The bondage of Catholicism in Latin America

posted in: Flickr, Latin America | 1

Update: I posted several photos from Chile to my flickr site.

Several years ago I told a friend of mine my wife and I were moving to Panama. “Panama?” he asked as if it had recently been discovered. I waited for something profound to follow, like a question about the canal or the political ramifications of decades of military dictatorships that blackened the eye of a nation’s people. I got neither.

“They have Mexican food down there?”

I love Latin America. We North Americans too quickly dismiss our neighbors to the south and the millions with whom we share the Western hemisphere. Frankly we generally ignore more than a dozen Spanish-speaking countries or at best think they are all Mexicans or that Mexican culture is the culture shared by all Central and South Americans. Nothing could be more inaccurate. There is a distinct personality to every country to our south. (A great resource for understanding Latin America is The Epic of Latin America, by John Crow).

Despite the diversity among the countries there are several commonalities Latin Americans obviously share. One of those is what I consider to be an unhealthy obsession with the Virgin Mary.

I’ve traveled extensively in Latin America so have seen various expressions of veneration. I’ve been in Santiago de Chile this week and visited “La Virgincita” – literally translated: “The Little Virgin” (which just happens to be about 40 tall, sits atop a hill and can be seen from across the city, even at night because she is illuminated). One of the prayers fastened to the wall at the statue’s base sums up how most Latin American Catholics would view Mary: as an intercessor between man and Jesus (the picture is of that prayer).

It is heart rending to witness the depth of idol worship among Latin Catholics. They virtually see Mary as the female expression of God. She most often is elevated above Christ (and is literally in Santiago where a much smaller statue of a crucified Christ stands in a subordinate position on the hill beneath Mary). To our shame, too many evangelicals – including some missiologists – lump too many Latin Catholics into the “evangelized” category because of the “Christian” venire stretched across what truthfully is a pagan religion. The word “Evangelism” means “Good news,” news that God came to earth to save sinful men from His impending – and deserved – judgment. Our good news is found in the person and work of the God-man Jesus Christ, NOT the human agent God the Father appointed to birth God the Son into this world. Mary is not an intercessor between man and Jesus. Jesus is the intercessor between man and God.

I recognize my position would be the bane of many Catholics and even some evangelicals who propagate the idea that because Catholics have access to the Bible they are evangelized. I also recognize my thoughts portray a narrow-minded perspective among all “tolerant” people as being a conservative’s rant. But what must be stated is that this has nothing to do with conservative vs. liberal, protestant vs. Catholic or any other man-made pitting of one position over against another. My response to all challengers is simply this: What does the Bible say?

Catholicism as it is practiced in Latin America (as well as way too much protestant and evangelical theology these days) posits a works-based theology. However, justification of one’s soul is found outside of oneself, at the cross where Jesus bore the wrath of a holy God to cancel the debt owed by sinful man. This same inaccurate theology finds righteousness in “good works” and misses the clear biblical point that even righteousness is transferred (imputed) from Christ to us. Unfortunately Catholic theology often goes so far as to teach that justification of the soul is a continuous process and not a single pronouncement by God of forgiveness of sin. Justification and sanctification are seen as one in the same. Latin American Catholics live their lives seeking to earn sanctification through works instead of living in the freedom extended through faith in Christ alone. (I do acknowledge there are Catholics who believe by faith in Christ and I personally know some Conservative Catholics who express deep faith in Jesus.)

It is unfortunate that the religion propagated by Spanish conquistadors has held Latin American peoples in theological bondage for 500 years. Pray that the similarity among these diverse people is not found In the misperception that they are all Mexican, but that they will all be liberated by the Gospel.

  1. Cléve

    So well said. I’m so glad you put this out there for all to see. How heartbreaking that in the US so many people think that Catholicism here is different from Latin America. Maybe not many will go to our neighbor south of us to share the gospel but they can surely take it to their Catholic friends at home. They are held in the same theological bondage that came to the New World those 500+ years ago.

Leave a Reply