A WALK TO EMMAUS: OVERVIEW
Stephen D. Bryant
The Walk to Emmaus is a spiritual renewal program intended to strengthen the local church through the development of Christian disciples and leaders. The program’s approach seriously considers the model of Christ’s servanthood and encourages Christ’s disciples to act in ways appropriate to being “a servant of all.” The Walk to Emmaus experience begins with a 72-hour short course in Christianity, comprised of 15 talks by lay and clergy on the themes of God’s grace, disciplines of Christian discipleship, and what it means to be the church. The course is wrapped in prayer and meditation, special times of worship, and daily celebration of Holy Communion. Emmaus follow-up groups strengthen and renew Christian people as disciples of Jesus Christ and as active members of the body of Christ in mission to the world.
The Walk to Emmaus gets its name from the story in Luke 24:13-35. Luke tells the story of that first Easter afternoon when the risen Christ appeared to the two disciples who were walking together along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The risen Christ “came near and went with them,” opening the disciples’ eyes to his presence and lighting the fire of God’s love in their hearts. As they walked to Emmaus, Jesus explained to them the meaning of all the Scriptures concerning himself. When they arrived in Emmaus, Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them,” and their eyes were opened. They recognized him as Jesus, the risen Lord, and they remembered how their hearts had burned within them as they talked with him on the road.
The Walk to Emmaus is an adaptation of the Roman Catholic Cursillo Movement, which originated in Spain in 1949. Cursillo de Cristianidad means “little course in Christianity.” During the 1960s and 1970s, Episcopalians and Lutherans, along with several nondenominational groups, such as Tres Dias, began to offer Cursillo. In 1978, The Upper Room of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church adapted the program for a primarily Protestant audience and began to offer it under the name The Upper Room Cursillo. In 1981, The Upper Room made further adaptations and changed the name of the program to The Upper Room Walk to Emmaus. In 1984, the Upper Room developed a youth expression of Emmaus called Chrysalis. F
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Stephen D. Bryant, What Is Emmaus? (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1995).
Restrictions on Religious Freedom in Armenia
Asatur L. Naphapetyan
Editor’s Note: The author sometimes shortens his denomination’s official name, Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, to Baptist Union or Baptist.
Even before Armenia proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union on 21 September 1991, its Parliament set about revising laws in force during the Soviet era.1 The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations (17 June 1991) provided for genuine freedom of religion. However, Armenia’s Baptist leaders were uncertain how best to respond to the new freedoms. The beloved pastor of the Yerevan Central Baptist Church, Yuri Avanesyan, then in his 40s, did not have young, well-trained leadership around him. Nor did he have a vision for church planting and mission outreach. He was a good pastor and a likeable person whom people loved. But because of the lack of vision, time was lost in seizing new possibilities.
Nevertheless, during the first years of the post-Soviet period, Baptists were able to engage in mission work without hindrance. In summer it was easy to gather a crowd in a village. Evangelistic efforts were organized using a van equipped with loudspeakers, microphones, and music synthesizers. Loudspeakers announced the showing of the “Jesus” film. Outdoor meetings were held and sometimes auditoria were rented. Because of these efforts, new churches were registered without government restrictions.
However, on 22 December 1993 President Levon Ter-Petrosyan signed legislation that discriminated against Evangelicals and other religious groups in favor of the traditional faith, the Armenian Apostolic Church, which claims the allegiance of perhaps 90 percent of the population.2 This late-1993 law required that a new church seeking registration have a minimum of 50 members, instead of 20 as was previously required. As a result, in 1994 Baptists were able to register only three new churches.
Arrests and Protests
In April 1995, several government officials organized an attack on churches that were not Armenian Apostolic. Soldiers sent by these officials arrested Rev. David Torosyan, a member of the Central Baptist Church in Yerevan, for leading a home-based service. He was imprisoned for eight days. After a Sunday service on 16 April 1995, soldiers also entered the Central Baptist Church and interrogated Pastor Avanesyan in his office. They confiscated the church van and transported approximately 20 young men from the church to the other side of Yerevan, perhaps originally intending to imprison them. Soldiers released the young men the same day but kept the van for two additional days.3
In defense of new freedom, leaders of the Baptist World Alliance and the European Baptist Federation sent letters of protest to the government. The police and a representative from the president’s office issued apologies, but not the government officials responsible for the harassment.
