Editors’ note: Give during the Olympics in Brazil to help us expand our Portuguese-language web presence. We are hoping to raise $30,000 by the end of August to grow the reach of TGC’s Portuguese resources. Click here to learn more and give.
For the past two weeks, millions of eyes have focused on Brazil’s Olympic Games. From the track to the court to the pool, to watch these men and women perform is to watch unparalleled expressions of individual athletic ability and global cooperation. (See “6 Christian Athletes to Watch at Rio 2016.”)
And yet . . . the Brazilian picture is not always so pristine, particularly as it relates to the state of the church.
We corresponded with Augustus Nicodemus Lopes about the prosperity gospel, how many Brazilians have recently embraced the doctrines of grace, and more. Lopes, who was a plenary speaker at our 2015 National Conference, lives in Goiânia where he serves as a Presbyterian pastor and seminary president.
How would you describe the state of church in Brazil?
I have mixed feelings. On one hand, there’s a growing interest on the part of both Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals for the Reformed faith and expository preaching. Unfortunately, this growth has provoked counter-measures from various Assemblies of God and Arminian Baptist leaders. They’re concerned with the large number of young people becoming sympathetic to the doctrines of grace. On the other hand, a great majority of the so-called “evangelical” churches in Brazil are plagued with prosperity theology and rampant syncretistic practices.
What most encourages you about the evangelical church in your country?
This new generation of young believers—from Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal backgrounds—are discovering biblical preaching and the doctrines of the Reformation.
What are the biggest challenges facing Brazilian evangelical churches?
There are many. First, we desperately need more pastoral leaders who are committed to the Scriptures. Second, the challenge of a state that’s increasingly under the influence of the sexual revolution and thus increasingly hostile to Christianity. Third, since liberalism has made so many inroads in the church, there’s need for a true revival that would save the unconverted masses and restore many to the Scriptures.
From your point of view, what’s been the reception of Reformed theology in Brazil and the larger Portuguese-speaking world?
At this point, it’s been received surprisingly well, despite the aforementioned hostility on the part of various pastors and preachers.
Why is this the case? I can think of several factors: (1) the dissemination 20 years ago of Reformed books via publishing houses founded by American missionaries and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil; (2) the translation to Portuguese of YouTube videos featuring the sermons of John Piper, Paul Washer, Tim Keller, and R. C. Sproul; (3) the media ministry of Brazilian Reformed preachers like Hernandes Dias Lopes, Renato Vargens, and others; (4) Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal religion is wearing out, so many young people are looking for solid biblical teaching.
Some observers have noted the influence of evangelicals on Brazilian politics. How have you helped believers think through this dynamic? What word of warning or encouragement would you give others in your country?
I have a different opinion. The evangelicals who exert political influence are from a neo-Pentecostal background, using the power of media and the huge numbers of their churches and denominations. Although they’ve been instrumental in deterring the progress of pro-gay movements, many scandals remain. What’s more, many of these politicians don’t seem committed to the well-being of Brazilians as a whole. Instead, they seem more committed to protecting the interests of their churches and platforms. This is why the church in Brazil needs to disciple young men to become godly politicians; right now, we have little hope in this area.
How can we pray for the church in Brazil?
1. Pray for a true revival of the Reformed faith.
2. Pray for leaders committed to expository biblical preaching.
3. Pray for boldness before the rampant hostility against Christianity in both the university and public arena.