by Paul N. Lewis
Four o’clock Sunday afternoon we were seated in the large circle of believers experiencing a genuine “body life” meeting. My friend was seeking the “new” in Latin America after being away for ten years.
Four o’clock Sunday afternoon we were seated in the large circle of believers experiencing a genuine "body life" meeting. My friend was seeking the "new" in Latin America after being away for ten years. Here in Anapolis, Goias, Brazil we were near the geographical center of South America and in some ways a typical society. This meeting of one hundred people was symbolic of the newest development and trend in Latin America, and possibly the most significant.
For two hours there was spontaneous prayer, singing, scripture reading and general praise. No one was leading and all participated. We noticed many with hands open, palms up, and arms at half-mast. In large letters near the entrance were the words "JESUS E O SENHOR" (Jesus is Lord.) From the prayers and testimonies it was obvious that the lordship of Jesus was more than just an expression. Answered prayers such as a young man ready to commit suicide changing his mind, physical healings, a girl giving up drugs, and problems resolved were shared.
This meeting was in a convent and over 90 percent attending were Catholics. In a religiously polarized society estimated at 85 percent Catholic, and over 60 percent of the Protestants Pentecostal, no one dreamed of the phenomenon of the Catholic-Pentecostal. Amazingly, status made no difference. Poor folks mingled with the larger number from the middle class and several from high society.
John R. W. Scott wrote, "Those who blink their eyes in astonishment or shake their heads with incredulity that there could ever be change in a changeless church should study Revolution evolution in Rome by my good friend, David Wells."1
"Roman Catholics are beginning to say openly that a genuine spiritual life is something that have not always had, but something which they now want."2 Perhaps this spiritual thirst helps explain the rapid growth in evangelical churches, also in spiritism (which is growing faster than the churches,) and cults.
"The pivot on which the future turns would seem to be the shift towards subjective religious experience and away from the objective Church allegiance . . . . Some time in the decade ahead, therefore, it may become impossible to speak any longer of the Catholic faith as a whole, since it will mean different things to different men in different places."3
Proof of change is the post-Vatican II unfreezing of attitudes towards Protestants. The last ten years have proven pulpit-pounding anti-Catholic preaching is no longer (if it ever was) the most effective means of evangelism.
CHANGE CONCERNING BIBLE
What about attitude change concerning the Bible? As late as 1967 in Urcos, Peru, there was a public burning of scriptures by a priest while Evangelism-In-Depth held its first open air meeting. However, more recently a translation into the Quichua dialect of the 2,000,000 Cuzco Indians as a joint project of the Evangelical Union of South America and the Bible Society had to enter a second edition. During 1970 the bishop recognized this New Testament as officially acceptable for Catholics. Sales were held back from some Catholics so the evangelicals could buy them.
The Spanish and Portuguese editions of the equivalent of Good News For Modern Man are on the market. The Brazilian Bible Society sold 80,000 to Catholic sources. In Sao Paulo an elderly bishop bought and distributed 1,000 copies in hospitals, then asked for 500 more. Strangely, while the Catholics are rallying around the Bible some evangelical pastors are taking pot-shots at the Bible Societies for being too ecumenical or cooperating with Roman Catholics.
The evangelical bookstore in Anapolis sells more books to Catholics than to Protestants. In Lima, Peru, book sales increased 15 percent in one year to a total sales of approximately $50,000-with an important Catholic market. Where have also been major changes in outreach.
Perhaps no other movement has brought the evangelical community together as has the Evangelism-In-Depth efforts-now including nearly all Latin American countries. Besides recorded decisions, the program helped teach the churches to organize as never before, and receive a wider vision of the Lord’s work in their area. New church leaders emerged, and many new churches were formed. Other observations were: the mass meetings weren’t worth the expense and effort; there was too much dependence on outsiders; too much activity, and a climax of the campaign rather than continuing as hoped.4
With the change from Evangelism-In-Depth to In-depth Evangelism the concept of mobilization is expressed in a formula: R2AC — Renovating Reflection (research) Action (planned for individual segments of society, and Consolidation (integration, evaluation and mission.)5
Baptists in Brazil recorded nearly 100,000 decisions in a nation-wide campaign. Billy Graham preached to 175,000 in the huge Maracana stadium. Large campaigns have been held throughout Latin America, but the trend is away from mass meetings. The Lutherans in southern Brazil have an effective evangelism program developing, and the Episcopalians have set a goal of expansion from 25,000 to 100,000 members by the year 2,000. Venezuelans are involved in "Explosion Evangelism." Research is needed to relate evangelism with the theological training receivedwhere change is evident.
