Tag Archives: Brazil

The Gospel Under the Southern Cross (4)

Imagine your typical Canadian city.  Imagine in the middle of the city, in the downtown core, a room filled with Reformed books.  Imagine that this place features free lectures every week on Reformed theology.  Imagine that people actually come and show a lively interest.  And these people that come are not all Reformed — many of them have some kind of other background.  Is it fair to say that all you can do in Canada is imagine such a scenario?

But here in Recife, this is reality.  A glorious, God-graced, reality.  There is a hunger here for solid biblical teaching.  Not only in Recife, but elsewhere too.  My colleague Ken Wieske told me yesterday, “God has opened millions of doors for us down here.”  They just don’t have the manpower to meet the demand.  New people and churches from all over Brazil are asking our missionaries to come and teach them the Reformed faith.  But they’re already stretched to the limits.

What is the need of the hour here?  More preachers.  More missionaries.  This is why the work of the John Calvin Institute is so crucially important to the future of the Christian faith in Brazil.  This is the training center, the seminary for the Reformed Churches of Brazil (IRB).  Yesterday the Synod of the IRB took two more men “under care” as seminarians.  God willing, these men will become ministers for the churches and serve the advance of the gospel here.  But can Canada (the Canadian Reformed Churches) do more?  That’s the question that’s on my heart.  The times are remarkable.  Opportunities are open here that would blow your mind if they were in our own country.  Brazil is an emerging force on the world stage.  If we can seize these opportunities now, we could serve the advance of the gospel, not only in Brazil, but also in South America, and around the world.  Surely we can do more.

The John Calvin Institute (Instituto João Calvino)

The Gospel Under the Southern Cross (3)

Street scene in downtown Recife.

Yesterday morning my colleague Ken Wieske and I got together and spent several hours reviewing my Power Point slides.  I’d translated them into Portuguese using Google Translate, but this is still an imperfect technology, so we needed the eyes of someone who actually knows the language.  We tweaked about half of the slides for the first course.

In the afternoon we headed to downtown Recife.  Ken had a dentist appointment, so he dropped me off at a nearby shopping mall.  It’s interesting to see what shopping malls tell you about a culture.  This area of Recife was rather upscale and this mall reflected that.  On each floor was a little McDonalds outlet that served only ice cream products.  Across the street was  the Brazilian equivalent of Wal-Mart, Hiper.  I walked over there and checked that out as well.  Grocery stores in other cultures will tell you a lot too.  I learned that Brazilians (in this area at least) have a thing for salted, smoked/cured meats and fish.

But the definite highlight of the day was the Reformed Reading Room.  This is a place in downtown Recife where people can come and buy good solid Reformed literature.  They can also regularly hear free guest lectures on different theological topics.  Last night I began my series of lectures introducing the subject of apologetics.

The room was packed.  I’m guessing there were at least thirty people there, mostly on the younger side of the age scale.  I’m told that not many of them are Reformed Christians.  I lectured and Ken translated.  It seemed to be well-received, but the material is quite “heavy,” so it will be interesting to see how many come back this evening.

The Reformed Reading Room is doing important work here for the cause of the gospel.  Many are being drawn to local Reformed churches through this avenue.  Did you know that you can support it quite easily and with some spiritual profit for yourself and others in your life?  You can purchase my colleague Peter Holtvlüwer’s book on the first chapters of Genesis, FoundationsYou can find information on it here.  You could also purchase We Believe, a compilation of the Reformed creeds and confessions designed for outreach purposes.  With both books, all proceeds go to support this valuable work being done here for the glory of God.

Front area at the Reformed Reading Room. The RRR is located in a busy area of downtown Recife. Just down the street is the central train station.

Lots of good Reformed books!

Some of those attending last night's lecture.

The Gospel Under the Southern Cross (2)

With the office bearers in Vera Cruz.

So I arrived safely in Brazil on Saturday afternoon, as planned.  The flight(s) down had some hiccups.  A huge thunderstorm blew through Newark on Friday night and my flight for Sao Paulo ended up leaving two hours later.  But there was still plenty of time to make my connection for the flight to Recife.  One thing that impressed me during the flights over here is the size of Brazil.  The flight from Sao Paulo to Recife took three hours.  That’s about the distance from Hamilton to Saskatoon.  Brazil is HUGE.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach at a couple of the local Reformed congregations in the Recife area.  In the morning I was at the congregation nearest the seminary, Vera Cruz.  In the evening, we went across town to the congregation in Dois Unidos.  Let me share my impressions of my experiences worshipping with the brothers and sisters here.

