03 June 2016
A Christian Mission Perspective on the EU referendum
Ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June the Evangelical Alliance is publishing a series of pieces exploring key issues relating to membership of the EU and how Christians might approach the vote.
As an organisation we take no view on whether the UK should remain or leave the EU and the pieces represent the personal opinions of the authors. Articles have already considered identity, freedom, democracy, and economics, this final piece takes a look at the wider issues from a missionary perspective.
We are constantly being told that the EU referendum is the biggest political decision of our generation and potentially a turning point in the history of our country. Well that may or may not be true, but whatever our political perspective, as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ, not politics, is the hope of nations.
The earliest Christians confession "Jesus is Lord" wasn't so much a statement of faith as a defiant rejection of the supreme authority of Caesar. For Christians Jesus Christ, not secular political power, is our ultimate authority. He is Lord. His sovereignty should be our controlling paradigm for reflection on life, the universe and everything, even the referendum.
Viewing the issues of the referendum debate through the lens of what theologians call "salvation history", the mission of God to redeem His creation, throws new light on them and provides vital perspective to help us make our decision on the 23 June.
What follows mirrors the articles on identity, freedom, democracy and economics previously published on the Evangelical Alliance website so you may find it helpful to read those in parallel. There is an additional section on the issue of migration.
Europe was not always identified with Christianity. That it became so was largely the result of Christian mission to Europe and in Europe. Today that Christian identity has been forgotten, suppressed or abandoned as Europeans have placed their hopes for the future in economic prosperity rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. However you choose to vote in the referendum the loss of Europe's soul should spur UK Christians to prayer and action not disengagement; to commit ourselves once again to mission in Europe.
Faced with the godlessness of today's Europe we should respond as the Celtic missionaries once did, by recommitting ourselves to sharing the message of hope in Jesus Christ among all of Europe's peoples. Whether we are in the EU or not, that task is always upon us.
The proclamation of freedom was an essential part of the message of Jesus. At the commencement of his ministry in Nazareth Jesus appropriated the words of Isaiah and declared: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." (Luke 4:18 - 19).
Those who bear Jesus' name today are to be a prophetic voice, holding not just our political leaders to account when they abuse freedoms, ignore injustices or ride roughshod over human rights, but also pointing all women and men and children to the one who bestowed these gifts upon us: to Christ - the one who truly sets us free.
We do enjoy extraordinary freedoms in Britain and across the EU - but we are also experiencing secular challenges to freedom of religion and belief. Freedom of movement has its difficulties but it is also a huge opportunity for Christian mission that could be restricted if the UK decides to leave the EU. Britain is still one of the principal missionary sending countries so leaving the EU may affect mission across Europe.
The forerunner to the European Union, even before the European Economic Community, was the European Coal and Steel Community. It was established to help political and economic stability in Europe. Today, nationalism is on the rise across Europe once again, much of it fuelled by democratic populism and a scapegoating of migrants. Increasingly in recent years the EU has been criticised, and not just in the UK, for being anti-democratic. Decisions are seen to be taken by a self-serving political elite supported by unelected functionaries with little regard for the citizen.
We need to pray that the democratic deficit is addressed and we need to pray for enduring peace in Europe. But we need to do more than just pray; peacebuilding remains an essential part of mission in today´s Europe and the gospel is, at its heart, a message of reconciliation.
A healthy economy is a blessing to any society and provides the prosperity to enable the wealthy to care for the more vulnerable. But when the accumulation of wealth becomes our focus it soon becomes an idol.
Christians are called to demonstrate that they truly do serve God rather than money; that Jesus Christ really is Lord. What a powerful witness for the kingdom of God that could be, even in the debates that surround this referendum.
However you decide to vote on 23 June, please don't make your decision about the EU referendum on economic grounds alone: "will I be better off if we leave or remain?" To do so is to 'buy into' the spirit of our age which puts economic self-interest above all other considerations. That is a travesty of the gospel of grace and the primary ethics of the kingdom: love for God and love for our neighbour.
Christian mission is normally understood as taking the good news of Jesus to the nations. Migration has changed all that, God has brought the nations to us. People who would never have come into contact with the gospel in their home country now have Christian neighbours.
And the so-called "migrant crisis" has thrown the spotlight on the desperation that drives migration. Churches across Europe are responding with extraordinary generosity to the refugees fleeing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Along with the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and those of no faith who have come to Britain in recent years, so too have hundreds of thousands of Christians. Church planting among diaspora communities in Britain is extraordinary. Perhaps God's purpose in this is the re-evangelisation of Britain?
There is a need for an honest debate around migration, how it should be managed, its impact on the poorest in society, on public services, housing and so on. But in regard to those that are here, and those who come seeking our help, the mission imperative is clear: we are to "love our neighbour", and in today's Britain, more than ever, our neighbour is a migrant.
Whether you vote to leave or remain in the EU on 23 June we will still be part of Europe. Jesus said: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) For us in Britain, continental Europe is our Samaria. In or out, let nothing deter us from sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with today's Europeans.
And above all, in all the debates around sovereignty, let us demonstrate in word and deed that Jesus Christ and his kingdom is the story that we live by.
Jim Memory - Lecturer in European Mission at Redcliffe College and a member of the International Leadership Team of the European Christian Mission (ECM).
Take a look at our May/June special issue of idea focusing on Europe, and more information about the EU referendum can be found here.