EU: Kingdom or Empire ?
(By Tim Roberts - N.B. These opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views/policy of Wellspring Church)
Helen and I have recently been watching a series on Netflix dramatizing the book of Acts. 20th Century Fox’s ‘A.D. Kingdom and Empire’ has provided altogether different material to the books, articles and videos helping me decide how to vote on June 23rd. Historians like Jonathan Stark and James Davison Hunter, authors like Nick Page and the screenwriters of this TV series seem to agree on the subversive nature of truly world-changing Christian influence. A tiny group of people, filled with the Holy Spirit, faithfully present in homes and streets and workplaces, turned the world upside down in Jesus’ name. The Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the essence of the Church as those declaring and demonstrating its coming to the world, is not like the empires of men. In most man-made empires, political systems of government and rulership that have evolved and grown over the centuries, the form of power is inherently flawed. That’s why we are urged in 1 Timothy to pray for those in authority, that there might be peace in the land. Political stability. Peace between peoples. Peace that allows the Church to be the Church.
However, in the Kingdom of God the source of power is altogether different (resurrection life flowing from heaven) and the nature of peace on offer is of a different quality altogether (renewed hearts and minds living in selfless, joyful community with God).
So what matters most when voting in the referendum? I am still working it out, but one thing I have decided already: I want to vote for the Kingdom of God. Here’s two questions and one conclusion:
Firstly, if the Kingdom of God is about freedom, liberty, dignity and honour, selfless love and purity how should we face the threat of Islam as an idea? I know this is controversial but it is one of my big questions. I have no problem with individual Muslims, of course, and I love my Muslim friends and neighbours. We have so many things in common and I thank God for our shared Abrahamic roots. However, and it is a big however, I am yet to be convinced that Islam as a socio-political idea, even an idea that (if given the space, time and room) is aiming for geo-political domination, is good for our nation. Or any nation, for that matter. From what I understand, in a majority of countries where the Islamist system of belief begins to dominate, human rights and freedoms suffer. Significantly. I can’t ignore the dangers that come from the rise of the empire of Islam because as far as I have studied it, that empire is powered largely by fear. I can’t find the selfless love of God in the Qur’an; but there is a lot of fear. And fear destroys community. And in this community (Great Britain) what happens for our kids and grandkids matters. I have repeatedly heard this stark warning from friends in East Africa and the Middle East: Don’t turn a blind eye to what the Islamic system, the Islamist law, and Sharia principles can do to those who won’t adhere, to those who choose another path. Resisting Islamism is risky to say the least. Even by writing this, in a free country, I am taking a risk!
So I am asking, when it comes to the EU referendum, when it comes to immigration principles and the openness of our borders, what is right for the Kingdom? For example, if there is a real prospect of Turkey joining the EU, should we be worried? Perhaps not by them as a ‘secular’ nation but by the wide-open door that could be created there to the damaging influence of Islamic empire. As parents and grandparents, what is the responsible thing to do?
As parents and grandparents, what is the responsible thing to do?
One answer might be to say that ‘the Kingdom thing’ to do is welcome all and sundry into our homes and communities, from all backgrounds (including dedicated Islamists), without fear, and declare and demonstrate to them the selfless love of God in Christ. We have nothing to fear, so let’s show them love. In which case let’s maintain, or even weaken our existing border controls as part of the EU, expand our cities and be confident as the Church that, under a liberal government, we will see the Kingdom come as we welcome the ‘foreigners’ and ‘stranger’ into our homes and hearts, into our churches and ministries.
The other answer might be to maintain, even regain, some of our sovereignty as a nation and say to all those systems and ideas that might damage and weaken our already fractured communities, “Not here, thanks.” Can an empire made by humans (the UK Government and our Border Agency) be used to safeguard our nation and preserve the principles of the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom cannot by its nature entertain both love and fear. Love casts out all fear – there’s a thought. Love says “no” to fear. In a similar way, perhaps, to me saying “no” to someone who wants to raid my house or hurt someone I love. No. Not here, thanks.
So you see my quandary? That’s my question about immigration.
Moving on, whilst I could express concern about the economy, I have a feeling that a short-term anxiety about market and GDP fluctuations should not determine how we answer a long-term decision like a leave/remain referendum. My second question is about Europe as a man-made empire. Simple, really: Is the constitution, and the apparent aims and vision of European Union going to help or hinder the expansion of the Kingdom of God?
Is the Kingdom thing to do as citizens of Great Britain, heaven-bent on declaring and demonstrating the gospel of Jesus Christ, to leave Europe and distance ourselves from the continually advancing enemy of moral liberalism? Should we be concerned about Europe’s treatment of the Church, particularly the insidious inhibition of religious freedoms to proclaim the Gospel as Truth or to uphold the harder-to-swallow standards and principles of the Kingdom of God? Might our liberties to express and uphold a biblical ethic be easier to protect outside of Brussels’ control?
Alternatively, perhaps the thing that pleases our King the most is to stay in Europe, re-form it from within where necessary and so vividly, so beautifully live according to Jesus’ standards that our light shines brightly and transforms the darkness from within. As we do this as a platform to preach the gospel with a missionary zeal that doesn’t give into fear and persecution, but actually is emboldened by it (as in the book of Acts), we could have a front-row seat to see the glory of God return to our continent.
For sure, The European Union is far from perfect and far from being truly democratic, so will the gospel be furthered all the more if we leave or we remain? A dilemma.
will the gospel be furthered all the more if we leave or we remain?
So those are two questions I have (amongst many others), We must use our vote on June 23rd. We must make it an act of worship, and vote according to our convictions about what is right for the Kingdom of God. If we seek that first, above all else we can rise over entrenched positions and muddied campaigns and declare over all man-made empires, ‘Jesus is Lord’. And his Kingdom will never end and is not decided through a cross in the ballot box. It was decided on a hill called Calvary some time ago. Hallelujah!
In Watford where we serve as leaders, instead of arranging a debate, Christians Across Watford (a unity movement including over 60 churches and charities) are holding a half-night of prayer on the eve of the referendum. And our prayer is going to be essentially this: “Lord, let Your Kingdom come in this land as it is in heaven.” Amen and amen.
One thing I know for sure is this: We are called not to look to the empires of men or seek them first. The power of governments and religious systems seem colossal, but then so again did the might of Rome and the Jewish leaders in the first century. However, following a leader who declared to Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world”, a rag-tag group of believers followed Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit and turned the world upside down with grace and truth.
We must prayerfully vote, encourage others to use their vote for the King too, and we do so knowing one thing: The Kingdom is more powerful than any empire!
Some other interesting articles that may help you:
Fellow AoG minsiter and friend, Stuart Mayho’s thoughts on this: http://www.twcf.org/media/blog/preparing-to-vote-the-eu-referendum/
Mal Fletcher’s article: http://2020plus.net/eureferendumchristianleaders.aspx
For Archibishop Justin Welby’s thoughts on this: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5734/archbishop-justin-welby-on-the-eu-referendum