Friday, 25 July 2014

ROMAN CATHOLIC ECUMENISM: LET THE ITALIAN EVANGELICALS SPEAK

Defining it as “historical” may be an overstatement. However, what happened on July 19 is a landmark in 150 years of Italian evangelicalism. For the first time ever, nearly 100 percent of Italian evangelical churches and bodies (85 percent of the 500,000 Italian Protestants) signed a common statement reinforcing our evangelical commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This statement provides biblical standards to assess the mounting ecumenical pressure coming from the Roman Catholic Church to expand its catholicity at the expense of biblical truth.
Never before have Italian evangelicals reached such a large consensus and spoken with once voice on such a crucial topic. The churches and bodies that endorsed this statement represent the near totality of evangelicals who have a conservative Protestant theology and a strong evangelistic commitment.

No Minority Report

Italy is a unique place. Vatican City is “in” Italy, exercising widespread influence. The Roman Catholic Church has been a major religious, cultural, and political force for centuries. Religious minorities have been persecuted for ages. The Italian Reformation gave to the wider church some excellent men in the 16th and 17th centuries (including Peter Martyr Vermigli, Jerome Zanchi, and Francis Turretini) but was prevented from taking root in the country. Still today the situation is unbalanced with the Roman Catholic Church having enormous privileges while other religious groups are discriminated. Italian evangelicals have many reasons to be resentful. However, this is not the point of the new statement. With this document we are sending the message that their assessment is not a result of historical frustration. We want to look at Roman Catholicism according to biblical principles. It is not a minority report. It wants to be a truly biblical report. 
Italian evangelicals are increasingly puzzled by the way in which evangelicals globally relate to the Roman Catholic Church and to Pope Francis in particular. Some analysis is based on personal impressions or the seemingly evangelical language of the pope, or on truncated bits of information that fall short of taking notice of the complexity of Roman Catholicism. There is much naiveté and superficiality. The wider evangelical Protestant family needs to hear the voice of their Italian fellow-brothers and sisters who look at Roman Catholicism from inside and with long experience in dealing with its full ideological and symbolic force.

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