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Minority report

BACKSTORY | What does it mean to worship without traditional trappings?

A worship service at Breccia di Roma Photo by Linda Acunto

Minority report
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ROME IS KNOWN for its beautiful churches. According to one city guide, it has more than 900 of them. Few resemble the kinds of worship spaces familiar to evangelicals. As Chiara Lamberti explains in her story “Rendering unto Caesar,” in this issue, that different approach to sanctuary design has created problems for evangelicals in Italy, who struggle to defend their legitimacy as churches. I asked her about some of the other challenges evangelicals face in her home country.

If the government tax authorities have a hard time understanding evangelical churches, it’s safe to say many regular Italians might struggle, too. How does that affect ministry outreach efforts? It is difficult to think of Italy as a country where evangelicals live as a religious minority, but they do. From the Counter-Reformation until the second half of the 1800s, there were no evangelical churches in Italy, and Rome was part of the Papal States where reading the Bible was forbidden. The church and the state were completely intermingled, a long tradition still felt today. For ordinary people, it is difficult to understand exactly what evangelical theology is, what we believe, and why our churches do not need impressive structures and flashy ornaments. Evangelism is very difficult because everyone thinks he or she is already a Christian, coming from traditional and nominally Catholic families.

What’s the biggest obstacle to ministry in a place with so much overt religious symbolism? The problem is not so much the symbolism, but people’s understanding of what the church means and what it means to be a believer. People think they are Christian because they are Italian, therefore Catholic. It is difficult to evangelize someone who thinks he is already right with God, but who has never actually read the gospel or had a personal relationship with Christ.

Is the evangelical church in Italy growing? Yes, but slowly. We pray for a season of revival and reformation that Italy has never had.

You wrote previously about the countercultural way evangelical couples approach having children. In what other ways do evangelicals stand out in Italian culture? Compared with the nominal Christian majority in the country, evangelicals live a daily and personal relationship with God. This makes a difference in a context where people think that once you get the sacraments that the church administers, your relationship with God doesn’t need anything else.

Leigh Jones

Leigh is features editor for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate who spent six years as a newspaper reporter in Texas before joining WORLD News Group. Leigh also co-wrote Infinite Monster: Courage, Hope, and Resurrection in the Face of One of America's Largest Hurricanes. She resides with her husband and daughter in Houston, Texas.


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