Brexit – a wake-up call for Europe?

Could the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union serve to remind the peoples of Europe and the Christian Church of their Judaeo-Christian roots?

A biblical impulse from Harald Eckert

Theodor Heuss, the first President of the Federal Republic of Germany, had a clear vision for Europe. He saw the continent built on three hills: the Acropolis in Athens, Golgotha in Jerusalem and the Capitoline Hill in Rome. In spiritual terms, there is much truth in this observation. But can these three sources of European spiritual history really be reconciled with one another? The crisis currently facing the peoples of Europe (and also the Church in Europe) has entered a new dimension with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, making this issue even more explosive and topical.

Are Athens (Hellenism) and Jerusalem (Judaism) really compatible? Is Rome (Vatican) influenced to a greater extent by “Athens” or by “Jerusalem”? From a biblical perspective – taking Genesis as the starting point in the history of biblical revelation and the Book of Revelation as its culmination – the same question can be formulated slightly differently: what is the relationship between Jerusalem and Babylon?

Jerusalem or Babylon?

From a biblical perspective, Babylon is the embodiment of human hubris and godless seduction: “Babylon” symbolizes power, greed, blasphemy, overweening pride and the worship of man and his works (humanism). Jerusalem stands for the opposite of this: Jerusalem is referred to in Psalm 48:3 and in Matthew 5:35 as the “City of the Great King” (David, Jesus). At the same time, it is also both a priestly city and a prophetic city. It is the city in which Jesus worked, died and rose again. The city of Jerusalem has a unique significance for God and in the Bible. Which influence on Europe is the more pronounced: the Babylonian-Hellenistic influence or the Judaeo-Christian influence?

Following the catastrophe of two world wars, the majority of Europe’s founding fathers were focused on a return to basic Judaeo-Christian values. The rejection of any reference to God in the European constitution (2004/2005) speaks a different language, however – an anti-Christian tendency dominates here. Rather simplifying things, one could say that those pushing Great Britain towards Brexit tended to be older and more Christian/conservative. In the rest of Europe, the main fault line of the crisis runs along the former border between Eastern and Western Europe: Eastern Europeans tend more strongly towards conservative, Christian values (those values which helped them to overcome the hubris of Communism) – as opposed to the Hellenistic/humanistic values of the West.

The weakness of the Church

This time of increasing lack of orientation was actually a major opportunity for the Church to adopt the role of a beacon and to act as “salt and light” for a Europe that is stumbling around in the dark. A Europe that practises humility, reconciliation, good neighbourliness and altruism, respect, moderation, integrity and fear of God would have a chance of developing with God’s blessing. As I see it, the weakness of the Church is that it generally concurs with the statement of President Heuss regarding the three European hills and has come to embody it as a matter of tradition. In other words, the Church in Europe is itself too greatly influenced by “Athens” and “Rome” to be able to provide Europe with clear orientation based on the power of “Jerusalem”. The Church itself is in need of renewal from “Jerusalem” – in order to be able to contribute effectively to a renewal of Europe’s Judaeo-Christian roots.

The three hills of Jerusalem

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?” prays the psalmist in Psalm 121, verse 1. This verse reminds us that the three most important hills in the history of humanity are all located in Jerusalem: Mount Moriah, on which Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his promised son Isaac (today’s Temple Mount), Golgotha (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion) and the Mount of Olives (the site of Jesus’ ascension and of his promised return). These hills are sufficient. May both things go out from these hills: renewal of the Church and blessing and orientation for the peoples of Europe!

Yes – the Church has always remembered Golgotha, but European Christendom has largely lost sight of Moriah (the heritage of Abraham and the Old Testament) and the Mount of Olives (the biblically foretold site of Jesus’ return in power and glory to bring salvation and judgement). It is only when all three hills are taken together, however, that they adequately represent the full depth of focus of Jerusalem in history and prophecy. The nourishing sap (Romans 11) that gives the Church the necessary authority to serve effectively as “salt and light” for the peoples of Europe can only flow from these Judaeo-Christian roots.

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