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How did you become a Christian?

I was raised in a Presbyterian home. However, when I was a teenager, I abandoned the Christian faith and stopped going to church. After getting into university, I lived a life away from God, frequenting places of prostitution and walking among the wicked. At twenty-three years of age, I started feeling a profound emptiness in my heart and a lack of meaning in my life. I did not find satisfaction in sex, cars, friends, studies, or work. In September 1977, I thought about taking my own life. One night, I walked into my parents’ house searching for the gun my dad kept in his room. But I found my mom reading the Bible and praying. She noticed all the anguish I was living in and asked that we pray together. In that instant, I sought God, broken and repentant, and felt a great relief from the anguish in my heart. There, in that moment, all the things that I had learned about God during my infancy and my teenage years came back to me. There, I was born again. My life was transformed. I abandoned my wicked friends and my immoral life and returned to church. Not long after, I felt called to the ministry of the Word.

How did the Reformed faith come to Brazil?

The Reformed faith first came to Brazil in the middle of the sixteenth century with French Calvinists sent by Calvin himself, and they came to Brazil as part of a colonizing expedition situated in Rio de Janeiro. That, unfortunately, only lasted a little while. Afterward, on occasion of the Dutch invasion (1630–54), Reformed pastors came with colonists to the northeast of Brazil, but the Dutch colony didn’t prosper either, and the Reformed Dutch were expelled by the Roman Catholic Portuguese. In the nineteenth century, the Presbyterian Church of the United States sent Ashbell Green Simonton as a missionary to Brazil to preach the gospel and establish churches. Simonton founded the first Presbyterian church in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro (1859) and with it a school and a newspaper. With the conversion of a Roman Catholic priest, who became the first native Reformed pastor of Brazil, the Reformed faith started to spread throughout the country. Many other Reformed missionaries came, sent by the Presbyterian Church of the United States. Today, it is believed that we have about a million Christians who profess the Reformed faith in Brazil and who are members of historical churches that came out of the Reformation. Also, interest in the Reformed faith has grown in an extraordinary way in the last few years among the evangelical Pentecostals. One of the reasons is the translation and publication of Reformed literature in recent years. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s books, for instance, have been widely read by Brazilians interested in Reformed theology.

What is your role in the Presbyterian Church of Brazil?

I am vice president of its General Assembly and vice president of its Theological Education Committee. I am serving as assistant pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Recife.

Today, it is believed that we have about a million Christians who profess the Reformed faith in Brazil and who are members of historical churches that came out of the Reformation.
Describe the influence of Pentecostalism in Brazil. What advice would you give for engaging with Pentecostalism?

The great majority of evangelicals in Brazil are Pentecostals. Pentecostalism in Brazil, however, is extremely varied. There are the classical Pentecostal churches, such as the Assemblies of God, with an emphasis on the baptism with the Holy Spirit followed by speaking in tongues, prophecies, revelations, and aggressive evangelization. There are also neo-Pentecostal churches that emphasize the prosperity gospel and spiritual warfare and who do not follow the model of worship of the classical Pentecostal churches. In these neo-Pentecostal churches, there are many who call themselves apostles and who exert almost absolute authority in their congregations. The doctrines and practices of these churches are very widespread in Brazil. Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals are, for the most part, Arminian when it comes to soteriology. Many Pentecostal leaders are very aggressive against the Reformed church and the doctrine of predestination, which they consider heresy.

Dealing with Pentecostals has not been easy, for they see the Reformed as heretics who do not have the Spirit or intimacy with God. The most efficient way of dealing with Pentecostalism is biblical exposition. Many Pentecostals have stopped to listen to the biblical exposition of Reformed pastors on social media and have even become convinced of the five solas of the Reformation and the five points of Calvinism. There are a great number of Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals that follow, with regularity, Reformed pastors through the internet.

What challenges does the Reformed church in Brazil face?

