The word Brazil comes from a tree variety that was very much appreciated by the Portuguese colonizers, Pau-brasil. Its wood is reddish, thus the tree had this name, brasa.
It turned out to be a good name, since the hot climate of our country is characteristic for most of it. Less fortunate is the fire against present truth, the special message God has for his people today. You might suspect we are talking about the traditional/conservative Adventist discourse. We are.
The SDA Church in Brazil is very well-organized; the South American Division knows what it is doing in a professional manner. The 1.4 million-sized church has strong publications, in fact the project of distributing millions of The Great Hope originated in Brazil. Television is strong, as are education and boarding schools. Tithe has skyrocketed since the beginning of the new century. There are many positive things that one could mention about our church in the biggest country of Latin America. But today I would like to highlight the challenges we face, conscious that the first step of improvement is the awareness of our problems.
Regarding our theology, the South-American Division embraced the leaven of Questions on Doctrine, and rejected the warnings given by Andreasen in his final years. The fork in the road of modern Adventism has etched deep reliefs into our theological worldview. Andreasen’s book The Sanctuary Service, in Portuguese, once published, was not reprinted; especially because of its final generation theology, following the American example. As goes Andrews, so goes the Brazilian SDA Church. Sadly. Our highest academics are trained there, they praise this synchrony as ‘loyalty to the SDA headquarters’.
When South-America was colonized by the west, in the 16th century, counter-reformation had its fresh impetus. The early explorers of the country of pau-brasil were accompanied by Jesuit indoctrinators. It is true that since the 1990’s, the Catholic church lost millions of members to the evangelical churches, including Adventist. However, the Catholic mindset is still very prevalent. It lies in contrast to the protestant/Calvinistic way of thinking of North-America. Here, the word of the priest settles the matter. One of the aspects of this Catholic matrix that most hinders the progress of present truth is the issue of authority. It is much more vertical. Adventism in Brazil is inevitably colored by it. Here’s what I mean.
This autocratic control expresses itself in the brute attitude towards last-generation theology and skepticism about lay ministries. Yes, we have a kind of ASI, here called Federacao dos Empreendedores FE (Enterpreneurship Federation). Unfortunately it is pretty elitist, making their annual gatherings in five star hotels and cruisers. Thus they attract wealthy Adventists, that can choose to support initiatives. For instance, I attended the 2012 FE gathering. There, I asked the president of our Division about how he sees lay ministries. He appealed for the institutional way: Together we are strong. Instead of forming a new TV channel, let’s thicken the ranks of Novo Tempo (Hope Channel). Don’t start a youth conference like GYC, join Missão Calebe, a vacations program for adolescents with emphasis on social work. Unity is understood as institutionalism.
Another person present there was a physician from US west coast. He described the South-American unity as superficial and monolithic, and thus fragile. Even more so considering the times we live in, with crescent delusion towards institutions—especially in the internet age.
Differing theology is even a more allergenic for our pastors. In the theological seminary (and I lived for many years at the main one, and also attended a couple of classes there), future pastors are very well vaccinated against the heresies of Andreasen, Priebe, Standish, Bohr, Veith, Gates, Spencer, and the like. These good men are almost more of a target than the wrong doctrines of Babylon. The ammunition against them is nothing less than fire and brimstone.
Doug Batchelor was scheduled to conduct a week of prayer in August of 2014 in the biggest SDA church of Brazil, located at Unasp EC. Believe it or not, but two weeks before it’s beginning, it was cancelled. Some higher individual blocked him because of his theology about the human nature of Christ and victory over sin. For the same reason, Stephen Bohr was asked to interrupt his morning devotionals about the last generation when he was in Uberlandia in August 2016.
Surely we cannot judge the motivations of the persons or committees that take such decisions, they may be zealous to quench heresy at its root. But whatever motivation lies behind such “time to marginalize” attitudes, one thing is sure: they only foster the curiosity of the baffled members. This was made more clear than ever to me after I recorded an audio live from Uberlandia about what has happened in the background about blocking pastor Bohr. And in the first 24 hours it had been listened to over thousand times. As communication of hot issues like this is shifting from public posts in Facebook to closed groups in Whatsapp, the hierarchy definitely lost control over who does what.
