Europe, Nations and the Referendum


What are we to think about the European Union? People are confused. Not least are they confused about the purpose of the EU as it has evolved after World War II. Much of the confusion is because there has been no real agreement as to what it is for. The British Government seems to thinks its main purpose is, one, for "protecting jobs", two, for ensuring a "stronger economy" and, three, for "providing security" in this terrorist age (see the back page of the pamphlet delivered through our doors, Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK).

But, historically, as one Christian supporter of the European project once said:

"the first objective of the Community is to create peace in place of Europe's terrible tribal wars, the last two of which cost 50 million dead"

- Sir Fred Catherwood

Undoubtedly, that was the overriding concern of the early founders of post-war Europe and its institutions. Jean Monnet, the great architect of modern Europe, had this as his goal. But, secondly, Monnet quite openly wanted to recover the glories of the old Holy Roman Empire. That dream, of course, has a long and chequered history going back to the Romans themselves; then in 800 AD Charlemagne when regained the title "emperor"; and, later, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler all had ideas of creating a united Europe, but by force and unsuccessfully. Then, thirdly, there was the objective of economic benefit, with economic security being believed to be the true foundation for political stability.

However, a real problem, in terms of Europe having an agreed agenda, was this: Jean Monnet, master politician that he was, never really declared his hand about wanting a new United States of Europe. However, he believed that the Continent and its long-term unity did not need a single grand act of union. Rather it would grow into a united state by a slow and steady process. So he wrote in 1952 to Robert Schuman, the founder of the European Coal and Steel Community:

"Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidity."

But such an agenda for a United States of Europe, or a European super state, was never agreed. There has never been a teasing out of whether the EU is working towards a truly federal system, or just an empire with a decentralized system. What is the difference? A truly federal system (unlike that in the United States of America) is where ultimate legal and coercive sovereignty remains with independent nations, but has unity through "agreements" (foedus is Latin for agreement) such as that agreement over "coal and steel". In the decentralized system ultimate legal and coercive sovereignty is exercised from the top as in the Roman Empire (with Paul's appeal to Caesar), but it delegates a range of, even many, tasks and decisions to the periphery (the various nations over which it has control). The European project is not yet like ancient Rome. Indeed, it is all so complicated.

Even if Britain leaves the EU, it will still be subject to the European Court of Human Rights which is not subject to the European Parliament but to the Council of Europe! Another serious problem is that Britain has a Christian Constitution through "the Queen in Parliament", whereas the European Union's Constitution is intentionally secular following the Lisbon Treaty.

The Bible On Nations And Super-States

But does the Bible help our thinking on Europe, the nation state or a super state? First we must note the Bible does not start with nations or super states but with humanity. Humanity is primordial according to Genesis 1-2. Nations appear only in Genesis 10-11. Genesis 10 concludes with the words,

"these are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood" (Gen 10.32).

So nations are not part of God's creational ordering but of his providential ordering to provide for human needs. And they develop quite differently, some become small states, some become super states or great empires, like Egypt in the time of Joseph, Babylon in the time of Jeremiah and Rome in the time of Jesus. But not all patterns of human gathering together as super states for human benefit are to be tolerated. Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel give us a warning. That was when people…

"…found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there... Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth' … And the Lord said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city" (Gen 11.2, 4, 6-8).

God's providential will had been for human dispersal across the planet for human survival. In Genesis 1 the divine command for human survival, is "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Gen 1.28). That command was repeated after the Fall and the Flood in Genesis 9 to Noah and his sons, "be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it" (Gen 9.7). Babel was essentially disobedience by wanting a future separate from God and his purposes. For God's purposes for social life were to be achieved not through a Godless global unity when nothing "they propose to do will now be impossible for them". Nor was it going to be achieved through scattered independent but Godless smaller groups (which are a lesser evil because with lesser power). But it would be achieved through separate nations in communion with God and peace with each other with all their diversity and differentiation.

That is what the next chapter in Genesis, Genesis 12, tells us through the call of Abraham, Sarah and the family that leads to the election of the nation of Israel. For Israel is to be a light to the nations now scattered throughout the earth. The call of Abraham is not just about the forming of the nation Israel for Israel's benefit, but for transforming people of other nations who in heaven, as Revelation 7.9 makes clear, would be "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb." Human differentiation and diversity through a worshipful and obedient relationship with God, is clearly part of the divine purpose. And the nation of Israel is to bring that about. As Moses is told by God at Mount Sinai, "among all peoples … you [the people of Israel] shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Ex 19.6). Israel is to function among the nations as a priest functions within its own nation. So Israel is to witness to what God has done and said to and for all nations. But with the coming of Christ the new age has begun when one day "people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13.29). But the fulfilment is not yet. Paul's speech at Athens makes this clear:

"And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God… Now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17.26-27,31).

So the Church of Christ now has the vocation of the old Israel. Peter writes to Christians: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2.9).

The Need For God's "Marvelous Light"

At the deepest level, therefore, Christians should be working for Europe to be "repurposed", to quote Pierre Manent, in a recent article in the journal First Things. He notes that the generation of the shapers of modern Europe, such as Churchill and De Gaulle, were fighting in World War II to prevent Hitler from destroying other European nations' freedoms, identity and Christian faith (be it Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox). But then came the 1960s, and particularly the student riots in France in 1968, after which generally across the West national traditions and rules, and those things that had been fought for, were delegitimized, deconstructed and destroyed, not least those intermediate communities such as the family, the church and, increasingly, the independent nation. Instead the individual was to rule with one supreme value being the individual's right to do exactly as he or she pleased, while the other supreme value was a God-rejecting, ill-defined "humanity".

With the current political class being children of the 1960s, not surprisingly its members have few of those inbred national values their parents and grandparents fought for, and that an immediate post-war Europe was to unite to protect. But now the nation states of Europe are morally, spiritually and politically weak, inevitably with such a religion of "the self" and often positively rejecting Christian values and beliefs. So European leaders equally often lack vision, being mere "celebrities" with varying degrees of intelligence, expertise and zeal. And Europe itself becomes, in Manent's phrase, "an abstract social space where the sole principle of legitimacy now resides in human rights, understood as the unlimited rights of individual particularity." That may be exaggerating, but too near the truth for comfort. So what politically is most likely to bring the necessary change back to a more Christian world view in Europe, currently the most secular region on our planet?

So please pray for the right result from the Referendum.

Back to top