Italy is Leaning

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Unknown-1Italy, and much of Europe, fits in with most churches philosophy of missions better than many realize. There are a lot of churches today who want to focus on reaching unreached people groups. That’s great. But the old stereo type of unreached people only being in the villages or jungles of third world countries is gone. There are numerous villages in Italy with no evangelical witness.

In fact, the evangelical population in Italy is around 1%. Further, since the Catholic Church doesn’t use the Bible much, if at all, people don’t have the opportunity to hear about Christ unless missionaries are sent. By any and every definition, Italy is an unreached people group.

Further, the largest Mosque outside the Middle East is in Rome. There is a huge, and growing, Muslim population all over Europe. So for those churches interested in reaching Muslims, Italy is a viable field.

The Lord is doing exciting things in the nation of Italy, yet many people don’t realize it. The Association of Baptists for World Evangelization (ABWE) has two teams of missionaries in Northern Italy.
The first team has assembled a church of about 70 people – which for Italy is a mega church. They’ve been able to start training some of the locals, with the hope that they will become leaders in the church. Some of the nationals have lead devotions during the worship service while others recently ran a VBS. This is a big step for Italians to take on these kinds of responsibilities.

Recently, an Italian even lead another Italian to Christ. This may sound common to us, but this is one of the goals for all missionaries. Seeing the locals evangelizing their own people. In the nation of Italy, this is a rare, and therefore, important, occurrence.

The other team of missionaries recently baptized a new convert. This new convert identified himself with Jesus and His church. This is an important step towards forming a church. Practicing the ordinances regularly is one of the key markers of defining a church.

There are several Master’s Seminary graduates involved with church plants in various cities, as well as a TMAI academy. The Lord is moving in great ways.

imagesAt this point you may be asking why this is such a big step? Let me explain with an illustration. In the northern part of Italy is the city of Pisa. There is a building that has a poor foundation, which has made it one of the more famous tourist attractions in the world. People come from just about every country to take their picture at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Some of the pictures are of people holding the building up, others are of people pushing it over.

However, this tower also epitomizes Italy’s spiritual state. Italy is leaning in the wrong direction spiritually because they are built on a faulty foundation. Most Italians claim to be Catholic, yet only about one-third of them attend Mass regularly. If you were to ask the average Italian what the Catholic church teaches, they couldn’t tell you, but if you try to convert them, they will fight you to the death. Catholicism is part of an Italian’s ethnicity. But because of that they don’t see Catholicism as a religion, so much as a part of their cultural heritage.

In fact, some Catholics are also saying they’re atheistic. Think of that for a moment. A person is saying they are Catholic – which recognizes the existence of God – but at the same time they are questioning the existence of God. They see no contradiction in that. This is an acceptable view for many Italians.

Because of this faulty religious foundation, Italy is dark spiritually. Mariology – the worship of the virgin Mary – is huge. One church has a cross on their wall. On the front is Mary standing on a crescent moon and holding a baby. This is the Queen of heaven spoken of in the prophet Jeremiah straight out of Babylonian paganism (see Jer. 44:17-25). She faces a busy intersection. On the back of the cross, looking down a quiet side street, is Jesus. When you go inside this church, there is a fresco of Jesus putting a crown on Mary’s head.

In fact, wherever you go in Southern Italy, Jesus is always with Mary. He is either a baby or a corpse – weak, dependent, helpless and in the case of the corpse, lifeless. This is a far cry from the New Testament Jesus who is the Living Lord of the universe.

In the north occultism is practiced. Often, Catholics will allow occultists to meet in one of their churches. The Mass will take place on the ground floor, while people in the basement will practice their white and/or black magic. With Catholicism, the occult, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses growing in number and atheism, Italy is a spiritual battle ground. Italy is leaning in the wrong direction spiritually.

images-1Italy, and the city of Rome in particular, have many historical buildings and monuments which are related to biblical or church history. For example, there is the Mamartine, which is the jail cell Paul was in during his second Roman imprisonment. This is an underground, circular dungeon about 7 feet tall and roughly 18 feet in diameter. It is dark, musty, stinking and filthy, with a hole in the ceiling for food to be lowered to the prisoner. That is where Paul wrote 2 Timothy, before being led to his execution.

Unknown-2Near the Colosseum is Titus’ archway. This commemorates his victory over the Jews in 70AD when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and took the Jews captive. There is also the Theater of Marcello and the Forum, both of which are places where Christians were believed to be persecuted.

All throughout the Inquisition, Christians were sought out by the Catholic church. They were imprisoned, tortured and ultimately killed for their faith. Some of these stories have been recorded in “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.”

Italy is somewhat unique among European countries in that the Reformation never reached there. In fact, there has been virtually no Christian witness since shortly after the time of Augustine. Missionaries have worked tirelessly for decades, but seen very little fruit.

Italy is still the “graveyard of missionaries.” Those who go there become discouraged over the lack of results and the difficulties of ministry, so they wind up leaving the field.