On 9 June 1997 the National Assembly of Armenia passed a new law on religion that stated: “Only the Armenian Apostolic Church is acknowledged as the National Church for Armenians for their spiritual life [and] national identity.”4 As a result, other churches faced additional state discrimination, such as the requirement that Protestant congregations now have 200 baptized members in order to obtain legal registration. Increasingly since 1997 Armenian authorities have excluded Evangelical Christians-Baptists from active participation in public life, considering the denomination in the same category as such non-Christian sects as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishna.6
In a positive development, Gagik Harutyunyan, President of the Constitutional Court of Armenia, invited Campbell University law professor Lynn Buzzard to participate in a conference on “Law and Religion,” held 4-5 October 2000. The meeting took place in Mother Church Holy Echmiadzin, the See of the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the sponsorship of Catholicos Garegin II. The lectures of this respected U.S. Baptist professor on the benefits of legal safeguards in church-state legislation were an encouragement to Armenian Baptists.7
Growth in Spite of Limitations
Even though the 1993 and 1997 laws place limits on activities, the Baptist Union has seen great increase since 1998. Whereas in 1991 Baptists could count only two registered churches in Armenia, by 1998 the Baptist Union had five registered churches and 33 mission centers, and by 2004 it had eight registered churches and 92 worship centers.8 The church’s mission goal is to receive official registration from the government for all these worship centers. However, at present, it is almost impossible to register additional churches because of the increase in membership requirements from 20 to 200. Nevertheless, as a religious organization, certain rights are assured according to the law, including the right to carry on theological education.
Another issue that causes concern is Article 8 of the 1993 law which expressly forbids proselytizing.9 How is this term to be defined? A good working definition is the attempt “to persuade someone to change his/her religious identity by the offer of money or other material benefit or by dishonest representation of religious beliefs.” In an effort to stop evangelistic efforts that are legitimate, people may accuse some Christians of proselytizing. But Armenia has obligations as a new member of the European community to uphold its citizens’ right to proclaim, as well as hold, their religious beliefs. When Armenia becam full member of the Council of Europe in January 2001, it obligated itself to uphold Article 9 of the law of the European Council for Human Rights
(ECHR) which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship.”10
Evangelical Christians-Baptists are grateful for this affirmation of religious rights. They regard it as important to be recognized as a traditional group. But regardless of state action, the church’s goal is to continue its historic mission to make new disciples for Christ, train them, and send them out as witnesses. Evangelical Christians-Baptists thank God for the level of freedom they enjoy and pray that they will be able to continue planting churches in Armenia in this new era.
The Evangelical Christian-Baptist Church of Armenia is placing great hope in the results of the national referendum of 27 November 2005. Reforms approved in this case by majority vote should lead to a more democratic law governing religious organizations. As a result, the Evangelical Christian- Baptist Church should be recognized as a traditional Christian faith.
2 Paul Marshall (gen. ed.), Religious Freedom in the World, Country Profiles (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2000), 59; European Baptist Federation Directory (2005), 16.
3 Ibid., 60.
4 Police Department Directive No. 551-A, in effect from 1 January 2003.
5 Amendment to the Constitution on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, Preamble, Paragraph 2, signed by the President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, 27 September 1997, Article 5.
6 Felix Corley, “Armenia: Secret Order Banishes Religious Minorities from Police,” Forum 18 News Service, 25 April 2003
7 “Buzzard Attends Law and Christianity Conference in Armenia,” in *The Campbell Prospect 31 (February 2001), 22.
8 European Baptist Federation Directory (2005), 16.
9 Amendment to the Constitution on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, Article 8.
10 Malcolm D. Evans, Religious Liberty and International Law in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 272.
Edited excerpt published with permission from the author’s paper originally submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for the M.A. in contextual missiology, International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic, January 2005.
Asatur L. Naphapetyan is general secretary of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Armenia