The worship services in these congregations were simple, reverent, and Reformed.  The language was Portuguese, but the structure and elements of the worship services would be familiar to any Canadian Reformed believer.  This was the order of worship in the morning:

Call to Worship

Votum (Psalm 124:8 recited by the congregation)


Responsive Song

The Law of God

Responsive Song (Psalm 130)


Reading of Scripture



Prayer of Application

Responsive Song

Offertory (during which Psalm 117 was sung)

Congregational Prayer


Benediction (followed by three-fold Amen in song)

As you can readily see, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.  Most of the singing involved psalms set to Genevan tunes (yes, Brazilians can sing Genevan tunes too – and very well!), and there was no musical accompaniment.

All this has confirmed what I’ve written in my book, For the Cause of the Son of God:

Missionary liturgics (ethnoliturgics) is another area which remains undeveloped in Reformed missiology.  The Belgic Confession draws this to our attention by saying that “the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in it at length.”  This is a brief statement of the regulative principle of worship which appears again later in the Confession (article 32) and also in the other Reformed confessions. The regulative principle states that we may not worship God in any other way than he has commanded in his Word – that means the Word is not only sufficient for our salvation, but also for our worship.  In its maintenance of this principle, the Belgic Confession also speaks to the question of the shape and character of worship on the mission field.  When the gospel comes into another culture and God gathers his people from that culture, what should their worship look like?  Should it look like the worship of the missionaries?  Or should it take on the pre-Christian worship of the receptor culture in any way, shape, or form?  These are difficult questions to answer and the Belgic Confession provides an answer with its statement of the regulative principle. 

The Confession states that God’s Word lays out the “whole manner of worship.”  Context is necessary for interpretation.  In the Reformed churches, a classical distinction exists between the elements and circumstances of worship.  Elements are the divinely ordained parts of the worship service such as preaching, prayer, and singing.  Elements are supracultural and, in principle, should be the same from culture to culture.  A Reformed church in Brazil should have the same elements as a Reformed church in the Congo or in Canada.  Circumstances are culturally determined and can vary from church to church, even within a given culture.  Circumstances include things such as the architecture of a building, the furniture within, the times of the worship services, the music used to accompany the singing and so on.  Circumstances are determined with wisdom informed by Scripture, and there is considerable freedom in this area.  Recognizing this distinction helps to answer many questions in missionary liturgics.

Not only are the elements the same in Brazil as in Canada, but also the structure.  Why?  Because the covenant of grace is the same — it transcends cultures.  Biblical worship is always about a covenantal dialogue between God and his people.  If that dialogue is not there, it’s simply not biblical worship.

The evening service at Dois Unidos was much the same as the morning service at Vera Cruz, except that it was along the lines of our afternoon service.

I loved being able to worship with my Brazilian brothers and sisters.  These are small congregations – I don’t think there were more than 30 people at either place.  But they are holding out the gospel witness to the communities in which they’ve been placed by our Father’s providential hand.  He is using them to draw more out of the darkness and into his light and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Socializing after worship in Vera Cruz.

The Gospel Under the Southern Cross (1)

Tomorrow a long time dream of mine begins to come true.  When I was a kid, one of the things I found really cool about my Opa Bredenhof was that he had written a book.  The little book was about his 1977 visit to Brazil.  This was in connection with his work as the secretary of Mission Aid Brazil.  In connection with that, Opa would also often send me stamps from Brazil (he knew that I was a stamp collector).  I remember receiving large yellow envelopes covered in stamps.  Inflation was crazy in Brazil back then and so mail from Brazil to Canada would require outrageous numbers of stamps.  Especially because of my grandfather and his great love for the Reformed mission work there, I’ve also been deeply interested in the progress of the gospel “under the Southern Cross.”

Tomorrow morning I’ll be setting off for two weeks in Brazil.  This is technically part of my summer vacation time.  I’ll be using it to visit the mission work in Brazil and do some teaching.  I’ll be teaching a couple of courses in apologetics at Instituto João Calvino and the Reformed Reading Room in Recife.  I also hope to have the opportunity to preach in some of the churches, including the church at São José which my grandfather visited long ago.  I’m really curious to see if any of the people he mentioned in his book are still there.

Anyway, I will be posting regularly here on my blog about my time there.  I won’t be writing a book, but hopefully this series of blog posts will help you get a sense of the great work still being done by our Saviour in north-eastern Brazil.

And, by the way, Opa’s book has a lot of pictures.  In one of them, you’ll find one of Maranatha’s current missionaries, Rev. Julius Van Spronsen.  He was already there back then — the son of the former missionary, Rev. C. Van Spronsen.  Lots of connections between the past and the present!