Spiritism in Brazil – Part Two

Before one can attempt to share the Gospel with people who do not share the same worldview, it is imperative that we first study their worldview in order to understand how they think, and therefore be able to communicate the message of the cross in a way that makes sense to them.  Many times this proves to be a lengthy and arduous process, both the studying and deciphering the intricacies of their worldview, as well as figuring out how to best contextualize the message of the Gospel.

Animism undergirds spiritism.  “Animism is a world view that sees everything in the universe as warring against each other to become the ‘deity’… it refers to the belief that everything in the world, including people, plants, animals, objects and even dreams and ideas, have a soul or spirit.”[1]

Although Brazil is classified as a Roman Catholic country, many Catholics are only nominal Catholics, and “…spiritism is an ideology followed by most Catholics in Brazil.”[2]  John Maust, has called Brazil “the land where spirits thrive.”[3] When the Portuguese arrived in the land, they brought with them Catholicism and began converting (at times by force) many of the indigenous people.  Later, African slaves began to arrive, and with them came their gods and rituals.  Although the feudal lords were Catholics, many of their religious practices involved the worshiping of idols in the image of the Catholic saints, rather than the doctrinal matters and the sacraments of the faith.[4]  These now slave masters, did not allow their slaves to worship their own gods.  The African slaves, in turn, used the names and images of the Catholic relics to represent their own gods, in this manner the feudal lords believed they had converted to Catholicism and would not beat them for practicing their own religion.  Many of the slaves sold in Brazil were from the Yoruba people of West Africa, and they gave their gods (Orixás) the names of the following Catholic saints: Iemanjá (goddess of the sea) became the Virgin Mary; Xangô (god of thunder and lightning) became St. Jerome; Ogun (god of war) became St. George; and Olodum (the chief god) became Jesus; Exú (master of divination) has been associated with Satan[5], others claim he is represented by St. Michael or even St. Anthony of Padua depending on the region.

Since that time, spiritism began to grow rapidly and spread throughout the country and was quickly assimilated throughout the population.  Pluralism and syncretism have played a major role in Brazil, and many who consider themselves devout Catholics, eagerly participate and practice spiritist rituals.

                [1] Debbie Burgett, What is Animism? (New Tribes Missions), http://www.ntm.org/magazine/9560 (accessed 19 May 2010).

                [2] Gailyn Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts (Pasadena: William Carey, 1991), 11.

                [3] John Maust,  “The land where spirits thrive,” in Christianity Today as quoted in Communicating Christ, Gailyn Van Rheenen, 255.

                [4] Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ, 255.

                [5] David Burnett, World of the Spirits, (Oxford: Monarch Books, 2000), 243-244.


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Spiritism in Brazil – Part One

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evilin the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12

As we study missions, and seek to be obedient to the call in Matthew 28:19-20, to go and make disciples of all nations, we must have a biblical foundation, and a clear understanding that it is the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of people and prompts them to salvation.  We must also understand, and believe what Ephesians 6:12 teaches about spiritual forces of evil; forces which are powerful and reign in this current darkened world in which we live.  Only the power of almighty God can defeat the powers of Satan.

In the Western world, we tend to dismiss the spiritual forces mentioned in Ephesians 6:12, and other scriptural passages.  We often think of spirit activity as superstition and that the forces mentioned in Scripture have ceased to exist.  Paul Hiebert refers to this Western neglect as the “excluded middle.” In his article “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” he explains that contemporary westerners have a two tier view of reality: a Supernatural Realm (Angels, Demons and God – perceived by miracles and visions, people act by faith), and a Natural Realm (Man, Science, the world – perceived by sight and experience, people act by knowledge), completely leaving out the Spiritual realm.[1]  However, such activity and powers are very much a reality in the world today (as it has always been since Satan’s decent) and they are worshiped by many people throughout the world.  The practice of worshiping, offering sacrifices, and consulting such powers is called animism.  Gailyn Van Rheenen defines animism as: “the belief that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs and that humans, consequently, must discover what beings and forces are impacting them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power.”[2]

Animism is practiced around the world.  Different people groups will have different animistic practices which are referred to as Folk Religions.  Since animism is such a broad topic, for the purpose of these posts I will focus on the animistic beliefs and practices of Spiritism in Brazil.  I will also explore strategies on how to share the gospel with such animistic people with the goal of planting integral churches among them.

                [1] Paul G. Hiebert, “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle” [Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994)], 5.

                [2] Gailyn Van Rheenen, “Defining an Animistic Worldview,” (presented at the symposium “Distinctively Christian, Distinctly Mongolian” in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, March 11, 2003) http://www.missiology.org/mongolianlectures/animisticworldview.htm (accessed May 8, 2011).

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Interview with Living Bread’s Founder & President

Amazing interview with Patrick Hubbard, founder and president of Living Bread Ministries.  In this interview he describes not only the mission of LBM, but our biblical mandate to care for one another.  It is through a holistic church planting strategy that Living Bread is helping to reach the needy for the Kingdom.  I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn a little bit about Living Bread Ministries and mine and Pat’s heart for reaching the poor in Latin America.

