Let us Pray for Youths to Study Sacred Letters

 The Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli trained a good number of ministers and theologians in Strasbourg, at Oxford University, and in Zurich. Vermigli had a passion for teaching the youth and in one of the few of his surviving sermons he exhorts a gathering of students by saying: “I congratulate you, my fine audience, on your zeal in gathering together so often to listen to the interpretation of sacred letters” (Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Exhortation for Youths to Study Sacred Letters”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 277). Towards the end of his exhortation, Vermigli urges the students in the following manner: “By God immortal, I beg you, let us pull together our work, I by teaching, you by listening. Let us apply ourselves with supreme diligence to the word of God. We are called theologians and that is how we want to be known. Let us live up to our name and profession unless we should prefer being patrologists instead of theologians. Our profession absolutely requires us to deal with the words of God. In this matter we pay the highest honor to God” (Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Exhortation for Youths to Study Sacred Letters”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 284).

As we think about the importance of the sacred ministry of word and sacraments, and that in it we pay the highest honor to God, let us pray for two young man who are studying at Westminster Theological Seminary in California with the view to come back to Italy to labor as pastors/church planters.

YI WANG came to Italy from China and became a Christian in Italy. Before attending Seminary Yi spent four years as a member of Chiesa Riformata Filadelfia of Milan, Italy. He is 27, he is married with Huimin, and is in his second year at Seminary.

VINCENZO COLUCCIA comes from a reforming evangelical church in Turin, Italy. A former engineer, he is 35 and is attending his first year at Seminary.

We deeply appreciate your praying with us, with the same passion of Vermigli, for more laborers in Italy.

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“Peace be with you”: Vermigli on John 20:19

If we look deeply at the world or at ourselves, there is never any reason for joy. Indeed, they rather furnish reason for weeping. We are often so sad both because of our guilty consciences and because of the darkness of our mind and the weakness of our will. The fear of hell draws near, and besides many calamities attack us, and unless Christ is present, our lives turn sour. But he comes to us, and if we embrace him with faith, then everything becomes peaceful, and like the apostles we are filled with joy at the sight of the Lord. Since the gospel is the joyous news, through it Christ comes to us and makes us happy. Christ our Lord is not like the lords of this world. If they come, they bring oppression, exact tribute and never come empty-handed. Let us see, what will he bring? The peace, and joy, and the certainty of resurrection. Peace has two aspects. One removes things that disturb and foster trouble. The other allows things which cause affliction still to remain but consoles and strengthens our souls so that they are strong and not passive but happy and joyous. The first is the peace of the world, the second is the peace of God.

 

Peter Martyr Vermigli, “A Sermon on a passage in John, Chapter 20:19-23”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, pp. 229-230).

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On the recent earthquake in Italy

You put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

As you have known about the earthquake that yesterday hit Central Italy, I write to assure you that all the people of our church Filadelfia and the groups associated with it in Turin and Perugia are doing well. Also PCA missionary Mike Cuneo and the people of the church plant in Viterbo are well. The epicenter of the earthquake was located in the area between the cities of Rieti and Ascoli, only 50 miles North of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region, which was badly hit by another earthquake seven years ago.

Even though we are grateful that our closest Christian friends are safe, we deeply grieve for another tragedy as we look at human suffering. And yet, our deepest mourning arises from the fact that very few Italians are looking to the hope of the gospel to find comfort in life and death. We therefore ask you to join us in prayer for the Italian people, asking God that in their sorrow they may find consolation in the God of all comfort.

And as we pray in this valley of tears, in the days of our earthly pilgrimage, let us receive assurance that God is keeping all of our tears in bottle, keeping record of them, in view of the day in which He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, when death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

With warm Christian greetings,
Pastor Andrea Ferrari.

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From Budapest to Milan and Back Again

Being part of the Chiesa Filadelfia in Milan was one of the greatest blessing from God in the last few months.

