The Problem of Theological Ignorance

I am back!

It was enjoyable spending quality time with my family and friends in Brazil. I had not returned to my country in more than twenty years. During this trip I was able to visit relatives that I had not seen in almost fifty years.

It is nice to be back home and to return to my work at the seminary and at church. It is also great to return to blogging.

One thing that impressed me as I returned to Brazil was the growth of the evangelical movement in Brazil. By evangelicals I mean the non-Catholic population. Brazilians do not call themselves Protestants; they prefer the word “evangélicos.”

In 1960, the year I joined the Baptist Church in Rio, Brazil was 95% Catholic and only about 5% of the population called themselves evangelicals. In 1978 the evangelical population was 18% and in 2009 about 38% of the populations calls themselves evangelicals.

The evangelical movement in Brazil is growing almost exponentially. Just last week I received an email from a missionary in Brazil saying that in a northern state of Brazil, 2,200 people made a commitment to follow Christ in an evangelistic crusade.

The fastest growing evangelical churches in Brazil are those associated with the Pentecostal movement. Pentecostal churches are almost everywhere. In the area where I used to live, within a three-block radius, there are nine churches, six of them Pentecostal or neo-Pentecostals.

The growth of the church in Brazil is comparable to the growth of the early church. With rapid growth comes also the development of problems in the church. The early church had to deal with theological problems within the church such as Gnosticism, Docetism, Ebionism, and many others.

Unfortunately, the same is happening in Brazil. I talked to several people about their experience in the church. I have to confess that I have never heard so many wrong things about matters related to Christianity, things that are not in the Bible.

I coined an expression to describe this problem. In Portuguese, I called it “Burrice Theológica.” This expression could be translated as “Theological Ignorance,” or better yet, “Theological Stupidity” (pardon my French).

One of the things that reflects this theological ignorance is the rejection of the Old Testament by many pastors and church members. According to one church member, his pastor said that Christians do not need to read the Old Testament anymore. According to this pastor, the reason Christians do not need to study the Old Testament is because the Old Testament has been superseded by the New Testament.

Someone told me that his pastor seldom preaches from the Old Testament. As a result, many church members do not know and do not read the Old Testament. These people are twenty-first century Marcionites.

The Marcionites were a heretical group that followed the teachings of a man named Marcion in the second century. Marcion and his followers rejected the Old Testament and taught that the God of the Old Testament was a tyrant.

Marcionites believed that the wrathful God of the Old Testament was not the loving and all-forgiving God of the New Testament. They believed that Jesus Christ was not the Son of the God of the Old Testament, but the Son of the good God, who was different from the God of the Old Testament.

Another form of theological ignorance is the rejection of theological education. Many of the Pentecostal pastors have less than a high school education. They believe that the Holy Spirit equips them for ministry and consequently they do not need to attend a seminary.

One of my relatives told me that her pastor had a six-month theological education before becoming pastor. Although we would consider this amount of education insufficient, it was better than many other Pentecostal pastors who have no education at all. I heard the story of a man who joined the church one Sunday, was ordained the following Sunday, and became pastor of a church one month later.

Today in Brazil there is a proliferation of seminaries and Bible institutes. However, at times, those who teach in these schools are people who may have little education themselves.

One church member told me that her pastor proclaimed that in his church there is no doctrine. I tried to tell this person that doctrine is everywhere in the church. As a result of poor teaching and poor preaching, the level of biblical knowledge among church members is very small.

One person told me that his pastor preached that all the problems the world is facing today is because the Antichrist is already living in the world. According to this preacher, the Antichrist is causing all this turmoil before he reveals himself.

Another problem that reflects theological ignorance is the exploitation of church members by churches preaching the prosperity gospel. Most of the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches emphasize the gospel of prosperity.

I heard horror stories of how prosperity preachers ask for money. One pastor asks for donations in U.S. dollars. Others begin by asking people to give 1,000.00 Reals (about $500.00). One pastor was selling pages of the Bible for $10.00 each.

A famous Brazilian soccer player gave several million dollars to his church. His pastor and the pastor’s wife were caught smuggling most of that money to the USA. They are in prison now.

A large Pentecostal church built a magnificent sanctuary based on God’s Words to Abraham: “Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” (Genesis 15:5). The ceiling of the church is decorated with a magnificent group of stars. The church has become a tourist attraction and visitors pay money to tour the church.

I heard of many false teachings, some of them bordering on theological heresies. Some of these popular beliefs have no biblical basis.

The rapid growth of the church and the proliferation of an uneducated ministry has generated many heretical views, similar to the theological problems the church faced in the first and second centuries of its existence.

People know very little of the Bible. They think that emotion is what is necessary for Christian growth. However, emotion does not produce knowledge of the Bible. The Bible says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). I doubt that many people are prepared to explain what they believe. And this is the reason people are easily deceived by false teachers.

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10 Responses to The Problem of Theological Ignorance

  1. Nate says:

    >Welcome back, it's good to see you back safely and I am glad you had a good trip. This news about ignorance in new churches concerns me but does not surprise me. All too often we here about violence from Christian sects across the third world, which makes no sense in the context of proper Christian theology.The new marcionism is also disappointing to hear, since I've seen so much good theologically (not to mention understanding and love towards Jews) come from Christian rediscovery of its Jewish roots that I think a trend denying the importance of the Old Testament is a major step backwards.