You might wonder if the tidal wave of the emerging church has reached our coasts yet. It came through different fronts. One of them was the initiative called Nova Semente. Its aim is to secular/post-modern people in the big cities. One of its main promoters is also a consultant in The One Project. Another front is the academic one; our theological seminary has the subject `spiritual formation’. I asked the supervisor of the theological course about the reason of this controversial subject. He said it was offered due to its relationship to the three main interest groups the seminary has to render account to— an interdenominational alliance that ultimately is overseen by the Geneva Treaty. The other two interest groups are the Division and the government ministry of education. One of the theological students told me they were asked to read a mystical book, but the conscientious teacher did his best to discourage its reading, giving them the book in PDF format. Meanwhile, they seem to have eliminated this book from the reading list.
The third front through which mysticism is flooding our church is through publications. Jon Dybdahl’s book Hunger was translated and published here, although they did remove the heaviest chapters. It was published under the title A Busca.
Inspired by Operation Iceberg at Sacramento Central SDA, a seminar was recorded, exposing its spoiling content at Congresso MV (Voluntary Missionary Convention), which is a biannual gathering of present truth at Sao Paulo. It also unveils the dangers of Nova Semente (new seed). You can watch it here. Some days later, the publishing house announced it would withdraw the book. Praise God for their courageous action.
The chief redactor of the publishing house completed his master degree at Andrews University. When he returned, he published O Brilho da Vida (life’s flare) about spirituality, recommending or at least listing spiritual disciplines, lectio divina is mentioned by its name. It is full of quotes of mystics and thinkers of Babylon. I myself recorded a message exposing its content. After a couple thousand Adventists have watched it, I heard from an Adventist insider that the publishing house is re-editing it. You see, this approach of exposing error publicly, although it has been sharply condemned by many professed present truth people, has its place and does help. We have to watch ourselves to do it in the right spirit, and with tact.
The fourth front where Adventist church is being flooded with emergent waters is through one of the more charismatic speakers of TV Novo Tempo, Fernando Iglesias. He was initiated in a lay-movement MASCC that in a subtle way teaches the principles of lectio divina and a form of centering prayer. This kind of prayer is not based on repetition nor breath exercises, but its dangerous aspects are: you are supposed to talk uninterrupted for twenty minutes. Whatever comes to your mind, speak it, don’t make effort to make an intelligent prayer, utter the very thought that comes to your mind, audibly. You shall not make a request or thanksgiving, just talk as you would talk to a friend, in the same level. Then, in the second half of the training MASCC you are trained how to hear God’s voice. The first step is through the Bible. But to them, the Bible was given due to our unbelief, the direct way of listening to God is more desirable. This training teaches how to listen to God’s extra-biblical voice, through impressions and feelings. Fernando Iglesias taught this concept in a week of prayer at Sao Paulo Campus of Unasp, and thousands of the SDA elite were influenced by it. Congresso MV also conducted a seminar on it, in April of 2016, exposing its flaws, listing one “It is written” after the other. Meanwhile, it has more than ten thousand views, you can watch it here.
Such people that dare to think for their own were disfellowshiped in the days of IEST (Hartland theology) near Rio de Janeiro, but some of them sued the church, so in recent years these practiced have almost ceased. More common is the practice of marginalizing the person and making them resign their offices.
Congresso MV was created after the pattern of GYC in 2013. Other themes it presents include country living, health and music reform, and homeschooling. Teaching your child at home only is not officially permitted Brazil at this stage, but an Adventist couple is right now awaiting their trial at supreme court in Brasilia, and its case will decide for all others. You might pray for them.
In other serminars, Congresso MV summarized the books The Return of the Latter Rain and Wounded in the House of His Friends by Ron Duffield. Also, it has defended the three persons of Godhead because as anti-trinitarianism is contaminating many Adventists.
Back to SDA Church. Social activity is receiving a lot of attention here, as well as seeking the favor of civil authorities and media. It is really a shame that we are so hungry for the world’s approval, as if our heavenly bridegroom is not good enough to deserve our exclusive affections.
My sincere desire is that our beloved SDA church breaks the fallow ground on these issues mentioned above. A deep reformation is needed, at the level of principles of action, not mere superficialities. Considering our history, I know the odds for it are very low. I would like to lay it close to your heart for you to adopt Brazil in your prayer list, now that you know more about its SDA diagnosis.
As I write these lines, the sun is rising behind me over Capitolio, where I moved to a year ago. I bought the piece of land following God’s admonition through Ellen White. Here I can go sleep and rise very early. One of my prayer requests is that I develop no resentment against any person or group that I evaluate as being in error. I always have to distrust my heart, lest any root of bitterness spring up (Hebrews 12:15).
God bless you all.
Daniel Silveira is married and has a 4 years old daughter, he lives in Capitólio MG. He earned his BSc in Switzerland and MBA at AIIAS Phillipines. Currently, he works as director of GYC-like event Congresso MV in Brazil.