Iam a missionary from the US-based Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and am privileged to be working with members of the St Andrew’s Presbytery in north-eastern Argentina.
My colleagues and I assist this presbytery in church-planting in a town called Gualeguaychú. We are seeking to establish a Reformed Evangelical church, as well as a Bible seminary.
Gualeguaychú has population of about 100,000. Around it are other towns of a similar size, both Argentinian and (across the international bridge) Uruguayan.
Our plan is to plant five churches in the Entre Rios Province and form a presbytery. Our aim is to establish churches with functioning elders and church constitutions, and a love for the Bible and one another.
The gospel finds a different reception in the northern provincial towns compared to the huge city of Buenos Aires.
Outside Buenos Aires the ordinary citizen has less access to commodities, but also less exposure to big-city vices. It is much harder to get robbed in Gualeguaychú, but impossible to buy a Protestant Bible there!
In the nineteenth century, Protestant immigrants settled mainly in northern Argentina, so this area has Lutheran, Congregational and Plymouth Brethren churches, their congregations being partly drawn from third and fourth generation German stock.
The status of the true church in these northern areas is hard to define. Some in these traditional denominations (like some Scottish Presbyterians in Buenos Aires) are resistant to the gospel — they have become guardians of their former ethnic and cultural identity rather than vibrant members of multicultural churches.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the state of such ‘Reformed’ churches is to look at their doctrinal teaching — or rather, their lack of it.
The Reformation emphasis of teaching Christian doctrine to the laity is barely realised in Buenos Aires, and does not take place at all in the areas where I live.
Such churches have little doctrinal base, and little motivation for evangelism.
Hit and run
Other kinds of Protestant have filled the vacuum. Arminian Baptists, Brethren and Pentecostal churches have preached the gospel of Christ within their own limited understanding. But their work reveals many weaknesses.
Many, if not most, of these mission groups practise ‘hit and run church planting’. They move in and get a few churches ‘up and running’, but teach their converts little about Christian faith and practice before returning to their sending organizations. They then boast of the many ‘churches’ they have birthed in Argentina!
Such is the confusion that groups of three, or a few more, laymen meet together in someone’s home and call themselves a ‘church’. To caricature — one preaches, another takes up the offering, and the third disagrees!
If there is to be real hope for Argentina, a concentrated effort must be made to instill from the Bible an understanding of the Reformed faith.
But teaching the Bible takes time. We must go deeper, think harder, and give our best to it — not only for the sake of the people here but for the glory of the Lord Christ himself.
Ignorance and mysticism
The passivity of ‘Reformed’ churches and the shallowness of Pentecostal-type churches have led to two other big problems — ignorance and mysticism.
Where there is ignorance of the Bible, church leaders often make up their own doctrines to ‘guide’ themselves.
Ironically, this gives the leader of the ignorant but obedient congregation a mystical power over his people not unlike that of the pre-Reformation medieval priest, or even the local witchdoctor!
Our prayer is that God will raise up faithful Argentinian men and women, whom we can teach and establish upon the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ, through his Word.
Please pray for Christ’s light to shine from ourselves and the Argentinians whom, we trust, will one day lead the new church and seminary. Only then will we influence the Latin American world for the glory of God.