Pentecostalism in Latin America

Posted: October 5, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Pentecostal/Charismatic Interests

Milton Acosta of Biblical Seminary of Colombia in Medillín gives his readers an introduction to the trends in Latin American Pentecostalism.  He says that churches are often disconnected from either Catholicism or Protestantism and the pastors often get theology degrees from an unregulated degree market.  There are also trends of “Protestant shamanism” and the prosperity gospel:

[Historian Arturo] Piedra says that the “religious space of ‘prophets and apostles’ is dominated by an anachronistic Protestant shamanism, made up of individuals (actores) who pretend to save the world through an animist manipulation of evil spirits.”

Under the umbrella of spiritual warfare has grown a body of clergy specializing in discerning hidden forces. These preachers focus more on the fear of spirits than on the hope that Christ gives. They are also “experts” on curses and all sorts of practices like geographic cornering and blowing and whistling to subject evil spirits. This is quite the opposite of the defeat of Satan!

Like Argentine Methodist theologian José Míguez Bonino, Piedra holds that there is a weak historical connection between Latin American Protestantism and the Protestant tradition, as there is little or no emphasis on sola gratia, sola Scriptura, or justification by faith alone. Sadly, the apostles and prophets are not teaching the central message of the gospel, but a gospel of prosperity.

Television is a powerful influence on Latin American theology. The TV channel Enlace (owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network) has become “a true magisterium” beyond denominational beliefs and practices. It is available in most Latin American countries. Most evangelicals turn it on several times a week. No matter what topic Enlace is dealing with, the message boils down to making “pacts” with God, wherein a person must demonstrate the seriousness of his prayer request by sending money along with it. Pastors with little or no training imitate Enlace preachers, and the effect intensifies.

Many Enlace-style churches have reduced the message of the gospel to economic prosperity. Based on belief in evil spirits’ hidden conspiracies that can only be averted by economic pacts—a contemporary version of indulgences—some of these churches end up in clear continuity with the surrounding culture of amulets, or magical ways of quickly obtaining wealth and happiness. The celebrities who represent this kind of overnight wealth are Mafia members and druglords. The final product, says Piedra, is religious consumerism.

Acosta says that theological training is badly needed in Latin America.  Echoing his concerns, a long-time missionary to Colombia, who is part of a group that is trying to give Colombian pastors training, told me once that becoming an evangelical pastor is supposed to be a great way to get rich in Colombia.

Latin American is obviously a dynamic place for those who claim Christ.  I pray that God will lead the Church there to more knowledge of Himself and greater faithfulness to His Word.

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