Armenian Genocide: April 1915

Greg Strand – April 24, 2015 Leave a comment

This month and year we remember the centennial of the Armenian genocide, the systematic eradication of a people by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.

Andrew Doran writes about this and the title explains that this event is still remembered, and it is still denied: A Genocide Remembered and Denied

Doran recounts the beginning of this genocide.

In the night of April 24, 1915, as Constantinople’s Armenian community was deep in slumber following Easter celebrations, Turkish gendarmes, following the orders of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP), made their way through the ancient Byzantine capital to the homes of 250 Armenian cultural leaders. As Peter Balakian wrote in The Burning Tigris, Constantinople’s Armenian community had been “the center of Armenian cultural and intellectual life” since the nineteenth century. The Armenians were a minority community that excelled in the arts, academia, and the professional classes; successful, intelligent, and very much “the other” in a Turkey whose young rulers were influenced by the racialist ideologies then prominent in Europe.

That night, the Armenian leaders of the city were arrested and imprisoned, sensing what one of the few survivors called “the terror of death” in the air. Within days, the events in Constantinople were replicated across Turkey. By early summer, most were executed. The event marked the beginning of a systematic campaign of genocide, which soon took on greater scope.

Although that night may have marked the beginning of this genocide, it certainly was not the end. The final toll: the decimation, destruction and death of 1.5 million Armenians (including Assyrians and Greeks).

While many Turks and Kurds watched with approval or indifference as their Christian neighbors were eradicated, there were some who hid Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks in their homes. Their names are lost to all but the oral histories of the survivors’ descendants, many of whom are scattered from California to the shores of the Mediterranean. A few made the trek north into Anatolia to historic Armenia in the South Caucasus, where they would re-forge a nation that had not existed for centuries.

More than 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks died during the genocide.

Why did this occur? What was the fear? Ottoman Turkish officials feared Christian Armenians would side with Russia, its enemy in WWI.

So is this atrocity along with the incredible numbers of deaths history, fabrication, inflation, or wrongly identified? Armin T. Wegner, serving as a second-lieutenant in the German army stationed in the Ottoman empire, took the initiative in 1915 to investigate the atrocities committed against the Armenians about which he was hearing. Disobeying orders to keep the massacres silent, he collected information and took hundreds of pictures of the Armenian deportation camps. Wegner was arrested but not before he was able to get some of this information and pictures to Germany and the United States. The next year (1916) he was transferred to Constantinople secretly taking some of the photographic plates depicting these horrific acts against the Armenians.

Most historians refer to this as genocide. Turkey officials, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, deny this, but rather claim the numbers are inflated and were due to civil war. As an example, Pope Francis remembered the Armenian genocide, referring publicly to this as genocide, and he was immediately chided by the Turkish government.

Pope Francis was among the few world leaders to publicly recognize the genocide. The Turkish government immediately responded, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan lashing out at Pope Francis for his remarks. “I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again,” said Erdogan. A century later, even as Turkey continues to deny the events of 1915, the descendants of the Armenian and Assyrian survivors are once more in danger. Many took refuge in cities like Aleppo and, there since 2011, they have been the target of attacks by Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists—which Turkey has supported in Syria without meaningful reprimand from the international community.

These fellow image-bearers not only experienced this atrocity, today they remain the target of attacks by Muslim terrorists. Most of the Muslim terrorist killings are not indiscriminate – the focus is Christians.

The statement after the rise and fall of Hitler’s Nazi regime was “never again.” That statement, commitment and resolve is absolutely right. What the Ottoman Turks did against the Armenians in WWI is what Hitler replicated against the Jews in WWII. And since then, the killings have continued.

We do all we can as individuals, Christians, the church, and citizens of this country. But ultimately our hope is in none of that. Our hope is in the Lord. This does not mean we remain inactive or passive. Rather that God-directed hope imbues our engagement with meaning and significance, not in the moment only, but for the long-term. That long-term, sure and certain hope of God and the fulfillment of his plan give us the strength to engage fully here and now, while we await the Lord’s return when he will make all things right.

The certainty of this truth, and the inaugurating stages of this experience, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is how N. T. Wright spoke of this truth in an Easter sermon.

The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the final putting-to-rights of all things. In the light of the resurrection, the church must never stop reminding the world’s rulers and authorities that they themselves will be held to account, and that they must do justice and bring wise, healing order to God’s world ahead of that day. Those who want to depoliticize the resurrection must first dehistoricize it, which is of course what they have been doing enthusiastically for many years – and then we wonder why the church has sometimes sounded irrelevant! But we who celebrate our risen Lord today must bear witness to Easter, God’s great act of putting-right, as the yardstick for all human justice.

