175th Anniversary of AEC
An oversized Bible usually placed under a resurrection Cross, hymnbooks and Psalters in the back of pews, a piano sweetly playing the prelude in the full sight of the congregation, the sunlight coming through the windows in the peacefulness of a lovely Sunday, when the hustle-bustle of modern life gives way to the meditative worship of the Triune Presence ̶ such is a typical Armenian Evangelical Church getting ready for her now almost two centuries old way of worshipping God in the simplicity of her liturgy. Not too old a tradition as compared with millennial old Christian churches, but old enough to have liturgical tradition of its own, which can be termed as the Celebration of Communication ̶ a communication celebrated not only in liturgy, but also in practical ministry.
From a certain viewpoint, everything in the Armenian Evangelical Church is geared toward communication. Historically speaking, a core defining characteristic of its liturgical as well as ecclesiastical disposition has been communicating the Word of God in the most understandable way that speaks and responds to the very needs and challenges of the congregation. Thus, the worship characteristically takes place as a Word-event. As symbolized by the oversized Bible on the altar, the preaching of the Word becomes the Spirit-empowered central moment, which in the context of corporate worship communicates the divine salvific presence to the worshipers. Hence, you might often hear personal testimonies of people telling of how they have heard the voice of God amid their personal challenges as though they were personally being addressed by the preaching of the Word. Thus, everything including the way the sacraments are administered contributes to this Word-centered experience of God’s presence.
This is based on a certain understanding of the nature of God as Himself being communicative and relational. As the Jesuit theologian, Jon Sobrino states: “God never appears as a God-in-Himself, but as a God for history, and, therefore, as the God-of a people. ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’ is Israel’s confession of faith. In this, an essentially relational God is proclaimed, who reveals Himself and who is in relation to a people. … God is a God-of, a God-for, a God-in, never a God-in-Himself.”1 From the very early days, an emphasis on communicating the Word of God in all its forms has marked the Armenian Evangelical Church’s understanding of its liturgy and confession as well as its practice and mission. Thus, even the Armenian Evangelical Church’s reforming attitudes should be seen in this context. This very logo-centric emphasis has led to fresh translations of the Bible and new insights into the meaning of its text and application both in corporate worship and personal devotions, as a result of which several generations of Armenian Evangelical families have come to respect and appreciate the Bible and draw on its divine wisdom in manifestly practical ways.
There is another side to this communication-based core approach, which I propose to call incarnational communication through cross-shaped ministry, by which I mean the Armenian Evangelical Church’s understanding and practice of mission, the very willingness to go beyond the walls of the church to serve people in real solidarity and sympathy, and thus communicating the life-giving love and redemptive care of God to those in pain and suffering. The Church’s diaconal ministry is thus carried out in true incarnational sense, as it reaches to people and communities, especially in less fortunate places. However, it should be mentioned that, despite some unfounded misrepresentations, the Armenian Evangelical Church does not appreciate an instrumentalized approach to diaconal ministry or humanitarian aid as a cover-up means for proselytizing ”sheep-stealing” agenda! Communicating the loving care of God to those in need is a genuine outcome of its core theological affirmations, an embodiment of what it believes about divine love and mercy reaching out to image-bearing humanity. This is all very clearly attested by the ministry of the Armenian Evangelical Church both during and in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and its visible presence in several areas of the national life of the Armenian people both in Armenia and the Diaspora.
Another equally important area, where a communicative approach is employed is in the context of inter-church and inter-faith relationships. Despite the common assumptions, the words “evangelical” or “missionary” do not stand in the way of genuine ecumenical and inter-faith dialogues with other churches or faith traditions, as they do not denote a disposition of the Armenian Evangelical Church to convert adherents of other faith traditions. On the other hand, the Church is by no means compromising and acts in full accord with its confession of and faith in the saving lordship of Jesus Christ.
As the Armenian Evangelical Church celebrates the 175th Anniversary of its founding, may the power of Spirit equip this worldwide body of Christ to keep communicating His truth and loving mercy through prayerful and meditative as well as practical and incarnational ministry.
1 Sobrino, J., 1994. Jesus the Liberator. Tunbridge Wells: Burns & Oates, pp.68-69