Friday, April 15, 2016

Parish Magazine Item on The European Referendum Debate

From The Rectory

You may well be sick of hearing about the European Union Referendum debate. I can promise you that I won’t be banging on about it from the pulpit or in these pages. For what it’s worth, I have my opinions about the EU. And I think some of them have some Scriptural warrant. If you were to buy me a beer, I might be persuaded to share them with you, if you like, but the Rector isn’t publicly advocating either Leave or Remain.

There are many Bible-believing Christians who are enthusiastic Brexiters and committed Federalists. Likewise you will find fine Christians in all sorts of political parties. In this context I think there is probably some wisdom in the clergy being nervous about endorsing particular candidates or taking party political positions in their sermons. Nevertheless, I think it is good for us as Christians to engage in the political process and to exercise our democratic rights. Of course we’ll want to do that Christianly.  

It is not as if the Bible is uninterested in what we would call political matters. It is true that your immortal soul and your eternal destiny are infinitely more important than the retail prices index or the right to buy. Yes, the spiritual matters more than the physical, but the two are not so easily divided up. God made and cares for this world. Christ was born into it to redeem it. He taught us to pray to our unseen heavenly Father, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” We believe in the resurrection of the body and that God will make all things new – he will renew and restore this creation.   

On my reading, at least, the Bible does not envisage a somehow neutral public square closed off from God. Jesus is Lord and every inch of the universe belongs to him. He claims the allegiance of politicians, civil servants, bureaucrats and administrators in their worldly vocations as much as private individuals. As the earliest Christians saw, if Jesus is the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, that is a challenge to Caesar if the Emperor has claimed those roles for himself. How we order our common life together as citizens can’t be unaffected by our most ultimate conclusions about what it means to be human and what human flourishing looks like – questions which are at the heart of the Christian faith. The gospel transforms and saves the heart, but it has implications for all of life, including national life and international relations.   

So, for the next few hundred years, one of the jobs of the church should be to study the Bible and think hard about political and public life. Perhaps then we will see greater consensus in the church and it would be appropriate for the Rector to preach about these things much more fully.  

Many politicians are telling us that in or out of the EU is Britain’s biggest political decision for generations. I agree it’s important. But I don’t think any of us really knows how far reaching the effects of leaving or remaining would be. Amidst all the confident predictions, the Christian will remember that only God really knows the future – indeed, he governs it. The Prayer Book reminds us that the Lord, our heavenly Father is “high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only ruler of princes”. From his throne he beholds all the dwellers upon earth. His kingdom is everlasting and his power infinite. We are taught by his holy Word, that the hearts of Kings (and, we might add, Prime Ministers and Presidents of the European Council and so on) and in his rule and governance and that he disposes and turns them as it seems best to his godly wisdom. The nations are but a drop in the bucket to him (Isaiah 40:15). Righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34). Far more important than the EU referendum is our nation’s attitude to God. That is the most fundamental and far-reaching issue of all.

As great claims are made for leaving or remaining, God would say to us, “put not your trust in princes” (Psalm 146:3). No politicians can bring about heaven on earth. The position of Messiah is already taken! The ultimate hope for our world is neither Great Britain nor the European Union. We should not pin all our hopes either on the nation state, nor on international organisations. Ultimate security, prosperity and freedom can be found only under the loving rule of Jesus Christ.  

No comments: