Friday, April 24, 2020

How True Christian Leaders Act

Today marks the 105th commemoration of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey in 1915.  The Armenians were a minority Christian population within the larger Turkish and Kurdish Muslim population.  For centuries they had lived in a divided nation, one side Ottoman, the other either Russian or Persian, depending on who won the last war.  For countless centuries, they learned to survive this way.

Why note this now, at this time?  I was thinking about this in the context of church leaders in our time, meekly giving up services to include the most sacred Holy Week and Easter – the most joyous time for Christians, the reason that Christianity even means anything. 

I thought a look at how earlier church fathers acted in a time of national and religious persecution.  What does this have to do with today?  If Christian leaders don’t realize that they are under persecution today in the West, God save them.

…Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian, who served as the Armenian patriarch at Constantinople from 1896 to 1908, [made] the following observation: ‘‘The  Church of Armenia has been crushed for centuries between the upper and the nether millstones of political rivalry and conquest, and during these long ages…‘religious liberty’ has had to be secured by sheer independence of character and the shedding of much blood.’’

That’s real persecution, as compared to taking the risk of being ticketed for handing out plastic-wrapped palm branches.

[In 1896, Johannes] Lepsius estimated that 646 villages were forcibly converted to Islam, 645 churches and monasteries were desecrated and destroyed, and 328 churches were turned into mosques.

And in 2020, one million churches (I am just making that number up) were voluntary closed by their Christian leaders, because “we are to obey governing authorities.”  Blegh.

[In April 1909] two rounds of massacres were launched against the Armenians, in the region of Adana, that by the end of the month left more than 20,000 Armenians dead.

Before 1915, it was clearly obvious to Armenian Christian leaders that challenging the authorities was asking for trouble – real trouble, not just getting a hand slapped.

Christopher Walker has correctly noted that ‘‘The Armenians failed to grasp the nature of Turkism. They continued to see themselves as Christians.... Religion was an integral part of being an Ottoman Armenian, so a nonreligious ideology was hard to comprehend. They found it almost impossible to see what it meant to be up against a nonreligious, race-based ideology.’’

“Yes, but it’s different for us.  America is a Christian nation with Christian leaders like Donald Trump.”

But on Saturday 24 April, soldiers were stationed throughout Constantinople, home to some 150,000 Armenians, and the authorities arrested about 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders, including the renowned musicologist and priest Gomidas Vartabed Soghomonian.

Arrest?  That was the easy part.

Soon the entire Armenian nation became engulfed in terror, as the Young Turk regime began the deportations while Turks and Kurds attacked Armenian towns.

Well, maybe it is a little bad.

The Armenian prelate of Kayseri, Bishop Khosrow Behrigian, was arrested and handed over to the military courts …Bishop Nerses Tanielian, [was] arrested, marched out of town, and finally murdered in a valley some distance away.  The prelate of Erzurum, Archbishop Smpad Saadetian, along with a caravan of 7,000 Armenians, was deported to Malatya and met a similar fate in July.

Three church leaders down, a few hundred to go.  Eventually, most Armenian Christian leaders would be killed or deported, along with their flocks.  Some took a more noble calling, putting on the armor of God.

Most of the local Armenian priests were imprisoned and murdered or, if left alive, deported; some of them chose to depart from the customary orientation of the patriarchate and took part in local resistance movements.

I think Chuck Baldwin might be one of the few today that can identify with this.

Before World War One, there were over 2,100 Armenian churches in the Turkish sections of the Ottoman Empire.  By the early 1950s, the number was less than forty.  The church leaders, even during a time of horrendous persecution, did not leave their flock, stood in front of the Young Turks in protest of the treatment of Armenians, and even joined the laity in armed fighting against the injustice.


I find it hard to imagine that when Jesus said “The meek shall inherit the earth,” that what we see around us by Christian leaders today is what He had in mind.

Armenians have a history that dates back at least 3,000 years.  They are the first Christian nation, well before Rome, with the king adopting Christianity in 301 AD.  They have been surrounded almost continuously by much stronger empires, and for over a thousand years to include Muslim invaders.  It was their Christianity that saved them as a nation for the last 1,700 years. 

Want to bet nothing about America lasts nearly this long?


  1. Hey, the United States government's space cadets planted a flag on a rock with no atmosphere in space 250,000 miles from here, that should last 1,700 years!

    Interesting here the Bishops led the resistance. In the Latin American wars of independence, the parish priests led the revolts, partly against the Bishops because of the Bishops' love of centralization and statism. I sent that to my Bishop and parish priest. I predict they will do anything world-changing with it.

  2. "Want to bet nothing about America lasts nearly this long?"

    Never bet on a sure thing.

