A Charismatic Response to “The Growing Crisis Behind Brazil’s Evangelical Success Story”
Julio Severo addresses misconceptions and missed targets on article by Brazilian Presbyterian theologian
By Julio Severo
In his The Gospel Coalition blog, Brazilian Calvinist theologian Augustus Nicodemus Gomes Lopes said, “When Paulo Romeiro wrote ‘Evangelicals in Crisis’ in the mid-1990s, a book that has remained a bestseller among Brazilian evangelicals, he addressed just one of the many ways in which evangelicalism had collapsed in Brazil, namely, its inability to halt the spread of prosperity theology.” (Link: http://archive.is/hjNXb)
He mentions “Prosperity Theology” three times. Strangely, Liberation Theology and its Protestant version, Theology of Integral Mission, are missing in his text.
Even though Theology of Integral Mission is a problem predominating among Brazilian Calvinists, Nicodemus focuses nominally only on the Prosperity Theology, which is loosely followed by neo-Pentecostal (neo-charismatic) churches.
In the simplest terms, Theology of Integral Mission, which is embraced by theologians and leaders mostly from wealthy Reformed churches, is an approach leaders employ to teach the poor to look to the State as a provider for their material needs. In contrast, Prosperity Theology is loosely followed and practiced in Brazilian neo-Pentecostal churches, where the poor are taught to look after God as a provider for their material and spiritual needs.
Basically, both theologies came from the United States. In the 1950s, Rev. Richard Schaull, an strong adherent of the Social Gospel and later a Princeton professor, taught in the largest seminary of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil — the same denomination of Nicodemus.
His influence, firstly in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, was impressive, and he was a precursor of Liberation Theology. His disciple, then Presbyterian theologian Rubem Alves, was also instrumental in the birth of Liberation Theology in Brazil in the 1960s.
Neo-Pentecostal churches began to appear in Brazil especially in the late 1970s, when Brazilian evangelical audiences were largely under the influence of televangelists Pat Robertson and Rex Humbard and their famous shows in Brazil “The 700 Club” and “You Are Loved.” Further, many were converted to Christ through these shows.
By the mid-1980s, Protestant leaders, including Rev. Caio Fábio, were worried that the Prosperity Theology taught in neo-Pentecostal churches was weakening the advance of the Theology of Integral Mission throughout the Brazilian Church. You can find more information in my free e-book here: http://bit.ly/15AJmMC
Caio Fabio, who was the most prominent leader in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, eventually fell from grace over serious sexual and financial scandals in the late 1990s, after his sordid assistance to former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his socialist Workers’ Party in drawing evangelical Christians.
The main enemies of neo-Pentecostalism and its Prosperity Theology have been leftist Protestants. Though not a leftist, Augustus Nicodemus finds it easier to attack nominally Prosperity Theology than the Theology of Integral Mission. When he was Chancellor of the Mackenzie Presbyterian University in São Paulo, Brazil, he admitted theology professors who were adherents of the Theology of Integral Mission, but no Prosperity Theology adherent was admitted.
Why has neo-Pentecostalism, not the Marxist Theology of Integral Mission, been his main bone of contention? Because of his theology, which has been in particular conflict with the vast evangelical majority in Brazil. Nicodemus is the leading cessationist voice in Brazil. Cessationism preaches that prophecy and other supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased 2,000 years ago.
He has had a hard time understanding how Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches have experienced such phenomenal growth. Nicodemus says: “According to the latest official census, evangelicals represent almost one-quarter of the total population of Brazil (22.5 percent). This is phenomenal growth, seeing that just 40 years ago they were only 2.5 percent.”
Pentecostals 24,810,921 (31%)
Charismatics 33,970,683 (42%)
Neocharismatics 21,168,395 (26%)
Total Renewal: 79,949,999
According to the Portuguese Wikipedia, the Presbyterian denomination of Nicodemus in Brazil has 980,000 members. This figure does not mean that all Brazilian Presbyterians are cessationists. Many of them are charismatics.
His cessationism brings another problem: if current prophecy and other supernatural gifts among Brazilian Christians are not from God, who is provoking Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal growth in Brazil? Who is performing miracles among them? Satan?
Brazil is the largest spiritualistic nation in the world. Witchcraft, especially from African origin, is rampant. The clash between the dark powers of these occult religions and Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches and their spiritual gifts has resulted in massive conversions to Christ.
