By Jerry Falk
The country of Spain is located south of France and north of Morocco (Africa), its only neighbor on the Iberian Peninsula being Portugal. Spain is practically the same size as California and Indiana combined, making it Europe’s third largest country. Its Mediterranean climate, similar to that of the Bible Lands, nurtures olives, figs, oranges, lemons, and grapes. With dry summers and mild winters, Spain has become one of the world’s most popular vacation attractions, receiving over sixty million visitors annually. (That’s twenty million more than its total population!)
Most people seem to take for granted that Spaniards speak Spanish, but at least four languages are spoken on the peninsula. Castilian is the official language of the country, “with Catalan, Galician, and Basque also spoken in their respective regions” (The Cambridge Factfinder 316). Castilian Spanish is the same language spoken by many North, Central, and South Americans, not to mention Cubans, Dominicans, and other inhabitants of the West Indies. The differences between Castilian Spanish spoken in Spain and that of the regions mentioned above can be likened to the linguistic peculiarities encountered between the British and native English speakers of the United States.
Ninety-nine percent of Spaniards are Roman Catholic (ibid.); however, this figure drops significantly when taking into account only those who actually practice what they claim to believe. The religion of the majority, in my mind, is adequately represented by an unfinished church building in Barcelona known as “La Sagrada Familia” (The Sacred Family). Its majestic, ornate spires tower above the city, but they are empty on the inside. Similarly, for many Spaniards, Catholicism is a time for flamboyant religious parades, popcorn, cotton candy, balloons, drinking, and dancing . . . but when the party’s over, the emptiness remains. It kind of reminds me of Jesus’ analogy of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ “house” (i.e. their lives) which was “swept and put in order” but at the same time was left “unoccupied” (Matt. 12:43-45, NASB). Just as in Jesus’ day, superficial devotion to God leaves the “house” of many devoid of true spiritual life.
Many Spaniards have turned to a mixture of Catholicism and superstition. For example, almost every restaurant in Spain has an image of “Saint Pancracio” near the cash register. It is believed that regular offerings of fresh parsley to this idol will bring money to the business. Others rely on the powers of “white magic” (a mixture of incantations, potions, and Catholicism) for everything from bringing good fortune to one’s home to finding a new romance. Drawing people’s attention from these worldly and fanciful enticements to the true religion of Christ has proven to be a very difficult task indeed . . . difficult but not impossible!
In fact, in the past twelve years or so, a handful of souls in Spain have been able to see through the empty pageantry and place their trust solely in God’s written word. These individuals are now members of faithful churches of Christ in Badalona (Barcelona), Tarragona, Seville, Dos Hermanas, and Tenerife (Canary Islands). Aided by providence and a new Spanish Constitution ratified in 1978, Christians now enjoy the government’s assurance of “free religious expression and the right to assemble and worship.” This is a wonderful blessing, especially considering the fact that up until only twenty-five years ago “an estimated 80 percent of (non-Catholic) churches closed by force under General Francisco Franco’s 36-year regime” (Christianity Today, 10/7/96). After hundreds of years of being literally forced to acknowledge the Catholic Church as Christ’s one true body, Spaniards can finally make up their own minds with respect to religious preference.
The establishment of faithful churches of Christ in Spain can be traced back to the efforts of brothers Wayne Partain, Bill Reeves, Efrain Perez, John Pate, and others. Many of the first contacts made were originally members of “churches of Christ” that had come under an ultra-liberal influence unparalleled among institutional churches in the United States. In the late 1980s and early 90s, some of these contacts began to recognize that they had overstepped the boundaries of biblical authority and, as a result of their efforts and those of the brethren mentioned above, several faithful churches were established. Since then, others (former Catholics and Evangelicals) have been added to their number.
Perhaps a brief history of a few of the faithful congregations in Spain will help you to become more familiar with the work in this country.
Badalona (Barcelona). When Efrain Perez (from Chile) moved to Spain in 1989, he was received almost unanimously by the brethren in Badalona. (Other “churches of Christ” at this time had become wrapped up in a Protestant ecumenical movement, headed by Juan Monroy, a contact made by institutional brethren during the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Monroy is Herald of Truth’s representative to Spain and president of the “FEREDE” (Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain). As these churches began to maintain fellowship with the non-Catholic denominations of Spain, the distinguishing marks of New Testament Christianity were grievously altered. Many members of these congregations now regard themselves as “Evangelicals” and in the worship services of some of these churches you can find instrumental music, women leading prayers, tithing, and other errors associated with mainstream Protestantism. The most destructive consequence of this movement is the adoption of the Evangelical practice of baptizing people for a “public testimony” and not for the forgiveness of sins. Unbelievable, but true! Before brother Perez’s arrival, the church in Badalona had refused to participate in this apostasy, making his job of teaching them somewhat easier. By the time he returned to his native Chile in 1998, more than twenty souls had been added to their number and several had been trained to preach. Brother Perez was also instrumental in drawing up the legal paperwork necessary for me to acquire a Spanish residency card, by means of which I would be able to preach the gospel in Barcelona from 1989-1992. The church in Badalona now numbers about thirty in attendance, with brothers Juan Gimenez and Jose Pinto doing most of the preaching and teaching.
Tenerife (Canary Islands). In 1991, brother Perez traveled to Las Palmas of Gran Canaria, one of several Spanish-owned islands off the northwest coast of Africa, with the hope of teaching a few contacts. When his efforts failed to bear fruit, he flew to the island of Tenerife to visit the mother of one of the members of the church in Badalona. As a result, eleven people were baptized! The church now numbers about eighteen in attendance.
Seville. Around this time, John Pate (from Newnan, Georgia) decided to move to Seville with his wife and daughter in order to teach his wife’s sister’s family. Since my arrival in 1992, about thirty people have obeyed the gospel, about half of which continue to fight the good fight. Perhaps one of the most encouraging and steadfast members of this congregation is Enrique Gallardo. Enrique is 65 years old and had been a “Jehovah’s Witness” for almost eight years. He and another brother by the name of Jorge Sanchez are tireless personal workers who also help me at least once a month by presenting sermons.
Dos Hermanas. In 1989, two men from this city just nine miles south of Seville asked the “pastor” of an ultra-liberal “church of Christ” if he could recommend material that would help them in their personal Bible study. Amazingly enough, he told them about brother Wayne Partain’s excellent commentaries and sermon notes. Correspondence with brother Partain and their investigation of the Scriptures led them to believe that they were in error. Several months after Bill Reeves, John Pate, and I visited and studied with these men in 1992, about eleven individuals broke ties with the liberal church and started meeting on their own. They now number about 35 in attendance, with brothers Juan Garcia, Miguel Lopez, Pablo Lorenzo, and myself doing the preaching and teaching.