Friday, 1 July 2016

Whole lotta shaking going on

It is arguable that the UK is now in its biggest mess since the last World War. The difference being that then we were, by and large, united. This time the mess is in the disunity. The Tories and Labour are both torn apart, with the opposition in particular disarray and carrying the can for what was really a Tory row. People say that they don't know who they can look in the eye in the street. Families are divided, with the traditional alliance between teenagers and their grandparents under special strain. And immigrants and transients feel insecurity and fear as at no point in most of their lifetimes. 

The most striking thing to me is the degree of disruption that has also occurred in relations between Christians, and church leaders particularly. At a General Election, very few ministers come out strongly and publicly in favour of one or other party. Still less is there an attempt to theologise the vote, in the sense of bringing arguments that claim a biblical basis for a particular choice. This time though, between a sudden attachment to, for instance, "the biblical concept of the nation state" and the discovery of the "vital role of the EU in preserving freedom for gospel work in Europe", we were pushed this way and that by strongly worded claims. It was all too easy to imply that, ultimately, only a Leave, or only a Remain, vote would have God's approval and blessing.

And strongly-worded we were. At a time when we were undoubtedly being lied or spun to by politicians on every side, Christian ministers were also going for the jugular, and the strain in relationships was and is visible. Some have had to get out of social media. Others have dropped or blocked brothers and sisters in Christ. To the best of my knowledge, the only friend I have lost was a Christian woman with whom I remonstrated for her apparent willingness to let anger turn to physical assault on a public figure. It's been rough, hasn't it? 

It is time to calm down, breathe deeply, look at ourselves, and deal with some issues. Above all, we need to think biblically and in a way that sees the Kingdom and the power and wisdom of God in all of this. 

1) God rules over the nations. He directs the heart of the king as a gardener directs the hose onto his prize roses. He does that for voters too. This referendum has surprised and shocked a lot of people - including, it would appear, some of the victors! Our sovereign Lord wasn't surprised. If you are happy with the result, don't let your happiness simply flow from a sense of "we did it."  Give thanks to God. And if you are unhappy, or very unhappy, let your unhappiness be tempered by the awareness that God is sovereign over this mess too and he has his purposes in it. 

2) Christians are to submit to the authorities. In this case, in any democratic process, that means submission to the will of our fellow voters, unless we are being forced along a path fundamentally inconsistent with our faith. That is surely not the case here. The issue was important, but not actually one where Christian faith itself was at stake. So, submission must now be our principle. We argued hard beforehand precisely because we knew that every individual's mind mattered and we wanted to win minds. I can tell you, whinging after a vote has gone against you ain't going to win any minds. The only way to change things is through proper democratic process - we are at liberty to work within democratic mechanisms to effect change, but I don't see that we are at liberty to simply refuse to submit to the decision as taken. 

3) The Kingdom of God is the real and lasting kingdom. Essential to our understanding of it is that, while nations, alliances, empires and civilisations come and go, Jesus' kingdom will endure and grow and dominate at last the entire created order. And the other kingdoms HAVE TO come and go for that to be seen. Think about the rise and fall of empires as seen in Daniel's prophecy. Think about the smoke of Babylon rising for ever in Revelation - and the fact that the smoke of destruction is the subject matter for a neat little worship song. Think of every knee bowing at the name of Jesus. It of the essence of Christian faith that the British empire (like all the others) did not last for ever!

We are citizens of another kingdom, and the mighty hand of God lifting up and casting down countries and politicians is to be a reason for praise, not fear. We need to take into account the possibility that God is actually in the process of dismantling much of what we have regarded as normal. The preservation of that "normality" or even its transformation in a direction that we want cannot be our highest priority. 

4) The biggest issue facing all of us as individuals, and the root cause of the spiritual bankruptcy in our society is our citizenship, or lack of it, in that kingdom and our relationship with its King. In the light of that overriding issue, I have been alarmed by the level of passion applied by Christians in arguments re Brexit. The question certainly has arisen - are we as fervent in persuading when it comes to the good news of Jesus? It has staggered me that gospel ministers of maturity and repute have weighed in so heavily on social media when talking to complete strangers of whose spiritual standing they know nothing. One suspects they may not be used to talking to people who actually think differently from them. I felt I had to write to one prominent conservative evangelical leader who had been arguing in a thread on my Facebook, just to give him a heads up regarding some of the people he was talking to. I received no reply and I saw no change of tone in the argument, still less any use of the moment to communicate anything related to the kingdom of Christ. 

