October 31, 2017

My testimony and thoughts on the Reformation's 500th Anniversary

500 years ago the Reformation happened. We went back to the Scriptures, we realised that "the righteous shall live by faith" (Rm. 1:17), we rethought our relationship with God, we freed ourselves from spiritual bondages, and what else we did? Given the fallen state of our human condition, we did a mess of it, as we always do: divisions, persecutions, torture, conflicts, wars, death. The more I inform myself about Protestant History the more I see we Protestants as being far from perfect. The problem however was not the message, but the receivers of it. I believe that the Reformation happened because God wanted us to become closer to Himself, to rediscover simple yet important biblical truths that glorify Himself and consequently produces deep joy in us. In other words: I believe that the Reformation has happened because of the Mercy of God but also that we are responsible for all the evil things that occurred after it.

All in all I'm truly thankful to God for the Reformation. I'm thankful for the Five Points of the Reformation that make a real difference in my life. In the end, I'm thankful of being a Protestant, but specifically in this last point I could not help myself of thinking today on the Roman Catholic Church, or on how my relationship with it has changed over the years. Even though never being one of them, this institution surely had an influence in my life, sometimes when refuting doctrinal points Roman Catholics hold, sometimes when striving to understand the way they think so that I could better interact with them, but mostly because of how Brazilian Evangelicals saw the Roman Catholic Church, almost always in a very negative way, for social and historical reasons. The way I understand the Roman Catholic Church today is a personal journey of achieving spiritual maturity that has begun, as I see it, with my mother.

My mother was a very serious practicing Roman Catholic, until the day she wasn't anymore: one day she learned that the Holy Scriptures are the inerrant Word of God and that the Church should be subjected to their authority and not the other way around; one day her eyes were opened to the biblical truth that Christ Jesus is the All-Sufficient Saviour and Mediator who had already secured for her the perfection she was trying so hard to achieve by herself; one day she understood that she would be saved only by the Grace of God alone and not through her good deeds: the Mercy of God that changes our hearts for Salvation are in fact the basis of our good works. On that day, she became a Protestant.

Yes, she became a Protestant, but today I understand that she was already a Christian. It's absurd for me to say that she wasn't a serious Christian before her conversion to Protestantism, when in fact she was a more serious Christian than many Evangelicals today, let me tell you that.

Much of my behaviour as an Evangelical in Brazil growing up in the 1980's and 1990's was informed by a triumphalist, dispensationalist, show-business oriented, deep anti-roman catholicism attitude very common in the Brazilian Protestant Church back then and that I still try very hard today, as a 38 years old man, to get rid of. This anti-roman catholicism thankfully didn't get to the point of violence in the streets, but it did reach a disgusting boiling point in 1995 that was bad enough for both sides.

In a nutshell, we Brazilian Evangelicals generally believed that all Roman Catholics were likewise all nominal Christians who didn't read the Bible at all and were only interested in some of the rituals in a traditional manner, so that they could have a clean conscience of having fulfilled some duties with the Church and be free to do whatever they wanted again. A "nominal Evangelical" was something totally impossible for us back then: it was a phenomenon that obviously occurred only in the Roman Catholic Church. We were automatically right, they were automatically wrong. And by the way, they were all idolaters due their reverence to the Saints instead of to Christ alone.

I thank the LORD my God for the life of my mother because she, as a former Roman Catholic, was a counterpoint in my life to all of this. Today I can resist against this way of thinking first of all because of her example. Of course she recognised the flaws in the Roman Catholic Church and never regretted becoming Protestant, but she also recognised flaws in the Evangelical side as well. Maybe today she would even have difficulties in describing herself as an "Evangelical", as I currently do.

I've grown up and learned better. I could see by myself that, well, we Protestants (I do not describe myself as an Evangelical for a long time now) are not so good as we've always thought we were. Nowadays "nominal Brazilian Evangelicals" who don't even read the Bible are a reality. Nowadays Brazilian Evangelicals also have a questionable ethics: they even go to jail and are involved in terrible corruption cases. Even though not so "anti-roman catholic" as before, that triumphalist, show-business oriented characteristic of Brazilian Evangelicals still persist: for many of them God is just a way of getting the material prosperity they truly desire, and because of this, they have assimilated practices totally strange to historical Protestantism and become idolaters themselves, by seeking a god who is not the Real One.

Yes, that's right: the ones accusing the other group of idolatry ended up becoming idolaters themselves. Who would have thought of that?

