Politicians, diplomats and intercessors from the Nordic and Baltic nations gathered in Helsinki for a prayer breakfast near the Finnish parliament on Friday morning this week.
They were following in a tradition linking prayer and politics which dates back seventy years to the inaugural Presidential Prayer Breakfast with President Eisenhower in Washington, DC, and the European Parliament Prayer Breakfasts in Brussels since 1998.
Even prior to these initiatives, in 1952, three of the ‘founding fathers of Europe’, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide de Gasperi, had met for prayer at a monastery near Koblenz on the Rhine on the eve of signing the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. This was the first step towards breaking the pattern of recurring wars and creating a ‘community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values’. They prayed for a Europe in which nations would build together.
‘Building together’ was the theme of Friday’s event. Those gathered had come for the purpose of strengthening relationships and mutual encouragement for their work in the rough and tumble of politics. Asked to address this topic, I explored Paul’s building project analogy in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:10).
‘So what are we engaged in building?’ was my first question. If the audience had been made up of bishops and pastors, the answer probably would have been: the Church. Yet before me were people active in the public square – not church institutions.
Had Jesus ever told us to build his church? Well, no actually. Surprisingly, Jesus said very little about the church in his teaching. He would build his church (Matt. 16:18); we were to seek his kingdom. From the Lord’s Prayer we can deduce the kingdom as being where his will is being done: on earth, in Europe, in the Nordic and Baltic lands, as it is in heaven. Wherever legislation was passed to promote shalom, reconciliation and right relationships – in families, business, foreign affairs, agriculture and among ethnic groups, for example – then was that not in some sense an advance of the kingdom?
But was this not a blind spot many of us seem to share? Do we really believe Jesus is Lord of all? Not just of our personal spiritual lives, or of church life, but also of the public square of politics, diplomacy, business, media. Abraham Kuyper put it this way: there is not one square inch of human activity where Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not say mine!
If we really believed that in the evangelical world, surely it would be reflected in our theological seminaries! Unfortunately it is not. Where can young people go to be equipped in public theology as kingdom agents in the public square, to prepare for a career in politics, diplomacy or commerce?
‘How are we engaged in building?’ was the next question. Paul reminds the Corinthians that Jesus Christ is the foundation. He is the focus of the prayer breakfast movement, the highest common denominator for believers of all political persuasions. And the Living Word is revealed in the Written Word, the book that has shaped Europe more than any other factor.
Yet here we identified another blind spot. Was the Bible merely a book focused on getting us to heaven and saving our souls? Or was its message so much deeper and broader, pointing to the restoration and reconciliation of all things under heaven and on earth?
How much do we know of the transforming power of the Bible in shaping our politics, government, democracy, the concept of Europe, European culture, European integration and the European Union itself? How can we identify the spiritual idolatries behind all the -isms, (nationalism, capitalism, socialism, liberalism, etc) each of which absolutises something of God’s good creation, as David Koyzis explains in Political visions and illusions (see also my Schuman Talk with David).
Again, where can young aspiring politicians learn Biblical foundations for their callings to the public square?
‘Where are we engaged in building?’ was the third and last question, which led directly to the third and last blind spot. Most of us are engaged in building at the local level. Evangelicals generally focus on the local church and thus think locally. Protestant churches emerged from the Reformation as territorial churches, such as the Church of England or the Dutch Reformed Church. They tended to think nationally. But Catholics have always viewed themselves as belonging to a universal, catholic church and thus saw a broader picture.
Someone said: Catholics see woods; Protestants see trees. To which I add, Evangelicals see branches. We Evangelicals have a blind spot when it comes to thinking ‘Europe’.
So thank God for the Prayer Breakfast movement as it aims to nurture friendships across political, philosophical and even religious differences, holding prayer events in the European Parliament and the parliaments of many of the 50 European nations. (Photo: Per Ewert)
Till next week,