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A Living Sacrifice – Part Two

The idea of living sacrificially leads us to verse 2, where Paul addresses our tendency to conform to the world, to follow that which our culture says we should do, have, and be.  Paul reminds us that we do not belong to the world and commands us to not be conformed but to be transformed and made new.  To not “conform” means to “not be like” or “copy,” it means to rebel against our culture.  Again we see a direct command by Paul urging believers to be different from non believers, not to fall into the temptations of the world.  Paul calls all believers to be transformed/changed.  This verb too, calls for an action, a command to action.  It is translated from the Greek word (metamorphousthe) that means metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out.  The Bible teaches us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, [already] has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph.1:3).  We must stop seeking fulfillment and wisdom in worldly knowledge, instead focus on the gift of the Holy Spirit and use our minds and our hearts to draw closer to God and further from the world.  The more we do that, the clearer God’s Word becomes, allowing us to discern His good and perfect will for our lives.

Romans 12:1-2, Paul addresses our need to turn from the world and to honor and obey God for all the things He has done for us.  He pleads with the believers to live sacrificially as Christ did in a manner of true worship of the Father.  The transformed life is a life denying self, taking up our cross and following Christ which is the exact opposite of the life conformed to the world.  A transformed life is a constant work; it is an ongoing process where we never really arrive, but are always working towards the goal.  Our sinful nature does not allow us to stay transformed, so it is something that we must do daily.  Live for daily transformation so that we can be intentional in living for Christ.

It is my prayer that we will understand Paul’s plea and that this plea will awaken in all of us a desire to live sacrificial lives, where we put the will of God in first place; with the needs of others and the need to further the Kingdom of Christ in the forefront of our minds.  It is my prayer that we will all seek to live transformed lives, lives of self denial in true worship of God.

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A Living Sacrifice – Part One

A couple of months a go, I was studying about our identity in Christ.  As I was studying, I came across a sermon John Piper preached in 1994 on Christian identity.  In this sermon, Piper spoke of our identity as our relation to God.  That God pities us, He possesses us, and He set us apart to proclaim who He is.  The meaning of our identity is that He is seen in us.  Piper says that being a Christian and making the greatness of God known are almost two identical things.[1]

As I thought about this statement, I could not help but think about how I live my life, how all Christians live their lives.  If our identity is to make His identity known, am I doing that?  Are we doing that?  Are we living lives that mirror who He is?  In light of having been made so that we can make Him known, we’ll look into Romans 12:1-2.  These verses teach us how to live lives that are pleasing to Him.  Paul teaches us here how to live lives that glorify Him and make Him known.

Romans 12:1-2

1I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In chapters 12-15, Paul addresses Christian living in specific.  Chapter 12 begins with a plea to all believers, that we live lives that are devoted to God.  The “therefore” in verse 1 refers to all that came before this passage.  In the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul had been teaching on what God has given us.  In chapter 12 Paul focuses on what believers are supposed to give God.  We spend our lives trying to soak in all that God has to give us; we read books, we go to church and conferences seeking that ultimate experience.   None of these things are in and of themselves bad, we should read, go to church and attend conferences seeking to learn and grow, but we forget that He has already given us everything!  He sent His son to die for us so that we may live in Him, through Him and for Him.  It is our turn to give back!  We give back by living for Him, living sacrificially, fighting against the status quo to not become a carnal Christian.  I want us to leave here today figuring out the changes we must make in our lives so that we can stand out as followers of Jesus and make Him known.  I don’t want to be a model citizen a well l adjusted member of our culture.  I want to live a life that reflects the hands and feet of Christ.  I want us to leave here today, fighting against the norm and being transformed by the grace and love of God.

Verse 1 opens with an urging by Paul to the Church in Rome to live their lives in service to God.  The word “urge” is also translated as appeal, beg, or plea in different translations.  It is a verb in the present tense that is calling for an action, an action that is ongoing, never ending.  Such action is that Christians are to present themselves as a living sacrifice.  “To present” is translated earlier in chapter 6:13 as, referring to the technical term for presenting the Levitical victims and offering; where the offerer placed the offering so as to face the Most Holy Place, bringing it before the Lord.[2]  We are to sacrifice our flesh, our own wants and desires in obedience to the Lord, this is true worship, it is sacrificial worship.

In practice, what does this really mean?  Recently I’ve been hearing of different people challenging one another to live on $10.00/day or to give up driving for a few days to get out of their comfort zones and sacrifice a little.  But is this really living sacrificially?  True sacrifice is not give up your car or your comforts for a few days; it’s not giving up soda and coffee for a week or so.  Living sacrificially is giving up those things that our hearts beat for, what our culture says we must/should have.  It is an ongoing depriving of things our flesh screams for, all for God’s glory.

