Daily Devotional 4-10-14

Church Planting in Sao Paulo

volume 13, number 15, April 10, 2014


. . . appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 

Titus 1:5.


On my recent preaching trip to Rio de Janiero, Sao Paulo, San Carlos, and Ararquara, Brazil, I had the opportunity to preach at the Igreja Presbiteriana de Pinheiros. This church is in the very fashionable and upscale community of Pinheiros in Sau Paulo. Each Monday evening the church has a worship service which attracts four hundred people and is recorded for their Conexao Com na Deus (Connection with God) television program which airs throughout the country. The main preacher for this program is Hernandes Lopes, the “John Piper” of Brazil. While waiting for the service I met and spoke with the Senior Pastor of Pinheiros Presbyterian Church, Reverend Arival Casimiro. Pastor Casimiro has a great vision for his country and the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. Pastor Casimiro showed me a map of the state of Sao Paulo and on it fifty locations for which the Pinheiros church is planning to plant churches. They just planted their first church, supplying the church with a pastor and a building for the congregation. Their intention is to make each of these fifty churches a hub from which more and more churches can be planted. The Pinheiros church is earnest in prayer which fuels their church planting efforts. We had a lengthy time of prayer on our knees during the service. They begin each church plant by bringing around eighty evangelists into the target area to saturate the community with one on one evangelism, street preaching, children’s programs, and mercy ministry initiatives. After establishing a core group they bring in a pastor. The Pinheiros church is in a significant growth mode at present. Since moving into their new building four years ago, the congregation has grown from three hundred and fifty to over one thousand, and they are averaging at least one hundred and sixty new members each year. More significantly, their giving to world missions and church planting efforts is now more than fifty percent of their total giving. In 2004 their total giving (converted to U.S. dollars) was $446,522 and their giving to missions was $157,826. Total giving and the percentage to world missions has grown aggressively each year with total giving in 2013 of $2,008,261 and giving to missions of $1,043,478. That is fifty-two percent of total giving. No wonder God is blessing this church with numerical growth! Pastor Casimiro has an intolerable burden for revival and he is moving his congregation to seek God earnestly for it. They have an annual conference on revival, focusing on prayer and the preaching of the word of God.

The Presbyterian Church of Brazil has a long history of usefulness to Christ and His kingdom. Presbyterian missionary Ashbel Simonton was converted while a student at Princeton during a revival. Later he attended Princeton Theological Seminary and was challenged to world missions by a sermon he heard from Charles Hodge, the great Systematic Theologian of Princeton. He answered the call to world missions and went to Brazil in 1859 (in the midst of a revival that was sweeping across the United States and beyond), and quickly established the first Presbyterian church in the country in Rio de Janiero. He was greatly aided by the conversion of a Roman Catholic priest named Jose Manuel Conceicao whom God used powerfully in preaching evangelism and disciple making. Simonton died from a tropical disease at the age of thirty-seven. By the late 1890’s Presbyterian churches had been established throughout the states of Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo. MacKenzie University in Sao Paulo is the “Harvard” of South America and was established by John MacKenzie in the 1890’s. Fifty thousand dollars to purchase the land and construct the first building was provided by the Presbytery of New York. The school (Kindergarten through High School) has always been a Christian school and they have published a curriculum with a strong Reformed worldview which many schools are using throughout the country of Brazil. The University (with forty-five thousand students) is fifty years old and has never been a Christian university. However, the leadership is slowly bringing the university to a clear Christian position. The Board of Directors recently took a strong, Biblical position on homosexuality and same sex marriage which has brought them a great deal of negative publicity in the country. MacKenzie University also has the Andrew Jumper School of Theology where nine hundred and thirty students are taking courses for Master of Divinity and Doctoral degrees in theology.

The challenges, however, which face the Presbyterian Church of Brazil are what face us as well in the United States. A lethargy, preoccupation with self and family needs, and a failure to apply what we know to the hearts of our people is hindering the expansion of Christ’s church into areas where little gospel presently exists. It appears that many of the Presbyterian churches in Brazil have little zeal or vision for evangelism, church planting, and church revitalization. The tendency toward an intellectual, hyper theological ethos in the Presbyterian Church in Brazil causes many to consider the  Pinheiros Presbyterian Church as simplistic and revivalistic.

It was thrilling for me to preach at the Pinheiros church because the people are hungry for revival. They were very responsive to the word of God. Pastor Casimiro, his staff, and the elders and deacons are earnest in reaching their country with the gospel. They know the Spirit must come down upon them in converting the lost, establishing new churches, and reviving those churches which have stopped growing. I preached from 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “For our gospel did not come in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction.” I explained what each of these terms mean and then said that the bottom line is we must ask for the Spirit’s power. Brazil is extremely secular. There is much corruption in government and business. The homosexual agenda has made itself prominent in the country. A few hundred or thousand conversions here and there will not make a dent in the problems Brazil faces. We know the same is true in America and everywhere else in the western world.

There is always hope in Jesus, and as long as the Lord Jesus has men like Pastor Casimiro with vision, faith, and holy zeal for the planting of churches and the propagation of the true gospel to as many people as possible, then we should not lose heart at what God can and will do. So pray for the Pinheiros Presbyterian Church in Sao Paulo. This is a mighty church attempting mighty things for God. Pray for the Spirit to continue to be poured out upon the preaching of Pastor Arival Casimiro, Hernandes Lopes, and Chun Chung. Pray for the continued generosity of the members of the church to give sacrificially (there is no tax deduction in Brazil for charitable giving) to the work of church planting and missions. And pray also for the other Presbyterian Churches in Sao Paulo and beyond to catch the same vision for church planting, evangelism, revival, and revitalization, that their Reformed doctrine would not remain or become dead orthodoxy. Pray, instead, that the Spirit will revive the Presbyterian Church of Brazil and move them out into the harvest fields which are truly white for the harvest. Brazil is certainly not a developing nation. They have all the technology we have, but with their modernity the same problems of secularization abound. Only the Holy Spirit can pierce the darkness and bring the light of the glory of Christ into the minds and hearts of these beautiful people.