Igreja Cristã Maranata
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KeywordsChristian Maranatha Church Brazilian Pentecostalism Independent Churches Neo-Charismatics
The Igreja Cristã Maranata – Presbitério Espírito Santense (Maranatha Christian Church – Presbytery of the Holy Spirit, often referred by the initials ICM) is an independent neo-Charismatic church based in Brazil. A discreet movement, it began as a spiritual renewal among Presbyterians in Espírito Santo state (hence the name of the presbytery) in 1968 to become a well-established denomination with about 350 thousand followers in Brazil, according to the 2010 national Census (IBGE 2010). With emphasis on charismatic experiences, intense church life activities, and unpaid lay ministers, the ICM is one the most thriving Brazilian Evangelical movements.
Protestantism in Brazil has assumed a distinctively national character, despite the foreign origins of the many denominational grouping. The ICM is an example of this native form of Christianity, blending Reformed and Pentecostal heritages with uniquely Brazilian worldviews. Led by a strong belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit through charismatic experiences, the church has built a community of believers apart of the typical Protestant or Pentecostal movements in the country. Reflecting this unique identity, the ICM balances a conservative lifestyle with selective use of technology for spreading its message. This combination reflects in many of the church’s aspects. For instance, the ICM seeks a half-way arrangement with both professional church management and lay-led ministry. Although ICM growth and presence in Brazil has been noticeable, there has not been a scholarly effort to understand this movement thoroughly. To introduce this church to English readers, this article offers an overview of the church history, a profile of its membership along the description of ICM’s doctrine, worship, and organization.
Origins, Historical Development, and Demographics
The origins of this Evangelical Charismatic denomination goes back to a revival that swept the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists in Brazil in the late 1960s (Gini 2010; Brinco 2003). As the renewal movement was not welcomed by those mainline Protestant organizations, dozens of groups were walled off from their home congregations in the states of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Paraná. The revived churches in that loose network often took the name of “Presbyterian Christian Church,” as did one of them, in Vila Velha, a working-class town in the metropolitan area of Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo state, in 1968 (ICM 2013).
While most of the Paraná and São Paulo renewed Presbyterian Christian churches have merged to became the Renewed Presbyterian Church, the close-knit networks of churches which sprung from the Vila Velha congregation throughout Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and the Northeastern states became the ICM. The group’s name change in 1978, after a prophetic revelation, reflects not only the departure from its Presbyterian background but also the forging of a new identity – ICM members do not regard themselves as being part of a Traditional, or Pentecostal, or neo-Pentecostal movement (ICM 2013), but as belonging to the “Work of God.”
From its origin, the movement has attracted followers from the middle and working-classes. Many leaders are professionals, public servants, and business people, and since the ministers are nonsalaried, they keep secular jobs along their religious duties. For instance, the first church president, Manoel dos Passos Barros (1898–1986) was a civil engineer, college professor, and public servant. His successor, Edward Hemming Dood (1919–2007), although holding a degree from the Moody Bible Institute, supported himself as an English teacher. The current president, Gedelti Victalino Teixeira Gueiros (b.1931), is a dentist and a college professor.
Increasingly, the ICM has grown across the country. In 2000, the first time the membership was recorded by the Brazilian Census, ICM reported 277,342 adherents (IBGE 2000). Ten years later, the Census reported 356,000 members (IBGE 2010). At that time, one fifth of its congregations (out of a total of 6,000) was located in the state of Espírito Santo (ICM 2013). This growth is remarkable since proselytism is done with low-profile methods, such as personal evangelism, and the avoidance of using public radio or television to propagate its message, although the church maintains online radio and video channels for members. Despite keeping a low key, the ICM has been able to fill some major soccer stadiums in a few occasions.
In 1978, the ICM planted the first foreign mission in Portugal. Nowadays, the ICM has a small presence in about a hundred countries, most of those yielding from lay missions carried out by diplomats, businessmen, and migrants. Outside Brazil, the church follows the pattern of Brazilian international trade and migration: most foreign congregations are located in Western Europe, North America, Japan, and the neighboring South American countries. A typical congregation in those countries would gather native and Brazilian members. Resulting from contacts with local Pentecostal groups, ICM has a small but significant presence in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, where most of the membership consists of local believers.