Jesus lived a sacrificial life; he gave of himself daily to be about the Father’s business.  He didn’t worry about provisions, he trusted in the Father.  He didn’t busy himself with what other’s thought of him, he showed God’s love to all regardless of who they were, where they lived, or what they did for a living.  Mark 12:30-31 calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  How do we do this?  We give up of ourselves to serve others in Jesus’ name, regardless of who they are.  My husband and I have been called to plant churches among the desperately poor in Latin America.  As we minister in the favelas (slums) of Southern Brazil, we have to regularly remind ourselves of how Jesus’ ministered to the lowly.  He did not regard their position in society and ministered accordingly, he treated everyone with the same love and compassion regardless of how they smelled how they were dressed or what they did for a living.  So when we are walking through the shanties we make a point to not just speak to the people in these communities, we stop by their places, we share meals with them and touch them to show them the love of Christ.  You see, being poor is much more than lacking material possessions.  Being poor is a much deeper deficiency.  It’s not belonging, it’s having no self esteem, it is being an outcast of society and culture.  In a collection of interviews called Voices of the Poor done by the World Bank (an organization that seeks to alleviate poverty), one of the many interviewed stated that “For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame.  We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us.  We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.”[3]  So as we are trying to reach these dear people we want them to feel Christ’s love by acknowledging them and making them feel wanted, needed and included.

                [1] John Piper, “Christian Identity and Christian Destiny,” sermon preached April 17, 1994, Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/christian-identity-and-christian-destiny (accessed February 17, 2011).

                [2] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002), Libronix Digital Library System (accessed March 28, 2011).

                [3] As quoted in Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…And Ourselves, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 52.

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Majority World Missions – Part Two

The New Role of the Western Church

Samuel Escobar, in his book The New Global Mission: The Gospel From Everywhere To Everyone, says that “Christian mission in the 21st century has become the responsibility of a global church.” [1] The church, being the body of Christ, carries the responsibility to take the Gospel to all corners of the world.  The Bible does not say that westerners should only support and aid westerners in their efforts, it does say however that as believers, the body of Christ, the church must “make disciples of all nations.”[2] Therefore the global church must come together and support each other’s efforts and give God all the glory.

Many western mission agencies will not “hire” non westerners to serve in the mission field under their organization’s umbrella.  The few that do, tend to retain all of the decision making power.  This is because of the perceived danger of dependency that this type of relationship can create.  John Rowell believes that “the root of the problem may not lie in the evils some associate with biblically legitimate generosity, but in all the strings that we Westerners have been prone to attach to our giving.”[3]

As globalization brings all nations together, westerner believers should see themselves as part of the Global Church as opposed to the “elite” more experienced evangelists.  The western world needs to embrace the changes that are taking place and realize that their new role may now be one of support or aid to the new sending countries and their emerging mission agencies, and no longer the leaders in evangelism and mission.

Unfortunately the western world has allowed pluralism and materialism to seep its way into their beliefs and the west is now declining in their Christian beliefs and instead they are preaching a message of morality.  They have fallen away from the message of the gospel.  In his response to the guidelines raised in 2004 in the Lausanne convention, Howard Brant stated that he “challenged [him]self to get back to the basics that got us here. Faith, prevailing prayer, sacrifice, the word of God, and the gospel preached with faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.”[4]  This is the challenge for the west!  It is time for revival in the west.

In their “Perspectivas” article, Lee and Johnson speak of the need for the western church to take on a learner’s posture: In order for the Northern churches to take part in the new Global Church their theological seminaries need a diversified curriculum which includes history and theology from the non western churches, reversing the presumption that western Christianity has the spiritual and theological resources needed by the rest of the world.[5]


We are witnessing the changing scene of world missions today.  Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians and Africans are in the forefront sending and going to the ends of the Earth proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These missionaries face many difficulties in part because they are from the third world majority.  They lack the training, the financial resources and in many cases the encouragement needed to remain on the field even when things get tough.  Isn’t it time that the affluent Western Christians begin lending a hand and coming alongside these servants on fire for the Lord?  Western agencies and missionaries need to put aside self and focus on the goal; God’s plan, to make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.[6]

Samuel Escobar states it perfectly when explaining his cooperative model of missions, the “churches from rich nations add their material resources to the human resources of the churches in poor nations in order to work in a third area.”[7]  Christians are to encourage one another and together, as the Global Church, fulfill the Great Commission giving all glory and honor to God.

[1]  Escobar Samuel, The New Global Mission: The Gospel From Everywhere to Everyone, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity 2003), 12.

[2]  Matthew 28:19. Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Wheaton: Good News, 2001).

[3] John Rowell, To Give or Not To Give?: rethinking dependency, restoring generosity, and redefining sustainability, (Atlanta: Authentic 2006), 18.

[4]  David Ruiz, et. al., The Two Thirds World Church (Lausanne Occasional Papers 44: 2004), 16.

[5] Johnson, Da cristandade, 349.

[6] Holy Bible, Matt.28:19.

[7] Escobar, The New, 67.

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