Today I know that Roman Catholics and Protestants do read the same Bible, do share the same christian moral values and ethics, do believe in the same Triune God, do acknowledge and celebrate the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, do have the same apostolic fundament, and still do have problems on both their sides. Even though not always admitting it, well-informed Protestants (myself included) do read well-informed Roman Catholic authors, learning from them (I surely do), and vice-versa. I believe and agree that there are fundamental points preventing both sides of having full fellowship as Church, as rightfully summarised in the Five Solas of Reformation, but still we are all Christians. There's room for companionship and dialogue, and both sides should strive for it.

Today I still think that their reverence to the Saints, in the way they do it, is a serious sin problem. (And my mother also thought so until the day she died.) However, today I better comprehend that the only way in which either a Protestant or a Roman Catholic can have eternal life with God is through Jesus Christ alone: He is Our Perfection and accomplishes our Salvation even though both Protestants and Roman Catholics die in a way that they are not perfect at all. From my part, I know that I won't be perfect in the day I'll die, and I'll need Christ on that day in the same way a Roman Catholic will need.

No, I do not hate Roman Catholics. On the contrary, I admire many of them and wish the best for them. I truly wish that the Roman Catholic Church would be reformed by going back to the Scriptures, as it happened with that german monk 500 years ago. This is not to say that the Protestant Church has all figured out: actually, we also should go back to the Scriptures, once again, as it happened with that german monk 500 years ago. No, I do not hate Roman Catholics, but I'm not one of them, and never will be: I thank God for the Reformation, which was the starting point of a worldwide movement that has changed the face of the world in the centuries to come, and which God has particularly used to reach the heart of my mother, many years ago.

May 2, 2017

Freedom of expression

From the USCIRF 2017 Annual Report, chapter on Western Europe:

The peaceful public sharing of one’s religious beliefs is both an integral part of religious freedom and protected by freedom of expression. This includes the expression of beliefs that may be offensive to others or controversial in society, such as views on homosexuality, abortion, or other religions. Vague and overbroad laws against “incitement to hatred” that encompass speech that does not rise to the level of incitement of violence pose a risk of jeopardizing protected expression. If used against the peaceful expression of beliefs, these laws can result in violations of the freedoms of speech and religion.

Amen to that.

May 1, 2017

What is religious freedom?

I realize more clearly now that we Brazilians always had the great privilege of enjoying religious freedom, something we usually take as granted without thinking about the systematic persecution and repression suffered by some religious groups in other parts of the world.

Last Wednesday the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent government commission on religious freedom, stated in its annual report that conditions of religious freedom has worsened in the last few years. But what exactly do they (or does anybody else for that matter) mean by "religious freedom"?

According to the USCIRF:

Inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear.  Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly.

Additionally:

What is religious freedom and why is it so pivotal? It is the right of people everywhere to heed the call of conscience in matters of religion and belief, living out its dictates openly, peacefully, and without fear. Religious freedom is a broad and inclusive right that requires protection of the allied rights of expression, association, and assembly. The bedrock premise behind religious freedom is clear: No individual or entity has the right to force others to act against their conscience or prevent them from answering its call in a peaceful manner.

It's worth reading the specific chapters of the latest report on countries such as North KoreaCuba and China, who were unfortunately always known for repression of religion and violations of human rights. However it seems now that the USCIRF also included chapters for Russia and even for Western Europe, who in the last years increased restrictions on religious expression, such as places of worship, dress and visible symbols, and parents’ rights.

It seems in the end that Europe is not that model of respect, pluralism and religious freedom that everyone was expecting it would be.

(I'm looking at you here, Berlin.)

April 16, 2017

Hell on Earth

WIRED has written about it, just as The New Yorker recently did, and (as it seems) it's also a topic of a now-famous book (which I still need to read): Silicon Valley wants to conquer death and give us immortality.

To conquer death: as christians affirm for centuries and celebrate on Easter, this is something that Jesus Christ actually already did.

And based on what He did, I claim that even if Silicon Valley finds a way to conquer death, it will actually not do it. Because death doesn't mean only that our bodies will one day cease to work; that actually happens because of its more fundamental meaning: separation from God.

To be separated from God: as christians also affirm for centuries, this is our main problem, which only God through Jesus Christ can solve.

What would be the basis of this kind of perpetual existence that Silicon Valley wants to offer? There's already a term that describes a continuous, perpetual existence separated from God, in which in an Universe full of joy and perfect freedom coming from Him, we choose to live instead only for ourselves, as if we were the center of our own meaning: we call it Hell.

So one can just wonder which type of Life on Earth Silicon Valley would give to us. From my point of view, what they want to achieve is not enough, and could also be a potential nightmare.