Shawn Bateman, Misionary to Argentina
October 24, 2017
“Evangelicalism in Latin America”
“Evangelicalism in Latin America”
Recently I read an article written by a Catholic priest about the explosive growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America. Here are a few statistics to show what is going on in Latin America. One Catholic report says that conversions from Catholicism to Protestantism in Latin America during the 20th century actually surpassed the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century. The number of Protestants in Latin America went from 50,000 to 64 million. In 1930 Protestants made up 1% of the population; now it is over 15%.
The two largest Catholic countries in Latin America, Mexico and Brazil, have seen drastic drops in their Catholic populations.
Why? The article cited a few things. First of all is a pastoral failure on the part of the Catholic Church. The article cited that there is one priest for every 1,300 Catholics in the United States and only 1 for every 7,000 in Latin America.
Secondly, the people feel unattached and are looking for a deeper experience. I can attest to this, having had two good friends, both former Catholics, who, upon asking their priest about the Bible, were told not to read it because they wouldn’t understand it. They desired to know God, and know more about the Bible, but all they were getting was a sermon once a week. What happened? They started watching TBN and reading their Bible on a daily basis. They left the Catholic church after realizing that we are saved only through grace. Another reason the article gave was that Protestantism in Latin America is homegrown. 60% of priests in Peru are from other countries, but the vast majority of evangelical pastors and workers in Latin America are natives.
All of this has not gone unnoticed by the Vatican. I for one do not think it was coincidence that the new Pope is the first Latin American Pope ever to be elected. The largest Catholic Population is found in Latin America, and I believe that electing Pope Francis was an effort to retain in the fold as many sheep as possible. I was recently in a city that the Pope had visited a year or two back. When we visited the cathedral I was surprised at how many people were there praying in the middle of the day. Elderly and young were there together praying. I have visited many cathedrals here in Latin America but I had never seen this. When we asked about this city the people responded that when the Pope had visited it produced a revival among the people. The Catholic church is struggling to maintain its grip on Latin America and this is one of the methods being used.
One thing not addressed in the article was the power and influence of media. With advances in radio and television in the last century, evangelicalism has been able to go into homes and areas that previously it couldn’t. TV especially has brought Pentecostal evangelicalism to Latin America. Of all the evangelicals in Latin America pentecostals make up between 75-90%. Now with the internet even more people are being exposed to evangelicalism, and they are also able to carry out extensive research on doctrines, beliefs, and history.
Brining it Home :
I think there are two very valuable lessons here for Baptists as we go forward into this century.
1. We can not overlook the importance of media.
Baptists did a great job of using radio when it first came out. As a result we fortified and expanded our ministries in the United States. However, we did a horrible job with television. When television came out, our movement ranted and raved about it’s wickedness and vileness, very few thought of it as a tool to use to propagate the gospel, and no one had the vision that Paul Crouch had at Trinity Broadcasting Network. We can not ignore media. The Reformation was brought about by the media of its day, the printing press. We have to look for our own figurative printing press now in this century and take advantage of every outlet possible to propagate the Gospel and good doctrine.
The article mentioned two things about men and the ministry. First was the deplorable ratio of priests to members in the churches of Latin America (1 for every 7,000). Second it mentioned that Evangelicalism was a home-grown movement, with ministers being natives. Also the article noted that if evangelicalism does not do a good job raising up workers, the evangelical churches of Latin America will one day struggle with this very same issue. We must raise up leaders in our churches, and more men to go out with the Gospel into the unreached areas.
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