We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty. -G.K. Chesterton
Communion courtesy of freefoto.com
Yesterday, we left our missionary couple entering Guatemala in 1992. Here is what Kristine had to say. “Shortly after we arrived in Guatemala, my tidy paradigm of “true Christianity” began to disintegrate.”
The Americanization of Christianity
They hoped to find a church with a distinct Latin American flavor. Instead they found transplanted, American-Christian styled churches, the only difference being that Spanish was spoken. The music, the curriculum, the governing style were clones of the American church. She said it was like “watching the Dukes of Hazard dubbed into Spanish.”
Evangelicalism has been present in Guatemala for over 100 years. Supposedly there are Latin American, national pastors. However, she claims that American missionaries are the bosses, holding the real power in the churches.
Years ago, I worked for the Navajo Tribe as a home health coordinator (or should I say hogan health coordinator?). Under the Indian Self-Determination Act, the Tribe was, over time, to assume the functions and duties of various aspects of government from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a federal agency. They decided to do so in the area of home health care. This meant that the US government employees would lose their jobs and be replaced by Navajos. I was stunned at the recalcitrance on the part of the government employees. They fought the Tribe at every turn under the guise that the Tribe was not ready to give the vital care they believed necessary. Yet the federal employees would insist that they were not prejudiced and that they wanted to “train” the Navajos. The problem was that they had been training the Navajos for a very long time, with no end in sight.
One would imagine that the Americans in charge of the churches in this region would claim that they want the nationals to take the burden of leadership. Isn’t that what every mission group teaches? But in keeping with everything we have seen in many American churches, control is a very hard thing to set aside.
The Rich/Poor Divide and the Problem of Segregation
Although this fits under the previous category of American Christianity, I felt it deserved its own category. Basically, the rich people went to rich churches; the poor people went to the poor churches. One church, which had equal numbers of both, still allowed a subtle form of segregation. The rich people sat down front and the poor sat in the balcony.
She said a visiting missionary once told her that they targeted the wealthy and middle classes in large urban areas when starting churches. His rational was that the rich would not want to worship in poor areas but the poor would be happy to worship in the rich areas! Apparently rich people do not wish to be associated with a poor man’s religion.
I have seen this attitude alive and well in churches in the Unites States. Various denominations and families of churches target wealthy suburbs to start churches, presumably for the potential income that such a church would generate. Of course, it would be couched in the nicest of terms. “If we get rich people to come to church, just think of what we could do with all the money we would get. We could start soup kitchens and ministries to the poor.” It somehow doesn’t seem to end up that way in many instances. Instead it becomes a glorified “bless me ” club.
I remember when I was a member of Ed Young Jr.’s church, which was called the, Fellowship of Las Colinas when it was several years old and had between 1,000-2,000 members. It was located, as you can imagine, near a wealthy enclave. Virtually no money was given to missions from this church because, as Ed was wont to say, that church was a mission. Yeah, right. They really needed the upscale coffee and fancy rental digs.
In Guatemala, there was separation due to income levels as well as racial/ethnic groups. Apparently, in Guatemala there were two main ethnic groups. Ladinos who were European of Spanish descent and rich. Then there were the Indians who, for the most part, were of Mayan descent and poor. So the division went far deeper than money.
There is a saying that Sunday is the most segregated time in America. Few churches achieve racial integration of any significance. In fact, the ones that do are often found in the less desirable areas of town. It seems as if we imported this “value” to Latin America.
Kristine says “ When the Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals and others well meaning missionaries came to Guatemala, they brought with them all their doctrinal spats that American churches split over. Guatemalan churches, like their American counterparts, are constantly in a state of strife and doctrinal turmoil, splitting into new churches. New denominations spring up in Guatemala at a breath-taking rate. Pastors found new churches, taking large portions of their former congregation with them.”
The author struggled over Paul’s concept of “one body, one faith, one baptism.” She began to realize that it hasn’t been around for a long, long time. She remarked that, at one point of time, the Catholic Church was at the center of the villages, drawing people together in a cohesive fashion. Unfortunately, unity went out the door with the coming of the various denominational missionaries. Yet, Christians are supposed to be unified. What has gone wrong?
“Each (church group) was promoting its particular brand of evangelicalism: Church of Christ, Presbyterian, non-denominational, Assemblies of God, Mennonite Bretheren, and Baptists of every conceivable stripe were all there, scratching around for converts and reminding their flocks that all other groups were strong (especially, of course, the Catholics).”
At one point, my husband and I were considering joining an Anglican church. During the new members class, I was suddenly struck by something the pastor said. This church was planning on “planting” another Anglican church nearby, in an area where there were many evangelical churches. I asked why, since the area had so many churches already. He seemed surprised, saying something about the fact that there were no Anglican churches in that area.
