubtedly, the Armenian Evangelical Church brought a strengthening influence to the life of the Armenian nation. From the middle of the nineteenth century until World War I, the Armenian Evangelical movement reached intellectual and spiritual prominence partly because of its readiness to examine and accept what seemed relevant from the world of scholarship, partly because of the noble way of life it inculcated in its adherents, and chiefly because of its spiritual impact. In the early years of its growth and development, it made rapid progress among Armenians because it met the social, intellectual, and spiritual needs of the Armenian people. It gave the Armenian nation a potent medium for disclosing its latent intellectual and spiritual force. Indeed, to a certain extent, the Armenian Evangelical Church succeeded in reviving some spiritual values in the Armenian people. It tried to enlighten the Armenian nation morally by bringing about a distinctive Evangelical life style. It became an agent in the development of public education by creating an educational system from which large numbers of Armenians benefited without any denominational discrimination. It performed spiritual, educational, and philanthropic services to the Armenian people at a time when the Armenian Apostolic Church was not in a position to do so. It became an enabler in creating a counter-reformation in the Mother Church.
But today, Armenian Evangelism is not as viable a religious movement as it was in the past. The Armenian Evangelical Church as a “company of the committed” is not as assertive a spiritual force as it used to be. It is not as sensitive to divine compulsions and as responsive to the Lord’s Great Commission as it used to be. It is experiencing a deterioration of spiritual life style and an erosion of long established religious and cultural values.
Does this mean that the Armenian Evangelical Church is a hopeless case? No. In spite of its present weaknesses, Armenian Evangelicalism still has the potential for improvement and effectiveness, provided that it remains true to itself, its calling, and its original guiding purpose - the spiritual enlightenment of the Armenian Church and nation. This means that the Armenian Evangelical Church must first reform itself and then embark upon the venture of reforming its Mother Church and the Armenian Apostolics.
The Armenian Evangelical Church today needs a revival, a spiritual renaissance, so that she can revitalize herself and become a witnessing Church, an agent of evangelism. In order to do that, she has to continue the movement of the unfinished reformation; she has to go to her roots, be true to her distinctive affirmations and cherished values and face the challenges of our times. There are new horizons and new problems; new opportunities and new needs to be met. Armenian Evangelicals are challenged to greater efforts. The present status of the Armenian Evangelical Church places her in the forefront of the great challenges which she must face in order to justify her raison d’être. What are these challenges?
The first and foremost challenge of the Armenian Evangelical Church is to become a Christ-like Church, making it her highest priority to bring people to a vital relationship with Christ.
The Armenian Evangelicals are called to be a community of the committed drawn together by their faith in Christ. They have a common destination, a common purpose, and a common commitment. Their common destination is to grow up in Christ and to become Christ-like persons. Their common purpose is to do what Christ did, to be His agents and ambassadors. Their common commitment is to their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.
The Armenian Evangelical Church should emphasize the necessity of spiritual regeneration and re-birth. To be a Christian, a person must be born again; that is the biblical mandate.
Being “born again” means that a major change takes place in the life of the person who becomes a Christian. The spiritual person married to sin must die within the body in order for a new spiritual person to be born, one who is free to be married to God’s Holy Spirit. That is a major conversion...to die to sin and be born again to God. It is a God-directed change in one’s life.
It takes faith to accept God-directed changes in one’s life. And one of the cardinal principles of Armenian Evangelicalism is justification by faith. Justification means an accommodation with God - the establishment of a joyful relationship with Him. It is by faith that a man receives this free gift of God. Faith is the belief that God has actually provided in Jesus Christ a mediator between Himself and man. Faith is also trust in Christ to do this work of reconciliation. Furthermore, faith is fidelity or faithfulness in maintaining that belief, and trust and living in accordance with that “newness of life” which comes through union with Him. Thus, justification is by faith; justification by faith is a matter of personal experience.
Personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the basis of Christian faith. The claim which God, through Christ, makes upon His children to live the redeemed life within the human society is absolutely primary. Undoubtedly, pride in the “faith of our fathers” is important. Honoring the past is noble. But it is something that can be overdone and overplayed, and thus can be damaging and destructive. It must also be stated that one generation of Armenians cannot operate on the faith of their ancestors, because faith is not something inherited.
