Trying to create an atmosphere of solidarity Armenian Evangelic churches often call the Armenian Apostolic Church “Mother Church” or “Sister Church”. Whereas Armenian Apostolic Church never calls them “Sister churches”; at the same time it often blames the latter in baptizing the people who have already received their baptism. And the Evangelicals try to deny this.
One example of this debate is the TV program “Human factor” broadcast by Armenia TV in summer of 2013 where the ecclesiastic of Armenian Apostolic Church Father Komitas Rev. Hovnanyan posed a question to Evangelical Reverend Armen Meliqyan, whether they baptized the people who had received baptism from the Apostolic Church and blamed the latter in performing double baptism. The Reverend would justify himself by telling that he hadn’t personally committed double baptism.
The position of Armenian Apostolic Church
Father Zaqaria Rev. Baghumyan is the responsible for the Ceremonial office of the Interchurch Department at Mother See of Holy Ejmiatsin; he expressed a wish to present the position of the Church regarding the Sacrament of Baptism and the double baptism.
Dear Father, what importance does the sacrament of baptism uphold in the life of a person and in what age should one get baptized?
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism was asserted by Our Lord Jesus Christ what we also often call the “Sacrament of Acceptance” since the man can’t take part in other Sacraments of the Church without getting baptized. The baptized man is cleansed from Adamic or initial sin, becoming a Christian, a member of Church, an adoptee of Heavenly Father, a coheir with Christ and a temple for the Holy Spirit. Christ the God says it very clearly, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”. (John, 3:5).
Also before the Ascension Jesus commanded everyone to baptize in the name of Holy Trinity (see Matthew 28:19). Therefore baptism is a prerequisite to become a Christian. We also call the Baptism a “Renaissance”. If for the first time we are born from our corporal parents, the second time it is the divine and the spiritual birth from our spiritual parents, where the Father is God, the Mother is the Church and the uterus is the Saint Basin of the Church.
There is no age limit for Holy Baptism. Since the Apostolic times the Church has fostered the infantile baptism, because the child is considered a perfect man, therefore nothing can prevent him from enrolling into Church and becoming Christian. Moreover because of the circumstances not everyone is able to reach the age of majority therefore a child’s baptism should never be delayed. According to the rules of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the child can be baptized on the eighth day. If the child’s life is in danger, then it should happen sooner.
Does one become a member of the Church only through baptism, in this case, a member of Armenian Apostolic Church, or anyone can consider himself a child of the Church without baptism, if he feels or wants so?
As mentioned above, a person can not be saved without baptism, moreover gain an everlasting life: baptism is a necessary condition, as established by Jesus Christ. So we can’t consider a redundancy or secondarity what God has considered indispensable for us.
In other words, it is not a formality or invention by people, but a god-affirmed reality for the delivery from the sin and the salvation. A man can be gifted, kind, virtuous, but it’s only through baptism that he can become Christian and a member of the Church. Therefore this sacrament is the beginning of the salvation of a man, and of the becoming a new being through Christ.
Becoming Christian man should leave aside his old way and from then on his life must gain a new meaning through the Lord and the evangelical commandments. Naturally a person born into the family of the son of Armenian Church will consider himself an offspring of our Church, but that feeling should be fixed by baptism and the birth through the Basin of our Church. That is, just considering so or feeling so is not enough and is incomplete.
Dear Father, is the double baptism acceptable?
Double baptism is an unforgivable sin and it’s unacceptable. Apostle Paul clearly says. “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.” (Ephesus, Book V) We confess the same in the The Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed that we recite during each Divine Liturgy as a confession of our orthodox faith. Naturally man commits sins after being baptized but in that case the given person shouldn’t be baptized but he should recover through gifts received with the Baptism with the help of penitence sacrament.
For us only the baptisms committed by those Churches that have apostolic succession, valid clergy and episcopacy are acceptable. For example, if a believer of a Catholic or Orthodox church wants to become a member of Armenian Church, we don’t re-baptize him because we accept the baptisms committed by those Churches. But in case of the baptisms committed by sectarian or various religious organizations, since they don’t have valid and legal power, those are just washings and can’t secure the man’s redemption, naturally, in those cases we by all means baptize; that should never be mistaken for double baptism.
