Italy, 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.
At 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.
Italy, 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.
Near 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.