175th Anniversary of AEC
The celebration of the 175th Anniversary of the Armenian Evangelical Church is both an occasion for thanksgiving, and for finding the proper mirror to look into.
It is clear why we would be grateful to God for the formation and development of our Church. In unlikely places, times, and ways, a church-based revival amongst our Armenian people evolved into a spirituality of renewal, an unassuming ecclesiastical structure, a wide-ranging institutional scope, a fresh ethical and even pietistic zeal, an educational and service-oriented plan and silent curriculum, and a valued approach to the life of the person, the family, the nation, and all of society. All these had their far-reaching impact in powerful ways, here pietistic, there rational, here local, and there ecumenical. Some of the above continue up to this day despite fatigue in some Armenian Evangelical systems and approaches, but also through new signs of renewal and invigoration.
It is more challenging to find the right types of mirrors in which we should look to evaluate the life of the church and to pave a way that brings us closer to the values of the Kingdom of God and the statutes of the Body of Christ in our post-modern and troubled new times.
The mirror is the written Word, our accessible text that inspires, an authority that enlivens, a truth that disciplines us through the Spirit. The Word is also the Living Christ, without whom there is no ecclesial existence, and no space for grace. This mirror shames us when we consider our word as the authority, and uplifts us when we follow the Lord as humble disciples who are thirsty for life in Him. This mirror is an invitation to read the Bible again and again and to search for the Lord’s truth and guidance.
The mirror is what we see in the life of the local church and its membership. It is how the fruit of the Spirit is witnessed in the congregation as a response to the preached and lived Gospel. There is no church where the faithful are stagnant and the shepherds are self-seeking. There is no church where spiritual thirst is neglected, mission outreach is secondary, Christian communion is secularized, and where only social hunger is fed.
The mirror is the symphony of a worshipping community. Worship is not only praise, emotive expression, habits of religious veneration and group support. Worship is also the chance for the renewal of the mind, and the formation and disciplining of the congregation for a life of sanctity, diakonia, responsibility and mission, all in the name of and for the sake of Christ and His church.
The mirror is the pain of the world near us and in places afar. When the world, the Armenian world, the known world, but also the distant one is in pain, the church is called for action though mission. Pain is also present in each home and each person in relatively comfortable places too. However, the Lord invites the church to reach out and to be His caring and just hands and feet as we elevate the suffering of all humans for whom the Lord sacrificed His life.
The mirror is the style of leadership in planning and exemplification of what Christ wills for us. Leadership is not concentrated in only the pastoring character, but also in every faithful person who has a role to play in the congregation and around it. The church is not the experimental arena of the pastor to design based on personal style, theological preference, and general wishes. The leadership is a whole group, a prayerful team, an educated, faithful, and wise guidance to the congregation, being mainly accountable to the Head of the Church.
The mirror is our passion for education or passing on the faith and the heritage to the next generation. It is instilling in the young ones in our families, congregations, and surroundings the knowledge, the standards, the discipline, and the character that befits the children of God. Without education, the church resembles a nice-looking river that stands still, rejoices in the past but dreads the future.
The mirror is our vision for all people, but starting with our inner circles, and our Armenian people too, not simply a generalized vision for the whole elusive human context. One is first tested in the mirror for what one does for one’s brother and sister, where integrity and attitude cannot be concealed. Then, there is a test of the wider issues and broader world as well. If one cannot show a vision for goodness and salvation for one’s own, developing a vision for the distant ones, as important as it is, may be an escape from Christian integrity and responsibility.
The mirror of the church, therefore, is the law of God that disciplines us and the grace of God that saves us.
On this anniversary, may our look in the mirror be an occasion for thanksgiving and renewal.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9