The Reformation and Italy Today: Our Vision



The True Gospel Faith and Italy


Mission to Italy was initiated by Jesus Christ. The Gospels speak of a religious centurion, The "Italian regiment", Italians, possibly, like Pilate's wife and the soldier at the Cross, both recognised who Jesus was. The earliest evangelism of Italy may have been carried out by some of the Apostles themselves, though there is no proof that either Paul or Peter died or were buried in Rome. There were followers of Jesus from the earliest times in Italy. Of this fact, there is ample evidence in the catacombs, on mosaics and on Roman tombstones. Martyrdoms took place in Rome.

From the earliest classical times, northern Italy was a beacon for the Gospel. Bishop Ambrose's church in Milan was where St Augustine was baptised. Later the Protestant Waldensian Church carried the torch. The City of Venice was excommunicated during the Reformation for being too free in its dealings with the Reformation. The Reformation movement took a strong hold in Northern Italy. During the times of evangelical Renee de France a key cultural figure in Continental Calvinism, the Court of Ferrara not only became reformed, but was a focus of poetry (e.g. for Tasso). This model, which combined the Calvinist faith and high culture was followed in later in England. Some of the influential intellectual leaders of the Reformation came from Italy. Calvin himself was instructed by the Italian theologians' reformed works. Notable names are: Peter the Martyr, Pier Paolo Vergerio, Bernardino Ochino who influenced Puritan refugees to America, who took with them Italian reformed works.

The Counter-Reformation produced many martyrs for the new faith, while many other reformed believers escaped persecution in the mountains e.g. formed Protestant communities in Bregaglia in Switzerland and in the valleys of Piedmont. Some refugeees fled went to England, and found protection under King Edward VI. They influenced the reformed pinciples behind the establishment of the Protestant reformed faith in England. Vermigli (known as "Peter the Martyr") was Theology Professor at Oxford, working alongside Thomas Cranmer on the founding theology of the Church of England which may not have been reformed in practice but in its basic creeds honoured the true teaching of the Biblical faith. Recent historians have proved his strong influence on the Book of Common Prayer. It is most unfortunate that fierce persecution during the Inquisition, crushed the Reformation in Italy.

In more modern times, there has been some missionary work in Italy. All over Italy, there are individuals who have been exposed to the Gospel faith, partly through books, websites and contact with churches overseas. There are a few Christian Italian publishing houses, translating Christian books into Italian. The official numbers of believers is very small e.g. there are more Jehovah's Witnesses in Italy than Christians. Of these, there even fewer with a good grasp of theology. There is an urgent need for highly trained native Italian leadership training non-Liberal Italian believers. Pastor Paolo Castellina has sought for 20 years to provide teaching and a focus for Italian believers, through translations and through his internet site.

Promoting a project - by Paolo Castellina


1. The logo I chose for my Website is composed of two symbols. It could still be representative of my vision for Italy, well beyond the Internet which is only an "instrument" (and cannot replace direct human interaction and real churches).

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In the logo's background is a Huguenot Cross. The Huguenot Cross is the distinctive emblem of the Huguenots. It is now the official symbol of the French Protestant church. Huguenot descendants are proud to display it as a piece of "jewellery", as a sign of reconnaissance (recognition) between them. The Huguenot Cross has become, on the European continent (in Italy too), the well known and used symbol of the Reformed (Calvinist) Faith. The Waldensian Church in Italy also uses it (even if it is highly questionable if they still really honour its meaning today). The Huguenot Cross is the emblem of the historical Calvinist heritage, of all that the Reformation stood for (and of its doctrine and martyrs).

2. The Reformed heritage is not something to be simply celebrated, or just a "cultural heritage" to be acknowledged and out of which many liberals say that have "evolved". The faith of the Calvinist Reformation, in the historical Reformed confessions of faith, reflects the unchanging Biblical faith, which the Apostle Judas wrote: "I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ." (3, 4) That faith cannot "evolve" and change. Rather it must be kept pure today and must be applied to all the "spheres" of our lives, "...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10:5).

