What does it matter?

December 12, 2011

No one can safely predict what the long term fallout will be from last week’s European summit in Brussels. Some hail David Cameron’s ‘No’ to the EU as a heroic parallel to Henry VIII’s snub to Rome, endorsing the Reformation in England. Others fear Britain will have to re-learn the costly lesson of the sixties when it sat for 12 years in the waiting room estranged from the European Economic Community.
Winston Churchill said that if Britain had a choice between the continent and the open seas, it would alway choose for the latter. Churchill, however, didn’t live in the 21st century.
And the implications of the summit for the rest of the continent? Some say it was a necessary and significant step in the right direction. Others argue that it didn’t tackle the banks and won’t solve the immediate crisis. Meanwhile the markets still wait for a clear signal from the European Central Bank to guarantee the process.
Much of this can simply go over our heads. It’s too complicated and political. As Christians, maybe we should just focus on the ‘essentials’ of the gospel: evangelism, discipleship and church planting. What does it really matter to European Christians? Shouldn’t we ‘render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’ (politics?) and ‘to God what belongs to God’ (religion?).
And that’s okay–that is, if we don’t take the Lord’s Prayer seriously. For when we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth, that includes Europe of course. And if we understand the definition Jesus gave, in the next line of the prayer, of that kingdom as where God’s will is being done, we can’t be satisfied with thinking that will only happen when Jesus returns. Surely God always wants his will to be done now in Europe: in politics, in business, in education, in every area of life.
The crises we are experiencing in Europe today are evidence of the significant times we are living in.
Let’s take a broad look to get perspective. Since Jesus taught his disciples to pray in this way, his kingdom has indeed advanced in major ways on our planet. And it continues to do so, despite all the bad news that fills our papers. More people joined God’s Kingdom in the last century than in all the previous centuries added together.
Politically however, the collapse of the Roman Empire allowed a new empire eventually to emerge in Europe under Charlemagne, called the Holy Roman Empire. Features of this empire lasted a thousand years, where authority was centralised, top down and hierarchical,  and sanctioned by the Church.
The Reformation challenged this world order to the core with its emphasis on personal conscience eventually leading to new democratic forms and the emergence of the nation state. The religious wars of the 16th and 17th century for which Christianity gets much blame were at root struggles about authority and social order dressed up in religious language.
When the dust finally settled–after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648–Europe had moved into a new political order based on sovereign but competing nation states. This led to alliances and ententes being formed to create a balance of power, which led to constant warring, eventually dragging down the rest of the world.
The problem of how to a break the vicious cycle of recurring wars between nation states is what led Robert Schuman to a vision of Europe as a community of peoples with a degree of mutual accountablility, undergirded by Christian values.
Today’s crises reflect the ongoing search for a way forward for the European nations. We’ve not been here before. We live in an interwoven Europe–an interconnected world–which must find a peaceful and just, united yet diverse, sustainable way of living together.
This is where things have gone pear-shaped. We’ve lost the consensus of Christian values. What used to be called ‘vice’ is now exalted: ‘greed is good’ has been the creed since the Reagan-Thatcher days where the present financial crisis has its roots. Trust, service, solidarity and community all stem from the concept of brotherly love, from the commandment to love our brothers as ourselves. 
More than ever, we need Christians in politics, business, economics, banking and the media to uphold these values! Take a few minutes to check out this video which begins with the following words: ‘The Occupy Movement is the force that will revitalise traditional Christianity…’
You may not agree with it all, but it rattled my cage:
Till next week,

  Jeff Fountain


Till next week,

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