I believe that the main challenges, first, are avoiding division in Reformed churches due to factionalism. Second, maintaining the Reformed faith in its purity and at the same time having it be relevant to contemporary Brazilian society. Third, to win against spiritual pride and intellectual arrogance and use the theological preparedness of Brazilian Reformed to serve the Brazilian church. The Reformed are probably the best-prepared theologians in the Brazilian church, and they should see this as a blessing from God for the entire evangelical church in Brazil.

What is the state of theological education in Brazil?

The seminaries of historical churches are contaminated by liberal theology and Neoorthodoxy, as well as hermeneutics focused on the reader. The influence of Marxism is also very great. However, some historical churches, such as the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, have been able to avoid having liberal theology dominate their theological education until now. Some Pentecostal seminaries have been greatly influenced by the historical-critical method and the theology associated with it. However, there are independent seminaries that have been able to offer a good theological education based on the Reformed faith.

What can the church in America learn from the church in Brazil?

I believe that the problems and challenges that the evangelical American church is facing now are similar to the ones that we, Brazilian evangelicals, are facing here too: the growth of secularization, the radicalization around politics dividing the evangelical field, the advance of gender ideology, the temptation to accommodate to culture, the discussions about social and racial justice, and the everlasting challenge of theological liberalism. On the other hand, the evangelical Brazilian church seems to be more conservative in theology and in practice. For example, there are only a small number of evangelical churches that accept gay marriage and homosexual pastors. The absolute majority of evangelicals are against abortion. The number of churches that adopt the theologies coming from Marxism is also small.

Pray for us to keep faithful to the gospel of Christ. Invest financially in the planting of Reformed churches and in theological schools faithful to the Word of God.
How can the church in America support the church in Brazil?

Pray for us to remain faithful to the gospel of Christ. Invest financially in the planting of Reformed churches and in theological schools faithful to the Word of God. Work as partners in the missionary work of reaching the groups that have not been reached in Brazil. We are grateful for the American church for sending the first missionaries, who brought us the Word of God and for the great investments that they made in building churches, hospitals, and schools in many different parts of Brazil.

There are many unreached people groups in Brazil. What are the challenges and opportunities in reaching them with the gospel?

Brazil is a very big country, with the dimensions of a continent. Many different ethnic and social groups make up the Brazilian population. Though evangelicals are 30 percent of our total population, many of these groups still have no significant evangelical presence. Within the ethnic groups, there are many indigenous tribes that have not been reached by the gospel. Other than that, there are groups of riverside peoples where an evangelical presence is lacking. In the great cities, the groups made up of the very wealthy and of the very poor still have no significant Christian testimony. Therefore, the challenges for the Brazilian church are very large. At the same time, they represent an opportunity for the development of ministries that can reach these groups with the Word of God. There are already missions geared specifically to the evangelization of these unreached groups, but they are relatively small compared to the great need. We must pray and contribute so that God brings up workers who have a vocation for this tremendous task.

You have written on the nature of the Apostolic office in the Bible. Why is a proper understanding of the Apostolic office important for the church and the Christian life?

This was the theme of my postdoctoral studies at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I decided to study and write about this topic due to the large number of pastors who started calling themselves apostles here in Brazil, since about twenty years ago. When pastors declare themselves apostles, they do not use the word in the sense of “missionary” or “one who is sent,” which is the basic meaning of the term. Instead, they consider themselves as much apostles as the twelve Apostles of Christ or even as much as Paul himself. They claim to receive direct revelation from God, put themselves above all human criticism, and are the main defenders of the prosperity theology and that is so prominent among evangelicals in Brazil. Therefore, it is clear how important it is to have a correct biblical view about this title, so that we don’t accept the usurpation made by these men, who misguide multitudes and who make promises of prosperity, health, and financial victory in exchange for offerings, tithes, and financial sacrifices by the people. More important, we need to remember that the office of Apostle is connected to divine revelation. With the death of the last Apostle still in the first century, we have no more new revelation. As such, the revelations brought by these modern apostles are merely a result of their imagination. The only real Apostles are with the Lord.

Encouraging Children to Trust the Bible

The More Excellent Way of Love

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From the June 2021 Issue
Jun 2021 Issue