3, This Faith, "once for all delivered to the saints," must be kept "burning", like the Tabernacles lamps of old, always burning in the Jerusalem temple: "Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “Command the children of Israel that they bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to make the lamps burn continually. outside the veil of the Testimony, in the tabernacle of meeting, Aaron shall be in charge of it from evening until morning before the LORD continually; it shall be a statute forever in your generations. He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lamp-stand before the LORD continually." (Lev 24:4) I intend this meaning for the "burning torch" logo.

4. Rooted and faithful to the historical heritage of the Reformed Biblical faith and, like a living torch, giving light to today's generation and "burning" in its heat everything that does not glorify God, in Italy we have to make of it, a living witness of the truth. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "...that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (Phil 2:15). This is particularly important in Italy, today, in view of the prevailing versions of Christianity, which I touched on in the story of my own experience:

(a) Roman Catholicism, which in spite of the plurality of its forms today, can be considered a corrupted form of Christianity which has still to be radically reformed, according to the Word of God. Updating it is not enough.

(b) Neo-Liberal Protestantism, betrays its Reformed roots as it seeks to become "relevant" to the contemporary world, by absorbing into itself every passing ideology of the day and which, in its turn, alters, distorts and ultimately destroys Biblical Christianity. It is also to be noted how it promotes an Ecumenicalism, flattening Christianity and relativising the doctrine, consequently finding its common ground in a contemporary humanistic agenda.

(c) Anti-intellectual, sentimental and emotional contemporary Evangelicalism that, no less than in many mainline Protestant denominations, adapts itself (more or less consciously) to the mood and culture of modernity and post-modernity. Evangelicalism today often becomes no less anthropocentric than Catholicism, promoting its own version of Semi-pelagianism and Arminianism.

5. I will not mention today's para-Christian cults (which could be a chapter apart). It is clear how much our nations need the true Biblical Gospel, which I believe classical Reformed theology alone can promote. Thanks to God's grace, there are not a few Christians today that, as they are exposed to it, see how relevant Reformation thought continues to be to today's generation.

The time has come now to create a real Reformed Church in Italy, faithful to the historical Reformed Confessions of Faith which can attract and bring together now scattered talented people and initiatives, those believers who God has led us to in recent years and who are deprived of a concrete alternative to the actual church situation.

As many responses to my website witness, there are people who, coming from different backgrounds, see the truth of our position and accept it. It soon becomes clear to them that they cannot accept what they were taught in their own original churches. Often marginalized or even excluded from their own churches, very often they cannot find where they live, a church fitting these newly found persuasions. They become isolated and nourish their faith (if possible) in their home, "keeping it in themselves" as they are often "advised” to. [I have met several believers who, having discovered the doctrines of grace and, in particular, the doctrine of election, having tried to share it with their brothers and sisters, were advised by their pastor, who could not persuade them to renounce to it, "to keep it by themselves" or else just leave their churches!].

Outside Christianity, we must take every opportunity to share the Biblical Reformed faith to the public, challenging the tenets of the prevailing humanism and post-modernism, which is destroying our European Christian cultural heritage and plunging our nations in relativism and pantheistic agnosticism.

Networking from a central location


1. We need now to identify a core of committed Reformed believers in Italy, in one area, which can be led to become, with diligent teaching and pastoring, the base and reference point from which other works could be established in other areas.

2. My website http://www.riforma.net has become by God's grace the "reference point" in Italy (and much beyond) where they find sound Biblical nourishment and knowledge. There are many thousands of readers per year. It could further be developed by visiting them personally and/or organising local meetings in order for them to know each other personally and organise, God willing, new initiative and groups. I live now in London (my wife works as a civil servant here) but, as funds are available, I could easily go to Italy for brief visits in order to coordinate all my contacts and see what initiatives could be attempted. I could imagine, then, meeting isolated Christians to form house churches, to strengthen them and reach out to others equally, through diligent teaching and pastoring. All this can only be possible as financial resources are given by Reformed believers abroad, to provide the necessary support for myself and my family for a certain number of years (a "spiritual investment") with a view to acquiring more and more financial independence, as local believers gradually take the responsibility of this work into their own hands.

