I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)
So far, the debate over remain / leave the EU has been mainly about two issues: the economy and immigration. These are not unimportant, but I want to suggest some aspects of the Bible’s teaching which we will do well to take into account as we think more widely and deeply.
The first is a Biblical view of human nature. We are made in God’s image - so every human being (from every country!) is precious. Yet we are also fallen, and sin’s infection means that we need restraints or we are liable to do the wrong thing. In Romans the Apostle Paul reminds his readers what much human behaviour is like: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. And so on. (Romans 1:29ff)
This means that we are likely to find corruption in all our political institutions (including the EU). It is also the reason why we find it hard to get on with each other, and why ever-closer-integration in Europe is likely to prove immensely difficult. Indeed, with such attitudes in our hearts, our temptation to war is much stronger than we might admit.
Ultimately, only the gospel can address the problem of the human heart. But, as Paul shows later in the letter (Romans 13), God has instituted the state, and it has the role of punishing wrongdoing. Paul’s comments at that point are in no sense intended to be a full theory of the state, but do show how the state functions, in part, to control evil. Arguably, treaties between states are also a way in which our natural instincts for war can be held in check. I am not talking about mutual defence arrangements such as NATO, nor the disastrous alliances which led to World War One, but arrangements which bind nations together for mutual interest and discourage them from fighting each other (as opposed to a common, distant enemy). With a biblical view of human nature, we must admit that we are not immune from war even with our nearest neighbours - as the history of our island in the last thousand years shows. This said, so strong are the sinful forces in our (and others’) hearts that we would be naive to imagine that any political institution could stop all war.
A second factor to take into consideration is God’s desire for all people to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth (see the extract from 1 Timothy, above). It is in this context that Paul asks for prayer for all people, including kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. The likeliest way to understand this is that Paul wants the authorities to look well on the churches, so people can hear about Jesus. Europe’s greatest need is for the gospel, and therefore it is good to pray for an environment in which freedom of religion is fostered and it is easier to make disciples of all nations. We know that the gospel can spread even in difficult circumstances (for instance, with Paul speaking for Christ in prison), but we are rightly thankful for the freedoms we enjoy to meet and to evangelise.
The question whether UK membership of the EU is going to hinder or help in both of these areas is one which we must all face. It is beyond the scope of this blog, and some of us will reach different conclusions (and must remain friends!).
Let’s pray, then, that the outcome of the referendum favours peace and the gospel. After 23 June, whatever happens, we know that our God is living, powerful, and sovereign: King of kings, and Lord of lords.