Addendum: To read of a work of God between the Turkish and Armenian Christians, cf. Turkish and Armenian Christians Reconcile on Genocide Anniversary

Convictional Kindness

Greg Strand – April 23, 2015 2 Comments

Often differences of theology and thought can be expressed in a shrill manner. This becomes even more acute as we engage in cultural discussion and debate.

As we engage in these discussions I like the expression “convictional kindness.” Being kind does not mean we do not have convictions; having convictions does not mean we cannot be kind. As believers keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and evidencing the graces of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18) we must/will be both kind and with conviction.

Millard Erickson has written a helpful covenant regarding “convictional civility” as one engages in this discussion/debate with another (“Toward Convictional Civility,” in Convictional Civility: Engaging the Culture in the 21st Century, ed. C. Ben Mitchell, Carla D. Sanderson and Gregory A. Thornbury [Nashville: B & H, 2015], 33).

  1. I will not point out the presuppositions of another’s position without acknowledging that I have presuppositions myself.
  2. I will not contend that another’s view is historically conditioned without conceding that mine is also.
  3. I will be more concerned not to misunderstand or misrepresent others’ views than to claim that mine has been misunderstood or misrepresented.
  4. I will be more concerned that my language be fair and objective than I am that others’ language about me may not be.
  5. I will not caricature my opponent’s view to make my own appear more moderate.
  6. I will not employ ad hominem arguments.
  7. I will abstain from the use of pejorative language.
  8. I will not impute motives or emotions to others.
  9. I will think of intellectual arguments in terms of differences over ideas, not as personal disputes.

Although I like the word kindness better than civility, since it is a fruit of the Spirit, I appreciate greatly Erickson’s covenant.

Some questions for thought:

  • What do you learn?
  • What might you add?
  • What do you need to apply?

A few years ago (2011) James MacDonald wrote a blog-post entitled “Congregational Government is From Satan.” His intent was to make a point about congregationalism and its weaknesses. What he wrote was not merely overstated rhetoric, but it was untrue and hurtful. For these reasons, I never commented on it.

A few days ago MacDonald wrote a follow up post under the title “Elder Rule Church Government is From Satan, Too.” He writes, “This post is for the purpose of apologizing and explaining how I have come to regret it [that earlier post].” This is something worth commenting upon. There are many statements made on blogs, but not many apologies. When this is done, it is noteworthy. (Although I affirm the confession, I don’t care for the title as it is more overstated rhetoric. Better to title the post with the apology. But the important matter is the confession, not the title!)

The essence of MacDonald’s lesson learned is as follows:

The potential for damage to a church seems likely in both models [congregationalism and elder rule] if a lack of humility is resident in those participating in the governance. In such cases, it is the condition of people’s hearts and not the model of governance that gives Satan an advantage in his efforts to damage the work of Christ in that body. My best thinking these days is that the Elders are wise to include congregational participation as a regular part of their church governance. When matters facing the church are difficult or must remain private to protect an individual, the congregation does well to trust the Elders they helped nominate and to pray for God’s wisdom among the Elders. When the decisions have far-reaching implications for the entire church family or when the Elders struggle to reach consensus, a review by the church membership for greater wisdom in seeking the mind of the Lord may lead to better decisions and greater unity among the entire church family.

EFCA polity is congregational. When I teach EFCA History, Theology and Polity, I teach what biblical congregationalism is, along with its strengths and weaknesses. This is not to say that other forms of polity are unbiblical, but rather that we believe congregationalism best and most faithfully aligns with the biblical teaching (which proponents of other forms of polity, e.g. elder rule, believe is true of their own position). But I also state that what is accurate practically is that with godly, humble, dependent, interdependent, servant leaders, virtually any polity will work, while with ungodly, prideful, arrogant, independent leaders no polity will work.

The Church, Millennials and Theology

Greg Strand – April 17, 2015 4 Comments

Thom Rainer’s assessment of the many trends of millennials led him to conclude there is a resurgence of interest in and commitment to “the fundamentals of the faith, basic theological education, and the deepening of doctrinal roots: Six Ways Millennials Are Educating Their Churches Theologically.

Rainer introduces this topic with his claim, and then follows by identifying six key ways his claim is supported.
Three thoughts/comments as you read this. First, I am not sure how he gathered these trends, whether from reading assessments, surveys, statistics, cultural analyses, personal consultation, etc. I am greatly encouraged by these trends. My sense, however, is that this is a data point, not definitive. What I mean is that this is important for us to consider and ponder, but it is just as important that we don’t universalize and make absolute this assessment.

Second, I only include the items in the list. He has a more through, though still brief, explanation of what he means and how he supports each item in the list.

Third, in his post you would read that he mentions The Gospel Project in items one and two. This curriculum is published by SBC’s Lifeway and edited by Ed Stetzer and Trevin Wax. It is excellent material, which is used by a number of local EFC churches. I am actually teaching through the material at Northfield Evangelical Free Church where I am a member.