3. Foreign believers might also help in prayer and in providing, in a chosen location, the financial resources necessary to buy or rent the appropriate housing for hosting this ministry, which could include not only a meeting place for worship services, but also the flat for the pastor with room to teach classes, hold small leaders' seminars and for congregational activities.

The impact on Italian culture


1. The Gospel changes lives. Evangelicals know that becoming Christian means forsaking what God sees as sin (repentance) and turning in faith to Christ for forgiveness and eternal salvation, to follow Him in a new way of life. Becoming Christians in our context also means (for those who were raised within a traditional Roman Catholic framework) reforming the doctrines and religious practices they were used to, in order to make them comply with the teaching of the Bible. This is understood only by those who come to Christ through the Evangelical preaching.

2. The Reformed approach, nevertheless, rightly emphasizes that often the common Evangelical understanding of the Gospel and of conversion is too simplistic. A closer examination of the converted in Italy, often demonstrates that although "converted", many have not changed their basic "mentality", their basic approach to life, work, social relationships, politics etc. Their basic approach to concrete life remained "Roman-Catholic". I understand here Catholicism in a negative way, as the root of hosts of problems our people suffers of, as I shall mention later.

3. Consequently, we are often faced with people who could be described as "Roman Catholics with a Protestant veneer". This is clearly the cause of many problems Evangelical churches are plagued with in Italy, which would not exist, if the people involved really "reasoned" and behaved in what we call (in a positive sense) "in a Protestant way". This means that the Gospel, when believed, should call into question not only "the religious sphere" of life (the "religious sphere" is typically Roman Catholic because it divides reality between religious and sacred, which is unwarranted in a correct Biblical and Reformational approach), but the whole of life.

4. Examples of this kind of "Catholic mentality" has been described recently by an Italian independent commentator: "I think the most fruitful historical perspective for a correct understanding of Italian corruption is the Counter-Reformation insofar as it crucially reinforced negative Roman Catholic principles (... ) there’s the total lack of any social or moral conscience, that being the prerogative of the Church. Then there’s loose moral behaviour, since the slate can, after all, be wiped clean at confession. Another important Roman Catholic principle consists in devious methods of obtaining goals – the model there is that communication with God is not direct but via appropriate saints who have to recommend you. Nor does truth do very well – basically it is inaccessible to mere mortals since only God knows the truth. Excessive susceptibility to falsehood and illusion constitutes a further principle (...) compatible with this philosophy, tax evasion, undeclared cash in foreign bank accounts, breach of building regulations and other illegal activities are regularly “forgiven” under special amnesties and the transgressor ends up paying the government a fine usually amounting to much less than he would have paid had it been done legally in the first place. Again, able lawyers can take advantage of the labyrinth of Italian laws in order to clear wealthy clients of just about anything. Those who actually go to prison are often petty criminals who simply can’t afford proper legal representation. There are no real deterrents to discourage serious criminals. (...) All of this reflects a level of greed and egoism in Italy’s dead souls that can only be described as pathological. So Roman Catholicism in Italy has basically replaced the concept of justice with the doctrine of forgiveness. That is really the root of the whole problem" [Roman Catholic principles of corruption in Italy],

Real reformation include reforming and tackling the typical "Italian mentality", having a significant impact on culture, by training believers with integrity in a different way of thinking and promoting it as the church interacts with the media, culture, politics etc.

The ministry of compassion - by Alison Bailey Castellina


1. An area often neglected in Evangelical churches today, is the so-called "ministry of compassion", as the local church is encouraged to care for the sick, the disabled, and for those who, according to the worldly standards, from whom no "profit" could be expected. The weak, the sick, the disabled and the marginalized, were, in fact, central to the ministry of the Lord Jesus and should be to "our ministry".

2. In a typical Evangelical church, there is often a "success mentality" which subtly favours healthy and successful people (e.g. in the circles of the so-called "Health and Wealth Gospel" and the Charismatic "miracle workers"). We have almost forgotten our "Christian duties", commanded by Christ, to know, reach out to, serve and visit those who in society "do not count" and that modern culture would simply "suppress", if they had the opportunity to.