The church expansion was also accompanied by some controversies. Gradually, the ICM became isolated from other Protestant groups, even from those of similar doctrine and polity. Along the isolation, an authoritarian leadership and a stress on the guidance of the Work by the revelation of the Holy Spirit have fostered a lack of transparency on the church management. In 2012, the suspicion of misusing church funds led to an internal crisis that became widely public the following year. Subsequently, a police operation led to the arrest of a dozen church leaders – including the church president. As of this writing (2016), the case is under trial. It is hard to assess the damage of this event on the ICM, but there has been a noticeable membership drain to other Evangelical churches, a handful localized splits, and many faithful are disappointed with the church’s organization. Until the trial ends, it is hard to make any evaluation of its impact on the church.
Doctrine, Worship, and Organization
The official creed is fairly Evangelical in nature. The doctrine includes beliefs in the Trinity, the substitutionary atonement, the general sinful nature of humankind, the invocation or pleading the name of Jesus Christ, the inerrancy of the Bible, justification by faith, water Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and a life of obedience. The church is regarded as one body led by the Holy Ghost, who dispenses the fivefold ministry and the nine gifts to empower the faithful. Other beliefs include the return of Christ, the rapture of the church, and the resurrection of the body, and the final judgment. In common with other Pentecostal and neo-Charismatic theologies, the ICM accepts divine manifestations during its church life and worship, and has high regards for prophetic revelations to guide personal matters and the church affairs. Nevertheless, different from the Classical Brazilian Pentecostals, like the Christian Congregation in Brazil or the Assemblies of God, the ICM does not emphasize the gift of speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but regard this gift as one among other charismata. Opposing the practices of neo-Pentecostal groups, like the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the ICM does not espouse the Prosperity theology, avoiding talk about financial matters during its public services. Additionally, in contrast to the renewal Protestantism in Brazil, the ICM does not try to conciliate the historic Protestant identity and the traditions with a Pentecostal label. Rather, the ICM regards itself as whole new dispensation of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, the ICM would be better termed as neo-Charismatic, rather than Pentecostal or neo-Pentecostal, according to the concept presented by Burgess et al. (2002). The ICM discourse demonstrates a moderate belief in predestination, assigning a special role for the church at the present age. However, theological terminologies of Calvinism and Arminianism are not used to discuss election.
The ICM holds services almost every day, during early mornings and evenings, except on Fridays, the day dedicated to the family. The services are short, 45 min – 1 h, with every part – which songs to perform and which Bible passage to preach – planned ahead in a prayer meeting to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit taking place before the main service. An important aspect, pleading the blood of Jesus, is deemed necessary for an effective worship service. Praise, as singing is called, is accompanied by a small band of guitar, light percussion, strings, and wind instrument in a soft jazz style. Songs are from the ICM approved hymnal, with most lyrics and melodies written by ICM composers, or from the traditional Protestant hymnody. Preaching consists of expounding Bible excerpts and making it relevant for personal quests. Intercessory prayers also address individual needs and a team of intercessors would go around the congregation praying over and prophesying to the believer requesting it.
Besides the regular services, overnight gatherings for prayer, fasting, and reading (“consulting the Word”) the Bible at random are other forms of devotional practices. While group and individual reading of the Bible is a constant admonishment, consulting the Word (and the prophetic interpretation that follows it) also functions as a manner for directing personal and church decisions. The believer is stimulated to discern the signs of God’s will in his or her life from everyday experiences, with the consulting of the Word serving for special and immediate needs.
The ICM maintains about 60 retreat centers, known as Manaaim in Brazil (ICM 2013). At those countryside facilities, with carefully kept gardens, the church provides intensive doctrinal and spiritual training. There are one introductory course, another course on the church’s doctrines and seven additional seminars, which each adherent ought to complete. Water baptism conferred to adult believers, or upon reaching the discerning age of 15, often takes place at the Manaaim. These camp meetings offer a chance for fellowship with other members of nearby regions. On those occasions, the believers go up to a hill top for overnight prayers and for receiving special revelations.
The church has a special ceremony to consecrate newly born children. The ICM does not perform religious weddings, though it holds a special thanksgiving ceremony for the newly wed couple after the civil wedding. Marriage would ideally be among fellow ICM brethren (although accepting mixed-religious marriages) and confirmed by a divine sign or prophecy. In general, divorce is not welcomed, but the church consents that not all marriage will last. Modesty in dress is expected from men and women; which implies in wearing suits and skirts during worship. In general, the ethos is conservative, but not as strict as the Classical Pentecostals in Brazil, nor lax as the neo-Pentecostals in the country. The church valuates the family-life and prophetic utterances at the intercessory prayers often strengthen the hope to have close and extensive family worship together at ICM. Conformity to the church’s doctrinal and behavioral standards as well as separation from the world (even from close contact with other evangelical groups) sets the boundaries of the ICM community, guaranteeing a distinctive identity.
