Healing Line

Healing Line

Thoughts From Francis

by Francis MacNutt
May 1991

Dear Friend,

Last week, on videotape, I saw an exciting church service at the Jotabeche Methodist Pentecostal Church in Santiago, Chile. It's implications so important that I want to share them with you. You see, the Jotabeche Church has 350,000 members — which makes it the second largest in the world (next to Pastor Cho's church in Korea.)

The size and growth of this church are a prime example of an explosion of Pentecostal church growth in Latin America — at the expense of the main–line churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church! The response of the Catholic Church has been to refer to churches like the Jotabeche as "sects," and to attribute their success to human factors. Minimizing these churches by such derogatory put–downs prevents the main–line churches from seeing the supernatural element of what is happening before their very eyes.

The numerical growth alone of these Pentecostal churches is cause for wonder: In 1900 there were only 50,000 Protestants in Latin America, none of them Pentecostal.

By the 1980's they had grown to 50,000,000 (75 % of them Pentecostal) and by the year 2000 it is estimated there will be 137,000,000. Already Guatemala is about 30% Protestant–Evangelical–Pentecostal.

These are authentic Christian churches which are growing precisely because they understand and practice vital, essential aspects of Christianity which main–line churches have largely neglected. Sadly these groups communicate so poorly that the Pentecostal churches treat Catholics as if they were pagans in need of conversion, while Catholics regard these new churches as sects who have little depth, especially in regard to issues of social justice. (I think both criticisms are to some extent true and both groups really need each other.)

The Jotabeche Church is a good example of what is happening all over Latin America. In 1909 a night watchman there had a vision of Jesus foretelling an irruption of the Holy Spirit. (Almost every one of these· churches begins through God's speaking to a poor, simple person.) The watchman shared his vision with the pastor, a missionary from the U.S. named Willis Hoover. Hoover had been thinking along the same lines and so he mobilized his little church to pray at 5 AM every day. Shortly afterwards the people received an outpouring of the Spirit, accompanied by the charismatic gifts, such as tongues, prophecy and healing. There followed a period of extraordinary growth.

The Methodist Church (directed from the U.S.) proceeded to expel Hoover, who then started the Methodist Pentecostal Church in Chile which has grown so explosively. One of the more startling activities of the Jotabeche church is that they have evangelized the prison in Santiago and have converted 1000 of the 3000 prisoners; they in turn have built a church, right in the prison!

The growth of this church, like the other Pentecostal churches in Latin America, depends on several key factors, such as:

1) The Baptism of the Spirit, with all the attendant charismatic gifts.

2) This, in turn, imbues the people with a keen inner desire to evangelize. Every Sunday on the streets of Santiago 1000 evangelists encourage people to come to their church that very night.

3) Furthermore, they pray to heal people and to deliver them from evil spirits. In Brazil, for instance, where it is estimated that 60% of the people (nominally Catholic) are practicing spiritists, and 90% have at times participated in spiritist rites, the Pentecostals engage actively in spiritual warfare and pray for exorcism, while mainline churches, for the most part, take an intellectual approach and simply discourage people from taking part in superstitious practices which they don't see as a real spiritual threat.

4) They believe that ordinary people, not just the pastors, are empowered to evangelize and heal.

5) They evangelize the working class, rather than the middle class; their pastors, too, are drawn from the working class, in contrast to most priests and ministers, who come from middle–class backgrounds (and often are missionaries from the U.S. or Spain).

6) Their seminary is in the streets, rather than in an academic setting. Contrary to what we might think, this apprentice system takes longer than our academic seminaries. You may start as a street preacher and go through a series of stages, perhaps ending up 20 years later as a pastor. Pastors are not chosen early in life, based on what they might be, but become pastors at an older age based on what they have already proven to be. They are not chosen because they have passed academic tests, but because they have qualities of leadership and pastoring. The pastor of Jotabeche, Javier Vasques, chosen by 40,000 votes, never went to seminary, but learned as an apprentice in the streets of Santiago. His whole appearance, clothing and manner identify him as one with the common people who make up his congregation. He is not identifiable as a clergyman, set apart.

Most of this information is taken from Spiritual Power and Church Growth by C. Peter Wagner, professor of church growth at Fuller Seminary. Leaders of main–line churches really need to heed his words (p.11b):

"The moment of truth is almost unavoidable for nonPentecostals in Latin America. With 80% of evangelicals calling themselves Pentecostals, and with the percentage rising every year, what Pentecostals do there cannot be ignored. It will not help to pretend the problem doesn't exist. When needy men and women can find something in other churches that yours does not offer, a great deal of honesty and openmindedness is called for. Non–Pentecostals in Latin America would be well–advised to anticipate the coming of truth rather than let it take them by surprise."

While the charismatic renewal has impacted the main–line churches and there are exciting developments in the growth of base — Christian — communities, still the main–line churches do not seem to allow the Holy Spirit to control their church life enough to keep people from seeking the spiritual growth they need in the newer churches.

Here are several fascinating side–lights to all this:

— When I was staying in a Catholic rectory in Santiago in 1972, the priest–pastor told me he hired Pentecostals, rather than Catholics, to work there because he trusted the Pentecostals not to steal.

— A priest from Latin America had a Protestant friend tell him recently: "Thank God for Pope John Paul's Protestantizing the church." By this he meant, of course, that by not allowing priests to marry, the Pope helped create a clergy shortage, so the people abandoned the Catholic Church and came to his.

— Two dedicated priests in Santiago were run ragged pastoring a parish of between l 00,000 and 200,000 people (they didn't have time to do a census); all they had time to do was baptize , marry and bury people, in addition to performing the Sunday liturgy (to which most of the people — especially the men — didn't come).

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. May 1991 Issue