ROME — An evangelical pastor in Rome says that Christians must “gently challenge” Roman Catholicism with the word of God rather than blindly uniting with the Vatican, as “the Reformation is not over [and] the gospel is still at stake.”
Leonardo De Chirico, the pastor of Breccia di Roma, leader of the Reformanda Initiative, and the Vice Chairman of the Italian Evangelical Alliance, recently penned an article for his site “Vatican Files,” entitled “Why Evangelicals Must Engage Roman Catholicism.”
He said that one of the reasons Evangelicals must engage Roman Catholicism is because it is so pervasive and prevalent among the culture. De Chirico noted that the 2020 edition of the Pontifical Yearbook estimates that Catholics worldwide number 1.329 billion and thus comprise the largest religious group in the world.
The Vatican and its “pope” — a word that is derived from the Latin and Greek, meaning “papa” or “father” — frequently are in the media spotlight, being a major voice regarding interfaith relations and ecumenism, the environment, poverty and so forth.
De Chirico noted that while the Vatican is much friendlier toward Evangelicals than the days when it vehemently opposed the teachings of the Protestant Reformation: the authority and sufficiency of Scripture — sola Scriptura — and salvation being a free gift from Christ through grace and not of works — sola Christus, sola gratia, sola fide — it still rejects those doctrines in their purity.
“Roman Catholicism is still not committed to Scripture alone, Christ alone, or faith alone, and its devotions are not dedicated to God alone,” De Chirico said. “The Roman Catholic gospel is different from the biblical one.”
“None of the non-biblical dogmas, practices, and structures have been obliterated, although they may have been reframed or developed,” he outlined. “The Reformation is not over, the gospel is still at stake, and all those who want to stand firm in the truth should grasp at least something of what Roman Catholicism stands for.”
De Chirico opined that many who identify as Roman Catholic do so because of their familial upbringing or because of its popularity in their particular geographic region, but they lack a genuine understanding of the gospel.
“Many Catholics believe and behave like most Western secular people do: without any sense of God being real and true in their lives,” he said. “In other words, they are not born again, regenerated Christians.”
“Devout Catholics may be religious, yet entangled in traditions and practices that are far from the biblical faith,” De Chirico, a teacher of the history of the Christian Church, outlined. “This brings wide-open evangelistic opportunities. The gospel can and must be taken to them too.”
He said that Christians must, therefore, be aware of happenings within Roman Catholicism.
“In the past, Rome considered other forms of Christianity (e.g. Eastern Orthodox and Protestants) as heretical or schismatic; it was Rome that distanced outsiders from itself,” De Chirico wrote. But now, “Rome has become very ecumenical, wanting to come alongside other Christians in order to bring them cum Petro (‘with Peter,’ i.e. in peace with the Catholic Church) and sub Petro (‘under Peter,’ i.e. somehow embraced by its structures).”
He outlined that those of other religions were once rejected as pagan by the Vatican but now are even considered “brothers and sisters.” In this, De Chirico believes, Roman Catholicism is seeking to bring all religions under itself.
But, “[t]he unity we aspire to is the unity of God’s people under the Lord Jesus, not the generic unity of the whole of mankind under Rome,” he said. “For missiological, theological, evangelistic, and strategic reasons, Evangelicals must engage Roman Catholicism in today’s world.”