This clash is necessary. As Calvinist theologian Vincent Cheung said, “One answer to demonic supernatural power is a greater divine supernatural power. The Bible portrays numerous power encounters, where the miracle-working power of God overwhelmed the power of Satan. Consider the confrontations between Moses and the magicians, Elijah and the false prophets, Jesus and the demon-possessed, Philip and Simon, Paul and Elymas, and Paul and this girl with the evil spirit in our text. Paul cast out the spirit of divination, and the girl lost her ability. This is the biblical answer to the miracles of Satan. The solution is not denial, but discernment and domination.” (Sermonettes, Volume 7, Chapter Seven.)
As a cessationist, Nicodemus prefers denial and he sees many problems in the explosive Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal growth. He said, “How did evangelicalism reach this point of success and concurrent crisis in Brazil? Reformation theology and practice has never been fully known or adopted in our country, even among the Reformed churches.” So the evangelical crisis in Brazil stems from the fact that they have not, as he said, “known the doctrines of the Reformation in their fullness and power.”
But what is necessary to prevail in the clashes between dark spiritual powers and divine powers? To be filled with Reformation traditions or to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit?
Nicodemus also said, “By disdaining centuries of tradition and theological interpretation, evangelicals found themselves vulnerable to any new interpretation, such as open theism, theology of prosperity, a new perspective on Paul, and so on.” No mention about the most important threat to the Reformed churches in Brazil, namely, Liberation Theology and its Protestant counterpart Theology of Integral Mission.
The leading advocate of the Theology of Integral Mission in Brazil is Rev. Ariovaldo Ramos, minister of the Reformed Christian Church. Recently, he praised Hugo Chavez as a hero for the weak and poor. His prominent leftist activities have gone unchallenged by Nicodemus and other Reformed leaders.
At best, Ramos has been silent about attempts by the Brazilian socialist government to legalize abortion and pass PLC 122, a bill criminalizing Bible criticism of homosexual acts. He supported the election of this government. In contrast, Marco Feliciano, a congressman and Assembly of God minister, has been outspoken against abortion and PLC 122.
Feliciano also supported the election of this government. But when a clash between values and government came, he chose values. Because of his public moral stances, he has been consistently attacked by the secular and religious Left, including Ramos.
In a darker contrast, Nicodemus is a member of ANAJURE, a Christian group in Brazil created to defend Christians and their civil rights, whose president has issued a public statement against Feliciano. Also, in 2010, after gay activists protested a public manifesto against PLC 122 posted on the website of his university, Nicodemus ordered its removal, bowing to gay demands.
Apparently, nothing of this has been a concern for him.
As a cessationist, he is worried only about Pentecostals, especially because of their lack of theological direction. Even among neo-Pentecostal churches practicing Prosperity Theology, the diversity of interpretations and practices is gigantic. For example, the most aggressive neo-Pentecostal denomination in Brazil, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG), is cessationist, believes in miracles only by positive confession and prayer and rejects prophecy and other supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit for today. UCKG preaches that manifestations of these gifts today are demonic — a stance not differing from the stance of their cessationist Reformed counterparts. UCKG founder Bishop Edir Macedo has been an outspoken abortion supporter. But in these two points — cessationism and abortion — UCKG has been an exception among neo-Pentecostal churches in Brazil.
There is an explanation for these immense differences. According to “The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements”: “The diversity of global pentecostalism makes it impossible to speak of ‘a’ pentecostal theology, especially since a full-blown theology of the Christian faith from a classical pentecostal perspective has not yet been written.” This is especially true in Brazil.
Because he thinks basically in theological terms, Nicodemus probably sees little hope for such theology-less churches. In fact, for him this is a “crisis.” He said, “There is no easy way out of this crisis. However, there are some encouraging signs of change that I cannot leave unmentioned. One of them is the surprising growth of Reformed faith among Pentecostals. There are innumerable examples of Pentecostal pastors turning to the Reformed interpretation of the Scriptures. Sometimes even entire Pentecostal churches have undergone this change. I quote here an e-mail I received some weeks ago from a former Pentecostal pastor: Your book Spiritual Worship [first published in 1998 and now in its 5th edition] made our whole church stop speaking in tongues and changed our whole liturgy. We even had to change the sign on our building from ‘Assembly of God’ to ‘Reformed Church.’”
An Assembly of God church stopped speaking in tongues (and possibly stopped prophecies too), and cessationism won in the name of Reformation. But is this a spiritual victory?
Here is the Brazilian reality: Millions of lost souls are perishing. Spiritualism is widespread. Liberation Theology is rampant in the Catholic Church. Theology of Integral Mission is rampant in Reformed churches. And a Reformed theologian is interested on churches leaving charismatic experiences and becoming Reformed?
This is a very frivolous and irresponsible concern.