  2. >Nate,Thank you for your words and comment. It is nice to be back to work, to friends and family.It was sad to encounter such a lack of biblical knowledge among believers in Brazil. To one who loves the Old Testament, this negative attitude toward the Old Testament is very disappointing.Claude Mariottini


  3. anthony says:

    >the ignoring of the OT often stems from people who themselves know little or nothing of it and they pass that 'ignorance' to others as if it was bible truth.welcome back and continue to blog about your experience in brazil.


  4. goulablogger says:

    >Claude, Pleased to see you safely returned and blogging again.Marcionism always strikes me as "theological ignorance" as well, of both testaments, since there are many passages about God's mercy and pleading for repentance in the OT, and Jesus' words and deeds are awash in OT quotes and references. Marcionism really seems like another form of Gnosticism, only the typical vast range of subgods get replaced on subgod, the supposed OT angry god. Jesus still comes from a different God to save people from that subgod, as in Gnosticism."Pastors" trading on the gospel for gain are nothing new, either.The Didache is quite early by all accounts and warns of "prophets" who ask for money, and the term "Christmonger" is part of the early church's vocabulary.It is certainly true that many of the more "experience- oriented" denominations have a disdain for theological education. A look at early church history suggests that there is a sort of happy medium in these things, for the road to Nicene theology rejected extremes to both sides for doctrine that puzzlingly but truthfully united seemingly contradictory views of Christ.While the NT doesn't really record it, it seems a very early tradition in the church was that of training prospective church members in their faith, something lost in any number of denominations. My own church had a tiny kerfuffle over our pastors' insistence on new member orientation before confirming church membership. My fellow members were apparently unaware that the pattern in ancient times could easily be three years of training and inspection before being formally baptised and accepted into a church. And that was simply the lay members, not the deacons and elders and overseers.It is hard to believe that people think there can be no doctrine, no tradition, behind a faith two thousand years old. It is also puzzling that believers would not earnestly desire to know all they can about their faith, even those things they reject, for the reasons behind the rejection are part of the fabric and history of the faith as well.Chuck Grantham


  5. gary says:

    >Dr. Mariottini,I'm glad that you have made it back safely. It sounds like when you decide to retire, you may have to go back to Brazil as a missionary to set them straight. I love the Old Testament and it's a shame that some of the churches there don't understand how Jesus Christ is revieled through the Jewish traditions, feasts, and prophesies. In regards to the prosperity and name it claim it preachers, I think that they might just be more harmful to the body of Christ than the legalistic no pants, make up, or jewelery on women churches. I've known some people who have been emotionally and spiritually hurt by these teachings. Oh well, Im just glad that God is still in control and I'll be praying that he sends some educated , God loving, bible believing (OT and NT) to Brazil. God Bless.


  6. chils says:

    >Agree that theological education is important. Even preachers with basic theological education needs to 'go back to school'. Many years ago a preacher was 'banned from preaching from the pulpit as the content of his sermons has no substance (theological or otherwise) and only good enough for the village folks'. It may have sounded really harsh at that time or even reading the statement now. However, I heard a few of his sermons recently. The delivery and content of sermons has improved tremenduously and told him as much. Found out that he has taken up part-time education and just received his doctrate.


  7. Adam Stuart says:

    >Your post about your trip to Brazil is very interesting and I am glad that you returned safely. It is worth noting that one group that supported removing the Old Testament from Christianity was a group of Hitler’s followers called the Deutsche Christen (German Christians). The German Christians were an influential and active force in German society during the 1930’s and advocated removing all things Jewish from Christianity. German Christian activists advocated removal of the “Jewish” Old Testament from the Bible. I did not know this until reading David Brog’s ‘Standing with Israel’ (2006), which discusses Jewish-Christian relations and history and contains many interesting facts. The book also highlights many good works which Christians have done for Jews and for Israel, and I think that many Jews and Christians would find it worth reading.


  8. Johnny C says:

    >Dr MariottiniWelcome Back eu gosto da vida … The last post shows there is yet hope for change … since you already know portugues (if that be so) you might consider authoring a small but helpful tract or pamphlet that could be xeroxed and spread to the places that might not have internetSomething as simple as what you have just written here might really help, if it just gets to the people who really need to hear it. People are hungry for it – keep giving them/us the Good WordYou might prepare a little something to send back to your friends, who can take it from there… I have been moved and edified repeatedly by your work and faith – the story of Rizpah is powerful You have the honor of being the first to teach it in my life – and I am sure it will be so in the future for many others – now whoever Googles 'Mother's Day' might easily come across and be edified by your very moving pieceand like me, also be looking forward Johnny C Godowski I am confused about how to post, so I could only post as anonymous to make it work … so I remembered to type my name in the text this time – I don't really want to be anonymous – maybe I'll figure it out this time…


  9. Johnny C says:

    >by the 'last post' that shows there is hope for change, I was referring to the 'chils' post about the banned preacher getting his doctorate… looks like Adam managed to post unbeknownst to me while I was typing:) OK interesting post as well


  10. Pingback: Sunday School and the Problem of Biblical Illiteracy | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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