The contradiction between Evangelical and Apostolic Churches
Evangelical churches operating in Armenia are waiting patiently for the times when the baptism of their followers will become acceptable for Armenian Apostolic Church.
The people who have received an evangelical baptism are being re-baptized in order to become children of Armenian Apostolic Church, whereas when somebody baptized by the Apostolic wants to become Evangelical, some Evangelical Churches don’t perform double baptism; they accept the Apostolic baptism, Armenian Evangelical Church in particular.
Senior pastor of Armenian Evangelical Church Reverend Mkrtich Melqonyan shows the leaflets that have conveyed the sacrament of baptism during the baptisms of the followers of their Church in August, in different cities of Armenia, where it’s emphasized that baptized people don’t get double baptized but that they “retrieve their pledge”.
“This is the leaflet of the baptism ceremony in Artashat; it happened last week, on 8 August. Therefore it’s written “Pledge retrieval for those who are already baptized”. We don’t baptize them anew”.
The pledge retrieval is the promise of the christen to donate his life and belongings to the Lord, the salvation of immortal souls and the promise to work obediently and to live humbly and patiently etc.
“This is the same policy that Armenian Evangelical Church has both in Armenia and in the rest of the world. You can scrutinize, research and find out that a double baptism of one or two people may have occurred and present it with a magnifier (meaning the Armenian Apostolic Church ed.).
Maybe a double baptism occurred 10-15 years ago somewhere or somebody performed a double baptism because our Church was still in its formation period but today we don’t perform double baptism”, – says the parish priest.
Regarding the issue of “Freedom of Conscience”, the extent of Armenian Evangelical Church’s acceptance of Armenian Apostolic Church’s position of not accepting their baptism, Rev. Melqonyan responds:
“Indeed we would also like them to accept our baptism, but that is up to their acknowledgment and their decision. We respect Mother Church, the August; he is the Supreme Patriarch and the Catholicos of All Armenians”.
“Along the history of the Church, the Roman Catholic Church didn’t accept the orthodox churches for 400-500 years, and not only it didn’t accept the baptism but also them being churches and only after so many years it announced that those are also churches”, – notes the Senior Priest of Armenian Evangelical Church considering itself a Sister Church of Armenian Apostolic Church. “Therefore Armenian Evangelical Churches were born into existence in 16th century, they weren’t accepted for 300 years, they would say that we are the only Church, those aren’t until they were accepted. That means it’s up to their acknowledgment they must come to that decision, that maturity”.
In the official clarification regarding the Freedom of Conscience Armenian Evangelical Church notes that historically and officially Armenian Apostolic Church is considered a “Mother Church”, with at least 3 meanings. “First, Armenian Evangelical Church was born from Armenian Apostolic Church.
Second, in 1846 the Armenian Evangelicals that are considered the founders have emphasized in a written form, that they have an intention to establish a new community, but that they will remain native to their nation.
Third, Armenian Evangelical Church will continue to respect Armenian Apostolic Church irrespective to a historical, churchological or social conditions and situations”.
Armenian Evangelical Church emphasized that its position is not conditioned by the acceptance of Armenian Apostolic Church and that by accepting the baptism of Apostolic and Catholic Churches they don’t expect a mutual acceptance but that they hope for a gradual development in the process of mutual acknowledgment.
“As for the “Sister Churches” expression, it is an internal, religious term used in Christianity, that has especially gained usage during the 20th century and it simply points at the closeness of Christ’s body and the realm of belonging to one Lord between several Churches.
And in our case it is also the fact of belonging to one nation”, – the Public Relations Department of Armenian Evangelical Church clarifies.
The Evangelical Churches are considered less sectarian among the wider Armenian society but at the same time there have been cases where several conflicts occured between the representatives of Evangelical and Apostolic Churches, since the Apostolicals blamed them in hunting out followers from their flock (“Religious tolerance in Armenia, 2010, p 12-14).
