Thursday, September 20, 2012

Small Bible Study Groups Attract Roman Catholics

While a small number of Protestants are converting to Rome based on highly convoluted methods of reasoning, far more Roman Catholics are finding the reality of Christ in the fellowship of small Bible study groups in evangelical Protestant churches. Chris Castaldo points this out in a Gospel Coalition article entitled Small Groups that Attract Catholics. In the article, Castaldo says:

The [small Bible-study group] movement is probably bigger than you realize. More than 10 million men and women in the United States were raised Catholic and now worship in an evangelical Protestant church. A great deal can be said about the dynamics surrounding the movement, but our concern here is to understand their point of entry.

Noting that “Catholic small groups are uncommon”, he suggests that “the fundamental reason is the Catholic legacy of clericalism”. He cites one Roman Catholic author:

In a 1906 encyclical, Pius X said that the "one duty" of the laity “is to allow themselves to be led, and like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.” In 1907 the American hierarchy followed suit with a similar directive: “The Church is not a republic or a democracy, but a monarchy . . . all her authority is from above and rests in her Hierarchy. . . [While] the faithful of the laity have divinely given rights to receive all the blessed ministrations of the Church, they have absolutely no right whatever to rule and govern.”

He continues, “To be sure, Vatican II (1962-1965) initiated a trajectory of equipping Catholic laity for service, as evidenced in current movements such as the "New Evangelization" of Pope John Paul II, but old patterns die hard, especially when they have been reinforced through centuries.”

Elsewhere, Castaldo reminds readers that many similar small groups were at the heart and soul of the Protestant Reformation:

Here is one example of a Bible study group which met in Naples, Italy, in between 1536-41. Led by the Spaniard, Juan De Valdés, this circle of friends often picnicked together in the countryside each Sunday. It comprised influential theologians and laypeople alike, including Bernardino Ochino, General of the Capuchins and the most famous preacher in Italy, Peter Martyr Vermigli, then abbot, soon to be Reformed theologian, Pietro Carnesecchi, a canon lawyer, and the Countess of Fondi, Giulia da Gonzaga. So what did this group do in their meetings?

Fortunately, we have some idea from extant writings, the most important of which is the work of Valdés titled One Hundred and Ten Divine Considerations , a volume that functioned as a basis of discussion and tool for discipleship among the group’s members. In their gatherings, they studied books of the Bible (starting with Romans followed by 1 Corinthians). The discussed theology, and especially wrestled through the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They read pseudonymous works from Northern Reformers, such as Luther, Bucer, and Zwingli. They prayed, debated, and conducted evangelistic outreach. Vermigli, for instance, shared the gospel with Galeazzo Caracciolo, a convert who became a Reformer and went on to found the Italian Church in Calvin’s Geneva. By most standards, this was a thriving small group.

Perhaps the most poignant summary of Valdés Neapolitan fellowship was expressed decades later by one of its members, Pietro Carnesecchi, before he was publically beheaded and burned for heresy by the Inquisition (1567). Describing the quality of friendship, theological interaction, and enthusiasm for biblical renewal, Carnesecchi described the Valdésian gatherings as a “regno di Dio,” “kingdom of God.”

Here is the theological pearl—when the rule of Christ is treasured as our preeminent value, now as it was then, we will find our small groups generating spiritual fruit which transforms today and endures through every tomorrow.

One key reason why the Roman Catholic Church survived the Protestant Reformation was because it had the power of the inquisition to have people “publically beheaded and burned for heresy”. Without that power now, how will Roman Catholic ideas survive when pressed by Protestant phenomena such as these small Bible Study groups?

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