What follows is something that I wrote in 2003, at a far different point in my life as a Christian. Recently as I’ve thought about the World Convention to be held in Goiania, Brazil in 2010, this essay came to mind. Although I no longer agree with the tone of what I wrote, the fact remains that there is deep division in Brazil among churches of the Stone-Campbell movement. This is a division with which I cannot entirely disagree. Since the pentecostal Churches of Christ in Brazil appear to be the ones most supportive of World Convention, it seems obvious that neither the International Churches of Christ nor a cappella Churches of Christ will want to be involved. I find this both logical and lamentable…an uncomfortable mix of attitudes, to say the least.
“…that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21 Updated NASB).
“…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3 Updated NASB).
Too often, in my opinion, those promoting unity in the Restoration Movement seem willing to do so at the expense of the “faith once delivered.” I’ve seen this serving among the independent instrumental churches as well as among the brethren of a cappella churches.
Perhaps you’ve never noticed, but Christians have a tendency to support projects and missions overseas that they would never think of supporting in the United States. It’s as though, somehow, the rules change once you leave U.S. territory. Saddest of all is when the churches don’t even bother to verify whether what they are supporting is in line with what they believe. Someone appears asking for financial help, says the right spiritual-sounding words, and the checkbooks and purses open up. If not asked at the outset, rarely are questions asked later about details of faith.
Beginning in the 1960s, the instrumental and a cappella churches of Christ in Brazil cooperated to a certain extent. Most notably, the missionaries from both branches of the movement met in annual missionary retreats. A spirit of brotherhood and unity is said to have prevailed for a while, although some a cappella missionaries expressed disappointment that “the instrument issue” wasn’t being discussed. One year, however, one of the instrumental missionaries gave a talk in which he promoted an embrace of Pentecostalism in order to advance mission work. Controversy ensued, and the joint meetings were ended completely. Pentecostalism swept like a prairie wildfire through the instrumental churches in Brazil, so much so that the only faithful remnant among these churches to be found today is located in north and northeastern Brazil. All of the other instrumental churches of Christ throughout the remainder of Brazil were “Pentecostalized.” The only congregation in central Brazil that I personally am familiar with and know did not follow this path meets in Belo Horizonte. In order to survive, it removed the piano from the worship service (the piano is still in the back of the building and covered up) and is now in fellowship with the a cappella churches.
Fortunately for the sake of New Testament Christianity in Brazil, the instrumental churches in the north are evangelistic and growing, while the a cappella churches of Christ have grown and spread throughout central, eastern and southern Brazil. Unfortunately for the Gospel truth, the Pentecostal churches have grown even faster.
Over the course of years the Pentecostal churches began calling their ministers “Pastors,” electing women to be Pastors, preaching a baptism-free, faith-only plan of salvation and organizing into a loose but formal denominational structure. Their ministry students graduate from the Bible College in Brasília to go out preaching a corrupted gospel, and all too often seek to infiltrate faithful churches in order to lead them into the Pentecostal fold. At the forefront of resisting these deceitful workers have been the instrumental American missionaries in the northern city of Belém. As recently as a coupleof years ago they were called upon to confront a “Pastor” and his self-willed wife from Brasília that were trying to lead a church into what’s known as the “G-12” movement of Pentecostalism. With the Lord’s blessing a good part of that church was preserved, though the “Pastor” still led a portion away to start a new, Pentecostal church.
What I tell you in this article is the simple – albeit painful – truth. I know both from personal contact with the Pentecostals and from first-hand testimony that it is true. I wish that it weren’t. At the National Missionary Convention in Peoria a few years ago I met a veteran Pentecostalized missionary to Brazil, and we spoke briefly. He mentioned to me that in his youth he had preached a stricter, narrower message; but that later his eyes had been opened receive even the Catholics as brethren in Christ. He based this conclusion on the evidence of Pentecostal “gifts” such as “tongues-speaking” among many Brazilian Catholics. Rather than make recourse to the Bible to determine what makes a Christian, this missionary and others like him base their faith on subjective experience. And yes, he continues to receive mission support from independent Christian Churches in the United States.
If anyone doubts what I write, let me know and I will help you get in contact with people from the a cappella and instrumental churches in Brazil. You will find that there is no exaggeration in what I write. What I report here is little known among American churches. Missionaries in Brazil from a mission agency associated with the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, for instance, have confessed to me that they do not tell supporters that the churches they serve in Brazil are Pentecostal. When visitors arrive from the U.S., they explain away the services as cultural, but definitely not Pentecostal. Since visitors don’t generally know Portuguese anyway, they can’t perceive it when some members begin speaking in tongues and they have no idea that the message being preached is Pentecostal and faith only. I’ve actually been asked to keep it quiet, and when I mention it to other Latin American missionaries at the NACC and the National Missionary Convention, I’m generally met with what I call a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” response. It’s evidently considered an insider’s secret.
I am committed to Christian unity, but not without basic commitments to Biblical teaching. The truth must be told, and I cannot keep silent. Compromise of Biblical truth is not necessary or desirable to attain unity. In Brazil I worked in complete and peaceful cooperation with a cappella and instrumental brethren whose teaching did not include Pentecostalism, and I made no conscious distinction between the two. The unity I seek is, first and foremost, truly Christian.