Spiritism in Brazil – Part Four

Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are considered major religions of the world, and are classified as high religions because they ask the cosmic questions of life, have written texts (Bible, Qur’an, Rig Veda), have defined leadership roles, and they provide a set of directions to live by.  In contrast, low religions (i.e. animism) are concerned with the immediate issues of daily life (crises, disease), they have few or no trustworthy texts, and they are informally organized and provide no set of rules, or model to live by.[1]

As previously mentioned, it is crucial that the missionary/Christian worker come to understand the animist’s worldview and what he concerns himself with in order to show them that the message of the Gospel is the only one that can truly, and fully, meet all of their needs; that the true and almighty God is the one who possesses all the power and deserves all the glory.  It is unfortunate that missionaries are so ill equipped to minister and reach those of animistic practices for Christ.  Often missionaries spend years preparing themselves through the study of theology, hermeneutics, homiletics and the like, but fail to also study the people.  They must learn to not only exegete a scriptural text, but they must learn to exegete the host culture.  “The effective communication of the gospel cannot take place, however, without a deep understanding of the language and culture of a people.”[2]

Here, a holistic church model is essential as new believers can experience first hand how God provides for their every need, according to His good and perfect will.  A holistic approach “begins with a theology of cosmic history: of God, the heavens, and eternity,”[3] answering the questions of ultimate origin, purpose, destiny of universe, societies, and individuals.  It also addresses the meaning of life.  Next this approach must also answer the questions of well-being, suffering (sickness, disasters), and provide guidance in times of trouble and injustice.  Finally it needs to address the natural order and its service to humans, the sociocultural orders and their relationships to the natural order.

Although we need to minister to the whole person we cannot leave behind the issues that deal with the world of the invisible, or the “excluded middle,” and we must work hard to seek to understand and accept that it is real.  Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that the powers of evil referred to in Ephesians 6:12, have ceased to exist.  We must also teach that God is the center of everything, that all power belongs to him and not us; we must teach submission, obedience, and worship to the only living God.

Hiebert, Shaw, and Tiénou, also mention the importance of teaching them a theology of the Kingdom of God, a theology of power and the cross, a theology of discernment, a theology of suffering and death, and a theology of the church as a caring community.[4]  A theology of the Kingdom consists of Christ coming to redeem His people and how they too can be a part of those who will be reconciled to God.  The power and the cross will resonate with animists as animism revolves around power.  “God’s use of power is demonstrated supremely on the cross.  There Satan used his full might to destroy Christ, or to provoke him to use his divinity wrongly.”[5]  Had Christ not been able to resist Satan, God’s plan of redemption would not take place and Satan would have overcome him.

A theology of discernment teaches how to distinguish a work as being of God’s or Satan’s: 1. Does it give glory to God? 2. Does it recognize the lordship of Christ? 3. Is it power of the Holy Spirit or an expression of the flesh? 4. Does it conform to scriptural teachings? 5. Are people and leaders accountable to someone? 6. Do those involved manifest the fruits of the spirit? 7. Do the teachings lead towards growth and maturity?  8. Does it lead to unity or division of the body?

Teaching people to deal with the realities of suffering and death in this world is paramount.  There are times when God does choose to heal, others he does not.  It is crucial to teach and explain that by becoming a Christian we are not exempt from suffering, we must understand that the promise of full deliverance is after death.  Finally it is necessary to teach them that the Church is to be a caring community, coming together to learn and grow and sharing each other’s burdens, praying for one another in time of need.

It is important to remember that animists are highly syncretistic people.  It is vital that the missionary/Christian worker work hard to contextualize the message in such a way that it is clear and does not point to self and that the concepts of sin and salvation are understood.  Sin and salvation may be mistakenly understood as simply social acceptance, whereas sin can be seen as a separator form the social community.

As in our own context, we must always point non-believers to the cross.  Van Rheenen states that “the greatest message to the animist is that God has mightily broken into human history in the ministry and death of Christ to break the chains of Satan.”[6]  We must preach the cross and God’s sovereignty and complete surrender to Him.


                [1] Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ. 57-58.

                [2] Paul G. Hiebert, R. Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tiénou, Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to Popular Beliefs and Practices (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 369.

                [3] Ibid, 372.

                [4] Ibid, 373-378.

                [5] Ibid, 374.

                [6] Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ, 303.

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About Bárbara

I am a Christ follower, wife, mother, missionary, and Online Instructor for LU Online teaching Introduction to Missions. My family and I serve at Living Bread Ministries; planting churches among the desperately poor in South America. I have an MA in Intercultural Studies from LBTS. My passion is to see the Lord Jesus worshiped among the poor and needy and to see lives transformed by the power of the Gospel.
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