By Stephen Nichols; FEBRUARY 15, 2017
The Summer Olympics were just held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But I want to take us back to Rio in 1558. There is a slight backstory here, so let’s pick it up. In 1555, a French colony was established in what is now Rio de Janeiro. Then it was simply known as the Guanabara Bay. That original French colony had a number of Huguenots and other Frenchmen committed to the Reformation. The colony was originally open to them, but then it became entrenched in Roman Catholicism and expelled the Huguenots.
Fifteen people boarded a ship to return to France. Shortly after the ship pushed off the Brazilian coast, five of the fifteen took a small boat, lowered it over the ship’s edge, and rowed their way back to the shores of Brazil. They were intent on being missionaries. Now, these were not clergy. They were skilled craftsmen and laymen. They were not trained. They had sat in churches and had received solid teaching from the Reformers and especially from John Calvin’s students. Eventually, four of them were arrested by the leaders of the colony in Guanabara. They were put into prison and were required to write out a confession of their faith. This was not simply a confession of faith—it would serve to be their death warrant.
The four men who wrote the confession were Jean du Bourdel, Matthieu Verneuil, Pierre Bourdon, and André la Fon. They prefaced it with this statement: “According to the doctrine of St. Peter, the apostle, in his first epistle, all Christians must always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them (I Peter 3:15), and to do this in all gentleness and kindness.” And that is exactly what they proceeded to do. They gave a reason for their hope.
They write, in article eleven of their confession, “We believe that forgiveness of sins belongs only to the word of God, of which, as St. Ambrose says, man is only a minister. If man condemns or absolves, it is not of him, but the word of God which is declared.” At another point they say, “We believe that Jesus Christ is our only Mediator, Intercessor, and Advocate, through whom we have access to the Father and that, standing justified in His blood, we will be delivered from death. And by whom, standing reconciled, we will obtain full victory over death. As for the saints who have departed we say that they desire our salvation in the fulfillment of the kingdom of God and that the number of the elect be completed. However, we do not need to address ourselves to them, through intercession, in order to obtain certain things because this would be contravening the commandment of God. We who are alive, who are united as members of one body, we ought to pray one for the other as we are taught in many passages of the Holy Scripture.”
Then they end their confession of faith with this statement: “This is the answer we give to the articles you sent to us, according to the measure and portion of faith that God has given to us, to whom we pray that it may please Him that our faith not die until it produce fruits worthy of His children.”
And that is the Guanabara Confession of Faith.