175th Anniversary of AEC
“What is the difference between our church and the Armenian Orthodox Church?” This is a sincere question I have been asked by many who found out that I am an Armenian Evangelical Pastor. In fact, to my surprise, sometimes even Evangelical church members ask me this same question. I am sure you all have friends or colleagues who have made similar inquiries upon discovering that you attend an Armenian Evangelical Church. On the occasion of the 175th Anniversary of the establishment of the Armenian Evangelical Church, I want to remind everyone of some basic tenets of our beliefs and teachings.
1. Scripture Alone or “Sola Scriptura”
One of the basic beliefs of the Armenian Evangelical Church is that the Holy Scriptures are the only and unchangeable basis of our faith and action. 2nd Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The main responsibility of the Church is to preach and teach the Word of God in a language comprehensible to those who hear it. The Sacred Fathers of our nation St. Sahag and St. Mesrob knew that “… faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 They worked hard to make the Scriptures available to our people in their vernacular (mother) tongue, so they could hear about and understand the path to salvation and believe. History and tradition are important, and we need to learn and teach about these things, but any thought, idea, habit or custom related to our faith and lifestyle should be tested by the Word of God. That is the one and only reliable foundation for our faith.
2. Faith Alone and Grace Alone or “Sola Fide” and “Sola Gratia”
We believe Christ is the only path to salvation for humanity and salvation is attainable only through faith in Him. In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Forgiveness comes to us through faith in Christ. It is by believing in Him and accepting His salvific work on the cross on our behalf that we are reconciled with God, not through works. Human beings are lost in sin and deserving of punishment. God, through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, offers forgiveness and justifies those who believe. Salvation is a gift from God. It results from the experience of His grace and is not a reward for good works. Following Christ’s example by loving and caring for people and serving them with godly love, is very important. Yet these actions are the fruit of salvation, the result of the fellowship we have with Him as a result of the forgiveness we receive by faith in Christ. More than agreeing with a set of doctrines and teachings, the Christian faith is walking humbly with God the Father who revealed Himself to us through His Son.
3. The Priesthood of All Believers (1 Peter 2:5)
The most important task of a priest in the Old Testament was to be a mediator between God and His people. He offered sacrifices on their behalf for the forgiveness of their sins in order to reconcile them with God. The New Testament reveals that the person who believes in Christ and His redemptive death on the cross becomes a child of God. This person also receives the Holy Spirit and a call from God to be His witness (Acts 1:8). In other words, it is no longer necessary to connect with God through a mediator. Christ has become our one and only mediator. He is the only person in whom we can find forgiveness for our sins. We go directly to Him to confess our sins and enjoy His grace.
It is true that God does call some to dedicate their lives fully for spiritual ministry, but this does not make them a special class or give them higher standing. They are not holier or closer to God. Christians can pursue a vocation as a teacher, carpenter, lawyer, doctor, mechanic, or minister and still live as a dynamic witness, in word and in action, to the Gospel of salvation. Doctors specialize in a field and their opinions on medical issues are respected. By the same token, a pastor’s or Bible teacher’s words are to be considered valuable in the area of spiritual life. Yet, all Christians are equal in the sense that they are all in need of salvation, are all saved by God’s grace, have all been given gifts for ministry from God and are all called to be witnesses. Some have the call to work and serve as pastors, but this does not make them better or spiritually superior to anyone else.
Every human being is created in the image of God who desires to have a personal relationship with them. While we are called to care and reach out to all people, we also realize that we have been born into a uniquely ethnic Armenian community and that we have a special calling to reach out to our fellow Armenians. As Armenians, we have a rich culture and history. Since the year 301, both our culture and history have been impacted and shaped by our Christian faith and by living. Learning our culture and history will help us better serve our people.
Yet, when it comes to our relationship with our Creator and Lord, we need to remember that through Christ and only through Him can we be cleansed from our sins and become children of God. We are forgiven by God’s grace through faith and receive power and direction from Him to live lives that serve and honor Him. Science may reveal secrets and laws that exist at the heart of God’s creation which are beneficial for our life and existence. But the Scriptures are the only authentic source of Truth that can result in saving faith. It is the only foundation upon which we can confidently build every aspect of our individual and communal lives.
As we celebrate the 175th Anniversary of the birth of the Armenian Evangelical Church, may we grasp the tremendous responsibility we have to carry on the call of our Lord, and the vision of our forefathers who sowed the seeds of the message of God’s grace, Christ’s love, death and resurrection in so many hearts, which brought so much fruit and transformed our nation. May our Lord give us wisdom and humility to sincerely and critically evaluate our current situation, join around a common vision of reaching out to our nation with the message of the Gospel, serving our people by every means and resources God has gifted us. May we find ways to cooperate and work together with all Churches and institutions that share our vision and who are willing to join efforts to care for the spiritual and physical needs of our people wherever and whenever we see the need and the opportunity.