3. As we preach the Gospel, we must demonstrate that it is relevant in its message, application and outcomes, to the real life situations and trials in which secular people find themselves and in which they may, in fact, in desolation of soul turn to God. This could be in illness, divorce, unemployment, isolation or bereavement. This is why evangelism must demonstrate integrity and love, in order to earn “the right to speak” about the sin and forgiveness at the Cross (as a more important topic than suffering and personal problems). How is this done in today’s world where there are so many competing voices and media messages and where the individual is convinced that material well being is their primary need?

4. Our experience with the outreach to the chronically sick through http://fatigue.wikispaces.com has taught us that there is never a negative reaction, or even antagonism against those whose outreach demonstrates Christian love, by word and deed. Secularised people in need, will listen seriously to Christians who demonstrate compassion and engagement with ordinary and despised people, without giving any negative feedback. People will take Christian witness very seriously if:

a) Christians are alongside them in prayer in their need
b) Christians are being honest about their own difficulties in life
c) Christians are being true to the loving character of Jesus, the Bible and faith
d) Christians can visibly apply what is means to live as a Christian boldly in the modern world.

Most secular people will respect and even finally accept Reformed Christianity, if it lives what it preaches, namely it is “love in action”.

A first step in outreach to Italy, might be to translate the rich “Fatigue” website into Italian to reach and diagnose the sick in Italy.

In Italy, the ethic of a) family b) sacrificial relationships is a much stronger cultural influence than in Anglo-American cultures. Reformed Christians in Italy will only gain a hearing for the gospel and deflect any backlash, if they demonstrate that they too care about the sick and that ethical concerns are not “Catholic”, but come simply from a deeper universal source, from Jesus, who embodied care and compassion.

Objective 1: to separate ethics from the saints and apply them to Jesus Christ. There are many Italian women who are deeply disillusioned by the traditional Church. They may even have been marginalised or some feel "abused" in it. They are looking for Italian female role-models (without losing faith in God). They need to see that their role model is not a nun or female saint - but Christ. They often express their spirituality through care in the family e.g. for a sick child or elderly mother. We could set up a website for such women, sharing the concerns of caring for someone elderly or disabled, combined with empowering Bible passages and teachings which reflect not only Christ’s commands to love, give and care but also doctrine about saving grace (not works), which gives dignity to women and the power to live lives which are powerful, sacrificial and fulfilled i.e. Reformed doctrine.

Objective 2: to sensitively combine outreach to the marginalised with Reformed doctrine. There are many people in Italy who are on the margins of society and the Church. For example, on the edges of the Church there are dissenters, both make and female, who have not left it, but cannot live within it. Since the Catholic Church is “works-based” and centred on a Lourdes-type spirituality, there might be a case for inviting dissenters to a Conference e.g. The Cross and Compassion to discuss ethics of compassion e.g. related to medical ethics and caring for disabled people at which "the true problem of sin" may be sensitively presented, at the same time. There are, of course, many marginalised groups e.g. foreigners, immigrant workers, the poor who are the special concern of Christ. Practical care, interest and service evangelism is the best approach to these. Some might respond well to free online Italian or language teaching and some sort of advice about how to apply, find a job, set up a business or perform better in interviews etc.

Objective 3: to reach to those who see the shortcomings of the Catholic Church or are secularised with outreach basd on social events. This is tried and tested outreach that works well:

a) website evangelism; b) events evangelism; c) hospitality and friendship evangelism d) student evangelism

If we apply these to “compassion evangelism” we might get:

a) website evangelism which can follow the “advice” model of our disability website. Medical advice, research and summarised information can be mixed with godly insights in a holistic way sharing a biblical approach. Bible studies and evangelism in Italian would reach, say, women and men caring for shut in elderly relatives, carers of the disabled and men/women who are recovering from negative life experiences e.g. bullying and low self esteem etc

b) Events evangelism can be a conference on ethics, a conference for the disabled and their carers.

c) hospitality evangelism: this could involve local Christians setting up arranging hospitality events e.g. dinners at which there is a Christian speaker which would lead to local Bible studies for local people e.g. local workers, nuns, monks, nurses, doctors, carers etc.

d) Student evangelism: empowering believing students to set up a student/counselling website for other students at University on reformed principles.

Paolo Castellina
Alison Bailey Castellina