My name is Judit and I am a 23 years old student from Hungary. I spent the last six months in Milan with the Erasmus Exchange Program. During the summer while I was preparing for the journey, I was looking for a Reformed Church in Milan and at one point I found the web page of Filadelfia. I have been going to a Reformed Church in Budapest since my childhood, but ever since I came to faith in Christ, it has been very important to me to be a member of a community where the Word of God is at the center. My church in
Budapest is like this, but I knew that such churches are hard to find. I had some doubts about finding a biblical Reformed Church in Italy, but I was sure, that God would prepare a place. I was praying for the following months to meet some other Christians, so that I could grow in faith. I was sure, that God prepared my journey to Italy and I was sure that He would take care of my every step I had to take. When I read the web page of this church, I became hopeful because, among all the other churches I found, it seemed to be the most faithful. I wrote an email to Pastor Andrea Ferrari telling him that I was planning to visit their community during the semester, and I also asked for some help to find accommodations. The way he helped and responded assured me that God had guided me to the right place.

I will never forget the first day I arrived to Milan. I spent the first few days in the home of the Ferraris before I could move into my apartment. From the very beginning I knew that one of the best gift of God during these months would be to know them and live near their place. It was really a great blessing spending time with their dear family: I learned so much from them! I didn’t know yet that they would be for me like a second family.

The first time I went to the church was a Thursday evening prayer meeting. Before praying, we read the 23th Psalm. It was very encouraging to meditate on the psalm, and then listen to the prayers of the brothers and sisters in the church. It is not easy to become a member of a community. Even though I was shy in the beginning and I couldn’t speak Italian very well, the way the brothers and sisters prayed for me and the way they welcomed me was so significant that I felt at home among them. I partook of the Lord’s Supper knowing that we are one in Christ and that our fellowship is a wonderful gift from God.

It was also interesting to see how the things went while Pastor Andrea was away in the USA; how he wrote pastoral letters during that period, and how the elders led the worship services. I am not sure that it would be like this in other churches. When I heard the elders talking about the Gospel, it was in harmony with the sermons of Pastor Andrea. I wish it would be like this in every church, where Elders support and help their Pastor!

I am inexpressibly grateful to God for getting to know the members of the church one by one. Everyone was always very kind to me and I remember all of them in my prayers even now while I am at home in Budapest. I have so many beautiful memories of the Thursday evenings and Sundays I spent among these dear brothers and sisters: their kindness, their jokes, the love they expressed towards me from the beginning, the monthly agape meal, the hymns we sang together. The families of the church were a very good example for me. I learned a lot during this period by seeing the lives of the elders. I have many Christian friends in Hungary and I know a lot of Christian families, so this was not a knew experience, but it was wonderful to meet new people from the other parts of the world – Italians, Americans, and also Chinese – who believe in the same Savior, adore the same God and base their lives on the same Word.

When I think back to this semester I spent in Italy, before all the other beautiful memories I had at university and on my trips with the other friends, the first thing that comes into my mind, and the thing for which I am the most grateful is that I had the opportunity to fellowship with this church, even for a short time, which passed too quickly. The communion of those dear saints is what I miss the most. Lords Supper

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Watch and Pray, that You May Not Enter into Temptation

Money

In 1556 – fourteen years after he fled from Lucca to save his life – Vermigli wrote a letter to the Brethren at Lucca with a broken heart. The reason for his extreme sadness was that with the election of Giampiero Carafa as pope Paul IV, the Counter-Reformation in Italy became intensely violent and repressive. Instead of showing a brave Christian heart, Vermigli’s former fellow pilgrims in Lucca renounced the faith. Writing as a faithful pastor, Vermigli tried to make them think about the cause of their sin. It seems that the people belonged to the upper society of Lucca. They owned homes and villas and had connections with the urban nobility and rich merchants (“Letter No. 152, To the Brethren at Lucca”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, pp. 159, 167).