This bothered me. I remembered when Charles Swindoll decided to start a church in Frisco, Texas. There were a number of excellent churches in the general area at the time. Well, he had the big name and many Christians love the big names. So, there were thousands present when the doors to his church opened. But, they were not new converts. They were simply folks from other churches in the area. This move devastated a Bible church in the area and many churches lost members because of the celebrity draw. What in the world was accomplished? To this day, I have friends say they are attending “Swindoll’s church.” Swindoll? How about Jesus’ church? But I am not sure Jesus has anything to do with all of this.
Biblical Interpretation-my way or the highway (to hell)
This issue figures into interchurch acrimony. The author was taught how to carefully interpret Scripture. She had been reading and memorizing Scripture since she was a small child. She was taught the Bible was to be taken literally, especially when it came to creation and End Times. She had extensively used lexicons and concordances and had taken courses on the Bible, having attended Biola. As she put it, “Most educated evangelicals are confidant with their theology and I was no exception. For example, if I met a pastor who taught that infant baptism was acceptable, I knew he was wrong and I could prove it from Scripture.”
She spoke of Pentecostal preachers who cast out demons and non-Pentecostal preachers preaching against speaking in tongues which they warned was a sure sign of the devil. Preachers taught a variety of non-negotiable beliefs: health and wealth Gospel, an American style of democracy, infant baptism, believer’s baptism, and various versions of creation and End Time scenarios amongst many others. She recounts the following story “A Methodist missionary on one side of the mountain made a deal with the Pentecostal missionary on the other side saying, “ I won’t tell your people they need to baptize their babies if you won’t tell mine they need to speak in tongues.”
She says that the Protestant system of individual Scriptural interpretation is “functional agnosticism” in regards to the meaning of Scripture. So many proclaim that “The Bible says” and go on to offering various conflicting opinions while knowing, for sure, that their version is right. She said many of their friends would advise new converts to find a Bible believing church where Scripture is taught accurately. But what did that really mean? Charismatics meant a church that emphasized churches that had overt expressions of spiritual gifts. Bible church types meant a church with heavy emphasis on exegetical preaching and personal Bible study. So, which of these churches is the “most Bible believing?”
I used to be a member of a Baptist church, which threw teens and adults out of Sunday school classes if they questioned Young Earth creationism. I found out because a few of them ended up in our Sunday school class. When questioned, the pastors claimed that they absolutely knew that their interpretation was correct and that no other thinking would be allowed. Needless to say, my tenure at said church was considerably shortened.
The Problem of Illiteracy and Sola Scriptura
Guatemala has a literacy rate of only 50%. The author began to wrestle with the following question. “If a person’s knowledge of truth depends to a great measure upon his ability to read and understand and use Scripture, and if that person’s growth in Christ depends upon his being able to do the same, what about the illiterate?” She makes the point that illiterate people have always depended on their knowledge of the faith, not on the Bible, but on the Church and its teachers.
I find this both a profound and challenging thought. I know that many would say that we must teach people to read. But, even now, as well as through time immemorial, vast numbers of people are illiterate and have depended on the church for correct elucidation of it’s teachings. But, what teachings? These teachings are as varied as the number of preachers, evangelists and teachers. She says, “ In place of the ‘One Faith,’ I saw, in Guatemala, hundreds of ‘faiths,’ hundreds of competing preachers.” So which “sola scripture” were these illiterate people being taught?
They chose Catholicism
As these questions began to consume them, they embarked on a study of the early church fathers. She notes, “I noticed that the early church did not follow the Protestant concept of going by the Bible alone.” Instead “the early church showed the Scripture and Sacred Tradition, promulgated by the church’s teaching magisterium, was the model of authority for the early Christians.”
And so, seeking to unify their faith, they left the mission field and became Roman Catholics. Their families were none too pleased, thinking they had succumbed to the pressures of the mission field or had rejected the faith and walked into the “jaws of Satan.”
A commenter on our blog, Watcher alerted me to the following blog “Called to Communion- Reformation Meets Rome” which can be found at this link.
This is a site for those who are leaving Protestantism for Catholicism, many who are struggling with the same issues that this author elucidates. There is even an article that should strike fear into the hearts of true Calvinists everywhere entitled “How John Calvin made me a Catholic.”
As evangelicals we must wrestle with the questions that this article raises. There have been an increasing number of Protestants who have become Catholic or Orthodox in the past decade. I, for one, have been challenged by Kristine’s forthright confessions of her problems with evangelicalism and have to admit that I have many more questions now than before I read this challenging article.
Lydia’s Corner: Leviticus 6:1-7:27 Mark 3:7-30 Psalm 37:1-11 Proverbs 10:3-4