As the congregation of twenty or so people sing of the cleansing of the blood of Christ, the fresh, glistening snow on the nearby Andes mountains provides a vivid illustration of that cleansing flood.
After the singing, Pastor Omar Ramos moves to the makeshift pulpit. The congregation’s expectation of being challenged by the Word of God is palpable. His words are measured and his reasoning polished.
Those who have come for the first time are surprised to hear an exegetical presentation of the Word, and not a homily or a ‘seeker friendly’ presentation of biblical truths encased in cultural news items.
Instead, they are confronted by an exposition of the sinfulness of man and the holiness and sovereignty of God.
Omar Ramos is a Chilean who trained at a fundamentalist Bible institute in Santiago and later began pastoring in the same dispensational Baptist denomination where he had been saved.
His formal training honed his ability to reason, and over the years he read voraciously – authors such as Calvin, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. Not only did his understanding of the Word of God change radically, but there came a corresponding boldness from his new convictions concerning the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace.
Step of faith
After almost 17 years of growing frustration with the Arminian theology of his denomination – and several confrontations arising from divergent views of Scripture – Omar, Susana and their family took a step of faith and left the pastorate and the parsonage that was provided.
With no home and only minimal financial support, they began seeking the Lord’s direction. That was a year ago. Today he is planting Chile’s first Reformed Baptist church. While they still meet in their home, the Ramos family are confident that what God has started he will faithfully complete for his glory.
Omar’s previous frustration is typical of what others in fundamentalist churches are feeling. Years of legalistic preaching and a lack of exegetical teaching have left many believers empty – and hungry to worship a God who is sovereign.
One such fundamentalist denomination recently asked two Bible institute teachers and a pastor of a large congregation in Santiago to resign, simply because they were teaching a progressive dispensationalist understanding of Scripture (a position held by such esteemed theologians as John MacArthur Jr and Walter Kaiser).
While this entrenchment of fundamentalist doctrines is evident in some denominations, there is a corresponding hunger among others for a deeper, God-centred, non-dispensational understanding of Scripture.
After years of alienation from fundamentalist churches, some Pentecostal groups are growing more receptive to ‘Reformed’ principles of faith. There are also signs of rebirth among traditionally Reformed denominations, as they discover biblical doctrines, as if for the first time – and the transformation that they bring.
Closing the service in prayer, Omar reminds his fledgling congregation that his prayer for them is that they grow not by receiving disenchanted believers from other churches but by eagerly proclaiming the gospel of Christ.
Stepping out into the crisp winter air, one wonders what plans God has in store for the Reformed church in Chile. Will it boldly take the opportunities that the Lord is graciously providing, or will it look inward? At the moment, growing doctrinal understanding and outgoing boldness appear to dominate the scene.