Italy’s greatest problem
Italy was once home to one of the greatest empires ever seen. It also once had an impressive role in the history of Christendom, and yet, as we fast forward to 2011, there are now nearly as many Jehovah’s Witnesses there as Protestant evangelicals.
Where did it go wrong? More importantly, what is now stopping Italy from returning to the biblical faith?
Many would say that the Catholic Church is the problem; it so clouds the picture that Jesus can no longer be found. By developing new doctrines (prayers to the saints, purgatory, transubstantiation, etc.) it has made the waters very muddy.
Indeed, with 37 per cent of Italians praying regularly to Padre Pio, but less than 10 per cent to Jesus, there certainly is cause to say this.
However, others look elsewhere. They say that whilst there are 50,000 Catholic priests inItaly, there are around three times that number of full-time occult practitioners.
So who has more influence onItaly’s spiritual direction: the Catholic Church or the soothsayers and fortune tellers regularly consulted?
But there is another major negative influence at work. Look at the accompanying map. This shows the names of some cities according to their sizes.
Those cities in red have comparatively few churches compared to those in yellow. Also some churches have around 40,000 unbelievers in their ‘parish’, whereas others have as few as 5,000 unbelievers per church (theUKhas an average of about 3,000 unbelievers for each Protestant church).
So it seems clear that the north of Italy is needier than the south. However, evangelical missionaries have been going into all parts of the country, so the difference cannot be due to an unbalanced spread of missionaries.
What then has caused the difference? Well, the north and the south are culturally very different. The north is progressive and open to new ideas and the south relatively closed to new ideas and wedded to tradition. But the surprising thing is that the traditional south has responded better than the progressive north!
This does not seem to make sense — open-minded people should respond more to the gospel than those whose minds are closed, shouldn’t they?
So what other factor can be causing the hardening? The answer seems to be materialism. Perhaps the biggest difference between the north and south is that of economic wellbeing. The north is comparatively rich, the south poor.
Is it possible that the real barrier to the gospel in the north is the ‘deceitfulness of riches’ — riches with which people have grown too comfortable?
If you cannot serve God and money without loving one and hating the other; if it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; then surely it is time to seriously consider the dangers of materialism.
Have we been too quick to point to other factors, because we know facing the factor of materialism may mean challenges to our own lives? If this is so, then it is a lesson for us in theUK, as much as inItaly.
Grant us, O Lord, neither poverty nor riches, but just our daily bread (Proverbs 30:7-9).