Contemporary Brazilian Protestantism: Biblical evidence against the prosperity presented by neo-Pentecostalism

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ORIGINAL ARTICLE

CUNHA, David Carvalho [1]

CUNHA, David Carvalho. Contemporary Brazilian Protestantism: Biblical evidence against the prosperity presented by neo-Pentecostalism. Revista Científica Multidisciplinar Núcleo do Conhecimento. Year 05, Ed. 06, Vol. 10, pp. 146-157. June 2020. ISSN: 2448-0959, Access link: https://www.nucleodoconhecimento.com.br/theology-en/contemporary-brazilian

SUMMARY

Due to the formatting of its main religious beliefs, neopentecostalism has brought, directly and indirectly, representativeness to the faith of most Protestant Christians in Brazil. However, the emphasis on some of these beliefs when put into practice has caused disagreements and debates among other Christians, especially regarding the prosperity. Thus, the following question arises: as for material prosperity, what are the main differences between the practices of the early church, contextualized in the period of the first century, and the practices of neopentecostal churches? This study aims to describe the main neo-Pentecostal churches, identify their main beliefs and doctrinal errors regarding biblical prosperity, and counter this indoctrination, which has had the greatest focus in their meetings, with the biblical truths that were taught and practiced by early Christians. A bibliographical research was carried out in order to discuss the subject. In the conclusion, the exaggerated emphasis on material prosperity is highlighted as the greatest theological deviation of neopentecostalism, and this concept is re-meaning and the relevant biblical rebuttals are presented as evidence for the proper doctrinal restorations.

Keywords: NeoPentecostalism, early Church, material prosperity, biblical truths.

1. INTRODUCTION

The world context that passed through the 19th century stands out due to a remarkable event: economic, social, political, technological and religious revolutions. With this, it is necessary to highlight, in this reflection, that humanity was experiencing scientific advances and new spiritual discoveries. In fact, this was the great century of missionary expansion into Christianity, which makes its mention relevant. However, amid the influence of the Enlightenment, the rationalization of human thought in counterpoint to faith, along with these discoveries and technological advances, Christianity began to face a powerful internal enemy: theological liberalism. At this moment, Pentecostalism arises, perhaps as a great response or divine invitation to combat this spiritual cooling.

It is therefore believed that it is necessary to live true experiences with the Lord from the Holy Spirit, as the apostles lived at Pentecost (one of the three main annual feasts of Israel whose second chapter of the Biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles describes the commemoration of this feast after the death and resurrection of Christ. This occasion presents the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus). It was the initial milestone of this movement, which certainly characterizes it as true. Deriving directly from Pentecostalism, the new Pentecostalism or neopentecostalism emerges in the Brazilian religious context, at a time when cultural variety represented a determining factor in the construction of beliefs, rituals and customs that modeled the most striking characteristic of Brazilian religiosity: mysticism.

Considering the context presented, it is necessary to mention that, in a certain way, the mystical influence present in the daily thinking of the Brazilian people, and also, in their actions, reached space also within this movement, guiding them towards strange beliefs and distorted practices. Thus, the theological context in which the neopentecostal churches meet reveal the need for a critical reflection in search of the truth that can lead them to return to the essence of the gospel of Christ. Therefore, the great dilemma lies in what would be the main theological difference between the early church and neopentecostal churches, and also it is up to reflection on what rebuttals are necessary for the solution of this doctrinal error. Thinking about such distinctions justifies the relevance of the present study.

This study aims to present the main denominations of the Brazilian neopentecostal movement, identify its main beliefs and doctrinal inconsistencies regarding material prosperity, an issue that has had the greatest focus on liturgies, interspersing this theological thought with biblical truths in order to evidence teaching and reflect on the practice of first century Church Christians. The method used in the research was the bibliographic, using books and electronic websites as a basis for obtaining the historical elements, for the mapping of liturgies and customs, for the collection of information, and also the Holy Bible was used as a source for the construction of the necessary principles for the proper rebuttals, and some practical examples of the first Christians in history were also highlighted.

2. DEVELOPMENT

According to Freston (1993), Brazilian Pentecostalism can be understood through the implantation of specific churches in the last century, at three different times (Pentecostalism, Deuteropentecostalism and Neopentecostalism). The first moment lasted about forty years and was marked by the emphasis on the gift of tongues (as described in the books of Mark 16:17 and Acts 2:4), beginning with the Christian Congregation, founded in 1910 in São Paulo, and the Assembly of God in 1911 in Pará. The second moment comprises the decades of 50 and 60 and was marked by the emphasis on the gift of healing (according to the books of Mark 16:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:9), having as main protagonists the Quadrangular churches, founded in 1951, São Paulo, Brazil for Christ in 1955, São Paulo, God is Love in 1962, São Paulo and House of Blessing in 1964 , Minas Gerais.

