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Christian Workers Consider Biblical Doctrines
by J. Randal Matheny
The weekend of June 27-29 I traveled to northeast Brazil for a state-wide Christian workers encounter. Following are some information and an evaluation of that trip.
Francisco Antonio (Toto) Souza, evangelist for the Esperanca church in Fortaleza, had talked with me during the National Christian Workers Encounter over Easter weekend about the possibility of teaching in a meeting of churches in his state. Over the next several weeks, we nailed down the details.
On Friday, June 27, I caught the 6:00 a.m. bus from Sao Jose dos Campos to the airport, an hour's trip by the Rio-Sao Paulo interstate. When I arrived at Sao Paulo's international airport in Guarulhos, I discovered it was closed due to fog. (Third time in two years.) My 8:10 a.m. flight became a 9:30 p.m. trip. The plane set down in Fortaleza at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, twelve hours after my scheduled arrival.
Fortaleza is the capital of Ceara state, on the northeast coast of Brazil. A mission team began work there in 1981. None of the original team members remain. Eight churches, with a total of 608 saints, meet in the state, according to March 2003 statistics. Five Christian workers dedicate themselves full-time, three of these in one congregation, and one of these is a missionary.
About a year and a half ago, the introduction of women in Sunday worship teams and group prayers and the use of the instrument in spiritual settings outside the Sunday worship, among other issues, caused a division in the largest and oldest congregation of Fortaleza. Those who objected to these practices formed the Esperanca congregation, on the outskirts of the capital.
Fifty-one men from the Ceara churches participated in this state-wide meeting, the second after the division occurred. The Esperanca congregation planned and hosted the event at the public school where they meet. Toto is the full-time evangelist there. (His name is pronounced, tau-TAU.)
The first meeting was held in November, 2002, and hosted by the congregation in the Jose Valter area of Fortaleza.
We met Saturday, June 28, from 1:00-9:00 p.m. I gave seven classes of about 40-45 minutes each. A representative from each congregation offered an exhortation of 10 minutes before each session.
My topics for the encounter included these subjects:
The last period was opened for questions and answers. Those who defended the doctrinal changes expressed discontent with some aspects of the presentation. Overall, however, the material seemed to be well received.
After visits and conversations following the encounter, I pillowed my head around midnight.
The Esperanca Church
I preached and taught Bible school on Sunday morning, June 29, at the Esperanca church, which meets in a public school. My sermon title was "The Poor Church," because God's people have no earthly head, no denominating name, no human doctrines.
This congregation today has 93 Christians, with 22 couples participating.
Esperanca is the name of the housing project where the church's meeting place is located. This congregation has requested the donation of a 1000-meter lot from the city to build a building. They are also looking for funds for a second full-time evangelist to work with Toto, as well as complement his salary.
The Itarema Church
Sunday afternoon of the 29th we traveled the three hours up the coast to the city of Itarema, where Toto had worked for some seven years during two separate periods. About 70 Christians meet in this 13-year-old congregation. At the request of three Itarema men who participated in the seminar in Fortaleza and were present for the morning worship at Esperanca, I repeated the "Poor Church" sermon. About 50 people were present.
After the evening meal, five of the leading men, Toto, and I met together to talk about the work. We shared information and ideas in an open air square near the church building from 9:00 p.m. to midnight. A good part of the discussion centered on the division in Fortaleza, which has had impact on all the state congregations.
I spent the night in Itarema, and Toto, his wife Monica, and I returned the next day with a sister in Christ from the Esperanca congregation, Edilma, providing transportation.
The 3:30 p.m. flight back was uneventful, but I discovered en route that the final destination was the airport in the south region of Sao Paulo, so by the time I caught a bus to the Guarulhos airport and Vicki and Micah picked me up there as arranged, it was midnight on Monday, July 1, before we arrived home.
The hospitality of Christians in northeastern Brazil is famous in other parts of the country for their generosity and warmth. My experience in Fortaleza was no exception.
Several of the congregations not directly involved in the division had expressed hopes of reconciliation between the two parts involved. This is a recent phenomenon in the Brazilian church, but unfortunately we may see more of it because of innovations. My material appears to have helped the Christian workers to see that we were not dealing with a mere difference of forms or personalities, but of doctrine.
Those who promote innovations showed themselves insistent at continuing in spite of causing division by it. Those who had rejected the innovations were strengthened in their resolve and fortified by an examination of the Biblical teaching on these and related subjects.
A first-time visitor at the Itarema church was so impressed by the simplicity of the gospel message and my lack of stuffiness that he promised to be a regular participant. I made a funny comment when a brother at the beginning of my sermon adjusted the microphone and nearly hit me in the face. Pray for this visitor, whose name is Roberto.
Another outcome of the trip was the confirmation of my conviction that the Brazilian church will not be spared many of the departures ocurring in the U.S. Some of the newer missionaries are soft on doctrine; recruiting ministries and sometimes supporting churches have no doctrinal criteria for candidates. These tendencies also feed on influence within Brazil from the denominations. Two of the Christian workers in Fortaleza, for example, are studying at the Baptist and Assembly of God seminaries.
It is sad that such division must come, but in every place and age, some people are not content with God's simple plan of salvation, work, and worship. The church must remain firm to resist these departures, while making every effort to preach the gospel to every person.
I was glad to help some in the church in Fortaleza toward that end.
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