On November 1, 1555, Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon took possession of a small island in the Guanabara Bay, in front of present-day Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he built a French colony named Fort Coligny.
As the fort grew, Villegaignon needed help and so he asked the king of France for additional support. That support was granted and among those sent to help were Jean du Bourdel, Matthieu Verneuil, Pierre Bourdon and André la Fon. These men were French Huguenots. ‘Huguenot’ is a term that came into use around 1560 to describe members of the French Reformed (Protestant) Church. It was a term similar to Christian and Puritan, a term both of ridicule and a badge of honor.
After a while, doctrinal disputes arose between Villegagnon (a Roman Catholic) and the Huguenots (Calvinists), especially in relation to the Eucharist, and so the Huguenots were banished from Coligny island as a result. As some of them returned to France by ship, five men chose to return to Coligny island.
Four of the five, Jean du Bourdel, Matthieu Verneuil, Pierre Bourdon and André la Fon were arrested for returning to Fort Coligny and were required to write out a confession of their faith. They began with:
According to the doctrine of Saint Peter Apostle, in his first epistle, all Christians must be ready to give reason of the hope which is inside them, and this with all meekness and benignity…
This confession is known as the Guanabara Confession, or Martyrs’ Confession, and it was the first Protestant Confession of Faith written in the New World. Within 12 hours after it was written, its authors were executed by Villegaignon.
This is the answer we give to the article sent by you, according the measure and portion of faith that God gave us, praying for that this faith is not to be killed in us, but that bear fruit worthy of his children, and thus, making us grow and persevere in it, we may give praise forever. Amen.
Keep in mind these men were not pastors. They were laymen who were sent to help the colony with the skills of their trade. But due to the teaching and discipleship they had in the Reformed tradition back in Geneva (from some of Calvin’s students), they stood strong in their faith to the point that they were banished and eventually killed for what they believed.
The testimony of these men has made me think…
These men, who were not pastors, were able to write with clarity and certainty a confession of their faith filled with Scripture. Has the church discipled its congregants well enough that the average church attender would be able to give reasons for the hope that is in them?
These men returned to the placed where they were banished, knowing they would probably be killed, but had such a heart for the gospel that they returned anyway. Do I truly care so much for the souls of others that I would be willing to die to preach the gospel to them?
Do I truly care for the souls of others that I would be willing to preach the gospel in my context in which my only suffering would be inconvenience?
You can read the whole Guanabara Confession of Faith here.