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Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience (1 Peter 3:15b-16a ESV)

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3/24/2005

This Week in Church History 

March 23, 322.

This is the anniversary of the death of Gregory the Illuminator. Gregory is credited with helping in the creation of the first Christian nation in the world. And it wasn't the United States.

There were certainly Christians in Armenia when Gregory was born -- tradition says that Bartholomew and Thaddeus both visited the country and preached Christ to them in the first century AD. There were churches in existence in 257 when Gregory was born, so there could be some truth to the legends.

Unfortunately, Christianity was not a popular faith. The Persian rulers of the land had all but extinguished it by the time of Gregory's birth. Gregory's nurse had to flee the country with him when his entire family was killed in retaliation for his father assassinating the Armenian king. Gregory was raised in Cappadocia, and learned the Gospel there. He soon returned to Armenia, where he preached the gospel.

He wasn't popular. The king persecuted him. His life was in danger. But his faithfulness won converts -- ultimately including the king himself, who declared Armenia a Christian nation.

The church in Armenia was incredibly strong -- lasting until the Turks massacred Christians there in the 20th Century. It was the first to have a Bible in it's own national language. And it was a strong voice for Christ in Europe.

I learned a lot from this study. I tend to consider state churches as a bad thing -- it isn't necessarily that way. Armenia is a perfect example of a state church done right. Unfortunately, men of Gregory's caliber are rare in this day. Few men today would be capable of balancing the power and responsibility that Gregory had.

What can we learn from this? We can learn a lot from Gregory's faithfulness, and his commitment to spreading the gospel. He had little hope of success, and could expect to be killed for his faith. He didn't stop.

We can also see the value in Christians united in their faith. While I still have a problem with the idea of a national church, a body of Christians united in purpose and faith can achieve amazing things. While there are some things that should divide Christians (issues concerning the deity of Christ, the value and role of Scripture, salvation by grace through faith, etc.), we often let insignificant things separate us. We need to determine what we must agree on, and what we can agree to disagree on. If we can do that, we can show the world the kind of church that the apostles saw, and that was present for thousands of years in Armenia.


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