A ‘missional’ viewpoint on the EU Referendum

  • The UK is holding a referendum to decide whether to remain part of the European Union. There are claims and counter-claims about what is best for Britain, and it can be confusing to know who to believe. In this one-off article, Jon the freelance theologian, explores a good reason for the UK to stay as part of the EU.

    In Acts chapter 16 there is a fascinating insight into the Apostle Paul’s missionary activities. It is one of the few places where it seems Paul has explicit divine guidance over where to go to preach the gospel. In verses 6 and 7 it says that Paul is prevented by the Spirit from entering the provinces of Asia and Bithynia, both in modern-day Turkey. He had already visited many of the key cities in Asia and it would have been natural for him to return to the churches there. However, he has a vision of a ‘man from Macedonia’, part of Greece. He realises this is a sign that he should leave Asia behind.

    It’s interesting when considering the future of the UK in Europe to think about this incident in the life of the Apostle Paul as told in Acts. This is one of the very rare occasions where the author of Acts points to divine direction for the mission – and it is the occasion when the gospel gets taken to Europe for the first time. Soon, Paul is in Philippi, then other big cities until he preaches in Athens, the home of the philosophers and one of the most important cities in the world at the time.

    There are many studies of church history and the expansion of Christianity. One of the reasons Christianity was able to spread like a virus across the whole continent of Europe, reaching even the shores of Britain was because of the unifying force of the Roman Empire. This allowed free passage of movement, commerce and trade, and even ‘peace’ – the ‘Pax Romana’, which admittedly was often enforced by the Imperial legions.

    This freedom for the transmission of ideas and movement of missionaries has only recently returned to Europe. Freedom of movement and employment are central to the European Union treaties, and while some people see this solely in terms of immigration to the UK, the reality is over 1 million UK citizens now live in Europe. Some of these people are missionaries.

    We know that after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it became one of the sustaining pillars of culture in Europe. It outlasted the Roman Empire which sheltered it and allowed it to grow. Not all developments were positive. As Christianity divided during the Reformation, the differences of theological opinion often meant European states went to war against each other. However, the melting pot of ideas that was the Reformation gave rise to the Enlightenment and the scientific and industrial revolutions that made Europe the richest and most powerful continent in the world.

    It would be hard to argue, though, that somewhere along the way, Europe lost its spiritual self. Some of the countries in Europe, such as France, the Scandinavian countries and the former communist countries or territories are among the most secular in the world. Some of those missionaries I’ve mentioned earlier have gone into those countries. I know some personally who have been busy planting churches in cities in France and Sweden. They are able to do this because they come from the UK and they have total freedom within the EU to move where they like and to set up churches. These are freedoms that should not be taken lightly, as many missionaries working in far more oppressive regimes would testify to.

    Christians in the UK should all be glad that after the dream of Greek man pleading for help, the Apostle Paul did not turn his back on Europe. Fellow Christians who live and serve in Europe need our help more than ever. Churches in the UK have one of the biggest mission fields in the world, just a few short minutes across the English Channel. It surely is the case that taking a missional view of this political issue means seeing the real advantage gained by remaining in the EU.

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