    Did Chuck Baldwin shut down his church? In looking at the website and his Facebook page, I didn't see any information about that. It would be telling if he did. I would expect that he would be one of the few people strong enough to defy the "authorities", given his political bent and the area of the country he lives in.

    If, indeed, he bowed to the pressure, then who is left to show the way?

  3. Our pastor has held services in person every weekend this year and continues to do so.

  4. When Christ said "the meek shall inherit the earth, he meant the "meek" to be those who realize that they cannot live without Him. It is a very incorrectly explained text most of the time.

  5. Unknown, you have hit on something there. The reference to the meek is those are who submitted. Not to anyone else other than Jesus. The Beatitudes are a description of a person coming to faith in Jesus and then what that person will be like after salvation. The only submission is to Jesus. It doesn't mean a push over or someone who goes along with shelter in place ordinances. Thanks for your comment.

    Where is your church? Mine is shut down. I am pushing to open it back up, but not getting much agreement.

  6. BM, I didn't understand what you said before about how the church must take back influence and authority in the culture. It wasn't clear to me that we had totally lost it or in what way.

    I know now. In my mind the church is enslaved. It is unwilling to tell all others they are wrong, especially their government "friends". I have seen Romans 13 quoted several times over the last couple of weeks as an ass covering. Can't defy the government they say, Romans 13. I am really tired of it. Not sure where to go from here.


    1. RMB,

      Catholics, for example, have shifted left on social issues. The Catholic Church finds itself becoming increasingly irrelevant in the lives of Catholics. It makes pronouncements about birth control, homosexuality, gay marriage, etc., which most Catholics ignore.

      If the Church shifts left, it abandons its principles. If it doesn't, it loses its members. It has tried excommunication but that no longer has the sting it once had.

      I don't see how the Church solves that problem. This is similar in other churches but not to same degree. Here is a quote I just found:

      "Conservatives have regrouped to fight Pope Francis’s relaxation of old doctrinal anathemas, which he sees as vital to the spiritual renewal of a two-millennia-old institution serving a notional 1.2bn Catholics around the world. Shortly after taking over from Pope Benedict XVI — who took the almost unheard of step of resigning in circumstances the Vatican has never explained — he said the Church had to find “a new balance” or it would collapse “like a house of cards”.


    2. Ahmed

      "If the Church shifts left, it abandons its principles. If it doesn't, it loses its members."

      It will lose some members. It might retain and gain many others. The further hardcore the left goes into identity politics the more of the broader population that will flee from it and the stronger the broader population will embrace more central, even traditional, positions.

      Even if the Church shrinks, the resulting Church will be a much stronger one.

  7. NCM Jesus' comment about the meek inheriting the earth was a reference to the future kingdom that He will establish upon earth after the judgment.

  8. Bionic, what are your thoughts on the idea of church pastor as a profession, that is, a paid position of leadership?

    I am of the opinion that being a church pastor should not be viewed as a vocation, but out of a spirit of love and communal leadership. In other words, one becomes a pastor of a local group BECAUSE he (she) leads, not because it is his (her) job. Looking at it this way, it throws a whole different light on the subject.

    1. A church pastor must be educated in the Scripture and in properly teaching doctrine. This suggests a formal process of education, as one cannot develop proper doctrinal understanding in even a lifetime of self-led study.

      I don't know how this happens without educational hierarchy (seminary and / or university), years in study, and vows to an order. Followed by a lifetime of continued study. How to do this without some form of exchange (money), I have no idea.

      That there might be outliers here - something like a local volunteer - is possible, but it would seem to me dangerous more often than not.

      In the earliest church - at the time of Paul and shortly thereafter, we had what seem to be just such communities. How many of Paul's letters (and the letters to the churches in Revelation) chastise these for their errors in teaching and practice?

    2. Bionic,

      Considering what you have said, should we have more tolerance for an apostolic oversight, such as Paul had, over pastors and congregations under that oversight and accountable to it? Paul started churches, identified capable leaders, gave them "basic training", and then corrected them as needed, yet he never started a seminary of formal training. Paul's method was more informal than that which demands rigorous training and credentials, much of which (I'm not pointing any fingers) might result in loyalty to the system itself rather than the truth.

      Granted, a pastor should be well-informed and able to articulate Scripture clearly to his "flock", but he must also live it out among his people and that experience cannot be gained in just a few years of seminary, but must be learned through decades of dealing with stubborn, obstinate, sinful people--like me.

      Life begins at forty, goes the saying, and I will say that a pastor who retires after forty years of service has learned a great deal, which is why he should probably stop being a pastor and start training other younger men and women, in other words, become an apostle, starting churches, appointing leaders, watching over them, and exercising discipline as necessary.

      Never retire. Change careers.