Lack of students, over concern for ecumenism, liberal professors, internal problems, lack of finances, and graduates not going into the ministry have been developments in various seminaries during the past decade. Vocational dualism has influenced many future pastors. Yet, laymen can now prepare for the ministry while supporting themselves. The extension seminary, accepting the man where he is and enabling him to learn through programmed study, is an effort to supply more workers. Starting in 1968 and reaching 2,000 enrolled and 25 institutions involved in 1971 indicates the interest in Brazil. However, the need for well trained pastors capable of strong expository preaching continues. The trend is towards rethinking the whole field of theological education.
What about missionary-national church developments? After 115 years of cooperation the Brazilian Presbyterian Church has severed relations with the United Presbyterian Church USA. Reasons given were the Confession of 1967, church union, transfer of institutional property, and the role of the church in facing political realities. The trend is towards complete national control of churches and institutions in Latin America. Now the missionary is most effective as a coworker sharing responsibilities, talents, and specializations.
SIGNS OF RENEWAL
Even in periods of change and conflict there have been signs of spiritual renewal. In northwest Colombia, Presbyterian congregations jumped from 15 to 36 and from 295 adult members to a community of over 2,200 in less than three years. A Congregational Church in northeast Brazil doubled its preaching points (15 to 30) and its membership (1,500 to 3,000) in just one year. A Methodist pastor baptized 100 people in one service. In Buenos Aires it is the concept of "the Church of Buenos Aires" with pastors working together as a congregation, overlooking denominational differences. In Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, Paraguay-literally all over Latin America there is spiritual renewal. The trends in these groups are away from highly structured, time-oriented meetings. There is definite koinonia with all participating, lively musical more typically Latin and often accompanied by hand-clapping. Prayer for healing and the acceptance of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit are common ingredients. Spiritual ecumenism is evidenced as this renewal is bringing together people from all groups, denominations, and even some Roman Catholics.
John A. Mackay wrote, "A product of the Holy Spirit, and marked by a passionate love of Jesus Christ and the dedication of time and talent to His service among people everywhere, the charismatic movement is today the most dynamic and creative happening in the world of religion."6
Perhaps demographic changes will help us understand both developments and opportunities ahead in Latin America. There is a general "move to the city" in all of Latin America accompanied by a break with tradition and strong family ties. People are lonely and feel the need of something-deep and spiritual. There is still much poverty. Revolution is a common word with connotations all the way from hope to fear and insecurity. Everything indicates a ripe field for evangelism.
Carefully eye-balling the past ten years and projecting ahead we may see more people movements, Catholic Pentecostals influencing the already strong Cursillo movement (140,000 influential Catholics in Brazil), thousands of workers prepared through extension seminary, radical changes in church structures and missionary contributions. There will be much research, evaluation of ministries, and more use of the mass media. The trend is away from structural ecumenism, but more emphasis on the body of Christ. More Latin American churches will become missionary sending agencies. Social changes may occur as a result of a renewed and dynamic Christian witness threading through education, economics, and politics.
Dr. Kenneth S. Latourette shares, "We can work in confidence that He will take whatever in our weakness and our ignorance we attempt to do for Him and multiply it many fold and bring it to fruitage in a far more glorious, even though in a different fashion than we have ever dared to dream."
1. Wells, David F., Revolution in Rome, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, British edition, 1973, forward by John R. W . Stott, p. 7.
2. Ibid., p. 66
3. Ibid., p. 102
4. Personal observations of missionary five years after EID campaign in Peru.
5. In Depth Evangelism Around The World, Vol. 1. No. 1., Indepth, San Jose, Costa Rica, April-June 1973
6. Mackay, John A., World Vision Magazine, Monrovia, Calif., April, 1970, p. 10
7. Winter, Ralph D., Those Twenty-Five Unbelievable Years, William Carey Library, South Pasadena, California, 1970, pp. 834.
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