The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
The week-long course was made up of twenty-one sessions which were delivered by Leonardo De Chirico, Gregg Allison, Greg Pritchard and Mike Reeves. “This week has been something of a dream come true.”
The morning of Friday 1 July brought to a close the inaugural edition of the Rome Scholars Network (RSN) held in Rome.
Under the leadership of the Italian lecturer and pastor, Dr. Leonardo De Chirico, the Network brought together Protestant scholars and ministers from across Europe, the United States and Australia who discussed Evangelicalism’s increasingly incoherent relationship with Roman Catholicism in today’s ecumenical climate.
The week-long course was made up of twenty-one sessions which were delivered by De Chirico, Professor Gregg Allison (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Dr. Greg Pritchard (President of the Forum of Christian Leaders) and the leading British Evangelical theologian Dr. Mike Reeves. Between them they lectured upon such pressing themes as:
- Roman Catholicism: A Worldview and a System.
- Vatican II and Beyond.
- The Protestant Reformation vs. Roman Catholicism: The Issues at Stake.
- Justification by Faith Alone.
- Sola Scriptura Then and Now.
- An Evangelical Assessment of the 1999 Joint Statement on Justification by Faith.
As well as the classes, the attendees received first-hand reports and strategies from various Evangelical ministries engaged in direct contact with Roman Catholicism both at a grassroots and an academic level. Students also enjoyed two days visiting the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s Basilica.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ROME SCHOLARS’ NETWORK
In an exclusive interview with Evangelical Focus, De Chirico commented upon the importance of the past week, “RSN fills a gap because in the Evangelical world no think-tank currently addresses the theme of Roman Catholicism from a scholarly perspective nor equips workers for training in this area. This has to be a global initiative because Catholicism is a global issue”.
“Given that the fifth centenary of the Reformation is just around the corner, the message coming from many Catholic quarters and some Evangelical leaders is that the Reformation is over. We at RSN do not agree. The Reformation is as relevant as ever since the Gospel and the five solas are as relevant as ever. Roman Catholicism is employing a strategy of absorption in order to swallow up Evangelicals. In spite of its friendly tone from Vatican II onwards, Rome has not changed a bit in its fundamental structure”.
When asked about his impressions of the first edition of the RSN, the Italian replied, “I am overwhelmingly pleased with such a high quality group of scholars and communicators of the Gospel. In all honesty, this week has been something of a dream come true. It has been the first step in a long-term deep Evangelical analysis of Roman Catholic theology and practice for the honour of God and the sake of the Gospel”.
Evangelical Focus was also able to gather the views of some of those present.
Greg Bastin (Pastor and Bible School Teacher, Switzerland):
“I was really glad that we covered so many subjects throughout this week and that we didn’t get an atomistic view of Catholicism but we saw it as a whole theological system. What I really valued was to be in a group that esteems the Gospel and truth far above tolerance and compromise. We sadly live in an age where everything is relative even in Evangelical circles. It was good to see some sharp lines drawn in the sand because we don’t want to compromise the Gospel”.
Mark Gilbert (Author and Evangelist, Australia):
“When I heard about the RSN I couldn’t wait to fly twenty-four hours around the world to meet with some of the world’s best Evangelical thinkers on Roman Catholicism and I wasn’t disappointed. We were presented with a sensitive, carefully articulated and very engaging synopsis of Roman Catholicism throughout history and today. We gained a better understanding of the Roman Catholic Church’s mission to unify world Christianity under the Pope and their particular interest in incorporating the Evangelical churches. All this in the sumptuous city of Rome with a great group of brothers and sisters from American, Europe and Australia”.
Zefjan Nikolla (Pastor and Bible Translator, Albania):
“It has been a very informative work to see Roman Catholicism as a whole system and not just in an atomistic fashion. In this sense the RSN has been very helpful. I am aware now of the overwhelming task that we have to do in sharing this knowledge because so many Evangelicals do not understand what Romanism is all about”.
Espen Ottosen (Information Director in Norwegian Lutheran Mission, Norway):
“I used to serve as a missionary in Peru so it has been really interesting to get to know how Evangelicals should think about reaching Roman Catholics with the Gospel, not just the nominal ones but also those Catholics who are more knowledgeable of their faith. This week will also help me reflect about what to do in Norway where some are being attracted by Roman Catholicism”.
Benjamin Hlastan (Apologist, Evangelist and Church Planter, Slovenia):
“I’m so glad. It was a privilege to be here. It was very informative and I learnt about a lot of specific key issues that we need to deal with in our relationships with Catholics. Leo and the other teachers have been greatly helpful. It’s very important to know who we are as Evangelicals before engaging Catholics. I’d like to apply all I’ve learnt here into my pastoral context in Slovenia. I realize that we really need to inform our pastors and missionaries more fully about Catholicism. At the end of the day a major question is at stake: Is the perfect work of Christ finished or not? That makes all the difference in the world”.
Garrick Bailey (PhD Student and Assistant Director of Global Theological Education, USA):
“I found the inaugural RSN to be a great personal benefit as I am walking away with more clarity not only on the essential issues and barriers standing between Protestant and Roman Catholic unity, but also the framework of Roman Catholic thought which, I believe, leaves such unity impossible apart from radical reformation within the Roman Church. The ability to leave my own context and study Roman Catholicism in the shadow of the Vatican was invaluable as we American evangelicals too often forget the political and hierarchical reality standing behind the theology and practice we examine from afar. This particular week, in this particular setting, helped my research become even more real and personal to me. I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to me by the RSN”.
Will Graham (Preacher and Bible School Teacher, Spain):
“This week has been nothing short of brilliant. The classes were of the highest quality and my fellow classmates oozed over with the love of Christ. When I read De Chirico’s doctoral thesis on Catholicism last Christmas and Gregg Allison’s ‘Roman Catholic Theology & Practice: An Evangelical Assessment’ I knew I had to get over here. It’s been refreshing to hear leading Evangelical scholars speaking out against Ecumenism in the midst of so much theological waffle and compromise on both sides of the theological fence. We need to recover the Gospel message and the five solas of the Reformation. The glory of God is at stake”.