The third moment began in the 1970s, with the founding of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) in 1977 and the International Church of the Grace of God (IIGD) in 1980, both in Rio de Janeiro, and later with the formation of other churches of lesser expression. Silva (2007) informs that the third wave of the Brazilian Pentecostal movement has grown to this third wave of the prefix “neo”, becoming known as neopentecostal movement, intending to differentiate these new churches based on their new practices, beliefs and profiles. César (2000) presents a detailed relationship describing seventy-nine churches originating from the three waves of the Pentecostal movement. IBGE data from 2010[2] show Pentecostal/Neopentecostal evangelicals within the Brazilian religious scene as being the second largest group in the country.

Therefore, the relevance of this movement to Brazilian Christianity is demonstrated. However, a study is needed to ascertain the veracity of neopentecostal beliefs.

2.1 MAIN NEO-PENTECOSTAL CHURCHES

2.1.1 UNIVERSAL CHURCH OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The first URHI was erected in an old funeral home, in The Abolition, city of Rio de Janeiro, and the first service was held on 07/09/1977, as reported on its official website[3]. César (2000) adds that Edir Macedo became the Church of Nova Vida, in Botafogo, also a city of Rio de Janeiro, and, for undisclosed reasons, some time later left this church with his brother-in-law Romildo Ribeiro Soares, known r. R. Soares, founding both the IURD.

2.1.2 INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF GOD’S GRACE

César (2000) reports that due to theological differences shortly after the foundation of the IURD, R. R. Soares separated from Macedo and founded the IIGD, on June 9th, one thousand nine hundred and eighty. The official website of IIGD [4] informs that R. R. Soares was the first to speak of Christ in prime time on Brazilian television from the Show da Fé program.

2.1.3 WORLD CHURCH OF THE POWER OF GOD

The history of the founding of the World Church of the Power of God (IMPD) is described on its official website [5] and says that after receiving a great release during an accident in Mozambique, Africa, with the ship that left him for hours on the high seas , Valdomiro Santiago returned to Brazil and founded the IMPD on March 3rd, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight. The church is concerned with showing Jesus Christ as alive and present, and therefore declares that supernatural signs will follow those who believe (as described in Mark 16:17, 18).

2.1.4 APOSTOLIC CHURCH FULLNESS OF THE THRONE OF GOD

As reported by Revista Ancora [6], Agenor Duque had a significant time at IURD and IMPD, being one of its main pastors. After leaving these denominations in September 2006, Duque inaugurated the Apostolic Church Plenitude of the Throne of God (IAPTD), which, in less than ten years, already had considerable space in the national religious scene from radio and TV programs.

2.1.5 OTHER CHURCHES

The current Apostles Estevam and bishop Sonia Hernandes, as they left the church in which they were part, as reported on the official website of the Reborn In [7]Christ Church, began to hold services in their apartment in 1985. In a short time, with the increase of participants, they used some halls, until in March 12, 1988 and their officially inaugurated the Renascer em Cristo Church on Avenida Lins de Vasconcelos, São Paulo. Reborn emphasizes material prosperity in Christian life and the ministry of praise. The official website of the Sara Nossa Terra Church[8] describes that in 1992 the couple Robson and Maria Lúcia Rodovalho began work through cells. In 1994 they inaugurated the Sara Nossa Terra Church in the Southwest Sector of Brasilia. Currently the church has broadcaster and relays of TV, radio, publishing and gospel record label. In addition, dozens of other churches and evangelical communities with neopentecostal and lower expression aspects were born between 1980 and 2000.

2.2 MAIN NEO-PENTECOSTAL PRACTICES

The practices and beliefs adopted by this movement differentiate and define the third Pentecostal wave of the other. USP magazine (2005), discussing this topic, highlights as main characteristics adopted by the neopentecostal movement the attempt to abandon religious asceticism, the valorization of pragmatism, the theology of prosperity, the work of mass proselytism, the theology of spiritual battle focusing on Afro-Brazilian religions and spiritism etc. The XI National Symposium of the Brazilian Association of History of Religions[9] highlighted the Theology of Prosperity and the Theology of Spiritual Battle as the two main doctrines that represent Brazilian neopentecostalism, both of which are developed by movements born abroad. This study will turn to the most controversial issues related to prosperity in christian life, presenting practical examples and the essence of the thought of early Christians as due rebuttal.

