“Post Lux Tenebras” Part II. Last time I offered a general diagnosis of a major problem within Italian Evangelicalism. I basically said that after seven years in Italy I see a visible church that hasn’t understood the key issues the Protestant Reformation highlighted. In particular God is not worshiped as He has stipulated in His Word. The regulative principle of Christian worship has been obscured by the darkness of men’s ingenuity. Part one ended with a promise to explore this problem in more detail. I want to do this by asking two more questions in regard to what I termed as the “strange fire” gospel.
Who is behind this darkness?
In my first article I mentioned a Scottish Presbyterian who befriended me in his old age, William Still. There were a number of distinctive features in his ministry that spanned five decades but one was his emphasis on the role of the Devil. He was ridiculed by many throughout his ministry that he found the Devil everywhere in the bible but he was defiant that whenever you find the word “evil” you have to put a “D” in front of it. For Mr. Still and for me Satan is the key in understanding this darkness.
Perhaps an obvious verse that springs to mind when we mention “darkness” is the opening chapter of John’s gospel, verse five, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. The ESV’s rendering is a good translation, stressing that it was the intent of “the darkness” to subdue and oppress the light. In other words, the goal of darkness is to counter the Light of the world, the Word of God made flesh. Who else but the devil wants to overcome the God’s Christ, Jesus of Nazareth? This rebellious creature has questioned God’s Word from the very beginning knowing that His Word alone tells of the only way a person can be in a right relationship with his maker. Down through history the devil’s strategy has been predictably the same… keep the nations in dark ignorance! Surprisingly, the church has often missed this blatant tactic. I don’t think what Paul wrote to the church of Corinth could be written to many churches today… “…we are not ignorant of his [Satan’s] designs” (2 Cor. 2:11b). Quite the opposite I’d say. The big problem is that many are ignorant of the devil’s devices and schemes. Many don’t know the enemy nor recognize his “fingerprints”. Many are as incompetent doctors, misdiagnosing root problems and therefore mistreating the “sickness”. In human terms this is a deadly practice that often leads to malpractice lawsuits!
What has to be done?
Firstly, we in Italy have to imitate the Protestant Reformers and go back to the source, ad fontes. What has been a wonderful discovery for me personally has been appreciating these 16th century men and their concern that they were not forming a new church. They were not a new movement. They were the continuation of the Apostolic Church who were the true “children of Abraham,” children of faith. Hence they went back to the bible and incorporated into their confessions and catechisms the Ecumenical creeds of old. In other words they were profoundly “New Testament” in their thinking. As Carl Trueman says, “it is interesting to note that in the New Testament Paul both speaks of ‘a form of sound words’ when addressing the issue of Timothy’s teaching and his continuing fidelity to the Pauline Gospel and also includes in his letters passages that are suggestive of creedal formulation” (The Creedal Imperative, p. 74). Trueman goes on to argue that that the expression “the form of sound words” is a biblical warrant for having confessions and creeds. Or to put it another way, not to have a creed or confession is unbiblical!
Italy needs confessional churches not just groups of sincere people who say they are Christians. We need to convince believers in Italy that the Lord God is truly unchangeable in His ways and dealings. We need expositors, ministers, pastors who are not maverick freelancers claiming to have “no creed but the bible.” We need men bound by biblically tested confessions for the safeguarding of biblical orthodoxy, which in turn will teach the population how to worship God and find their peace in Him – basically doing what Christ commanded the Church to do in Matthew 28:18-19.
Secondly, you who have a concern for Italy have to see the devil behind the darkness that hangs over this nation and pray intelligently against him. Like an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), few see him as a reality or threat in this land. Or to put it in modern celluloid terms, many here have fallen for the greatest trick the devil ever pulled by convincing them he doesn’t exist.
I would argue that it is not coincidental that since Ignatius of Loyola’s counter-reformation group (The Society of Jesus, aka The Jesuits) was launched in 1534 and given the papal stamp of approval in 1540, “darkness” has had “the light” in a stranglehold in Italy. The Jesuits used their catechisms to suppress the biblical truths of the reformers. It seems reasonable to suggest that biblically sound catechisms and confessions are the answer to fight back. As Spurgeon once said, “The Word of God (or we could add a biblical confession) is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself”. In the end our hope lies in John 1:5 that no matter how dark the darkness may be it can not and will not overcome “the Light of the World.” So “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Until next time, I remain an Ulsterman in Milan.