Faith of our ancestors - the faith of St. Gregory, St. Mesrop, and St. Vartan is wonderful; but the faith of these noble ancestors cannot save us or serve us. It is not enough to be proud of being “Hai Kristonia” (Christian Armenian). Such profession must be supported by Christian performance. The vital faith, which accomplishes and sustains, has always to be a personal and contemporary faith. The question is not how to preserve an abstract past, but how to transmit to the present and future the virtues of the race, the virtues of the “faith of our fathers.”
The second challenge of the Armenian Evangelical Church is to inspire her members to lead reformed lives according to the teachings of the Bible, enabling them to make the Bible a rule for faith and conduct not only in word, but in deed.
The Bible is a collection of Jewish and Christian sacred writings, commonly divided into two main sections - the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). It was written under the direct inspiration of God and given to humans to serve as a guide to their faith and conduct. The Bible is the record of God’s disclosure - a record of a communicating God. In the Bible we find recorded the supreme and final revelation of God in and through Jesus Christ.
Historically, the Holy Bible has played a very important role in the life of the Armenian nation. In 404 A.D., Mesrop Mashtotz, in collaboration with Catholicos Sahak Bartev and King Vramshabouh, invented the Armenian alphabet in order to translate the Bible so that they could propagate the Christian faith among Armenians. The Bible left a tremendous impact on the Armenian people.
Also, historically, the Armenian Evangelical Movement began with Bible studies. The early Armenian reformists were a tiny band of seminarians and priests who began to study the Bible under Krikor Peshtimaljian, principal of the Armenian Seminary for Religious Studies. It was this Bible study group that established a secret society, named Parebashdoutian Miapanoutyun (“The Society of Piety”) in order to reform the Armenian Apostolic Church. The organization of this society may properly be said to mark the beginning of Armenian Evangelicalism.
The evangelistic campaign of the early Armenian reformists was greatly augmented by the translation and publication of the Bible in the Armenian vernacular, the Ashkharapar. These Armenian reformists believed the Bible to be a sufficient rule of faith and practice for the Church. They insisted that Christians have the right and the privilege to direct access to the Bible in reading and interpreting it for themselves.
It was interesting that the early Armenian reformers found a criterion within the Bible by which the whole could be judged. The criterion was the Gospel - the Evangel - the Good News of salvation by grace through faith. No wonder they wanted to adopt the name, Evangelical.
The Armenian Evangelicals should make every effort to make the Bible their instructional manual. But most importantly, they should put its teachings into practice, for the best instruction in the world will do people no good unless they make use of it.
According to the Bible, Christian faith comes from hearing the Word of God. St. Paul claimed that “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Without knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, Armenian Evangelicals can never be people of faith. There is no way to know God without careful, thoughtful study of what God has revealed in the Bible.
Third, the Armenian Evangelical Church should intensely dedicate herself to the task of building Christian character through Christian education. One of the most important ingredients to have in any human endeavor is a good character. It is the greatest quality of a healthy personality and the most crucial factor in an efficient organization. When character crumbles, society collapses because the society, like the individual, lives by character.
Christian character, however, is not built by magic power; it is built by Christian education. The aim of Christian education is to instill the spirit of Christ in individuals and to make them Christ-like. Christian education begins at home, in the family. Children are born into family units.
One of the most important tasks of the Armenian Evangelical churches ought to be the Christian training of children. For that important task three factors are needed:
a. Right type of teachers who will endeavor to unlock each small heart with keys of kindness and loving care.
Speaking of Christian education, we should not lose sight of a very important consideration: Christian education is for all age groups. Strong biblical and theological foundations of faith and their application to life for young and old alike ought to be the concern of all Armenian Evangelical churches.
Armenian Evangelical churches ought to be centers of youth activities. The churches have to provide opportunities to youth and young adults to make friends and develop meaningful relationships. A considerable number of churches do not have organized youth activities. Churches have to provide in their annual budgets a fair share for youth work. Churches also have to involve their youth in missionary outreach. They have to tap the zeal and enthusiasm of the youth by relegating to them some of their mission work.
Because Christian education is not the monopoly of children and youth, but also includes adults, there are a number of means that could be utilized, such as:
a. Regular Sunday School classes for adults before or after Sunday morning services.
There is a widespread ignorance about the Bible and Christian teachings among masses of Armenians, particularly in Armenia. Preaching and teaching the Word, which are the cornerstones of the Armenian Evangelical movement, should be the perennial challenge of Armenian Evangelicalism.
Just as in the past, Armenian Evangelicals, through their production and dissemination of Christian literature - like Bibles, Bible dictionaries, concordances, Scriptural study plans, magazines, textbooks, curricula for Christian education - can provide effective witness to their compatriots.
