Recent developments in Europe are nothing short of stunning!
Never before in history have so many countries united on a voluntary basis. Twenty-five European nations are now linked together in a process of ‘ever-closer union’ and in a commitment to ‘strive for peace, justice and solidarity throughout the world’. The old division of Europe, agreed upon by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in their famous wartime Yalta meeting sixty years ago, is gone.
No, Utopia has not arrived. Tensions and power struggles will continue between the EU member states. Causes for concern aplenty remain concerning some of the EU social agenda items. And as the economic realities of embracing the poorer eastern states into their Union are felt at the grass-roots level in the western states, resentments will no doubt surface.
But let’s look at the bigger picture. Let’s realise the enormity of what has been achieved. Compare the situation in Europe today to how it was a century ago. The Triple Alliance of England, France and Russia was pitted against the Triple Entente of Austria, Germany and Turkey. The imperialist policies of these European powers dragged much of the world into the Great War and again two decades later into its sequel. War in Europe meant world war. By corollary, peace in Europe contributes enormously towards peace in the world.
What then has made this turn around possible? Some say Reason has prevailed; that the values of the Enlightenment define the New Europe, a view presently dominant in the God-in-the-EU-constitution debate. But I suspect the Enlightenment’s positive contribution is only due to residual Christian values in European culture. Divorced from biblical faith in God, it produced the extremes of the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution and the Third Reich.
You may have heard it from me before. And you’ll probably hear it from me again. But it is the Story of Jesus that has been the greatest influence on shaping Europe’s past. Why should not this same Story of Jesus be the greatest influence in shaping Europe’s future?
As this Story spread among the European peoples over a thousand years ago, it brought transformation to individuals, families and society in general. Only this common background of Christian values has made the recent expansion of the EU possible. To omit specific mention of God and the role of the Christian movement from the European Constitution violates the realities of history.
Other nations further east – as well as elsewhere in the world – find their inspiration in the EU model. I was recently in Macedonia during presidential elections, and even the communist candidate was seated in front of an EU flag on the many posters plastered around the country. Aspiring member-states like Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are scrambling to ensure they meet the regulations in so many areas, including democracy and human rights. The Ukraine, which is not in the running for membership in the near future, looks westward rather than eastward, and is celebrating “Europe” this coming week with concerts and events around Kiev. The Dutch embassy there has invited my sons’ band, Eleven, to contribute to these festivities.
To mark these historic developments, Christians from across Europe united in their own historic event last Saturday, called Together for Europe. I know of no previous event involving such a broad spectrum of believers – from evangelical, protestant, catholic and orthodox backgrounds – celebrating the richness of their common Christian heritage in Europe. The 10,000 participants in Stuttgart were linked by satellite television to a further 90,000 others spread across 150 locations in Europe. Speakers in Stuttgart included Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, Chiara Lubich, founder of the two million strong Focolare Movement, and evangelist Ulrich Parzany of the YMCA Germany. The initiative for this event came from a broad fellowship of Christian Communities and Movements that has emerged ecumenically in recent years, spilling across denominational and confessional boundaries.
Together for Europe had some common goals with our HOPE.21 congress in Budapest two years ago, although Hope for Europe is evangelical at heart and promotes networks in specific fields. So I drove to Stuttgart for two days of leaders gatherings last Thursday and Friday, with the leader of the Focolare Movement in Holland and the Bishop of Haarlem. We returned in time for me to speak on Saturday at the Dutch celebration in Den Bosch, attended by church dignitaries from pentecostal, protestant, catholic and orthodox traditions. From the podium I held up a Euro note and drew attention to the bridges depicted on each note, bridges of communication, understanding and relationship for which the EU stands. Together for Europe was a bridge event, bringing believers together from different backgrounds, and such unity with diversity was at least a partial answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.
Bridging the relationship gap was not in itself the end goal, however. We also needed vision. I turned the Euro note over to display the windows pictured on the reverse side. Windows speak of vision and outlook. I love to quote Jean Monnet, the visionary of the European Coal and Steel Community, forerunner of the EU, who said: “I have always been a believer in Harry Truman’s saying: where there is no vision, the people perish.” Of course, that wasn’t Truman’s saying – it comes from Solomon! It’s Proverbs 29:18. Monnet obviously didn’t know his Bible – but he had vision! What vision do we – who maybe know our Bibles well – have for Europe?
By and large, we evangelicals are not known for being enthusiastic about ‘Europe’. We have tended to be very suspicious and pessimistic having been influenced by teachings about endtimes and the Beast. We seem to have little vision for Europe. And what do Truman or Solomon say happens to those with little vision?
Where does our vision start? With asking what God’s will is for Europe. And by realising that it really is God’s will for his will to be done in Europe, in our land, in our hometown…
Let’s throw the windows wide open and take in the broader picture of what God is up to in Europe today!
Let’s be a little bolder in building bridges to others in the Body of Christ.
Let’s discover that what unites us is far greater than what separates us.
Till next week,
P.S. This was the first WW since March 8 – travel to New Zealand interrupted my schedule and I hope to get back into regular rhythm again!