When people bump into strangers on the Internet, they often get into heated arguments. We all know what social media can do to usually mild-mannered people. But a Christian must not hide in the anonymity of the internet. We are going to give account for every idle word. And there is no such thing as a "random stranger", for Providence is behind every conversation. There is no one who we will never meet again, for one day we will all give account at the judgement seat of Christ. All will meet there. Every internet conversation forms part of our story and of the story of those we "meet" in this life. How will we give account for our passionate persuasion re Brexit and our indifference to people’s ignorance of God, his commands, his judgment and his grace?

5) The referendum has both revealed the frustration, disenfranchisement and anger that already affected a vast number of people in our country, and has increased the division, turmoil and uncertainty that our society faces. We are in an appalling mess. 

At the political level that tells us that we had better be listening, talking and engaging in real conversations with struggling people who feel that an elitist system has let them down. There has never been a better time to get involved, but it had better be with a genuine, honest open-handedness and readiness to help people. They will know if it isn't. 

And at a spiritual level, we are seeing a meltdown of the things that people have relied on. There is a great shaking happening - within our nation, and between nations. Things are very disorientating. Where can people turn for any higher certainties and values than the dross of false promises and dashed hopes that have come from politicians? At such a time, the church needs to be united, loving, understanding and clear in its proclamation of grace. 

I am accustomed to the fact that some liberals have drifted from the urgency and overriding priority of the eternal, eschatological gospel; I am really disconcerted when conservative evangelicals let a political agenda usurp the place of the gospel in their conversations. 

For my part, I apologise for any and every interaction where I have failed in balance, kindness or understanding over the last fraught weeks. I want to appeal to you, especially to gospel preachers, to make a conscious effort to examine yourself, put right any relationships that words and attitudes have strained, and do all that is within you to preserve and demonstrate the unity we have in the Spirit. This is for our good as individuals, for the good of the church, and for the good of a hurting, lost, blind and fragmented world. 

I am strangely excited about the present situation. Not because I have come round to thinking Brexit was a good idea politically, but because I can recognise that in uncomfortable times, God is at work. I think that a much more radical breakdown is entirely possible, with potential for terror and violence on an unprecedented scale. I can also see Islam going through death throes, with a new openness to the grace of Jesus Christ already being seen amongst many who have fled from (let's face it) persecution by other Muslims. No wonder they are open!
But I can also see new waves of hate, and more readiness to show it. If British streets run red with Muslim blood, will you and your church be ready to stand between the immigrants and the mob? Will hospitality and love to strangers be the hallmarks of your religion? 

If the post-modern tide reaches its peak and the church really is persecuted, will you stand firm? Or if an anti-post-modern, anti-political-correctness backlash should take hold, will you be ready to stand equally against that tide and with the newly-oppressed? 

We don't know which of those futures it will be. But we do know who holds the future, and we know that he has work for us to do still. Let us plead with him for his Spirit to be poured out again, for his church to stand firm again, for holiness and love to mark us out, and for an as yet unimagined harvest to be brought in. The hope for Europe isn't the EU, or Brexit, Dexit, Frexit or any other Exit. It is God, in Christ, reconciling people to himself by the Spirit's power. 


  1. Excellent article, Andrew, offering a much-needed Kingdom-of-God grounded perspective - thanks for writing it.

    1. Thank you so much for your positive comment. Feel free to contact me via Facebook.

  2. Well written, Andrew. You have brought the focus back to where it needs to be, i.e. on God. Scripture warns us that if nations are disobedient to God and His Law we will reap the consequences (Deuteronomy 28). Much of our trouble today is caused by ignorance of and disobedience to God's Word. This pertains to the shepherds as well as the flock. It is not enough to believe in God. We need to believe what He says - and act accordingly - because God does not lie. As a nation , Britain is living in deep disobedience. We need to acknowledge this and repent, humble ourselves and turn back to God. Perhaps He will be merciful?