The fourth challenge of the Armenian Evangelical Church is to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian Heritage.
A people can learn from its heritage an appreciation of its past values and be able to build upon them. It cannot build a sound and strong present and future without those values it has inherited from the past. It is the heritage or culture of a people that holds that people together.
A tremendous challenge lies before Armenian Evangelicals. The great task at hand is to preserve their heritage and keep the Armenian culture thriving. The abdication of this responsibility is unforgivable. If they believe that they are inheritors of a three-thousand-year old glorious culture, they should actively commit themselves to insure its survival, which in turn will insure their own survival. With a reaffirmation of will, determination, faith and fortitude, the safekeeping of the Armenian heritage will be a certainty. But where to begin?
1. The Armenian Schools. The Armenian School is destined to be the most potent force to help light the path for the future generations of Armenians. It is one of the guarantors of a well-organized Armenian community.
The Armenian Evangelical Church, which has in the past distinguished herself for her educational services to the Armenian people, should inundate both her motherland and the Armenian diaspora with educational institutions.
The birthright of Armenian Evangelicalism carries with it the responsibility of enlightening Armenian people spiritually, as well as educationally. Armenian Evangelicals know by experience that education is an excellent investment which yields substantial returns.
2. The Media. Another powerful tool at hand is the media. Television, radio and the press carry a potential one cannot afford to ignore. Radio time, in particular, is readily available, and even now is being utilized in presenting many fine programs of an ethnic nature. Armenian Evangelicals are sorely deficient in the area of media. Whereas other churches, organizations and individuals have their radio hours, Armenians do not have airtime. There lacks, too, an Armenian Evangelical Press - a press that is a formal organ of its cultural expression. Armenian Evangelicals have a number of commendable publications in print today, but they need to go beyond this number and, again, form a durable Armenian Evangelical organ capable of representing the Armenian theological and intellectual directions and aspirations. They need a strong Armenian Evangelical organ, which should also be an objective and unbiased publication for the Armenian masses within the polarized Armenian community life and try to achieve a better understanding among Armenian people of diverse political persuasions.
3. The Church. The third arm of defense should be the Church. Armenian Evangelicals must have their ethnic identity based on Armenian Church history. For example, without reading Nerses Shnorhalee, Krikor Naregatzi and other Armenian religious titans, one cannot interpret the mystery and glory of Armenian Christianity.
Armenian Evangelical churches carry the strength of the pulpit, one of the most valuable aspects of any spiritual mission. Ministers, in their sermons, can look to the rich Armenian history for illustrations, be they in a religious vein or a purely ethnic one. They should strive to establish within their religious communities an atmosphere conducive to the preservation and perpetuation of the Armenian heritage. This includes going beyond the message of the pulpit, promoting cultural communication in the Sunday School, for instance, or encouraging the observance and celebration of all major Armenian festivals.
4. The Home. There is much work to be done, and ideally, it should begin at home. Sadly enough, the foundation for ethnic consciousness is neglected in the family.
Armenian parents should realize that the Armenian school is one important agency, but not the only one, in their children’s educational process. Without the help of the home and other influences on the child, the school cannot train for living.
However, one of the major thrusts in the transmission of the Armenian heritage at home is the value system. How do children learn and develop Armenian cultural values? Children fashion their value system mainly during childhood. One of the most important ingredients, then, is the parents. One of the important classrooms is the home, and parental dimension is extremely decisive in effective Armenian heritage education. If Armenian Evangelicals are going to raise children who can be proud of their national heritage, ethnic and cultural values, they have to fulfill their responsibilities as Armenian parents by creating such a conducive atmosphere at home, where their children are exposed to the Armenian language, history, music, art and other cultural expressions of their heritage.
The fifth challenge of the Armenian Evangelical Church is Evangelism.
Evangelism is the spread of the Christian Gospel or good news (in Greek, evangelion), whether by formal preaching or by personal witness. It is the privilege and duty of every Christian. It should be also the Church’s first priority. The Church must proclaim, bear witness, and tell the Good News. The initiator of this is the Spirit of God; it takes the initiative to extend the sovereignty of God through the Word of God.
The early evangelists were preoccupied with proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to others. They had experienced God’s love in Jesus Christ, and wished to live their lives consistent with their proclamation. They wished to share their faith with others.