For this reason, Vermigli made plain to them what follows: “I judge that nothing draws people from an initial desire for faith except the love of riches, that is, wealth and honors are either obtained or are preserved after they have been obtained. These are the rocky soil on which the good seeds of the word of God can neither send down roots nor hold fast; these are the thorns which suffocate and destroy holy doctrine” (“Letter No. 152, To the Brethren at Lucca”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 158).

Then, urging them to repentance, he denounced the sins of procrastination and laziness in times of peace: “You did not prepare your hearts for dealing with the dangers that were becoming more threatening every day. […] For what purpose do you think that God our excellent Father sometimes gives us peace? So that we can dissipate our flesh in the delights and pleasures of this world? So that for a time, indeed for too long, we can put aside zeal for divine worship, the exercises of our faith, good deeds, and prayers and devote ourselves to the accumulation of gold, silver, possession, and riches? […] God sometimes grants tranquil times so that we can weigh in comfort the Holy Spirit has granted us and how prepared we are for bearing the crosses that threaten” (“Letter No. 152, To the Brethren at Lucca”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 161).

In our own days, we must be prepared to suffer for Jesus, for “our identity with Jesus will win for us from the world the same response the world has for Jesus” (Donald A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance, p. 175). May our triune God help us to live wisely in these days of relative peace and freedom!

~ Pastor Andrea Ferrari

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Christmas is for remembering

christmas-tree-colosseo

We all know that as we get older, the memory fades. We tend to forget things more easily. Yet, those things importance which we have trained our minds to remember, do not seem to slip away as easily. Commenting on Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, the Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) exhorted believers to prioritize our memory commitments with the gospel of Jesus Christ:

“My good people and dearly beloved in Christ, those who reflect on the powers of the mind and have written about them praise and marvel at the memory because it is a priceless treasury and faithful guardian of past events. Moreover, because we have to be extremely careful that the splendid gifts of nature God has granted to us not be violated through our fault, we must therefore commit to memory not just anything, but the things that are most glorious and useful. But there is nothing in this world which is either more valuable to us or more worthy admiration than the works of our great and good God. Hence he who loves intensely both us and our affairs has in his law frequently commanded that we go over within ourselves with an indelible memory the marvelous deeds he performed for our salvation. [God] would never allow his Church to ever forget with indifference that in the last age of the world he handed over his only begotten Son to death and the cross to redeem the world. [For this reason] he holds up Christ [as] the image of God [that] had to be brought down from heaven.” (From “On the Death of Christ from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,” The Peter Martyr Library, V, pp.234-235)

May this Christmas be another occasion for remember what is most glorious and useful to us as human beings: the coming of Jesus Christ into this world to live a life of perfect righteousness, die a death of atonement for our sins, and be raised again for our salvation. Merry Christmas!

~ Pastors Andrea Ferrari and Michael Brown

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Pray for the Bel Paese!

PMV

On Reformation Sunday, the Filadelfia Church in Milan had the privilege of hosting Mr. Dan Borvan, a PhD student in historical theology at Oxford.

Dan led us through the vicissitudes of Peter Martyr Vermigli, the foremost Italian reformer. In 1542, Vermigli had to flee from the Bel Paese in search of a pure church where the whole counsel of God was preached, where the sacraments were duly administered, and where a disciplined and careful pastoral care was exercised.

We learned that the three signs of a true church – the careful exposition of the word, the legitimate administration of the sacraments, and the pastoral discipline – are also the mission of the church (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). These are the same signs we see in the churches planted by the apostles in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 2:42).

Applying to ourselves what we learned from Vermigli’s life (cf. Hebrews 13:7), we concentrated on the fact that Vermigli dedicated his whole life to the instruction of other men in biblical and theological disciplines with the purpose of supplying the church with godly ministers. For Vermigli, theological education was not an end in itself, nor had as its object academic prestige or cultural relevance. Rather, theological education had the purpose to serve God serving his church.