Here, now, is Rainer’s brief introduction followed by his list.

 

In recent years, however, I have noticed a remarkable—and welcomed—return by younger leaders to the fundamentals of the faith, basic theological education, and the deepening of doctrinal roots.

Recently I sat down and studied these trends and identified six ways Millennial leaders in the church are increasing the importance and effectiveness of theological education in the local church.

  1. Emphasizing the big story of the Bible.
  2. Utilizing a catechism-like resource with their kids.
  3. Study groups working through systematic theology.
  4. A return to theological hymnody and songs.
  5. Recommended reading on church websites.
  6. Church membership classes.

 

As you look through this list and read Rainer’s rationale . . .

  • With what do you agree?
  • With what do you disagree?
  • What would you tweak?

As you ponder your own assessment . . .

  • What is your experience with your local church family?
  • What is your assessment more broadly?

When you put this into the larger and longer church of Jesus Christ . . .

  • What are the reasons for this generational emphasis, i.e. what previous generational emphases led to these trends among this generation?
  • Those emphases often arise from weaknesses, either perceived or real, so what are some of the weaknesses, perceived or real, of the millennial generation?
  • How and why does this speak to the importance of needing the whole body of Christ in order to flourish spiritually?

Testimonies (Part 2)

Greg Strand – April 16, 2015 Leave a comment

One particular Sunday morning numerous testimonies were shared during our corporate worship service. After hearing these testimonies I concluded it would be wise to discuss it that evening during our family worship/devotions. As part of that discussion I read the following to my family, which sheds further light on the testimony, and some of the possible problems that can accompany them: “‘Look At How Jesus Worked For Me!’ (A Reflection on Testimony and Gospel Preaching)

When giving a testimony, it is important to remember that the person’s experience may be true, and, in fact, we assume to be true or we would not allow them to share as if it were true before God’s people. We do not want to be an accomplice to duplicity or hypocrisy before God or others. But even though it may be true, one’s interpretation (understanding and articulation) of that experience may not be accurate. That is why we need a divine interpretation of an experience so we can understand aright, from God’s perspective, our experience. Experiences are not self-interpreting.

I often refer to the women who found the tomb empty on “the first day of the week,” i.e.. Sunday (Matt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-8; Lk. 24:1-12; Jn. 20:1-18). Their experience was real. The tomb was truly empty. But their interpretation was wrong. Based on their experience they concluded someone stole the body: right and real experience/phenomenon; wrong interpretation. What was necessary? A divine interpretation. The angels rightly interpreted their experience by informing them Jesus had been raised.

In these settings and situations, it is important that we help individual’s to know how to think about, understand and interpret their experiences of being born again (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16-17 where Paul clearly states that prior to being a new creation in Christ, he understood Christ “according to the flesh,” i.e.,  he thought he was a messianic pretender, certainly not the Son of God. It was only after being born anew did he understand, know and worship Jesus Christ as the God-man.) It carries greater weight because they are now in a situation in which they are publicly communicating this with others. So their personal testimony becomes a teaching which says to those listening what they think about the theology of conversion and the Christian life. I am often deeply saddened by much of what is shared. But in a sense, this is due to “no fault of their own,” but those who are teachers and mentors, as they need to instruct them.

In addition to providing some guidance to those who give testimonies, as noted in my previous post, my practice as I had the privilege of baptizing others also reflected the importance of the gospel and a person’s testimony. It was not a matter of one or the other, but both/and.

How is it I apply testimonies to baptism? When I lead a baptism service, I include both a personal testimony and a recitation of the major questions of the Apostles’ Creed and other aspects of doctrine to ensure the major truths of the Christian faith are articulated and affirmed. This explains the “script” I use when leading baptismal services. I articulate some aspect of doctrinal truth and ask the person being baptized if they affirm those truths.

My concern is that when we only include a personal testimony it is often not clear that the gospel has truly been understood or embraced. And if it truly has and the person has truly experienced the new birth, it is not communicated clearly. Some of that can be expected, and yet some of that ought to be taught. What the person then shares is what is heard by others, and those who hear then conclude that this is what the Christian faith is, or how one becomes a Christian. At the conclusion of some testimonies it is difficult to discern whether the person experienced true salvation through believing and receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:12-13) and was granted new birth through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:1-10; Tit. 3:4-8), or the person has engaged in a moral improvement plan.

In my pastoral practice, it provides the important and necessary place for the personal testimony, but it also anchors that testimony in the faith once for all entrusted to the saints. I want people present to know what that faith is, as articulated through the doctrinal statements asked in question form which the candidate affirms, and that this faith transforms individual lives, as articulated in the personal testimony.