In her article How the prosperity gospel is sparking a major change in the world’s most Catholic country, Sarah Pulliam Bailey records the changes taking place in Brazil, where Catholicism still reigns but is scheduled to hit minority status within thirteen years. The main force behind the change is the rise of Pentecostalism, with major cities in Brazil being marked by extravagant and gigantic buildings, home to preachers who promise health and wealth to all those generous with God.
While Brazil isn’t the only place in the world being molded simultaneously by Catholicism and Pentecostalism, it does present a unique snapshot of both the ongoing worldwide influence of Christianity and the ongoing need for Reformation. Despite one Pentecostal leader’s assertion that he is carrying the mantle of Martin Luther, Bailey’s piece hints at the irony in Brazil: both competing sides continue to promote the very errors the Protestant Reformation fought.
Is there any substantial difference between the selling of indulgences (currently experiencing a revival itself) and the call from Pentecostal pastors to gain God’s blessings through generous giving?
Is there any substantial difference between lowering the authority of God’s Word to be equal to that of the Roman Church and her leader and the overwrought influence held by so many Pentecostal pastors, many claiming Divine inspiration and authority?
Which is all to say that as we celebrate and appreciate the Reformation’s influence and success, we should be honest to recognize that success is limited and much remains to be done. At least in America, the Protestant church has largely abandoned Biblical beliefs and orthodox theology. With 77% of Americans believing that personal effort is a vital contribution to salvation and 52% believing good deeds earn a spot in heaven, where has the Reformation’s legacy gone?
Many of the readers of this blog are a lot like me. You grew up in a reformed church or at least have been in one for a while. Your circle of Christian friends isn’t huge and mostly limited to people who agree with you. Within those bubbles, we can be tempted to think the need for reformation is passed or is waning. And we look at the resurgence of reformed theology among the younger generations with great encouragement. But even that resurgence is, statistically speaking, a small drop in a very large bucket. So unless we are ready to relegate our spiritual heritage to the scrap bin, we should admit the work of reformation is far from over.
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s theses sparking the Reformation, perhaps the most reformed thing we could do would be to give ourselves to prayer. So much of the world still lives in darkness. And among those who claim faith in Jesus, so many still live within the bondage of a moralistic, works-based theology. The need for light-after-darkness hasn’t gone away.