    3. Roger, there are dangers on both sides. Individuals start movements, and count the Apostle Paul among these. He was an early church planter, in our modern parlance.

      But it requires institutions to sustain movements. Unfortunately, institutions can corrupt - meaning individuals leading the institutions turn corrupt.

      Dangers in both sides. I am just of the view that it requires an institution to stand up to state power - and state power is the most corrupt institution on this planet.

      This is why I refer to the necessity of Christian men of good will in leadership - and we are so lacking in this; it is why I appreciate ecumenical dialogue; it is why I see the necessity of a foundation of natural law; it is why I find so costly the fracturing of the church by leveraging disagreement on dozens of minor points in doctrine.

    4. Mr. M.,

      One man's "minor" is another man's hellfire-deserving heresy. I have stayed out of these discussions because the doctrine I believe to be true is very different from that which I've seen posited here by all who have commented on theirs, including you.

      Some will (try really hard to) never compromise on that which they believe to be matter how much others may claim it to be "minor". I don't express this comment in meanness, and I have nothing but love for you and the commenters here, so I hope (and trust) that you will take it in the spirit intended.

    5. Bionic, your argument is good and I respect the wisdom in it. Generally speaking, 'loose cannons' cause a lot of damage, while those which are 'restrained' can wreak a lot of damage...on the enemy.

      In a stable, free society, the reliance on seminary training and long years of study can and does produce excellent pastors. Yet, I wonder what the situation will be like when society reaches the point where "The State uber alles!" is the doctrine of the day.

      What will happen to seminaries and religious orders when the State demands unconditional surrender to its own order? What will become of churches and pastors which refuse to bow and scrape? They might be driven underground, while State-compliant ones were allowed to worship in the open and thrive.

      Assuming this came to pass, seminaries which held out for the Truth would cease to exist. Pastors would no longer be able to devote years to formal training. Vows to a religious order may be a death sentence. Congregations would probably split into very small groups meeting in secret, with the constant knowledge that arrests and "disappearances" might occur without any warning.

      This has happened before in other countries. Can it happen in the United States? Considering that most churches and pastors have just knuckled under to the "suggestions" of governors and closed their doors (at Easter time, no less) seems to indicate that we might be very close to such a possibility.

    6. Roger, your points are all good. I hope I didn't present it as an either / or.

      Also, your points make a good point: context matters. So, what happens when the state demands unconditional surrender? Well, here we can certainly look to the Apostle Paul's methods for guidance. I suspect it would look exactly like it did in the fellowships that Paul and the other apostles started. Church planting, and regular follow-up. Nothing more formal than this.

  9. I didn't see it as either/or. Certainly, any liberty-minded person would be able to see the benefit in voluntary, organic methods springing up without resorting to a heavy-handed, one size fits all, approach. For all we know, something entirely new might emerge. Jesus is, after all, the master at creating unique systems. We are not stuck with only one or the other.

    In this, as in every other thing which requires voluntary cooperation between people, I can only say this: "Let freedom ring!"

    1. Roger, I agree on the benefits of voluntary methods. But also, to achieve anything of meaning requires lasting institutions focused on some purpose.

      RMB offered a comment in another thread, and he brought some real focus. He writes:

      "...we should find where we agree on war, individual worth, private property, morality, family support, drug abuse recovery, charity to the poor, community building (in neighborhoods outside the churches), home safety, economics, politics, etc."

      Cannot virtually all Christian denominations unite around this "purpose" without risking fracture on theological disputes large or small? I would like to think so...

      Unfortunately perhaps the largest corruption in the American churches - certainly among those commonly labeled "evangelical," (and I am not saying all; just much of what I see on TV on Sundays in mega-churches) is on the subject of war.

      They think they are helping God along to their crappy interpretation of Armageddon. Instead, they are making their hypocrisy (or worse, demonstrating that Christianity is a violent, aggressive religion) visible to the world.

    2. Bionic,

      "...we should find where we agree..."

      Well, yes, we should and I think the dialogue within this blog is furthering step, one day at a time. We have to learn how to walk before we can run. Rome wasn't built in a day. Carry on.

      "Cannot virtually all Christian denominations unite around this "purpose" without risking fracture on theological disputes large or small? I would like to think so..."

      Well, yes, so would I and so they should. They could...if they wanted to, but it is easier and more lucrative not to. Also, there is always the temptation to indulge in human nature--that desire to be "right" in opposition to all others being wrong. In addition, there are some who desire and lust to lord it over other people, causing them to focus on building a monument to themselves.

