Mark E. Richline
“A small country nestled between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has long been one of the region’s most progressive countries.” Such was the statement made by a reporter for The Economist on the heels of the nation’s vote to legalize abortion.
Uruguay has long been recognized as the most secular state in South America, having declared itself separate from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in the early twentieth century. It was among the first countries to remove any biblical influence from the education system and to legalize divorce.
More recently, the government has pushed hard to be viewed as a “progressive” nation similar to the United States and European nations. This push to be progressive has led to the legalization of abortion, marijuana, and gay marriage—all within the past two years. Although such moves are viewed as progressive, in the eyes of God they destroy entire societies. Thankfully, the Lord uses his church faithfully to proclaim his gospel, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).
In October 2012, one month after our family arrived on the field, the Uruguayan Senate approved a bill legalizing abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Compared to American and European standards, Uruguay’s legislation is more restrictive, requiring a woman to explain her desire for an abortion to a panel of health professionals who must discuss with her abortion-related risks and alternatives, including adoption. After that, a woman must then reflect for five days before finally deciding to abort her child. Public opposition to this law has been strong, with dozens of doctors refusing for religious or ethical reasons to perform abortions. In June of last year, opponents attempted to call for a referendum to repeal the law, but failed to receive the required number of voters.
In April of last year, Uruguay took its next step toward becoming a more progressive nation when legislators legalized gay marriage, making it the third country in the Americas, after Canada and Argentina, to do so. In marriage contracts, instead of the words “husband and wife”, the married couple is referred to as the “contracting parties.” Sergio Miranda, one of the first gay men to “marry” his partner under the new legislation, stated, “Uruguay is sending a very strong message to the rest of the world: a message of equality, of inclusion, and of diversity.”
The world certainly took notice of this small South American country last December when, inspired by U.S. initiatives in Colorado and Washington, Uruguay passed a law allowing people to grow, buy, and smoke marijuana. Households will be permitted to grow up to six plants per year. Under this law, residents may also purchase up to forty grams of marijuana per month from licensed pharmacies. Disappointment over the apparent failure of the war on drugs has led many larger nations to applaud the government’s bold move.
Uruguay, with a population of just over three million, is certainly sending a strong message: free exercise of the right to murder unborn children, of the right to abuse one’s body with drugs, and of the right to pervert the natural design of marriage is what makes a nation progressive. The legalization of such immorality only serves to give license to the outward manifestation of man’s inner sinful desires to please himself. Rather than social progression, it is social regression through the rejection of God’s will, provoking the judgment of a holy God (see Rom. 1:18–32).
In stark contrast to the world’s view of progress, the Word of God pictures the truly progressive person as one who desires what God desires and honors others above oneself. These are people who die to their own desires in order to love and serve others. David writes in Psalm 1:1–3,
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Delight in the law of the Lord results in a spiritual progression, which ultimately brings prosperity. People who place themselves under the influence of the Word of God become convicted of inescapable truths. The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to convict hearts of the eternal presence of the holy God who rules over his universe and all it contains. As the Scriptures reveal the holiness of God, man’s sinful heart is exposed. He sees his desire to do as he pleases no longer as progressive, but as destructive, because he lives in rebellion against the will of his Creator. His pride in himself crumbles. Realizing the weight of God’s judgment against him, he is spiritually undone.
Enabled by the Spirit of God working through his Word, man repents of his sinful desires and seeks God’s forgiveness. He no longer trusts in himself, but places his faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners. He renounces his own perceived good works as providing any basis for his acceptance by God and relies entirely on the perfect life and sacrifice of Jesus to forgive his sin, make him God’s own child, and give him eternal life. This is God’s definition of a progressive person.
Out of love for God, people who are a new creation in Christ deny themselves and strive to please their Lord, conforming themselves to his image. Remaining under the influence of God’s Word, people put others’ needs before their own, consider others better than themselves, and sacrifice themselves to see others prosper. Such is God’s description of a progressive society.
Here in Uruguay, our Orthodox Presbyterian mission labors to proclaim the Word of God, bringing society under the influence of his truth. Our mission does not labor alone. Other biblically faithful churches and institutions have been proclaiming God’s Word in Uruguay for years. The Reformed Presbyterian Church in Rivera, where OP missionaries Jonathan and Margaret Falk and Stephen and Linda Larson labored, has been preaching the gospel for nine years, reaching across the border into Brazil. Also, the Biblical Seminary of the Americas in Montevideo has as its mission statement, “Called by God to spiritually and intellectually train each student to better serve God through his life in the local church and/or in international missions.” Each year between thirty and forty students graduate from that institution, and most of them return to their churches with a greater knowledge of God’s Word to make them more capable servants.
Our mission work in Montevideo, La Iglesia Presbiteriana del Uruguay, began four years ago, when the Rev. Mauricio Rolim arrived with his family from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Brazil. My family and I joined them in September 2012, when there was one baptized member in the church and one other who was preparing to be baptized. We have proclaimed God’s Word each Lord’s Day and sought to impact the community with the gospel of Christ. Each summer and winter, during school vacations, we hold vacation Bible schools, where at least twenty children attend, many of them returning each time. Three times last year, we partnered with a local Baptist congregation to present marriage seminars to the community. One couple who attended the seminar now worships with us each Sunday and desires to join our church. Each Saturday, we host our “Club Feliz” for young children, where they hear the gospel and join in the songs and memory verses.
On Thursday evenings, we meet for weekly prayer and Bible study, where I recently finished teaching on evangelism. We learned to model Christ in our daily living, to share our personal testimonies, and to speak the message of salvation to others. On Friday evenings, our youth group is attended by teens from both within and outside our church family, studying through the book of Proverbs. On Saturday evenings, we invite young men and women to join us to study the Westminster Confession of Faith. All of our efforts would be in vain apart from the power of our Lord, who said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Yet we rejoice in his work, as last year we heard professions of faith from five people and received another four by transfer from our church in Rivera.
We delight to see the Lord spreading our Reformed work elsewhere. More than two hundred miles west of Montevideo, on the border with Argentina, lies the city of Mercedes with nearly 42,000 people. Here, in a small house, a group of fifteen believers and their children meet weekly to worship and study God’s Word. They contacted us after taking an interest in the Reformed faith and eventually leaving their Baptist church. After studying the Scriptures with us for several months, they have committed themselves to becoming a Reformed and Presbyterian congregation. We are happy to be directing them and look forward to seeing the Lord impact their community with his Word through their witness.
Our Lord has been pleased to change hearts in Uruguay through the proclamation of his Word. Recently a newly married couple joined our membership. Two weeks before their public reception, they announced that they were expecting. Later the husband shared with me that they had struggled with the news of their pregnancy. They were not planning to have a child so soon and felt unprepared for the coming financial challenges. The wife’s friends in nursing school asked if she would keep the child. The following Sunday, the couple heard me preaching from Psalm 139, telling how every child is fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Their hearts were encouraged and their minds were set to submit to the Lord’s will and enjoy their new baby. By God’s grace, these are truly progressive people.
We petition our Lord to change hearts and transform society, here in Uruguay and throughout the world, through the ministry of his Word.
The author, an OP minister, is a missionary to Uruguay. He quotes the NIV. New Horizons, May 2014.