As a kid I remember a commercial on television featuring a nice looking building. A voice asks, “Nice building, huh?” Then the camera zooms in to reveal cracks and chips that were painted over, and without skipping a beat the voice would divulge the truth, “…until you look up closely!” The body of the voice would then come on screen to plug some kind of texture coating that hid the scars of the building.
Usually things look nice from a distance, but upon a closer look the cracks start showing. Religion is also included in this rule. We will stick our discussion today to the Christian religion. One of the popular designations of Christianity that needs to receive a closer look is the term “non-denomination.” It is fairly popular these days because it is presented as a free-spirited version of Christianity. “Generally, non-denominational churches believe that the Bible is the sole authority that dictates every aspect of the church, with scripture shaping their beliefs and philosophies. They are also self-governing entities, with elders often overseeing the church’s organization, structure, and traditions.” (source: https://christianministryedu.org)
Before we take a closer look, let’s remember the course we have travelled to get to this point in Armodoxy for Today. We went through a period of preparation called Lent. We celebrated the Resurrection, and then continued with the formation of the first Christian communities. Currently we are in that period between Ascension (40 days after Easter) and the Pentecost (50 days after Easter).
There is a reason the Church asks you to take this journey. The Bible does not exist as a Book unto itself. When Jesus was crucified, there was no Bible. When he resurrected, there was no Bible. When he ascended, there was no Bible. In fact, there was no formal Bible for a few hundred years! However, at all those same events – crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and on into the formation of the communities –there was the Church!
Those who claim to be non-denominational say that they accept the Bible as the sole authority in matters of their faith. By their own admission, they have exclude themselves from a major part of Christian history and development.
God’s greatest gift to humanity was not the Bible. Much more important than the Bible is Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God the Father. Jesus’ gift to humanity was not the Bible, rather it was his holy and precious Body, namely the Church. And it was the Church that compiled the books together to give us what we refer to as the Bible.
The Armenian word for Bible is Asdvadzashunch, which literally means the Breath of God. The Armenian Church refers to it as the “breath” because it guides us as spirit, not as a book of laws and regulations, along the paths of Truth, Hope and Love.
I understand the appeal of non-denominationalism, especially in our world today when everyone is given a platform to interpret, or even worse, to create a derivative of Christ’s holy and sacred message. In other words, within the non-denominational category, you can have a few million or billion derivatives of the faith. This is why when we speak of the Armenian Apostolic Church, we are grounding ourselves in a Tradition that dates back to the time of Christ, that is, before there was a Bible. We are not a Bible-centered community of believers, we are Christ centered. Non-denominationalism is very nice looking, and appealing, but when you look up closely you notice the chips and the holes. Jesus set up his Church and it is guided by the Holy Spirit. In his unfailing words Jesus says, “The gates of Hell will not prevail against it!” (Matthew 16:18)
We conclude with a prayer from the Holy Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church: We thank you, Father almighty, who did prepare for us the holy Church as a haven, a temple of holiness, where the name of the holy Trinity is glorified. Alleluia. We thank you, Spirit of Truth, who have renewed the holy Church. Keep her without blemish through the faith in the Trinity forevermore. Amen.