Does Italy need a new denomination of churches? According to the standards of the Protestant Reformation, the answer is “Si!” Article 29 of the Belgic Confession (1561) points out what Scripture teaches regarding the marks of a true church:
“The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if discipline is exercised in punishing sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowleged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.”
The sad reality, however, is that churches bearing these marks are very hard to come by in Italy. Few places preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments faithfully, and exercise church discipline according to the Word of God. Although the Protestant Reformation initially gained footing in the sixteenth century, it was subsequently crushed by the Roman Catholic Inquisition. Consequently, Italy has not had a strong Reformed and Protestant presence in the past 450 years.
Today in Italy, Roman Catholic churches dot the horizon throughout the country. Huge cathedrals (such as Milan’s Duomo pictured above) attract thousands of tourists every day of the year. Yet, not on one day of the year is the Gospel of God’s salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone proclaimed. They stand only as a tribute to Rome’s abandonment of the good news. Tragically, no confessional Reformed denominations exist in Italy today.
A small handful of people, however, are working to change that. Rev. Andrea Ferrari, URCNA minister and pastor of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata ‘Filadelfia’ (CERF) in Milan, is laboring under the oversight of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA to establish confessional Reformed churches in his native country. Le Chiese Riformate in Italia (The Reformed Churches in Italy) is the suggested name at this time of this future denomination. We pray that Christ, the only Head of the Church, will raise up faithful men and women within Italy to labor in this difficult in work of planting true and solid churches.
We remember Paul’s words to the Romans that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The cathedral downtown may attract thousands of tourists and visitors every day of the year, but not on one of those days is the gospel preached. On the outskirts of town, however, it is being proclaimed each week. And as long as the gospel is preached, Christ’s church will be established and not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it.