- South America
- Most of South America had become dominantly Roman Catholic by the time Protestants began to develop their missionary programs. The exceptions were Guyana and Surinam, which were under British and Dutch control, respectively.As with most of the rest of the world, the Moravians took the lead in missionary activity. The Reformed Church of the Netherlands had established a presence in Surinam in the 17th century, but its primary aim was to serve the Dutch settlers. The Moravians arrived in both Guyana and Surinam in 1738 (before the Dutch turned Guyana over to the British) with the idea of evangelizing the native population. They later extended their work to include the Maroons, former slaves who had escaped to the interior. As these two countries developed, a spectrum of Protestant groups arrived from England and Holland, and they emerged as Protestant enclaves.The struggle to transform the South American lands from colonies to independent countries was accompanied by a level of anticlericalism and anti-Catholicism, since the Catholic Church tended to favor maintaining the colonial structures. This context provided a small opening for Protestant missionary efforts. The first to take advantage was James Thomson (1788-1854), an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Arriving in Argentina in 1818, he traveled through a number of countries over the next eight years distributing Bibles and Protestant literature and founding Bible societies to continue the work when he moved on. Thomson was also a founder of schools. As an agent for the Lancastrian Educational Society, he established more than 100 schools that used the society's unique system of older students assisting younger ones. Unfortunately, as Thomson's work became better known, the Catholic clergy organized to destroy much of it. However, colporteurs, men like Thomson who carried Bibles and religious literature to be either sold or given away, were widely used in Latin America for several generations.A next phase of Protestant life began with the immigration of non-Iberian Europeans, who brought their churches with them, including the Methodist (England), Waldensian (Italy), Lutheran (Germany and Scandinavia), Presbyterian (Scotland), Mennonite (Holland, Germany, Russia), and Baptist (Germany, France) churches.Some immigrant communities were quite large, such as the German Lutherans in Brazil, who numbered in the tens of thousands. They usually formed ghettolike communities, and most of their proselytizing was among their own ethnic group. For example, in 1824, representatives of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland began work among English-speaking expatriates in Buenos Aires.outreach to the general population began in 1834 by American Methodists in Buenos Aires; the work spread four years later to Montevideo, Uruguay. Congregationalist David Trumbull (1819-89), a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, began work in Chile in 1845. With his first converts, English-speaking expatriates, he formed an interdenominational Union Chapel in Valparaiso. During his lengthy ministry, he opened work in other cities and assisted other missionaries to get started. In the end, he turned his work over to the Presbyterian Church.In the 1850s, American Presbyterians launched work in Colombia (1856) and Brazil (1859). In Colombia, where they were for many years the only Protestant group, they became well known for the many schools and hospitals they founded and supported, though they were unable to translate their good works and good reputation into a substantial church membership. Three American Presbyterians arrived in Sào Paulo in 1859 and founded the Presbyterian Church in Brazil, which would over the next generation grow into a substantial body. From these beachheads, Protestantism grew, spread into the interior countries, and diversified. For example, as early as 1856, Methodists began to travel up the Platte River to Paraguay, though it took some time for permanent work to be established.The coast of what was then Bolivia became the site of one of the most interesting and important Protestant missionary endeavors. William Taylor, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, had developed a set of self-supporting churches in India. Opposition to his methods drove him from his work, but he decided to spread his ideas to South America and arrived there in 1877. As the autonomous, self-supported churches were founded, he both recruited ministers from America and trained locals for leadership. In 1884, he was elected a BISHOP by the Methodist Episcopal Church and sent to Africa, but his efforts had far-reaching results in Chile.Three major trends characterized South American Protestantism in the 20th century. First, the older churches continued to grow, though they sometimes split. Second, new churches would be added as additional North American and European churches began missionary work. One groundbreaking effort began in Ecuador in 1931 with the founding of HCJB ("Heralding Christ Jesus' Blessings"), the first Christian radio station outside the United States, by Clarence Jones and Reuben Larson, under the instigation of pioneer American radio preacher R. R. Brown (1885-1964). The station quickly developed programming in Quechua, an indigenous language of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. As local churches sprang up without benefit of missionaries, the station received calls for assistance. As of the beginning of the 21st century, HCJB has grown into a significant operation offering programming in 40 languages from its 20 transmitters.The third great trend has been the advent of Pentecostalism, which experienced phenomenal growth, especially in the last half of the century. Among the first to accept the Pentecostal message in South America was Willis C. Hoover (1856-1936), a Methodist minister with Holiness leanings, originally recruited by William Taylor. Hoover first heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1909, while he was pastoring the Methodist Church in Valparaiso. Soon his whole congregation accepted the new message and passed it to other Methodist churches. Expelled from the Methodist Church in 1911, Hoover and his followers reorganized as the Methodist Pentecostal Church, which become the parent of the Evangelical Pentecostal Church, the Pentecostal Church of Chile, and the Pentecostal Mission Church. Together the four churches have more than a million members.Brazil has seen even greater Pentecostal growth. The movement arrived in 1910 from Chicago. Today the Assemblies of God has become the largest non-Catholic group in Brazil, claiming a constituency of more than 14 million members. It is followed by the indigenous Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (with 4 million members) and several other churches with more than a million. it appears that many others who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit have chosen to remain within their old churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church. The largest non-Catholic church in Colombia is the United Pentecostal Church of Colombia, a non-Trinitarian "Jesus Only" body.South Americans from the older ecumenical Protestant groups helped originate liberation theology. Liberation theologians rejected what they saw as elitist European dominance in church life and thought, and claimed to identify with the largely poor membership of both Protestant and Catholic churches. The movement became a significant motivating force behind social action programs. It has also been exported to every continent and became a model for indigenous theologies as distinctive as black theology (in the United States) and Minjung theology (in KOREA).As the 21st century begins, Protestantism claims the allegiance of some 20 percent of the population of South America, though religious boundaries remain fluid, as many believers maintain duel membership in Catholic and Protestant churches. The composition of the Protestant community varies greatly between countries. Liberal Protestantism is, for example, almost unrepresented in Ecuador, none of whose local churches is affiliated with the World Council of CHURCHES. In contrast, six such churches may be found in ARGENTINA, and five in Brazil; they cooperate with the Latin American Council of Churches, which ironically is headquartered in Quito, Ecuador.Conservative Evangelical churches are served by the Latin American Evangelical Fellowship headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela, and affiliated with the WoRLD EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE.In addition, several 19th-century American sectarian groups have done relatively well in South America; the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the few bodies present in every south American country, and have together won millions of supporters.See also Ecuador; Falkland Islands.Further reading:■ Gerald H. Anderson, Robert T. Cotte, Norman A. Horner, and James M. Phillips, eds., Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1998)■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 21st Century Edition (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster, 2001)■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971)■ J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, eds., Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002)■ A. Scott Moreau, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.