In our day and age, Christians have the same privilege and responsibility of evangelism. They are bound to their fellow humans by the ties of God’s family and by the command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Thus, the assembly of believers, the Church, is a fellowship with a commission, i.e. the Great Commission! “Go, therefore,” commanded Jesus, “and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
The Armenian Evangelical Church should always be an evangelistic Church, a religious community of evangelizers. She was born of evangelism and for evangelizing. She should always stress the importance of complete loyalty to Christ. Her members should not lose sight of the fact that their sublime task is the evangelization of the Armenian people and the world. In this sense, all Armenian Evangelicals are called to be missionaries.
Armenian Evangelicals should realize the Lord Who calls people to be disciples by saying, “Come, follow Me,” in the same breath says, “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 on their way, ordering, “Go and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Sometimes the good can be an enemy of the best. Armenian Evangelicals have to aspire for the best. It is good for the contemporary Armenian Evangelicals to get involved in distribution of scriptures; making provisions for church extension, giving financial aid to churches, social services, and needy students; preparing devotional booklets and tracts; but much more is expected of them.
There are tremendous needs and opportunities. Here we can mention just a few:
1. Finding and placing evangelists in places where there are no churches. God has called the Armenian Evangelical Church to mission and commissioned her to worldwide proclamation. She must confirm the Holy Spirit’s selection of candidates, equip them and send them out.
The challenge of the Armenian Evangelicals today is to become involved in such programs as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, setting up day-care centers in churches, ministering with single-parent families, spending time to help construct new buildings for new missions or repairing the damage after a natural disaster, proliferation of congregational-supported pastoral counseling centers, etc.
This kind of evangelism focuses not so much on the number of dollars sent away but on the number of volunteers involved in local outreach ministries.
The sixth challenge of the Armenian Evangelical Church is to be a dynamic witnessing community.
Along with the responsibility of evangelism comes the equally important obligation of witnessing. In fact, witnessing is an extension of evangelism. Evangelism, which brings people into specific relationships with Jesus Christ, should lead to action, for the Gospel is intimately related to life’s daily sweat and tears. A Christian’s faith must relate to one’s business and all personal relationships with others. Faith is not one interest among many, but an undergirding, forming, normative, motivating attitude and power in all areas of life.
Before His ascension to heaven, Jesus told His disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Witnesses tell what they have seen and what they know about the person on whose behalf they are testifying.
There are many ways of witnessing. There is witnessing by word, by deed, and by personal lifestyle.
Telling the Good News was one of the cardinal characteristics of the early Christian Church. Ministry of the Word was a very effective way of witnessing for early Armenian Evangelicals. It still is a very effective way today.
Ministry of action is also a very powerful means of witnessing. Christianity is a religion which requires a kind of ethical practice which grows out of our relationship with God. “By their fruits you shall know them,” said Jesus. He was referring to ethical fruits and practice. Christian service and ministry of deeds has been a very effective way of witnessing. It still can be a very effective way for modern Armenian Evangelicals.
Ministry of presence is probably the most effective way of witnessing. To be is the root. Being is a lifestyle. Mere action is not the most important thing. If the early followers of Christ made a strong impact on society it was primarily because of their Christian lifestyle. They were, as it were, the fifth Gospel.
Armenian Evangelicalism, through its pulpits and platforms, through its organizations and media, should challenge the Armenian churches to become the voice of conscience, so that the churches, in turn, can strengthen the will of their members to work for freedom, justice, human rights, and peace. They should not only verbalize these values, but also implement them, and involve their membership in those deeds of social betterment that give contemporary expression to their profession of faith. The Armenian Evangelicals should never compromise in matters of moral integrity. They should exercise the courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, and scorn compromises with vice and injustice. They should take a stand on issues of conscience and public morality, on community and national issues of vital importance. They should stand up and be counted!
Seventh, Armenian Evangelicalism should emphasize the ministry of the laity.
Communication with God is the privilege of all individuals. Worship, prayer, ceremonies are means of communication. However, throughout the ages, a “priestly order” has been created to perform the role of mediator between creature and Creator. Armenian Evangelicalism, like all Protestant Churches, has cherished the biblical principle of priesthood of all believers. This is an affirmation and an assertion that all believers have the right to direct access to God on their own behalf. This is both their privilege and responsibility. This is the assertion that Christians can come into the presence of God without a priestly intermediary. They can confess their sins to God and can make their own commitment to the way of Christ.
