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.