For decades, Theology of Integral Mission — not to mention free Mansory — has been a major problem among Reformed churches, and Nicodemus’ major worry is growth of Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches?
Recently, my blog exposed Nicodemus’ cessationism, and one of his fans commented that if the concern of Christians opposed to cessationism is healing, vision and prophecy, they should visit spiritualist temples to see all of this. So the false doctrine of Nicodemus and other Reformed theologians has inevitably led their followers to see just “spiritualism” in the Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches in Brazil.
This is a gross misrepresentation not only of God’s power, but also of His essential role in the phenomenal growth of the Brazilian Evangelical Church.
Would it make sense for a person living in France to see the most important problem of that nation as its language?
Why would you live in France if you disliked French? Would you try to convert French-speaking people into Portuguese-speaking people? Brazil is not France, but its evangelical population is massively Pentecostal, and Nicodemus wants to convert them to Reformed and, hopefully, to cessationists.
The prospect of Pentecostal churches turning into Reformed churches entails Reformed pitfalls.
Yes, Reformed contact could be helpful to Pentecostals in Brazil, but first Reformed leaders need to renounce, denounce and fight the Theology of Integral Mission prevalent among them. Otherwise, greater Reformed contact for Pentecostals will only bring more of the same crisis and confusion that started to defile Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-Pentecostal churches in the late 1990s by the literature and conferences of Caio Fábio, Ariovaldo Ramos and other Reformed leftist leaders advocating the Protestant counterpart of Liberation Theology.
Among Reformed (Presbyterian, Calvinist) churches, the defilement began in the 1950s! There is a liberal crisis plaguing Reformed churches in Brazil, but Nicodemus and other theologically trained leaders refuse to tackle it directly. Brazil is a cradle of Liberation Theology. Even so, Nicodemus never mentioned it in his article designed to point out only the crisis over Pentecostalism.
In the 1990s, I attended a Presbyterian church, of the same denomination as Nicodemus. They were greatly concerned about Prosperity Theology. To protect themselves, all the local Presbyterian churches encouraged collective subscriptions by their members to Ultimato magazine — the foremost Brazilian Presbyterian voice for the Theology of Integral Mission.
For years I have denounced Ultimato — which have consistently attacked conservatives. But Nicodemus and his cessationist comrades have never denounced it the way they denounce neo-Pentecostals.
There is a Reformed crisis in Europe and America, where mainline denominations are ordaining gay ministers and leading anti-Israel boycotts. Liberalism crept in largely unopposed, and the result is widespread apostasy. And since its beginning in Brazil, the Theology of Integral Mission movement has had prominent Reformed leaders.
If cessationism is a blindfold, this explains why even such non-liberal Reformed leaders as Nicodemus are unable to fight the Theology of Integral Mission the way they systematically fight Prosperity Theology and other Pentecostal practices, including the March for Jesus, which is led by Neo-Pentecostals opposed to abortion and PLC 122. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil (PCB) has a similar event in Rio de Janeiro, called “Caminhada Presbiteriana pela Cidadania” (Presbyterian March for Citizenship). This march has as its official mission to increase visibility for PCB and Mackenzie Presbyterian University, whose chancellor until recently was Nicodemus.
“Caminhada Presbiteriana pela Cidadania” has partnered with spiritualists and Afro-Brazilian religions. Its leader, Rev. Marcos Amaral, has publicly expressed his wish for a long life for Hugo Chavez and a stroke for Marco Feliciano, because the Pentecostal minister has been hated by secular and Protestant leftists over his conservative stances on abortion and homosexuality. In fact, Rev. Amaral has even joined prominent secular leftist Brazilians to protest against Feliciano. Nicodemus has an article blasting March for Jesus, but no article against the Presbyterian march led by Rev. Amaral.
Pentecostals do need help, especially because they are under heavy attack from leftist secularists and Calvinists. Yet, are Reformed leaders really the correct and complete answer?
What about cessationist blindness and the Theology of Integral Mission?
Is there deliverance from these Reformed pitfalls in Brazil? Yes — to be filled with the power and knowledge of the Holy Spirit.
Portuguese version of this article: Uma Resposta Carismática à “Crise Crescente por Trás da História de Sucesso Evangélico do Brasil”
Spanish version of this article: Una Respuesta Carismática a la “Creciente Crisis por detrás de la Historia del Éxito Evangélico en Brasil”
German version of this article: Eine charismatische Antwort auf ‚Die wachsende Krise hinter Brasiliens evangelikaler Erfolgsstory‘
Reviewed by Don Hank.
Liberation Theology and Neo-Pentecostalism: A Leading Challenge to the Evangelical Churches in Brazil
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