“Who are the well-known voices for the Reformed movement in Latin America?” I often get this question from my English-speaking brothers and sisters. In fact, some time ago Ben Peays, executive director of The Gospel Coalition, asked me just that question. He was genuinely eager to know more about our context. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I answered, “Apart from the ‘apostles,’ you won’t find a well-known voice that’s known throughout Latin America. And of course, by ‘apostles’ I mean preachers of the prosperity gospel.”
In spite of the incredible growth of Protestantism in the last decade, and the supposed high number of adherents to the Christian religion, the church in Latin America is, generally speaking, far from healthy. Our culture is so closely identified with Christianity, yet the truths of the gospel are, generally speaking, unknown. That is why some say Latin America needs to be re-evangelized.
1. Prosperity Gospel Is King
While prosperity teachers are highly influential in the United States and other places, they're particularly popular in Latin America. In fact, the charismatic, Word-of-Faith, prosperity form of Christianity is, by and large, the only form of Protestantism that people know. In our region, a non-Catholic churchgoer is almost guaranteed to belong to a church that falls somewhere on the spectrum of this movement.
In Latin America, prosperity theology is not just a system of belief, but the culture in which we live. Well-known Spanish-speaking Christian artists have backgrounds in prosperity theology. TV shows and movies promote a culture of consumerism, and so do the “Christian” television channels. Books written and sold advocate this theology. And of course, the teachings of many false teachers from the United States have been translated into Spanish.
Formerly you had to do evangelism mainly among Catholics, showing them how the true gospel is so much better than works-based attempts at salvation. But more and more evangelism has turned into an effort to preach the gospel to those who ascribe to some kind of prosperity gospel, showing them how Jesus is so much better than the riches of this world.
2. Sound Doctrine Is Scarce
At Coalición por el Evangelio we have contributors from all over Latin America, and they regularly ask if we know of other healthy churches in their area. Since our launch in 2013, we’ve received hundreds and hundreds of requests from our readers asking for a recommended church close to them. I know many people who have moved to a different city just to be near a Bible-believing church. Sadly, more often than not, there are no churches within 100 miles that we can endorse.
To be perfectly clear, people are not being overly picky. They’re not looking for a large, booming church with a great kids program, awesome music, and a team that’s reaching their community and changing their nation. Rather, people are looking for churches that stand for expository preaching, sound doctrine, and have authentic leaders doing their best to steward what the Lord has given them. And while these churches do exist, they are extremely hard to find.
Something similar happens with theological resources. While you can easily find no less than two dozen blogs in English with biblically solid, daily material, you may find two in Spanish. The same is true with books, and while there’s more and more content being translated into Spanish (for which we’re thankful), we need more content produced by Spanish-speakers for Spanish-speakers. The same is true of music and even theological training, which is perhaps one of the greatest needs for pastors in Latin America.
3. The Reformed Movement Is Immature
The resurgence of Reformed theology in the United States is a recent event, but its contemporary roots can be traced back to popular writers and preachers in the 1960s and earlier. Though much of this growth is new, the theological discussions and even the character of this movement's leaders are mature or reaching maturity. Many thousands of Americans, young and old, proudly espouse complementarianism, expository preaching, gospel-centered theology, and a God-centered view of life and work. This is not the case in Latin America.
Consider: at Coalición por el Evangelio, our most-read article for the month of June was a response to whether or not it is permissible for women to wear pants. Thousands of people—even those who stand by the doctrines of grace—still think that Deuteronomy 22:5 prohibits women from wearing pants. Likewise, drums in contemporary worship are widely considered to be worldly and thus inappropriate. Gospel-centeredness is a foreign concept to many, so it’s common to hear a perfectly articulated sermon or a scripturally based song that does not even reference Jesus’ death and resurrection. Remember, these people do not follow false teachers; they are “in our camp” and trying to be faithful to Scripture.
There’s also a troubling yet somewhat predictable trend among the young men and women in the Reformed movement. Once exposed to sound doctrine, our equivalent of the “young, restless, Reformed” tend to become arrogant because of their newfound knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1-2). Who knew the “cage stage” was a cross-cultural phenomenon? So there are hundreds of websites dedicated to mocking prosperity gospel teachers and its adherents. This number may not seem like a lot if you think about all the blogs in the United States, but as I’ve said before, we’re a much smaller crowd. When there are hundreds of blogs dedicated to exposing and mocking false doctrine, and barely a dozen promoting sound doctrine, things are not as they should be. There’s a marked trend of shouting what we’re against instead of declaring what we are for, and many lines are drawn for things that are not central to the gospel.
4. God Is Very Much at Work
Those who have been doing ministry in Latin America, in one way or another, generally agree that we’re in the beginning of a revival. In the last five years, things have been changing. More and more Christians are being awakened to the true gospel. Many unbelievers are being saved all over the region. Churches are developing meaningful relationships with one another. Conferences are being organized, calling believers to return to the Scriptures. Even our brothers and sisters from the United States and elsewhere have offered their time, resources, and people to serve our region. And you can see the change in an unbelievable way.
Because of dissatisfaction with superficial Christianity, there is an amazing hunger for the Word of God throughout Latin America. True believers are devouring anything that will help them handle the Word of Truth. More and more we hear of churches turning to sound doctrine for the first time. In a recent conference, I saw more than a hundred pastors from different countries step forward and repent of ministries that did not honor God.
Surely there’s still much work to be done, but the Lord is already at work in this moment. I too believe we’re experiencing the beginning of a revival. It is my prayer that believers in the Spanish-speaking world would be faithful to the Lord, diligent in the Scriptures, and prepared to give an answer to any and all who question the reason for our hope. If you believe you are being called, consider going, training, planting, or serving. In any case, will you join us in prayer?