From the execution of the apostle Paul to the counter Reformation to the Inquisition, Italy has a history of persecuting Christians and practicing false religion. Yet how often do we hear Italy referred to as a Christian nation.

All this shows the deception of Catholicism. A nation with a history of persecuting Christians is thought of as a Christian nation. There are very few believers there, yet many do not see the need for missionaries. Spiritually, Italy meets the same criteria as many nations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. An unreached people group with no opportunity to hear the gospel unless missionaries are sent. The need for the gospel is urgent. Despite the work going on there, much remains to be done.

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Brian Opre

About Brian Opre

Brian Opre is a graduate of The Master's Seminary (MDiv '09; ThM '13). In July 2013 he became a missionary with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelization (ABWE). He was ordained to the ministry by Grace Baptist Church, Wilmington, CA with help from the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) in November 2015. Currently he resides in southern California, but is planning on serving as a missionary to Northern Italy beginning in late 2016. If you're interested in learning about his ministry, contact him at bopre@abwe.cc.
  • “since the Catholic Church doesn’t use the Bible much, if at all” < I'm sorry but as soon as I got to this point in your article I had to stop. This is the most ignorant thing I have ever read

    • It is the most ignorant thing you ever read, yet you admit you didn’t read it. It seems that is the very definition of ignorance.

      • The quote the I presented in my comment is quite ignorant. I did however after my comment read the whole thing. Incredibly ignorant and full of lies.

        Now I don’t know what the purpose of your website is. If it is to present Catholics in the most negative light possible by using lies and misrepresentations then you are succeeding! If it is to spread the Gospel then I have to tell you lying is not going to accomplish it. In fact it does the opposite. How can I or any new reader who happens to read this or any other article trust your site?

        Good day.

      • I can just see a “missionary” telling to a potential Catholic convert that the Catholic Church doesn’t use the bible. After couple of minutes of laughter the potential convert will realize the “missionary” is serious and that he/she truly believes this. How sad. I guess the “missionary” can be excused since he is brought up with these anti catholic notions. It is fed to them through the anti catholic system. They look up to anti catholic bigots, read their books consume their lies, never bothering to think critically or actually look up what the Church teaches and does. Protestants must reject Catholicism. They must oppose the bride of Christ. Otherwise there is no need for their existence.

        Just for reference today, before I got out of bed, simply by saying my daily office for morning prayer and office of reading I have read:
        Psalm 95, Psalm 24, Psalm 67, Psalm 100, Psalm 18,
        Sirach 24:1-22 (not in protestant bibles because Luther)
        Psalm 36, 47, Luke 1:68-79
        From today’s mass:
        1 Sm 3:1-10, 19-20
        Mk 1:29-39

        Now all this is just morning prayers and the readings from the mass for today.
        I still have evening prayers and my devotional bible reading.
        But hey a protestant “missionary” is telling me that Catholic’s don’t read the bible and never hear about Christ.

    • Jason

      Matthew, I can understand your critique as your experience is different than the one presented. I don’t think Brian is trying to say this is true of every Catholic. I believe the context of the article paints a culture that is Catholic culturally and by tradition at best. Having been to Europe, and a country very similar to Italy in culture and religion I’ve seen the same thing. In fact, I learned from an agnostic bar-tender (in this country, if you want to drink coffee you have to go to the bar) a lot about the Catholic church and none of it was reassuring or godly. Her and others tell of stories of priests having girlfriends and multiple kids in each town. Everyone in town knows his g/f and his kids. But when asked if it’s okay, they say, “Sure” and somewhat laugh it off.

      Sometimes true religion becomes tradition and culture. See the South, you know, everyone in SEC country is saved b/c they love college football and go to church. But if a person’s life does not reflect the truth, then we have to question his or her salvation. I’ve seen exactly what he’s talking about. I love Christ.

      I know some evangelicals are Christian by tradition only. My response is “they need the Gospel.” Not “Lies!” followed by defensive speech and shock. Wouldn’t you want people who are Catholic by name only to have a true relationship with Christ?

      • You are right Jason, I would rather see cultural Catholics who have no relationship with Christ be convinced by protestants then stay in their ignorance with no relationship to their savior at all. Obviously the best thing would be for them to learn their own faith, as I believe Protestantism is not full Christianity and gets a lot of things completely wrong.

        I also always find it amazing that protestants always have stories about someone who knows a priest who has a gf or kids or is a molester etc. (not questioning your story, I question the bar tender) I’ve been catholic for 34 years now. I know a lot of religious people (priests, nuns etc) None of them fit this negative description. Obviously some priests are horribly wrong and sinners (aren’t we all?) I don’t see how that counts against the Catholic faith.I don’t judge protestants by their most evil/hypocritical members. (I hope), same should be done to Catholics.

        I still stand by my anger about the tone of the article the author clearly said “the Catholic Church doesn’t use the Bible much, if at all” a statement which you musts admit is incredibly problematic.