Armenian Evangelicalism should impress upon all Armenian Churches and all Armenians that Christian ministry belongs to the whole Church, and that all Christians, both lay and ordained, are ministers, and, in their own way, they are to be as faithful and as committed to their life in Christ as possible. The Armenian churches must build a strong base of active and dedicated members. It is true that the Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the most democratic of all Orthodox and Ancient Churches. But it still has not fully utilized the resources of its membership. Women play a very minimal role in the leadership of the church. They are the great absentee in the ecclesiastical and national assemblies of the church. Armenian Evangelicals, who for many decades have involved women in leadership positions, can provide the example. Armenian Evangelicals should impress upon all Armenian churches that lay people, males and females alike, should be trained to assume their rightful place and responsibility in their church affairs. They should exercise their privilege and right of responsible membership. It seems high time to elevate, for special recognition, the status of the laity in the ministry of the church. Revising the status of the laity raises a number of important questions: How can the ministry of the laity fulfill its role by going into all the world to live out the Good News in homes, in the marketplace, and along the “Jericho roads” of life? How can the ministry of the clergy, defined as training, teaching, practicing, and equipping the laity for their ministry, achieve its mandate? Perhaps Armenian Churches have waited too long for the rediscovery of the Church as a lay academy where clergy train and prepare members for mission.
Eighth, The Armenian Evangelical Church should strengthen her ties with the “Mother Church” and other Armenian religious and civic organizations.
The Armenian Evangelical Movement was born in the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is a historical fact that a group of Apostolic Armenians initiated the movement of church reform within the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. The reform movement was crystallized by a group of Armenian Apostolicals under the title “Society of Piety.” Ultimately, this group became the nucleus of the new Evangelical Church of Armenia in Constantinople, on July 1, 1846.
Attempts have been made in the past to strengthen the ties of the Armenian Evangelical Church with the Mother Church and even engage in discussions of reuniting the two Churches. One such serious attempt was the creation of the Rapprochement Commission of the Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Evangelical Churches in 1970. Undoubtedly, it was a most welcome development.
Rapprochement begins with mutual respect and cooperation. There is no way of bridging the gulf between the two Churches except by the kind of tolerance both of them manifest in acknowledging each other as Christian Churches of a common nationality. The establishment of the Rapprochement Commission appointed by the two Churches was the first step in the right direction. Although the talks between the Armenian Evangelical and Armenian Apostolic Churches have not produced agreement of great substance or of immediate importance, it is nevertheless highly desirable that such talks continue the slow process toward real rapprochement.
It is important that either the former Rapprochement Commission be reactivated and augmented, or a new and more representative commission be established. Since the old Rapprochement Commission represented only the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America and the Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America (Eastern States and Canada), it would be preferable to establish a new Rapprochement Commission which would represent all the major components of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Evangelical Church. In the best interests of all parties involved, it is also important that the Commission on the Armenian Apostolic side represent the two Catholicosates (Etchmiadzin and Cilicia) and the two Patriarchates (Istanbul and Jerusalem). The Armenian Evangelical counterpart should be represented by all the Unions presently under the auspices of the Armenian Evangelical World Council. The Rapprochement Commission can benefit from the valuable experience, findings and recommendations of the old Commission.
The Armenian Evangelical Church should also strengthen her ties with other reformed Armenian Christian groups such as Armenian Brotherhood, Armenian Nazarene, Pentecostal, and other Churches. All of these churches, in varying degrees, share common affirmations and have common stances against certain beliefs and practices. With all their differences, these smaller churches and religious groups have an internal spiritual unity which binds them together. It is their common religious heritage and their cultural legacy. They all have roots in the Protestant reform movement, and they are all Armenians! Generally, these churches are mission-oriented and highly evangelistic churches. Currently, one of their largest mission fields is Armenia, where they have been investing considerable financial and moral resources. But they also meet considerable resistance by the temporal and spiritual leadership of Armenia. Yerevan and Etchmiadzin openly dissaprove of their missionary activities, and accuse them of “proselytism.” They have even labeled them as “foreign sects or cults.” These are unfortunate and unjustifiable accusations and appellations. These churches have been rendering valuable service to the Armenian people. They can continue to do the same. But if they are denied official status, and if they want to maintain their existence and continue their missionary work in Armenia, perhaps they should seriously consider placing themselves under the umbrella of a recognized Armenian Church organization. This should not be done for merely utilitarian considerations, but should be a genuine venture of unity. The Armenian Evangelical Church, which has been officially recognized by the Armenian Apostolic Church and by the government of the Republic of Armenia, could take these Christian groups under her “wings” and provide them with guidelines and ground rules with which they can operate freely to do their evangelistic work.