At the end, Mr. Borvan observed that even though the Reformation in Italy at the time of Vermigli seemed unsuccessful because of the Roman Catholic Inquisition, in reality it continued and is continuing. Therefore, pray with and for us that God may raise again men as Vermigli in the Bel Paese!

~ Pastor Andrea Ferrari

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Nothing New Under the Sun: Missiology Then and Now

Lords SupperReading Acts and the New Testament epistles, we realize that apostles, missionaries, evangelists and Christians in general live very ordinary lives as they sought to fulfill the Great Commission. And this applies as well to evangelism, as they followed the great missionary mandate given by the Lord to the church (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). As Daniel and his friends, Christians in the first century were exiles of the dispersion within the idolatrous and hostile kingdom of Babylon (cf. I Peter 1:1; 5:13). Therefore, it should not be anachronistic to say that also at that time Christians were living in a culture that we can define as pluralistic and secularized (pagan!).

There are various similarities between ancient and contemporary Western cultures. After all, we are always speaking of human existence. This consideration helps us to ponder that we too, living within the cultural context of pluralistic and secularized (pagan) Europe, need to live and share the gospel with simplicity and spontaneity as the early Christians, trusting the instruments and the method that our Lord and his apostles passed on to us. In fact, following the paradigm of the church in Jerusalem, more churches were planted on the basis of apostolic teaching, brotherly love, sacraments, and prayers in the house of God (cf. Acts 2:42; Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). And this is the same manner in which the Reformers planted churches throughout Europe in the sixteenth century and the pattern that we need to follow in the twenty-first century.

In a letter written to the Polish missionary movement in 1556, Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli insists on these very principles. As he thought to Poland as a mission field, Vermigli rejoiced for the “zeal for divine worship” of those few nascent churches and praised their efforts “devoted to cleansing the religion of Christ” (“Letter No. 126, “To the Polish Lords Professing the Gospel and to the Ministers of Their Churches”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 142). The joy and encouragement felt by Vermigli came by the realization that that alone was the right beginning of all missionary endeavor: “The first step toward godliness is to know rightly the things that God wants to use in worshipping him” (Ibid., p. 143). And turning to the shepherds of the flock, he insisted on the same truth: “You reverend pastors who are already in charge of God’s churches, I ask and beseech you through Christ not to fashion any delays in restoring his temple” (Ibid., p. 145). But how to plant churches? What did Vermigli suggest for such superstitious and pagan land as Poland in the sixteenth century? What were missionaries supposed to do to confront idolatry in Polish cities and villages?

According to Vermigli, the first necessary ingredient is good teaching. “When I say faith,” wrote the Florentine reformer, “I do not understand by it faith which people have fabricated by their cleverness, by a figment of their imagination, or a judgment of human prudence. I mean a faith which, as Paul taught, comes from hearing, not just any hearing, but only that of God’s word, as we already have gathered by God’s grace in the divine letters” (Ibid., p. 143).

The second fundamental ingredient is to apply with carefulness the teaching of Scripture to the sacraments: “Let the evil seeds and rotten roots be cut of right down to their beginnings, for if they are neglected at the start […] they are much harder to pull out later. Care must be taken that this be done regarding the sacraments and especially the Eucharist as sincerely as possible. There, believe me, the lie the plague-bearing seeds of idolatry” (Ibid., p. 145).

Thirdly, there is the need for pastoral care and for the government of the flock. “The minds of Christians should not be greatly preoccupied in external rites and ceremonies but in feeding on God’s word, in being instructed by the sacraments, in being inflamed to prayer, and being confirmed in good work and fine examples of life. I advise you by all means to bring discipline into your church as quickly as possible, for […] we labor in vain without that discipline” (Ibid., p. 147).

May God help us so that even in twenty-first century Europe we may recover the venerable “three-signs” missiology!