      In a way, it might be beneficial to have churches small and local. While they can and do cause damage within the ranks, that damage is fairly limited. A large institution which causes damage (as you mention above) can wreak havoc over an immense area. Is it better to explode millions of hand grenades or one thermonuclear bomb? The challenge is finding the proper balance between large, stable, rigid, hierarchical structure and small, fleeting, disruptive movements. In both of these, we need to keep what is good and get rid of what is not--which requires a lifetime of learning and gaining experience. It should not be a ten-step program, which many churches have become.

      " achieve anything of meaning requires lasting institutions focused on some purpose."

      I'm trying to read between the lines here. I'm sure you didn't mean it this way, but the way it is written sounds as if NOTHING of any value or meaning can be achieved unless it is created through an institution with a purpose, whatever that purpose might be. To see the danger in this, one only has to look at the catastrophic destruction the Federal Reserve (FED) has caused. It is an institution with a purpose and we are all paying for it.

      The fact is that everyone of us is trying to find meaning and create value within our own "institutions". Much of the carnage in society and the churches today is based on the popular idea that someone (a Few Good Men) must be in charge, creating institutions with some purpose, and everyone else must follow along with them. We tend to place a great amount of emphasis on "success" as seen in growth and size, but discount what is done individually, personally, and quite often secretly. This is not to denigrate the value of institutions, but to simply caution against placing too much trust in them.

      The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details and it is evident that the Devil is quite present in the "details" (theological disputes large or small) of the Church. Perhaps we need to refocus.

      I've done my share of stirring the pot, but I'm coming to the point which Paul reached 2000 years ago, speaking to the Corinthians about their disputes, shaming the wise as you mentioned a few posts ago.

      "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified...that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2: 2, 5.)

    3. “…unless it is created through an institution…”

      Not what I meant, so thanks for asking for clarification. Great ideas are born of individuals. Individuals have limited reach, both in space and in time. They can only be in one place at a time, and they can only be anywhere on earth for only a few short years.

      To sustain and develop an idea, to spread it, requires something longer-lasting and wider reaching: an institution. Here, however, as we have been discussing, the risk of corruption comes in. it can be mitigated only by a set of core principles adhered to by its members.

      For the first several centuries after Christ, Christian leaders met in councils to hash out theological understanding. Beginning about the fifth century, the first fractures began, with the Oriental Orthodox Church. The east and west fully split in the tenth or eleventh century. And then we had the Reformation, after which a thousand blossoms bloomed.

      Men of goodwill have to work such things out, with a desire to come out with unified, faithful positions, albeit the details of practice do not all have to be uniform. Until this happens, I see no means to improve our liberty – which was my focus when I started down this road.

      I don’t discount what you say about the value of smaller and decentralized. Of this there is no doubt. But what do we think is meant by the Kingdom of God? What do we think Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 16:28: “28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

      Does this mean His kingdom is already upon us? A kingdom isn’t a kingdom if every prince goes his own way, fighting with each other. Is it possible that some who were standing with Jesus 2000 years ago are still alive, still waiting for Christ’s promise?

      That I would like to see.

    4. "But what do we think is meant by the Kingdom of God? What do we think Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 16:28: “28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

      Does this mean His kingdom is already upon us?"

      Ah, here we're getting into a "detail".

      My opinion, for what it's worth, is that Christ's kingdom "arrived" during His lifetime on Earth and has been growing ever since, gradually and unevenly, but growing nonetheless. The parable of the mustard seed bears this out and Jesus did say that, "I will build my Church." These two clarify that the Kingdom will not be thrust instantly upon us, magically and forcefully, but will instead grow and prosper over time, no matter how long it takes. The fact that many of the "princes" are fighting with each other doesn't take away from the fact that the King is building the structure.

      It's analogous to a baby being born and growing--first through childhood, then the teenage years, as a young adult, a middle-aged adult, and finally an aged, old person. Mistakes are made, things are learned, experiences are regretted, changes are initiated, but at the end a lifetime has been lived and, hopefully, the individual's world has benefited from it.

      So it is with the Church. The Kingdom is here and now, becoming more mature through the ages. We are not responsible for the design nor the final product. Our work is to, using construction terms, mortar the bricks into place. Sometimes the work is done well and allowed to stand. Sometimes it's not, is torn down, and rebuilt. We are living in such a time. This too shall pass.

      All of us are in this for the long haul. Your focus and your work is one brick in the wall. It is an important part of the structure and requires careful attention. It will bear good fruit down the road. Do not stop.

    5. My view on this detail is that the kingdom came with His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, so we are not far apart at all.

      Just one other thought: to me, the word "kingdom" means *something*; something we can see, touch, taste.

      NT Wright was asked what the Apostle Paul would think about the many fractures in the church today. Wright replied something to the effect of "he would be horrified."

      Finally, thank you for your encouragement regarding my writing, and thank you for your continued participation in the dialogue.