Undoubtedly, much spiritual and moral strength can come from this type of partnership and this kind of “spiritual federalism.” There will be much blessing in this kind of relation. A united federation of these smaller churches, with hostile barriers down, not only can lead to the total enrichment of relationships, but can be a source of blessing to the Armenian people.
In our day and age, Armenians have to understand that the totality of the Armenian people is bound up as one indivisible unit. What happens to Armenians in one place affects the destiny of Armenians throughout the world. In recent years, the tragic earthquake in northern Armenia, the Azeri massacres in Baku and in historic Artzakh, the Turkish and Azeri economic blockade of Armenia, and the heart-rending suffering of the Armenian people in their Fatherland in the face of enormous hardships have awakened all Armenians to the stark realization that none of the religious or political groups is self-sufficient in itself. Thus, all Armenians must recognize that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and they must be sure that every link in their chain is forged just as strongly as another. Each component of the nation must realize that it is a link in an endless chain, and to be an Armenian is to have a bond with every other Armenian, no matter where or in what circumstances.
In short, all Armenians are bound together for weal or woe. They must be unified in spirit. Their solidarity is based on two important principles:
a. They are all one in Christ, and are bound by Christian ties;
Their greatest challenge now is to be one strong nation serving God and mankind in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The ninth challenge of the Armenian Evangelical Church is to provide competent and dedicated spiritual leadership.
There is no vocation or calling more rewarding and satisfying, and yet more demanding and challenging, than Christian ministry. In an age of great ferment and change, when the world is changing with alarming speed, so is the role of the minister. The changing patterns of the contemporary world are found on many levels: technological, social, and ethical. The modern world has now moved through the space age, to an age of automation and computers. Closely allied with the technological revolution is the knowledge explosion.
The world is changing more rapidly than ever before, and ministers who are to minister in it must be prepared to move with the times to make their ministry thoroughly up to date. In addition to their traditional involvement in the many-faceted life of ministry, today a minister must possess a great mobility of mind and flexibility of spirit in order to survive and keep moving.
Although all Armenian Evangelicals, clergy and laity alike, are called to serve and witness in the life of their own congregations and in the community, the Armenian Evangelical Church needs spiritual leaders who have both the calling and leadership skills that will give direction to her constituency, the Armenian people, and the world.
Since ministers play a decisive role in the life of the Armenian Evangelical churches, it is extremely important that they should be thoroughly evaluated by the Executive Councils of the respective Unions of the Armenian Evangelical Church and should prove to be:
a. Persons of strong Christian faith, endowed with leadership qualities such as: preaching, teaching, administration, pastoral abilities.
In the midst of the contemporary crisis of leadership, we find solace in being reminded by a sage of the Church that, “they also serve who lead!” The Armenian Evangelical Church, as well as other Armenian institutions and organizations, needs leaders of competence and courage; leaders who nurture their relationship with their God and make their covenant faith so real that they are enabled to distinguish wisely between the bearers of God’s Good News and those who proclaim only the latest views; leaders who refuse to allow others to intimidate them for performing the essential task of leadership.
The future leaders of the Armenian Evangelical Church should possess a sense of history and a sort of panavision which captures the wider picture of reality. They should recognize that they cannot possibly bring their plans to fruition alone, but can and should marshal the gifts of God to that end. Leaders must interpret the dream and motivate the people so that it becomes their very own.
Furthermore, the Armenian Evangelical leaders must not only know what their people want, but they must constantly remind their people what it is that they are supposed to be about. It is all too easy for people of good will to become lost in the thicket of “institutional maintenance” concerns! They need to remind each other frequently that they are the People of God! They have been chosen “to preach the Good News to the poor; to announce to prisoners, they are free; to the blind, they will see again”...and to help the broken victims of life go free...yesterday, today, and forever!
1996 is the 150th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church. May this anniversary be a milestone to look at retrospectively as well as prospectively: honoring the past and claiming the future, remembering and being remembered. Today’s Armenian Evangelicals are the beneficiaries of those who have gone before them. They are indebtors to their ancestors. As they gratefully remember, they should also think about how they are going to be remembered. How are they going to be remembered by future generations? What kind of legacy will they leave to them? Will they be able to inspire them to be fulfillers, extenders, and enlargers of the best of the Armenian Evangelical heritage?
The answers of those questions should be given by the present generation of Armenian Evangelicals. As for the oncoming generations of the Armenian Evangelical Church, may they, by the grace of God, be equipped with new vision and skills, learn from the past and build a better tomorrow!