2.2.1 PROSPERITY THEOLOGY

The theology of prosperity presents, to the Christian, biblical principles for a prosperous third-country life in every way, that is, in material and financial, spiritual and psychological terms, involving his health and his emotions etc. Keneth Erwin Hagin led this doctrinal movement in the United States in the seventies of the last century. Gondim (1993) reiterates that Hagin would have converted after going through the abandonment of his father, clinical problems of the mother and also due to a poor health since childhood. Then, by the age of sixteen, he would have experienced some spiritual experiences outside the body, such as visits to heaven and hell that drove him through conversion and Bible study. The focus is on the reflections of Mark 11:23 and 24 (“for i truly say unto you, if anyone says to this mountain: Arise and cast yourself into the sea, and do not doubt in his heart, but believe that he will do what he says, so it shall be with him. Therefore, I say unto you, that whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received, and it shall be so with you”).

Hagin discovers the secret that provided his healing and the great emphasis of his ministry: “believe in your heart, decrete with your mouth, and it will be yours.” In this sense, Mariano’s study (1996) also describes Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, T. L. Osborn, Charles Capps, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, Paul Crouch and Fred Price as the main propagators of prosperity theology. In Brazil, prosperity theology was adopted as a rule by the leadership of neopentecostal churches and by many Pentecostal churches, this being one of the great motivational strategies of attracting the public to their meetings and also becoming one of the most relevant parts in the liturgy of their services. In order to present the theology of prosperity more systematically, it will be defined from two topics corresponding to positive confession, determinism or power of the word and the materialization of faith.

2.2.1.1 POSITIVE CONFESSION (THE POWER OF THE WORD)

It represents the teaching that the spoken word (from the Greek rhema) should be put into practice through faith. Araújo (2007, pp. 616 and 617), says that “faith is a confession”, so “what I confess, I possess”, or even that confession “creates realities with the words spoken by the mouth”. Determinism or daring to exercise the power that is in a declared word is one of the greatest characteristics of the neopentecostal movement. Thus, it is worth noting that:

  • “You are the one who determines your victory: I determined that if I were embraced by the man of God, I would be healed,” says a testimony on the official IMPD[10] website, where the story of an Angolan lady is told that by faith she would come to Brazil and receive a hug from the apostle Valdomiro would be healed.
  • “I will prove to him that greater than his unbelief is my faith,” said the Apostle Agenor Duque[11] during a campaign called “Miracle of Manasseas”, where the memory of an alcohol-addicted man would have been erased and this freed from addiction.

The official website of the IIGD[12] motivates the faithful to practice the doctrine of determination, that is, blessings should not be asked of God, but claimed.

2.2.1.2 MATERIALIZATION OF FAITH

Another essential practice in the neopentecostal environment is the encouragement of the “materialization” of faith, that is, the faithful are encouraged to place their expectations in miraculous campaigns, anointed objects, powerful fasts, etc. As for the miraculous campaigns, IIGD reports the following testimony on its official website[13]:

In 2006, my daughter was having a college grade problem. Whenever I prayed for her, the verse came to my mind: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his Righteousness .”. One night, after praying, I turned on the TV on the Show da Fé program. That verse was on the screen, and the Missionary said, “My sister, is your daughter in trouble? What are you waiting for to sign you up as a sponsor?” I immediately enrolled her, and she succeeded in being approved, for the glory of God. I love Jesus.

The IURD, on its official[14] website, recounts the testimony of the success of a faithful who participated in the “Holy Bonfire of Israel”, deciding to stipulate the salary that her husband would receive from the equivalent amount deposited on the altar of the church, being blessed shortly thereafter with exactly the amount suggested. In 2009 Pastor Silas Malafaia hosted Pastor Morris Cerullo in Rio de Janeiro for special participation in his television show, Vitória em Cristo[15]. At the time, Pastor Cerullo presented a bold challenge to the faithful claiming that God would change the history of business and social positions of those who made a considerable donation of R$ 911.00.

Regarding the use of objects as an aid in materializing the faith, the IIGD[16] reports that one of its faithful had received a cure for cigarette addiction after placing a glass of water on top of the TV and receiving prayers. As for the practice of fasting, IURD[17] has the habit of calling the faithful to the “Fasting from impossible causes”, held every Saturday. He states that it is only through a fast focused on impossible situations that the solution will arise.

