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Italian Evangelical Alliance celebrated its 50th anniversary

Members underlined “God’s faithfulness” as they looked back to history. International speakers reflected on mission in Europe and the impact on Italian Christians of the Lausanne 1974 Congress.

FUENTES Italian Evangelical Alliance 24 DE MAYO DE 2024 16:02 h
Group photo at the Italian Evangelical Alliance's 2024 General Assembly in Rome. / Photo: [link]Alleanza Evangelica Italiana[/link].

On the weekend of 10 and 11 May, evangelical Christians celebrated in Rome the 50th anniversary of the Italian Evangelical Alliance.

As an article published on Evangelical Focus explains, the AEI was established in 1974 in connection with the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation and has gone through moments of both fragility and frenetic action, with a double mission of evangelical unity and gospel witness in Italy.

The General Assembly gave “opportunities to thank God, to recall his faithfulness in the history of the Alliance and to question the challenges that evangelical witness faces in Italy, Europe and the world”, the evangelical body said in a summary on its news service IdeaItalia.


Emotional time to look back

The Assembly experienced an emotional celebration. Pastor Scognamiglio (member of the first AEI executive committee in 1974) shared his happiness to see how the initiative started then had borne fruit over time.

[photo_footer] Members attending the AEI 2024 General Assembly. / Photo: AEI [/photo_footer] 

Messages from former presidents Giuseppe Piccolo and Gianfranco Giuni were read out. Roberto Mazzeschi, also a former president, brought greetings, and Pietro Bolognesi recalled the importance of AEI’s information organs.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani wrote for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the AEI an extensive letter on the government’s commitment to religious freedom.

A range of evangelical groups in Italy expressed their greetings, from Pentecostals to the Salvation Army, from Chinese to Romanian churches in the country.

In the General Assembly as such, reports by president Giacomo Ciccone touched on projects such as the Universal Prayer Week, the evangelical remembrance day or certain religious freedom initiatives.


Misssion in Europe

In a round table discussion on the state of mission in Europe, Jim Memory (co-director of the Lausanne Movement Europe) drew “a picture of the spiritual condition of Europe today”.

[photo_footer] The roundtable on mission in Europe at the AEI 2024 General Assembly. / Photo: AEI [/photo_footer] 

“Europe is not a Christian continent, Europe is not atheistic, and Europe is not merely post-Christian”, he argued. The picture is more complex and nuanced, and amidst many critical issues there are signs of hope, he said, such as the planting of churches, the diaspora phenomenon, and certain Christian youth movements. The narrative of Christians about Europe should not be dominated by pessimism but by what can be read in the Bible’s book of Revelation 7, where people of every language and nation are around the throne.

Connie Duarte (co-secretary general of the European Evangelical Alliance, EEA) took up the theme of the diaspora, emphasising how the arrival in Europe of people from all over the world is changing the spiritual connotations of the continent. There is a need for collaboration, integration and a willingness to build bridges between believers from various backgrounds, she added. The relationship between West and East in Europe is also important.

The AEI’s vice president, Lucia Stelluti, said it was positive that today mission is increasingly seen as a “privilege-responsibility” of all believers and all local churches. In the opportunities that arise to advance mission in Europe, the need to remain faithful to the biblical gospel must not be overlooked.

Europe does not need a ‘do-it-yourself’ spirituality nor indulgences administered by a religious power, but the gospel of Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible. “Without fidelity to the Word of God there is no evangelical mission, but inconclusive religious activism”, Stelluti said.


The impact of Lausanne

The history, DNA and vision of the global Lausanne Movement was discussed.

Lindsay Brown, a well-known representative of the global movement for many years, retraced the history of the three global congresses (Lausanne 1974, Manila 1989 and Cape Town 2010) outlining the main goals achieved and the impact they had on world evangelism. In his exposition he pointed to the booklet 'The Legacy of Lausanne 1974-2014', Studies in Theology No. 52 (2014) as a useful resource.

[photo_footer] The session on the Lausanne Movement at the AEI 2024 General Assembly. / Photo: AEI [/photo_footer] 

Brown explained how Billy Graham’s idea of networking leaders from different countries around the world has grown into a Movement that has accompanied, fostered and influenced the growth, expansion and shift to the global south of evangelism over the past 50 years.

