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Brazil and hope for the future

Category Articles
Date January 25, 2002

BRAZIL AND HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Brazil is a fertile country, with its warm-hearted people drawn from many nation

Four days up the Amazon from the ocean, and more than another four days from the Andes where that river has its sources, lies the town of Manaus. Despite its remoteness, it equals Birmingham, U.K., in size and has a population of one and a half million. It was there, recently, that we had the opportunity to witness a strange sight. In the grounds of the Presbyterian church in the suburb of Cidade Nova stood a circular building made of metal and wire, with a tiled roof, and looking for all the world like a lions’ cage. ‘Lions’ there were, but of a different kind, and they stood around in numbers outside the cage, peering hungrily within. The object of their interest was the ‘meat’, visible through the wire, and speedily to be seized once the door was unlocked. Such hunger for books is a stirring sight, not least when the titles in question are Lloyd-Jones on Romans and Ephesians, A. A. Hodge on Outlines of Theology, Bavinck on Our Reasonable Faith and others of similar quality, all in Portuguese translation. One young man, unconscious of how similar his words were to those of the youthful Spurgeon, explained how he loved to rise early to read such books before he went to work.

It was at this church that a four-day Conference was in progress on God, His Word, and Revival.’ The speakers included Jaime Marcelino (pastor of the local congregation), Augustus Nicodemus, and Solano Portela. Among the subjects were, Exposition of Psalm 119: 1-6; The Place of Prayer in Revival; Are We Seeing Revival Today?; and The Character of the ‘Revived’ Person. People had gathered from five States in Brazil and it was of particular encouragement to see rows of seminary students drinking in Reformed preaching.

Brazil is a fertile country, with its warm-hearted people drawn from many nations. Despite the fears of ecologists there are still great virgin forests, and no road links Manaus with the south. Contrasts exist in abundance: jet aircraft and wooden river boats; simple huts and skyscrapers; poverty and affluence; beautiful countryside and cities as suffocating as São Paulo with its population equal to that of the whole of Australia.

The gospel and Protestantism came late to this region. Robert Kalley, an excellent biography of whom entitled The Wolf from Scotland, is currently published by Evangelical Press (Darlington), was a first pioneer in the 1850s, and in that same decade there came Presbyterian missionaries from the United States. Today Roman Catholicism still offers miracles of healing at such shrines as Our Lady of Aparecida, but its power is a shadow of what it was one hundred and fifty years ago. Other dangers have arisen, claiming the name of Christianity, and while many bases for a spiritual advance are in place the need is immense.

The hunger for books we saw in Manaus is one of the most hopeful signs at the present time. Only a few decades ago there was little thought of the possibility either of such a rich literature coming into existence in Portuguese, or of there being any demand for it should it exist. There are now several agencies in the field producing first-class books. FIEL has translated and published a wide range of free-grace literature; PES has concentrated largely (not entirely) on Lloyd-Jones titles; PURITAN PROJECT has been living up to its name. Another publisher has issued all 1,700 pages of Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology in Portuguese and with a pre-publication agreement with Pentecostal brethren for them to take 2,000 copies. Some of these publishers have also been involved in arranging conferences for pastors. In this FIEL have led the way and have this last year even convened such gatherings in Portugal and Mozambique. On the latter country see ‘Momentum in Mozambique’ by Erroll Hulse in the Nov-Dec 2001 issue of Reformation Today.

In Brazil, as elsewhere in the world, demand for good literature coincides with the existence of churches where the truth is loved and preached. The primary need is therefore to help pastors in their ministries, and there are not lacking signs that this policy is bearing fruit. The Manaus church, mentioned above, was only celebrating its thirteenth anniversary yet 200 or more filled the building on the Lord’s Day after the Conference was over. Nor is preaching confined to buildings. In a crowded square in central Sao Paulo at lunch hour, we passed more than a hundred standing to hear a faithful evangelist, and on our returning, nearly an hour later, the number had doubled and many heads were bowed in prayer as the meeting concluded. One of the striking things about those assembled was that they were nearly all men, and mostly young men. The age factor is unmistakable in Brazil. Youth is everywhere and the gospel is making an inroad upon them in a way not often seen in the U.K. In Brazil there is no talk of a different Sunday night service to attract the youth – they are present in equal numbers at both services.

Progress of this kind is not going to exist without opposition and this is also happening. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPB), with its 3,715 churches, provides an example. In this denomination there has been some decided recovery of its Reformed heritage. Its publishing house, which maintains close ties to Dr Allen Cury, is also producing valuable literature, including a study-guide: A Essência da Fé: Introdução a Teologia Reformada

But a shadow has been cast over the denomination in recent months by events at its Graduate Center in São Paulo. This school, with a vision for a strong Reformed center for the training of pastors and professors for seminaries, was established with support in teachers and funds from the United States. It attained an enrolment of over 400 students and published Fides Reformata twice a year. Recently, however, some of the leaders of the denomination, displeased by the orthodoxy of the Graduate Center and wanting a broader faculty, brought pressure on its professors. This led to a confrontation between IPB’s Board of Theological Education and the Center and the upshot was the dismissal of no less than seven of the professors. How the General Assembly of the IPB will react to this situation remains to be seen. Reformed supporters in the United States have already reacted. Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, which had agreed to start a Doctor of Ministry programme at the Graduate Center has postponed its participation indefinitely. Disruption of a similar kind is liable to occur in many parts of Brazil and those engaged in the reformation of the churches will need much wisdom, grace, patience and courage. What Whitefield said long ago remains true, ‘Persecution and the power of religion will ever keep pace.’

We have mentioned above good literature existing in translation but one of the most hopeful signs for the future is that Brazil has her own leaders and authors. All seven of the deposed Sao Paulo professors are Brazilians. Another Brazilian leader in the resurgent Calvinistic movement is Solano Portela whose writing on Cinco Pecados que Ameaçam os Calvinistas (‘Five Sins that Threaten Calvinists’), was recently published by PES. The five sins he identifies are Spiritual Pride; Brotherly Intolerance; Intellectual Self-Satisfaction; Indolence; and Isolation. In this capacity for self-criticism, and in much else, our brethren in Brazil have much to teach us. Who knows how much blessing the Brazilian churches will yet bring to all the world!

Iain H. Murray

 

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