The birth pains of the Protestant church in Roman Catholic Mexico came shortly after a time of great political upheaval the 25 years of turmoil and bloodshed that followed Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821. By 1848, Mexico had lost half her territory to the USA.
Little is recorded of Protestant missionary work in Mexico prior to the 1850s, when John Butler of the British and Foreign Bible Society came to the Mexico City area to sell and distribute Bibles from door to door and teach his converts to do the same.
These efforts sparked mob riots incited by local Roman Catholic priests, resulting in injury and death for some of the new converts.
Later in the same decade, Anglican/Episcopal missionaries came to Mexico City, while various denominational groups from the USA (Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists and Mennonites) began missionary work in the northern region of Mexico.
This occurred particularly after 1857, when the State granted constitutional religious freedom and rights.
However, the new attitude towards religious liberty was not shared by most of the populace. So the following years brought further opposition and persecution, and even martyrdom, to evangelical missionaries in Mexico.
Independent of (and prior to) these fledgling missionary efforts in the north, God was working in the hearts of several Roman Catholic priests in Mexico City.
They came to know the saving power of the gospel through private reading and studying of the Scriptures, and began to meet together for worship in homes.
Three influential men that God used to raise up Protestant churches in southern Mexico and who later joined forces with missionary workers in the north were Ignacio Arellano, Manual Aguas, and Augustín Palacios.
Palacios was involved in the establishment of the first Protestant church in Mexico in the early 1860s.
The impact of early Protestantism in Mexico is seen in the life of Benito Juarez, a full-blooded, indigenous Mexican and former monk, who took political power in 1855 and accomplished constitutional religious reforms in 1857, opening the door to domestic and foreign Protestant missionary groups.
He himself attended worship services at the first Protestant church in Mexico City, established not long after he took power.
The 1870s were a time of consolidating political reforms under the rule of Juarez. Thus in the following 35-year rule of Porfirio Diaz, significant Protestant growth was realised, even though Diaz was not openly supportive of the new Protestant movement.
In 1895, Dwight L. Moody came to Mexico to hold mass-meeting campaigns. By 1901, the Presbyterian National Church, the largest Protestant body in Mexico, registered 73 churches, 190 preaching points with congregations, 5,508 active members, and 46 national ministers.
Other groups were gaining a significant foothold too, including Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Christian Reformed, and Episcopalians.
There are records of a Baptist missionary from Spurgeon’s Tabernacle who laboured during this period in Tabasco, where there is to this day a strong Baptist influence.
With the end of Diaz’ rule in 1911, the next 12 years of revolution and civil war were the bloodiest in Mexican history.
Nearly a quarter of the population died, and political revolution became a pretext for slaughtering non-Catholics.
Although suffering great losses, the true church survived under extremely difficult circumstances, until later governments and political reforms provided greater legal protection.
By the early 1950s Mexico’s population was 98% Roman Catholic and a second wave of missionary effort began, largely emanating from churches in the USA.
Liberalism in the mainline Protestant churches in the USA during the early 1900s had adversely affected the Reformed churches of Mexico, although God mercifully saved some of these from apostasy.
Most of the new American missionaries were Independent and Convention Baptists. There were also Pentecostals, Presbyterians (largely Presbyterian Church of America), as well as the cults and sects. The Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses now have their largest congregations in the world in Mexico City.
These various groups, particularly the Pentecostals, saw tremendous growth in the 1960s and 1970s. Numerous independent Charismatic groups sprang up, many of whom had no desire for church or denominational affiliation.
The religious environment in Mexico today is dominated by Pentecostal and Charismatic influence. Even some Roman Catholic churches have become Charismatic to stem the loss of devotees.
Numerous Convention Baptist churches, as well as other more recently established Presbyterian churches, have adopted Charismatic doctrine and practice.
The Charismatic ‘gospel’ is an adulteration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It usually causes hearers to place their confidence for salvation in ‘walking an aisle’ in order to ‘pray a prayer’ or in ‘receiving the Spirit’ by the laying on of hands; or in the self-effort of living the Christian life.
Sadly, the scandalous private lives and relationships of some Charismatics reveal that their conversion was simply a change of religion rather than true regeneration.
Many professing believers in Mexico evidence little spiritual power in their personal lives, unless it is defined by a claim to speak in tongues or cast out demons.
Although weak, there is still a Reformed influence in Mexico among National Presbyterians, Christian Reformed Church (Independent), and some Baptists and Independents of varying backgrounds.
The percentage of true converts in such church groups is undoubtedly higher, though there is still much ignorance of God’s Word among both pastors and people, due to a lack of sound teaching and Christian literature.
The greatest need of the Evangelical church is truly Spirit-filled, biblically sound teaching and preaching, and sound literature.
Much needs to be done in the areas of pastoral training, Reformed literature, Christian periodicals and radio programming, as well as evangelism and church planting, by those who know the power and truth of God.
Nearly 20% of the population in Mexico today is non-Roman Catholic – a figure that includes Evangelicals of all stripes, as well as cults and even atheists.
But, in spite of the labours of the past 50 years by Evangelicals, Mexico is still a country ‘more papist than the pope’.
The Reformed Baptist movement in Mexico is a recent arrival within the last 20 years. It is represented by individuals and independent churches who, as yet, show little co-operation among themselves.
Two Reformed Baptist missionaries labour in Mexico City – myself and another pastor, who has been instrumental in influencing other pastors and churches towards sound doctrine.
In the past 20 years, other Reformed Baptist and sovereign grace churches have been established in Hermosillo, Cuauhtemoc, Irapuato, Torreón, Oaxaca, Matamoros, Querétaro, Puebla, Morelia, Colima, Nuevo Leon, and Mérida, through the efforts of missionaries and national pastors.
The first yearly conference of pastors and churches holding to The 1689 London Baptist Confession (as well as other interested churches) took place in October 2002 in Chihuahua. It was attended by 19 people, representing 7 pastors and churches in Mexico.
Presently, plans are afoot to build on this foundation and provide Reformed literature resources, pastoral training for pastors and churches, and an annual Reformed conference.
We want to encourage co-ordinated efforts in evangelism and reformation. Some are already taking place successfully through individual pastors and churches, but it is our desire to see more done together by those who hold to our ‘like precious faith’.
Reformed Spanish literature
Our own particular efforts as missionaries centre on church planting, and publishing Reformed Spanish literature through the newly-formed, non-profit publishing house Publicaciones Faro de Gracia (Beacon of Grace Publications).
In the last five years we have published 21 book titles in Spanish and distributed over 500 other titles in Mexico. This year we are labouring to establish a church library program of 45-50 titles for pastors and churches in the Hispanic world.