2.3 BIBLICAL REBUTTAL

Every religious theory must be grounded in foundations that are sufficient for the approval of its rites and practices. In the case of Christianity, the holy Bible corresponds to the highest authority that supports its convictions and practices of faith. The Apostle Paul declares that: “[…] faith comes by preaching, and preaching, by the word of Christ.” (BIBLE, Romans, 10:17). And yet: “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reprimand, for correction, for education in righteousness.” (BIBLE, 2 Timothy, 3:16). Then God gave man Sacred Scripture as a source for the revelation of his will. Gonzalez (2004, p. 27) states that: “[…] the Word of God (which is truth) is able to confront the church with a demand for absolute obedience […]”.

Therefore, every doctrinal principle developed throughout the history of the church necessarily had to be founded on the Bible, which is the greatest expression of God’s will for man. Once it is clarified that all Christian theology needs to find support in the Word of God, we can argue that in the biblical book of the acts of the apostles four practices are presented that contributed significantly to the growth of the early church: “And they persevered in the doctrine of the apostles and in communion, in the breaking of bread and in prayers” (BIBLE, Acts, 2:42, our griffin), and, as a consequence, and, as a consequence : “From the multitude of those who believed was a heart and soul. No one considered his own solely or one of the things he possessed; but all was common to them” (BIBLE, Acts, 4:32, our griffin).

Thus, the following reflections fit: from the perspective of the church of the first century, what method is used so that there were no needs among the brothers? And in the neo-Pentecostal contemporary context, since there are rich and poor in the churches, how are these extreme social inequalities combated? Who should be the true person responsible for the provision of financial blessings among the people who believed, God, or the church itself? These simple reflections, when viewed from the glasses of the early church, undoubtedly lead us to the inevitable conclusion that the “Prosperity Theology” applied to the context of the first century of the church would represent the use of faith necessarily for the benefit of others, unlike what we perceive in the present moment of the church in which the use of faith restricts, exclusively , to the search for one’s own satisfaction.

The faith revealed by the Holy Spirit in the scriptures is not the expectation of what I want God to do for me, but in the conviction of what God has to accomplish in me and especially through me. It means understanding and loving the good, pleasant and perfect will of Christ. The Bible (1993, Hebrews, 11:24 to 26) declares that by faith Moses, understanding God’s will, preferred to be mistreated with his people than to be part of Pharaoh’s family, refusing to possess the riches of Egypt and enjoy the transitory pleasures of sin. The Apostle Paul brings prompt comfort: “For I am sure that the sufferings of the present time cannot be compared with the glory to be revealed in us” (BIBLE, Romans, 8:18, our griffin).

As demonstrated, the truth described by the history of the church in the biblical book of the acts of the apostles clarifies that the great campaigns carried out by the early church were not aimed at individual enrichment from the claim of particular blessings, but the collective sharing provided by a relational faith and a created heart. From this perspective, it is a great nonsense due to the financial difference between the great religious leaders and their salaried members, because, increasingly, luxurious temples are built at the expense of many members who own miserable homes of which pastors, bishops and apostles enjoy carrões, private jets and yachts at the expense of many members of precarious public transport hostages.

However, the great paradox in prosperity theology lies between positive confession and the need to deliver offerings or “sacrifices” in favor of obtaining blessings, for this generally awaits finances or any kind of materialization of faith, and thus it should be highlighted that it manifests itself from determinism or the power of the spoken word. If so, what should be the correct method for obtaining blessings: determining with your lips or buying with offers? In fact, neither extreme corresponds to the biblical teaching, as the reflections point out. The Bible (1993, Acts, 4:10) records that Peter filled with the Holy Spirit, when asked how he had performed the healing of a paralyzed man from birth, declares that it was through the power that is in the name of Jesus Christ.

At another point, the Bible (1993, Acts, 8:13 to 20) records an episode in which Simon had been baptized shortly after he embraced the Christian faith. And when he realized that by the imposition of the apostles’ hands the gifts of the Holy Ghost were given to those who believed, Simon offers money as a means of obtaining that same authority. Then Peter warns him by declaring that trying to obtain God’s gift through money would serve only for his own perdition. Thus, these two examples clearly reveal that the theological thought of the first disciples, referring to the miracle of physical healing, was not conditioned on the exclusive determination of human desire, but to the will and power that is in the name of Jesus, likewise, the authority to obtain divine gifts did not rest on a price that could be measured by money , but on the exclusive concession of the Holy Spirit according to its multiform grace.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

The Bible contains all theological foundation and practical support for the defense of the Christian faith. It is a fact that the validation of the beliefs and practices of prosperity theology are supported only in isolated spiritual experiences, not persisting when confronted with biblical truths and practices common to the New Testament church. Considering the comparations presented between the early and neopentecostal churches, through the issues that define the theme of biblical prosperity, the logical conclusion is that while one church mobilizes in collections, donations and shares and takes the power that is in the name of Jesus to perform miracles for the sake of its neighbor, the other has a distinct posture , more focused on possessions.

