Brazil - (South America)

Information about Brazil

8547404 square kilometres
Roman Catholic (nominal) 75% , Protestants 10% and other
Christian (%)
Protestant (%)
Reformed (%)

Portuguese navigators discovered Brazil in 1500. The colonization which followed focused upon establishing a metropolitan center to the detriment of the indigenous population, which exceeded four million at the time of discovery. As a result, the indigenous population was dramatically reduced until today it numbers 250,000. At the same time the traffic in slaves from Africa, which stretched over more than 300 years, brought in the black cultural element, which is of utmost importance for anyone who wishes to understand the Brazilian soul in depth.
The churches of the Ref tradition in Brazil form a contingent of approximately 1.5 million persons in over 3,000 congr; they represent more than 20 distinct denominations. All claim for themselves the Calvinist tradition but constitute separate bodies, not only for historical reasons but also for reasons of ethnic origin, theology and doctrine, and ecclesiastical polity. Some of these factors have caused deep divisions, turning the churches into distant sisters.
Nevertheless, it must also be recognized that the churches of the Ref tradition have played an important role in Brazilian Protestantism. The first attempts at planting Reformation churches on Brazilian soil were of Calvinist inspiration. The initial effort was part of the French project to establish an economic and political “bridgehead” in the New World, “Antarctic France,” in 1551, with the added motive of enabling the French government to resolve a social problem by finding a haven for the Huguenots, who were being persecuted for religious reasons. On the orders of John Calvin himself, pastors were incorporated into the project of the Frenchcommander, Villegaignon. On March 10, 1557, the first Protestant worship service was held in Brazil, a Ref worship service with a Genevan liturgy. Misunderstandings between Villegaignon (a Catholic Templar) and the pastors, however, caused the former to turn against the Calvinists in his group. They were persecuted; some of them were even tortured and killed. The French were expelled by the Portuguese in 1566.
A second Calvinist incursion took place between the years 1624 and 1654, through the initiative of an association of Dutch citizens of Ref confession who sought to settle in Brazil for economic purposes. Churches were established, and attempts were made to evangelize indigenous people and black slaves. As in the previous case, the Dutch were driven out by the Portuguese with the support of the natives in the land. Thus nothing remained of the Ref church’s activities, except for the impression that invaders were always Prot and that Protestantism was therefore an enemy of Brazil.
It was not until the 19th century that the Ref tradition interacted anew with Brazilian society. The new contact took place in the context of the transformations which the Brazilian monarchy began to introduce in 1822, especially with regard to religious liberty and tolerance, fruits of the liberal spirit of the times. In 1855 Robert Kalley, a Scotsman and medical doctor of the Presbyterian tradition, arrived in Rio de Janeiro. In 1858 the first Protestant Church of missionary inspiration, the Igreja Evangélica Fluminense, was founded. This church became the beachhead of the Congreg movement in Brazil, which culminated in the organization of a denomination in 1913. Another Congreg group was later organized in the south of the country in 1920. The latter group was originally united with the Iglesias Evangélicas Congregacionales de Argentina and was made up of German immigrants and their descendants.
In 1859 Ashbel Green Simonton, the first missionary sent by the Presb church in the United States, arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Young and dynamic, Simonton founded the first Brazilian Presbyterian Church in the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1863. He organized a seminary and founded a Prot newspaper. In the beginning, Simonton received aid and assistance from the Rev. R. Kalley. Later, the Presbyterian presence in Brazil was strengthened by a number of missionaries from both the Northern and the Southern Presb churches and, by the end of the 19th century, the Presbyterian Church was the strongest Prot denomination in the country, although Meth, Angl, Bapt, and Free churches were already present. The growth of Presbyterianism was attributed to preaching in the countryside, which contrasted biblical texts with the practices of the Catholic Church to foster strong opposition to Catholicism. Further, the growth of Presbyterianism and Brazilian Protestantism generally paralleled the advance of liberal political ideas.
The final years of the 19th century were years of tension between Brazilian Presbyterian leaders and the missionary establishment. There was a desire for autonomy from the North American mother churches. The unity of the Brazilian independence movement, however, was undermined by the “Masonic question,” with some Brazilians insisting on the incompatibility of the profession of Christian faith and membership in a Masonic Lodge. In 1903 a group of Brazilian pastors and elders, led by the Rev. Eduardo Carlos Pereira, organized the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil under the banners of nationalism, autonomy, and anti-Masonry. It was the first significant division within Brazilian Presbyterianism, which had yet to complete its first 50 years.
A second division, which took place within the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil and which came to be known as the “doctrinal question,” gave rise to a third Presbyterian denomination in Brazil: The Conservative Presbyterian Church. Led by the Rev. Bento Ferraz, several pastors and elders maintained a rigid theological stance from 1938 to 1940.
Dissident movements of a Pentecostal nature were a source of tensions in both the Presbyterian Church and the Independent Presbyterian Church. These Pentecostal segments united in 1975 to form the Renewed Presbyterian Church.
There were three more Presbyterian denominations to come out of dissident movements: (1) The United Presbyterian Church of Brazil, which was born in 1978 under the name of the National Federation of Presbyterian Churches. The United Presbyterian Church was organized by a group of churches and pastoral leaders who were discontent with the internal policies of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. They called for more freedom of thought and of expression for their theological ideas. (2) The Fundamentalist Presbyterian Church, which was established under the leadership of a very conservative Presbyterian group in the northern region of Brazil in 1956. (3) The Traditional Presbyterian Church of Brazil, which began its activities in 1993 in the central region of Brazil.
In addition to the churches so far mentioned, there are a large number of ethnic churches, consisting of immigrants and their descendants. In this category the following churches should be mentioned: The Central Armenian Evangelical Church of São Paulo (1927), The Christian Reformed Church of Brazil (Hungarian, 1932), The Reformed Evangelical Churches in Brazil (Dutch, 1933), The Arabic Evangelical Church of São Paulo (1954), The Swiss Evangelical Church (1958), The Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Bahia (Japanese, 1960), The Central Presbyterian Church of Formosa in Brazil (Taiwanese, 1962), The Korean United Presbyterian Church of São Paulo (1964), The Evangelical Church of São Paulo (Japanese, 1967), The Korean Presbyterian Church of Brazil (1969), The Antioch Presbyterian Church (Korean, 1984), The Reformed Church of Brasolandia (Dutch 1991), The Reformed Church of Brazil (1994), and The Reformed Church of Colombo (1905).
There are encouraging signs on the Ref horizon in Brazil, in terms of efforts to strengthen the bonds within the Calvinist family. Since 1989 the Independent Presbyterian Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, along with the ethnic Ref churches, have been in dialogue, holding meetings, tightening bonds of friendship, and preparing to take bolder steps such as the setting up of joint projects. Recently in Campinas, in the State of São Paulo (August, 1995), almost all branches of the Ref tradition in Brazil, except for those of a fundamentalist or Pentecostal type, participated in a consultation sponsored by the Latin American Association of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches (AIPRAL), which has contributed significantly to this growing spirit of cooperation and unity. The prospect for Brazilians of the Ref tradition in the next century is for the acceleration of the process of unity and of cooperation.




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