~ Pastore Andrea Ferrari

 

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The Gospel: Our Only Comfort in Life and in Death

HC 1

In the month of February 1551, the Reformer Martin Bucer died. Peter Martyr Vermigli, a dear friend of Bucer’s, wrote a letter of condolence to Wibrandis Rosenblatt, Bucer’s widow. Vermigli wanted to “bring [her] some comfort by [his] letter” (“Letter No. 59, “To the Widow of Martin Bucer”, The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 115). But how could he bring comfort before the reality of death?

Scholars of various disciplines have observed that today the media deliberately conceals the reality of sickness, old age, and death. Everything must appear bright, spectacular, beautiful and desirable, lest in the natural course of our existence we despair of not having any comfort. In fact, this is our spontaneous response before the reality of death. In his letter, Vermigli sympathizes with Bucer’s widow and considers that the gospel shows that “death is the penalty and punishment for sin so that the sense of that punishment of God’s wrath warns and teaches that sin is more and more horrible and hateful” (Ibid., p. 117), and that’s why “people who are destitute of Christian hope bewail their dead without any consolation” (Ibid., p. 119).

However, those who belong to the faithful Saviour Jesus Christ taste comfort even in the face of “savage death” (Ibid., p. 115). In fact, as he consoled Bucer’s widow, Vermigli noticed that Bucer “died for good so that he might stop dying daily”. Now, continued the Florentine Reformer, Bucer “lives in safety [and] I do not bewail the lot of [his] departure because he, since the earthen vessel of the body has been broken, has returned to the God who sent him into the world” (Ibid., p. 118).

Brothers and sisters, as we think to the comfort of the gospel, let’s consider with a spirit of prayer those who live in the fear of death, being kept in slavery by the devil all their life (Hebrews 2:14-15). And as we think of those in Italy, in Europe, and all over the world who are still under the power of death, let us pray that they might be saved (Romans 10:1), and that, as Vermigli prayed for Bucer’s widow, by God’s mercy, “faith, hope and love [will] console [them]” (Ibid., p. 120).

~ Pastor Andrea Ferrari

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Praying the Lord of the harvest

Tuscan harvest

 

 

 

 

 

 
In the days of his earthly ministry, our Lord Jesus Christ was often surrounded by great crowds. Observing the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36). In times such as those, the One who came to be the Good Shepherd thought about the preaching of the ancient prophets who denounced the corruption of Israel’s shepherds (cf. Ezekiel 34) and proclaimed the promise about the coming of shepherds after God’s own heart (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).

The Florentine reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli shared this sentiment. Considering the decline in the pastoral care within Christian churches in his time, Vermigli not only denounced the corruption of those who were supposed to take care of the flock but especially looked to the Lord of the harvest who “ascended on high” promising to give to the church pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:8-12). In fact, Robert M. Kingdon explains that “Peter Martyr Vermigli was one of the most prominent theologians arguing for [a three-mark] definition of the true church,” namely the pure preaching of God’s word, the legitimate administration of the sacraments, and the orderly government of the church (“Ecclesiology: Exegesis and Discipline,” in A Companion to Peter Martyr Vermigli, p. 378). For this reason, in a letter to the church at Lucca – written shortly after his flight from Italy in 1542 – Vermigli speaks of his time in Strasbourg and tells of his meeting with Bucer. Writing about the “need for pastors [and that] we suffer for a shortage of them”, he considers what a great blessing was the ministry of Bucer for the whole city and concludes with a strong assertion: “Behold, dear brothers, there are truly holy bishops in our time” (“Letter No. 6, “To All the Faithful of the Church of Lucca,” The Peter Martyr Library, V, p. 97). And going back to the fact that in Lucca people suffered for lack of holy bishops, Vermigli says: “I have prayed, and I am still praying [for this need]” (Ibid., p. 98).

Brothers and sisters, since even today Europe is a plentiful harvest with few laborers let us hear the exhortation of our Lord and – as Vermigli – let us pray “to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).

~ Pastor Andrea Ferrari
Chiesa Evangelica Riformata ‘Filadelfia’, Novate, Milano

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