Mission and the European Union Referendum 

Rev Peter Timothy
Minister, Park Baptist Church
18th June 2016

 
In a few days we will be tasked with deciding what Britain’s future will look like. Will it be a future as a member of the European Union, or will it be a future outside of the EU?
 
Last Sunday (12th) I preached from the commands of Jesus in Mark’s gospel to “love our neighbour”. I took those words and applied them to the current debate surrounding EU membership, asking: “To what extent does the EU enhance or hinder our ability to love our neighbour?”
 
I then outlined 5 key issues of discussion which have hogged the headlines and would be worth considering in light of the question above
 
This Sunday (19th) I had intended to bring a second sermon considering the referendum in light of another of Jesus’ commands, this time from Matthew 6:33: “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”
 
However, in light of recent events in the life of our church, God led me to another passage and another subject to preach on
 
This has not removed the grave concerns I have about how we, as Christians, approach Thursday’s referendum. I believe there is a complete absence of Christ in many of the reasons being given for voting one way or the other, and this is deeply problematic
 
Fear of the future is not a good foundation upon which to base your vote. Fear finds its roots in sin (Genesis 3:10) and is not conducive to the building of God’s kingdom. And that, ultimately, is what we are tasked with doing. To go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19), so that the kingdom of God may grow
 
We have seen that we do that through the calls to love God and to love our neighbour, and these things are more important than politics, economic gain and personal benefits
 
Therefore, I urge you to consider, alongside last week’s question: “To what extent does the EU enhance or hinder our ability to go into the world and make disciples?”
 
In order to help unpack this question a little more, I attach below an article published by the Evangelical Alliance, written by Jim Memory, a lecturer in European Mission at Redcliffe College and a member of the International Leadership Team of the European Christian Mission (ECM)
 
For those on Facebook, there are also some further short videos which set out straight the true “facts” surrounding the referendum, including the areas of cost of EU membership and immigration. They can be found by typing ‘Park Baptist Church’ into the search bar on Facebook
 
My prayer is that each of us prayerfully and carefully considers how to use our vote on June 23rd, and that whatever our decision, we make it based on convictions which are honouring to God

 
A Christian Mission Perspective on the EU Referendum
by Jim Memory
Published originally by the Evangelical Alliance (eauk.org)

 

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
 
Identity
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
 
Freedom
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
 
 
Democracy
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 fueled 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
 
Economy
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
 
Migration
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
 
 Conclusion
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