It is articulated from campaigns, purposes and sacrifices of interest and attempts to enjoy a selfish determinism that would be able to crave only its own benefit. Absolutely, Christian life should not be represented simply through a superficial relationship with God on the basis of exchanges, in which generous “sacrifices” are “sacrificed” to the Church in order to miraculously obtain material goods, or also from motivations directed to an insatiable search for the pleasures of this world, whose happiness is measured by all these victories achieved. True life in Christ reveals that the Evangelical faith enables the reach of what God wants to do in the Christian and not simply what the Christian wants God to do for him.

REFERENCES

ARAÚJO, I. Dicionário do movimento pentecostal. Rio de Janeiro: CPAD, 2007.

BÍBLIA. A Bíblia Sagrada: Antigo e Novo Testamento. Tradução em português por João Ferreira de Almeida. Edição revista e atualizada no Brasil. 2º ed. São Paulo: Sociedade Bíblia do Brasil, 1993.

CÉSAR, E. M. L. História da evangelização do Brasil: dos jesuítas aos neopentecostais. Viçosa: Ultimato, 2000.

GONDIM, R. O evangelho da Nova Era: uma análise e refutação bíblica da chamada Teologia da Prosperidade. São Paulo: Abba Press, 1993.

GONZALEZ, J. L. Uma história do pensamento cristão. São Paulo: Cultura Cristã, 2004.

MARIANO, R. Os neopentecostais e a teologia da prosperidade. Novos Estudos, v. 44, n. 44, p. 24-44, 1996.

SILVA, V. G. da. Neopentecostalismo e religiões afro-brasileiras: Significados do ataque aos símbolos da herança religiosa africana no Brasil contemporâneo. Mana, v. 13, n. 1, p. 207-236, 2007.

APPENDIX – FOOTNOTE REFERENCES

2. IBGE. Available at: https://censo2010.ibge.gov.br/apps/atlas/pdf/Pag_203_Religi%C3% A3o_Evang _miss% C3% A3o_Evang_pentecostal_Evang_nao% 20determinada_Diversidade% 20cul-tural.pdf. Accessed on: 06 jun. 2019.

3. Universal. Available at: https://www.universal.org/a-universal/. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

4. Ongrace. Available at: http://ongrace.com/portal/?historia=r-r-soares. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

5. Universal. Available at: https://www.universal.org/a-universal/. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

6. Anchor. Available at: http://www.revistaancora.com.br/revista_11/06%20%20%20Silva% 20e% 20Quitério.pdf. Accessed on: 06 jun. 2019.

7. Reborn. Available at: https://www.renasceremcristo.com.br/renascer/#.XPf_jRZKjIU. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

8. Sara our Earth. Available at: https://saranossaterra.com.br/historia-da-sara/. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

9. ROSES. Available at: http://www.abhr.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/art_ ROSAS_neopentecostalismo.pdf. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

10. IMPD. Available at: https://www.impd.org.br/milagres/2843. Accessed on: 11 jun. 2019.

11. IIGD. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDwbHIBDJBg&t=45s. Accessed on: 11 jun. 2019.

12. Ongrace. Available at: http://ongrace.com/portal/?historia=a-igreja-da-graca. Accessed on: 05 jun. 2019.

13. Ongrace. Available at: http://ongrace.com/portal/?testemunho=aprovacao-na-facul dade. Accessed on: 11 jun. 2019.

14. Universal. Available at: https://www.igrejauniversal.pt/determinei-o-valor-do-meu-proprio-salario/. Accessed on: 10 jun. 2019.

15. Gospel Prime. Available at: https://www.gospelprime.com.br/pastor-silas-malafaia-res ponde-as-criticas-that-received-on-the-offer-of-r911 /. Accessed on: 10 jun. 2019.

16. Ongrace. Available at: http://ongrace.com/portal/?testemunho=deixei-de-fumar. Accessed on: 10 jun. 2019.

17. Universal. Available at: https://www.universal.org/agenda/. Accessed on: 10 jun. 2019.

[1] Graduated in Engineering with emphasis in electronics (CEFET-RJ); Interconfessional theological seminary (Uninter); Postgraduate in Chaplaincy (Faveni); Postgraduate in History of Religions (Faveni).

Posted: September, 2019.

Approved: June, 2020.

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