The Rio Olympics and Calvin’s Mission

Rio’s Guanabara Bay was the site of an early Genevan mission in the 1550s

“As you watch this present Olympiad, you might appreciate some of the history behind the 1558 Confession of Guanabara in Brazil. The site of the first Reformed confession in the Americas is also a reminder to be ready to confess our faith at any time.”

 

Did you know that the location of the 2016 Olympiad, watched over by the iconic Cristo Redentor, was also home to a little-known but early Calvinistic mission? My friend David Hall (whose church hosts the annual Reformation Worship conference) recently forwarded a fascinating article about it. I share it today so you can learn about a forgotten piece of history.

Rio’s Guanabara Bay was the site of an early Genevan mission in the 1550s. As you watch this present Olympiad, you might appreciate some of the history behind the 1558 Confession of Guanabara in Brazil. The site of the first Reformed confession in the Americas is also a reminder to be ready to confess our faith at any time. Some spiritual athletes suffered much more than fatigue and muscle strain at Rio 450 years ago.

You may have heard illustrations like this one: what if armed guards burst in, arrested you, and at threat of your life, asked if you would stick to the Christian faith or not? It’s not that hard to imagine such when you look at Muslim threats and beheadings of Syrian Christians, French priests, or others. There are some, in our day, who are challenged: will you continue to confess Christ? Are you always ready? If terrorists broke in to your home or Sunday School class, would they see Christianity? Are you trained sufficiently to voice it under pressure?

In 1557, a group of Protestants left Calvin’s Geneva to help settle part of Brazil. The leader was a wealthy merchant from Geneva, and a professing follower of Calvin, Villeaignon (alternatively spelled “Villegagnon”). Along with him were dozens of other Genevans, who landed in the bay of Rio de Janerio and settled a small island off the coast. Things went well for a while. However, the leader had—along the way—flipped back to Roman Catholicism, and he grew jealous and suspicious of the other Calvinists. He had the disciples of Calvin arrested, charged with treason, and sought to punish them under Catholic law.

The way he did this was to arrest them, lock them in a room, and in under 4 hours, they had to write out a confession of their beliefs on a list of topics. If they were Roman Catholic, they might live but could be sent home. Conversely, if they were Protestants, they would be killed. They were ordered to commit their beliefs to writing. The result was an 18-paragraph confession that was chock full of Scripture (it was closed book; they were allowed no Bibles), even citing Augustine, Cyprian, and a few other well-known religious leaders. Within 12 hours after this confession was written, three of its authors were promptly hanged. The authors knew they were writing and signing their own death sentence—and the others later were sent back to Geneva.

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