Friday, December 30, 2016

My Encounters With Christianity In Brazil

Charismatic churches are only sometimes grouped within the classification of mysticism. The disconnect happens on several levels. Contemplative prayer and Christian meditation practices involve an introspection, an accessing of the Kingdom Within.  Churches centered on the Holy Spirit and gifts of the spirit usually exhibit a more vocal and ecstatic experience of the Triune God.  Also, most people who are interested in the mystical tradition of the saints within Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox church embrace a type of mystical theology, while charismatic churches usually involve a literal, or at least more conservative, interpretation of Scripture.  Nevertheless, the direct experience of God is central to both, and there remains no real reason to exclude charismatic practices from the larger mystical framework within Christianity.

As I spend some holiday time in Brazil, I have had the opportunity to go to a unique charismatic church called Christian Congregation of Brazil, or, in Portuguese, Congregação Cristã . I had only been to a couple of apostolic churches previously, both in the States, and compared to those, the worship structure of  Congregação Cristã  was much more focused, organized, and tranquil.  The music is classical, and there is no one jumping in the aisles or hysterically thrashing and flailing about. The Holy Spirit enters and moves through the crowd  like gentle waves rising and falling. There is a building and climaxing of energy, as well as a descent back to the ground that vaguely hints at shamanism.  (Although members of this church would not welcome such a comparison).     

An outgrowth of the Italian-American Pentecostal revival in Chicago in the early 20th century, the Christian Congregation was founded by Luigi Francescon. The pastors work on a volunteer basis and the money of the church is spent taking care of the community and the congregation’s needs. Unfortunately, many evangelical churches in Brazil have not followed that path - some are coming under tremendous fire for financially exploiting their members, most notably The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, led by billionaire Edir Macedo. However, the Christian Congregation of Brazil remains  separate from larger movements and distorted prosperity gospels. And while their official doctrines  are more concrete and less philosophical than my own tendencies, their general demeanor is one of acceptance and seems to be free of harsh judgment.  Most importantly, the Presence inside the church is positive and strong. And there is a certain deep and subtle healing that appears to be taking place in me as I attend their regular services and let the Holy Spirit do its work.  

I will be posting more on my encounters with religion in Brazil and Peru in the coming weeks.  Happy New Year to all!

A thorough book on the current Pentecostal expansion occurring across the globe is below.

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