Polity combines a Presbyterian and Episcopal framework. A president, chosen among the senior pastors, leads the church for life. Below him, a presbytery or higher church council advises and coordinate the church management. The ICM is divided into regions, area, pole, and local congregation; each organizational level presided by a pastor (ICM 2011). The local congregations tend to be small; when it reaches about 150 members, a new one is created. The local churches are overseen by pastors assigned by pole or area councils; and they have little voice on decision-making, with orders flowing from the top to bottom through the church hierarchy. Ministry for males is ranked from worker, deacon, “anointed one,” and pastor. For women, there are the ministry of the teacher and “responsible ladies.” The female role in church is restricted to the local church and Manaaim maintenance, Bible teaching (especially for children), and taking part in the collective prayers for prophetic government of the local affairs and intercession of members’ needs. The core of decision-making is located at the presidency and the presbytery. The church places a great deal on uniformity, such as the chapel architecture, worship style, and the content of the indoctrination throughout the movement.
The church headquarters in Vitória manages many administrative matters of the church. For example, decision on erecting a local chapel, and even supplies, comes from this office. Recently, the church has placed a great effort on broadcasting its services and programs through the Internet and satellite telecommunication, sponsored by the headquarters. The Radio Manaaim and other websites for evangelism and members’ edification spread ICM’s message and reinforce doctrinal and praxis uniformity among the faithful. Also, the headquarters publish media and print literature for internal circulation, ranging from audio Bible studies and a magazine, to administrative handbooks and position papers on church life. Records on church affairs and membership census are kept in the headquarters. Tithes and voluntary contributions from enrolled members and the revenue from the literature distribution are managed by the headquarters as well.
Despite the bureaucratic polity, the internal politics runs along extended family lineages. President Gueiros was the son-in-law and the brother-in-law of his predecessors. The lack of full-time, theologically trained, stipendiary ministers is compensated by having leaders chosen among college-educated and financially secure members. Nevertheless, many pastors have a working-class background. The most prominent positions are occupied by higher public officials – like judges, tenured college professors, and state attorneys, physicians, and successful businessmen.
Aiming to increase the religious education of members, besides the local church studies and Manaaim seminars, ICM offers Bible training through its Instituto Bíblico Maranata. In 2016, this institute made online classes available for all its ministers and members (ICM 2016).
Other related organizations are the Fundação Manoel Passos, the Instituto Assistência de Desenvolvimento Sócio Econômico Sustentável – IDES, and Missão Internacional Cristã Maranata – providing welfare services, such as technical skills classes and health assistance, as well as support for foreign missions.
The ICM was able to develop and build a solid network of churches without recurring to asking money openly on the services, or exchanging favors with politicians and entrepreneurs. The ICM political independence stands in contrast to the Assemblies of God, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, and some Baptist branches, which articulate to launch candidates to represent them at the various levels of the Brazilian legislatures. At the ICM, a minister who runs for a political office would automatically be defrocked. Nevertheless, there are some elected officials who are members of the church (Carneiro 2013).
The pioneer scholar of Brazilian Pentecostal studies, the French historian E.G. Léonard (2002 ) used to call certain strain of Protestantism as “Illuminist,” meaning that the inward light of the Holy Spirit weighted more in the daily believers’ and the church’s lives. The ICM rightfully fit Léonard’s concept of Illuminism. The community control, the separation from worldly affairs, and the expectancy of an intense relationship with God mediated by prophetic revelations give purpose and orientation to the ICM followers. The robustness of this belief provides not a mere theodicy to face everyday difficulties, but a consistent worldview that helps the adherent cope with the internal institutional trouble. The solid sense of community provides members with a combination of a valued asceticism with a welcoming attitude to higher education and professional careers, somewhat confirming the Weberian thesis of the Protestant ethics. Within the church’s flock, members feel safe to navigate the turmoil of daily difficulties and the instabilities from the rapid changes taking place in Brazil since the country’s return to democracy in 1985 after decades of military dictatorship.
Despite its near half-century of existence, deeper and broader scholarly inquiry on the ICM is still warranted. More studies will provide invaluable insights not only on this Christian denomination but on Pentecostalism and Latin American religions as a whole.
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