The Role of the Layperson in the Armenian Evangelical Church

Excerpts from the Article titled "The Role of the Layperson in the Armenian Evangelical Church" By Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian

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If all our Union’s clergy and ministerial students were rounded up and taken somewhere to be imprisoned or even killed, what would our churches do? Would they continue; would they survive?
These ruminations are quite logical when considering the reformation ideal, “The priesthood of all believers.” This ideal, from which we often fall short, is one of the central tenets of the Reform tradition, and it represents a major difference between Evangelical and non-Evangelical Armenian churches - or at least it did at one time.


From our current perspective we may wish things could have been a bit different, so that over the years the Armenian Evangelical would not have expunged so much of his native culture from his life and worship, adopting a Western one in its place. In any event, that Armenian Evangelical of old is practically a forgotten species. The distinctiveness which defined his public behavior has gradually been forgotten, and a caricature has replaced it. Certain habits have been retained for the sake of appearance, not out of conviction. The internal drive which made him what he was are all but gone, and so most of our laypeople (here the unfortunate dichotomy enters) know neither what they believe, nor why they do. We have come to resemble the world around us, not as a strategy to win others to salvation and faith in Jesus Christ (note Paul’s words in I Corinthians 9.19-23), but in order to win society’s approval. This latter manifestation of Armenian Evangelicalism is the current norm, and it represents a collective abandonment of our purpose as a distinct group.


Both Armenian Evangelical clergy and laity are responsible for pushing the balance towards clergy; frequently clergy have been afraid of giving laymen authority and negligent in training believers in the responsible use of authority. Laypersons have accustomed themselves to think of faith issues as separate and unimportant, as opposed to material issues. This has led to passivity in deepening ones faith, and aggressive activity in running the church like one’s personal business. Lay people must take ownership of the church and become full members of it, fully participating in its life and mission. The present contentment with only a fragment of our Lord Jesus’ Great Commission, an embarrassing dichotomy, has become established in our churches, along with a lack of vision for all God can accomplish through us. We have bred spiritually passive laymen over the years. Armenian Evangelical families have trained their children to keep their connection to the church as tenuous as possible, and to keep their treasures and their hearts anywhere but there. We trivialize the mission and ministry of the church by arguing over irrelevant topics, ensuring the disinterest of outsiders, and making outsiders of our own youth. For effective Christian witness, God can use the pastor, who is more or less trained in what to say and how to say it, but he can often more effectively use a layman who has a good basic knowledge of what he believes, and is deeply convinced of why he believes. The pastor’s job, then, is to train laypersons to live as children of light, to stand firm against the tide of this world, and to go and relate to one or two others in his daily life in such a way that they come to faith, and likewise spread the word, in particular including their own children (see II Timothy 2.1-2).


More specifically, the Armenian evangelical church, especially its clergy, needs to inspire and call its members to share in the ministry of the Gospel in all aspects of life - worship, education, culture, politics, athletics, and so on. It must be a calling, training, and sending body, or else it will become a closed system, running out of energy, being indistinguishable from the decaying world it seeks to change. It will look a lot like it does today, unable to attract new members, unable to communicate a viable vision, because it lacks such a viable vision. We need to define ourselves in deeper and more meaningful terms; not as the people who do not drink, smoke or dance, nor as the people who do drink, smoke or dance (fill in your favorite prescription or proscription), but as multi-faceted and multi-talented people who follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, who study his Word, who go to all the places he went, who affect others with their wisdom and witness, yet are not affected by the materialism or unbelief surrounding them.