        • It’s only problematic if it isn’t true, is it not? But it is true. RC’s don’t use their Bibles much, if at all. I live in an area that is more than 80% RC, which amounts to some 400,000 RC’s within an hour radius, yet the RCC has been closing churches everywhere (you can buy ’em for a dime a dozen) because no one even bothers to attend anymore. I think that alone justifies the statement (clearly, they’re not committed), not even to speak of what happens every Sunday in RC churches, which isn’t focused on teaching. I have personally evangelized MANY RC’s and asked them to open their Bibles. More often than not, they can’t even find the Gospels. Ask them to turn to Romans – they don’t even know what Testament it’s in. Ask them to turn to 1 Peter, forget it.

          Even so, that isn’t even the point. The point is that RC’s need the Gospel – the message of salvation by grace through faith alone, apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). You reinterpret the clear meaning of Scripture because of your RC presuppositions. But we say the Scriptures speak for themselves and do not need your tradition, or any other, to interpret the Scriptures rightly, but only the Holy Spirit through regeneration (John 14:6; 1 Cor. 2:14).

          You accuse us of throwing “lies, just lies,” etc. You should make that accusation more carefully. I can’t speak for these other men (I’m confident this can be said of them as well though), but I’ve read Ott’s “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.” I’ve read through many portions of the Catholic Encyclopedia. I’ve read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’ve also read innumerable articles and apologetic resources by RC apologists, priests, bishops, popes, and so on. I’ve even read the apologetic works of RC historians who write of the atrocities of the RCC against Protestants (much of which happened because the RCC wouldn’t allow people to read Bibles on their own, so when people did, they killed them). So, I think it’s safe to say that when I (and “we”) critique the RCC, it is done using direct sources. I’m not misrepresenting them, not “lying,” but measuring their own doctrines according to God’s Word and find them to contradict it.

          It gets really difficult to accuse us of just throwing out lies when we’re using RC resources directly. What it does expose though (brought to attention by Chester’s comment), is that you yourself are not actually willing to listen to us, scrutinize your own tradition, or test what you believe according to the Word of God.

          • And there is always this too. I’ve always felt it best to let the RC church speak for themselves through their own resources. http://www.parkingspace23.com/rome-christian-church/#.VpbKiBUrKUk

          • Of course, if you define “Christianity” to be what you want it to be based on your faulty interpretation of the bible then vast majority of protestants are not “Christians” as well! Only the tiny group of people who follow the same men maid traditions like yourself and go to the same seminaries like yourself and read the same books listen to the same preaches, it doesn’t matter that your version of Christianity is non existent in history just few centuries ago, or that it has no ties what so ever to the Church of the bible. But hey! Enjoy your delusions.

          • Everyone needs the Gospel, as taught in the apostolic times, 1st century, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th etc… The gospel your particular brand of Protestantism teaches is not the true gospel. I don’t even think it agrees with majority of other protestants! It is an invention of men who misinterpret the bible using their tainted traditions. Obviously you disagree because you read the bible through your tainted protestant traditions. (same accusation you throw against Catholics) All the negatives you said about the Catholics can be easily applied to cultured protestants as I’m sure you will agree. I’ve met protestants who don’t know what Trinity is so it goes both ways.

            I accused the author of ignorance because he said ignorant statement. If you go to Catholic sources you could not make such ignorant statements.

            Reading this blog and others like it, is a great source of ammunition for me. I have showed many protestant friends articles from here about the Church then I showed them what the Church actually teaches. The response is always amazement at how incredibly biased and untruthful these types of articles are.

            I’m not here to argue about what the Gospel is. I know what it is, don’t need men made traditions of Protestant heretics to tell me what it is. I trust Christ and his body the Church and like you said it is quite plain in the bible, you go ahead and put your trust in Luther, Calvin and other heretics and use their man made traditions to interpret the scriptures.

            So to recap:

            “the Catholic Church doesn’t use the Bible much, if at all” – really stupid lie.

            “Mariology – the worship of the virgin Mary – is huge” – you read Ott, and catholic sources you say, is this true or another protestant lie?

            “In fact, wherever you go in Southern Italy, Jesus is always with Mary. He is either a baby or a corpse – weak, dependent, helpless and in the case of the corpse, lifeless. This is a far cry from the New Testament Jesus who is the Living Lord of the universe.” – This is such an ignorant statemnt and a lie.

            “Often, Catholics will allow occultists to meet in one of their churches. The Mass will take place on the ground floor, while people in the basement will practice their white and/or black magic” – really can anyone take this blog seriously after this lie?

            “All throughout the Inquisition, Christians were sought out by the Catholic church. They were imprisoned, tortured and ultimately killed for their faith. Some of these stories have been recorded in “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.”” – someone didn’t read their history from actual historical sources instead of relies on protestant propaganda. I bet he also thinks living under Calvin’s utopia was great!

            “Italy is somewhat unique among European countries in that the Reformation never reached there. In fact, there has been virtually no Christian witness since shortly after the time of Augustine. Missionaries have worked tirelessly for decades, but seen very little fruit.” – how stupid is this statement???

  • Kyle Sanderson

    Thanks for the helpful article Brian. Much grace to you in your ministry endeavors!