My first experience of Brazilian Christianity was among the instrumental Churches of Christ that were also Pentecostal. What’s funny about this is that, for nearly a year after that first mission trip to Brazil, I didn’t fully understand that these churches were Pentecostal. How is that possible? It’s actually very simple.
During the first two months I was in Brazil, my Portuguese was very limited. During worship I could see hands raised and hear people praying out loud, but I couldn’t tell that they were “speaking in tongues.” Crazy, right? When I asked the missionaries about it, they explained that the Brazilians were “more expressive” in worship than Americans.
The missionaries (supported by independent Christian Churches in the United States) I met during that mission internship had only been in Brazil for a couple of years at that time. The churches they worked with already had Brazilian pastors, but the missionaries were there as what might be considered a sort of “consultant” status. They did youth ministry, evangelism and other activities, but all due respect was paid to the local leadership. As such, I don’t believe they felt they had the right to dictate to the churches how they should worship. I also believe that if any of them had taught against Pentecostalism they would have been asked to leave. They actually seemed unaware that any option other than Pentecostalism was available. I once told one of the missionaries on a return visit about how the a cappella Churches of Christ were non-Pentecostal and growing. He expressed genuine surprise and said, “Well, I guess the proof is in the pudding.”
My experience with Pentecostal churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Brazil was entirely positive. Christians of these churches were welcoming and loving, and the ministries of these churches were dynamic and focused on reaching a hurting world with practical, real-life solutions that expressed the Gospel of Christ. They cooperated with other evangelical churches in rehabilitation ministries and support for orphanages, among other forms of outreach. They were evangelistic and, whatever inconsistency there may have been about the full meaning of baptism, always baptized by immersion and saw it as a clear line between the world and the family of God.
Having said all that, I have grave doubts about the ability of Pentecostal churches to ever be in fellowship again with the rest of the Churches of Christ in Brazil. The traditional churches have deep and sometimes valid suspicions, and the a cappella churches are doing good just to accept people from the traditional churches as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Then again, who knows?
This Complete Series:
Stone-Campbell Movement in Brazil (1-5)