According to the vice president of the Churches of Evangelical Faith, the pastor of “Rhema” Church of Evangelical Faith Karen Khachatryan, double baptism on one hand reflects on the “Negative image of the Christ’s Church: internal fragmentation, interdenominational intolerance and nonacceptance where all the denominations are “criminal” (religious unions, churches with namings alike) on the other hand the importance of baptism itself for the Christian world”.
“Therefore, the fact that this phenomenon exists is bad but since by its existence it stresses the importance of the Institute of Baptism itself is good”.
The pastor of the Evangelical Church in Yerevan, Rev. Levon Bardakchyan notes that their Church doesn’t re-baptize, and that it’s also fixed in their Code, and that “the Apostolic Church is more dogmatic, whereas the Evangelicals are more flexible”.
According to Bardakchyan Armenian Apostolic Church is not satisfied with the baptism alone, during which the christens are being washed and Cleansed from the sins, it also stamps the baptized with Chrism.
“The stamp is put with a Chrism anointed in Mother Church that is sent throughout the world, it is a mode of control”.
The Doctor of Religious Sciences Bardakchyan notes that from a theological point of view it’s not the custom that considers the baptism valid, but the faith of the baptized; at the same time he predicts changes in that matter: “Seems like the times are changing also inside the Apostolic Church”.
Double baptism is an individual decision
There are Evangelical Churches that leave the decision about the double baptism up to their follower.
Pastor of “Rhema” church Karen Khachatryan tells that in order to get baptized in the churches of Evangelical Faith the following conditions are necessary: “the person’s repentance with veering to God and faith towards Lord Jesus Christ”.
“It is also called a religious renaissance. Therefore if the person was baptized without these conditions then his baptism is not valid”.
According to Khachatryan their church respects and doesn’t impose double baptism but it also doesn’t deny it, if the individual himself decides to get baptized anew.
“If the individual that wants to become a member of our Church considers that his past baptism is not valid because of the situation he had during the baptism and he wants to get baptized we discuss together and if we are persuaded that his past baptism doesn’t have a spiritual importance, we baptize him”.
“For example many people have been baptized in childhood and when they have conversion in an adult age they want to relive that experience”, – adds Khachatryan.
73 year-old Nina Harutyunyan have been baptized for the second time. She has been a follower of another Church of Armenian Evangelical-Baptist Christians for 15 years: “The Church gives me spiritual food, we believe in the trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit”.
Harutyunyan was baptized 13 years ago, although before that she was baptized in an Apostolic Church.
“I was baptized but this baptism was different. When I was small my mother took me and baptized me in the church but this time it was totally different, seemed like I got in a spiritual contact with God”.
She remembers that several months before visiting the Church of Armenian Evangelical-Baptist Christians on 90 Nar-Dos Street she was “invited” to reprent which meant that she also needed to be re-baptized.
“If you repent it means you want to get baptized. After my repentance I was attending classes where they would teach us how to behave, how to dress up, all that is written in the Book of Jesus: you shouldn’t cut your hair, you shouldn’t make up, you can be free but moderately”.
“After the classes we went to Sevan to get baptized, it was the 40 of us, we got baptized, dressed up in white clothes, entered the water, washed up and got out; the pastor blessed us and sermonized. Then we were given certificates that attested that we were baptized”, – remembers Nina Harutyunyan.
Unlike Harutyunyan, the follower of Evangelical Church Grigor Vardanyan wasn’t re-baptized maintaining his baptism from the Apostolic Church.
“It’s been 20 years I attend Armenian Evangelical Church, but I was baptized in Armenian Apostolic Church in childhood and up to now I haven’t been baptized in a Evangelical Church”.
“I accept my Apostolic baptism but I’ve found my spiritual world in an Evangelical Church. Nobody forced me to get re-baptized for 20 years, I don’t have a baptism from Armenian Evangelical Church”, he notes.
33 organizations from 65 registered in the list of religious organizations in RA published by the Department of National Minorities and Religious Affairs of the Government of Armenia maintain “Evangelical” or “Evangelic” words in their names by which they consider themselves Evangelical Churches.
Among those churches/organizations are both those who have a long history and numerous followers like Armenian Evangelical Church that has churches in numerous hearths of Armenian Diaspora, and those that were established during the last 20 years and have from several hundreds to several thousand followers.