The aims of the Lausanne Movement, which have helped shape the vision of the Italian Evangelical Alliance, are holistic missiology, a spirit of collaboration and unity among evangelicals of different denominations, a sense of urgency for unreached peoples, and a sensitivity to the influence of the gospel in every area of personal, cultural and social life in every country of the world.

With an estimated 6-7 million evangelicals worldwide of whom 90% were Westerners in 1910 (the year of the first conference in Edinburgh), today the Lausanne movement will gather for the Seoul 2024 Congress with an estimated 300+ million evangelicals worldwide of whom 35% are non-Westerners.

Lindsay Brown said the legacy to be taken up is the value of collaboration and global partnerships, a theological rigour that accompanies missional strategies, and the ability to read the present and its challenges by intervening on those so that the whole church can bring the whole Gospel to the whole world.

Jonathan Gilmore, emphasised that the Lausanne goals are still to be pursued and that the Movement in Italy is proposed as a platform to amplify missional vocations and to contribute to intra-gospel dialogue, bringing the Italian voice into the broader movement and echoing the global voice in our context.


Religious freedom in Europe

A second panel discussion during the AEI weekend focused on the challenges to religious freedom in Europe. Moderated by Giuseppe Rizza, the first contribution of the conversation was that of Julia Doxat-Purser, socio-political representative of the European Evangelical Alliance. She recalled the main problems on the table: at the legislative level (deficient or discriminatory laws), at the cultural level (lack of a culture of pluralism) and at the antagonistic level (when secularisation turns into an anti-religious attitude).

[photo_footer] The roudntable on religious freedom in Europe at the AEI 2024 General Assembly. / Photo: AEI [/photo_footer] 

Addressing the various fronts on which the EEA is engaged in Brussels, Doxat-Purser said that the aim of evangelicals is not to defend the status quo of ‘Christiendom’ but to help create a space of freedom for all.

Usha Reifsnider, co-chair of the Lausanne Movement Europe, took up the theme of the diaspora and how migratory phenomena are changing the configuration of churches in Europe. She underlined that the Christian responsibility is to welcome the foreigner as if he were a native.

Churches must be places to welcome and build relationships with both people of the evangelical faith and those of other faiths, Reifsnider said. Conversions to Christ, in fact, often occur in people who are far from their usual context and welcomed into a new context inhabited by Christians.

Francesco Caselli, of the Italian Apostolica Magazine, outlined some of the challenges Christian communication faces in the context of European pluralism. The media tend to reflect the impulses present in society, and evangelical communication must be able to combine the radicality of its commitment to the biblical gospel and the ability to listen and intelligently interrelate with the ideological pluralism that surrounds us.


A forum for Bible teaching entities

Following that after conversations in the last years, the Theology and Dialogue Commission of the AEI convened a conversation among evangelical teaching entities in which the possibility of establishing a forum to promote conversations on topics of common interest in the field of theological formation was fruitfully discussed.

During this Assembly, this Forum was established, which “aims to form a platform for meeting, dialogue and, where possible, fraternal cooperation in the field of formation, research and evangelical witness”.

The Forum was founded by the European Nazarene College Italia, the Italian Evangelical Biblical Institute, the Institute for Evangelical Training and Documentation, Shepherd International University, the Higher Course of Biblical Culture, and the Italian Theological Academy.  The AEI will have an ‘ex officio’ representative.

The Forum is open to all evangelical teaching organisations interested in taking part on the basis of the approved regulations.


Questions addressed to the Waldensian movement

Finally, the AEI General Assembly presented “four open questions” on the occasion of the 850th anniversary of the Waldensian movement, in 1174.

“In the nineteenth century the Waldensian world and the Alliance were homogeneous worlds; they are no longer so. Why?”, the AEI asked in a document, in which it called “to provoke constructive conversations on the meaning of evangelical witness today”.

The questions addressed by the AEI to the Waldensian Church of today in Italy revolved around the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, the validity of the Waldensian 1655 Confession of Faith, the role of ecumenism, the importance of evangelising Italy, and how the Waldensian sees their own historical evolution.


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