As the news headlines over the last 18 months testify, Argentina’s major economic crisis, unresolved for five years, has come to a head.
Tensions climaxed in December 2001, when Argentina had five different presidents in 10 days, and 26 people died in street riots. But this is not the Republic’s real crisis.
The Falklands War of 1981 ended a horrendous chapter in the lives of many Argentinians. Up to then the military government had carried on a ‘dirty war’ against its own people, with the systematic disappearance, imprisonment, torture and death of nearly 80,000 people over seven years.
However, almost from the day the military admitted defeat, a sense of hopelessness has gripped the people belonging to this proud culture.
Post-modern Roman Catholicism, socialist economics, and dictatorial politicians have all failed Argentina, leaving the masses disillusioned.
They are looking for something ‘new’ to believe in, something genuinely Argentinian, bringing them back to a place of influence, not only in Latin America but in the world.
Now, 20 years later, movements such as the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and the ‘Pensacola Revival’ in the USA, as well as Charismatic ‘Third Wave’ revival in Australia and Japan, all trace their beginnings to the ‘headwaters of Argentina’.
According to Peter Wagner, Professor of church growth at Fuller Seminary: ‘Arguably, Argentina as a nation has more to say to the world about revival at this point in time than any other single country’.
However, from both a theological and practical perspective, what has happened in the past 20 years has left the Evangelical cause in Argentina in serious gospel crisis.
Argentina is a country made up mainly of Roman Catholic immigrants. There are Spanish, Italians, Asians, Germans and the third largest Jewish population in the world.
All Western and Eastern European countries are represented. Nevertheless, what is not present in the churches is vital Reformation theology. The historic denominations and missionary churches have been seriously weakened by ‘Pentecostalisation’.
Those churches that have not followed the Charismatic bandwagon have been marginalised by the other Evangelical churches.
What is so tragic is that the historic, biblical doctrines of the church are dismissed as lying outside this new paradigm of ‘Argentine experience’. The great Reformed doctrines are rejected out of hand as ‘divisive’ and ‘North American’.
What is the ‘Argentine experience’? Most observers would say that the Evangelical church in Argentina has grown from about 2% of the population to as high as 20%.
However, fewer than 10% of those who ‘made decisions’ have continued in the churches. The size of the regenerate church is probably less than 2% of the population.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people made ‘decisions’ for Christ at various evangelistic crusades and festivals.
Along with this growth came ‘strategic level spiritual warfare’, ‘spiritual mapping’, ‘identification repentance’ and ‘prayer evangelism’ — strategies relatively unknown to Evangelicalism prior to their implementation in Argentina.
Sadly, they have hindered rather than promoted true spiritual development.
Few professing Evangelicals have any knowledge of the Scriptures or of an objective justifying faith in Christ. Only a handful of the Lord’s people have embraced the Reformed faith in a living sense.
Sadly, most pastors have had little theological education, and in the current climate of ‘power evangelism’ see little need for it. They place their hope of ‘results’ in successfully practising the new Pentecostal paradigms.
As a Reformed missionary new to this field, I find myself wondering whether the false fire will ever burn itself out, since it isolates itself from the truth of the gospel and is reinforced by cultural, nationalistic and even ethnic pride.
Argentinian Christians value personal experience above biblical truth. Yet it is with the Word of God that decisive spiritual battles must be fought (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
What is at stake in Argentina is no less than the gospel — with its teaching on the depravity of the human heart, the nature of justifying faith, and the need for the new birth.
While many Argentinians recount their own ‘personal miracle’, few can tell of the transforming power of the cross of Christ in their daily lives. Biblical Christianity has been redefined around ‘Third Wave’ teaching.
The power of the Word of God, the redemptive acts of God in Christ, and the transforming reality of regeneration and true conversion, are undiscovered truths in Argentina.
Many professing believers are like the disciples who returned to Jesus rejoicing that demons were subject to them —little appreciating that the real cause for joy is to have one’s name ‘written in heaven’ (Luke 10:20).
As Argentine Evangelicalism has gloried in its methods, ‘mass deliverances’ and power evangelism, God’s glory lies in the dust.
Today, there is a crisis in Argentina, but it is far deeper than economic or political. It is a gospel crisis, threatening to leave the nation spiritually bankrupt and hopeless.