The referendum and the Church

Considerations on the EU referendum

How should Reformed Christians approach and assess the options in the forth-coming referendum and which vote would be better for the interests of Reformed Christianity in Scotland and the United Kingdom – leave or remain?

Many arguments and counter-arguments have been offered by politicians, economists, businessmen and ordinary citizens concerning every area in life which would be or might be affected by the choice before the British people on Thursday 23rd June. Few have asked the question of this paper. This makes it all the more necessary that it be aired and given an answer, even if at the 11th hour.

The Reformation was a work of God which began, 500 years ago, in Europe. In the gracious providence of God it was taken, at great cost and sacrifice and with much martyr blood, to these shores over the following 150 years, culminating in the Second Reformation attainments and the production of the unifying Westminster standards. As a nation, Scotland therefore owes much to Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands and to the Reformed Churches, rulers and peoples of these nations both at the time of the Reformation and since. The Churches of the Reformation in Europe originally had common interests with the Church which, under the leadership of John Knox, was erected in Scotland. That common interest was to be seen in doctrinal creeds forms of worship and system of church government. Indeed, it could be said that in 1560 Scotland had much more in common with the Churches in the four other Protestant nations of Europe than with its neighbour England. While these nations did not conserve their fully Reformed heritage and commitment like Scotland did, they did resist the degree of error in doctrine, worship and government which came to be the entrenched and constitutional settlement of the Church and nation of England. To this day the Scottish Church has far greater affinity and common ground (admittedly it is shrinking and unstable) with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands than it has with any in England in all three crucial areas of ecclesiastical duty and responsibility.

The nations making up the continent of Europe have seen many centuries of war and blood shed almost without cessation until the close of the last great conflict of the Second World War. The emergence of peace in Europe and its maintenance for the past 70 years is a blessing and favour of God to the peoples of Europe for which much thankfulness should be offered. With threats from the east and south, the continent has been protected by various means and has prospered in the earth. With that prosperity however, has come a most terrible spiritual darkness, apostasy and defiling of religion by all classes and parts of society in all the nations of Europe. That great apostasy includes this nation which was the most highly favoured of them all in spiritual blessings. The conclusion that we are led to make from the Word of God is that both we in the United Kingdom, (and in Scotland especially), and the nations of Europe, are ripening for terrible judgements unless we repent. The principles of God’s moral government found in the Scriptures make clear that he addresses and deals with nations as nations. He addresses and deals with rulers as rulers and with Churches as Churches in particular nations, as well as with individuals. While he commands all men everywhere to repent, he calls his own Church as identified by national or provincial names and places, to repent when it degenerates. Further, God has specifically called the nations and rulers in the New Testament era, by the word of prophecy and the claims of Christ, to nurture and support his Church. He has expressly warned that the nation that will not do so will perish and be utterly wasted.


The first and primary consideration of Reformed Christians in Scotland in the forth-coming referendum must be that the outcome would be conducive to and helpful towards national and Church repentance in this and the other countries of the European continent.

It may be suggested that neither outcome will of itself have this effect and so the consideration is somewhat irrelevant to the choice being made. This would be a hasty conclusion. Every political decision by rulers and by voters has some bearing and influence on the interests and welfare of the Church of Christ. Voting to remain in the EU may be instrumental in bringing the nation to repentance if it results in our deeper sense of God’s spiritual judgements on us. Voting to leave the EU may hinder repentance if it feeds and encourages that national pride and arrogance which scoffs at God’s spiritual judgements. What is important to consider is that what nations do in relation to the cause of Christ, and what they neglect to do, has a spiritual effect for good or evil.

It ought to be a firmly held conviction of those who believe, as Reformed Christians in Scotland have done, that there is a God-ordained connection between Church and State. The ways in which rulers legislate and govern, whether locally, nationally or on the international stage, necessarily affects and influences the lives of individual Christians in their callings. It also greatly affects the endeavours and duties of the Church whether in preaching, pastoral responsibilities, educating youth, resolving cases of conscience, exercising spiritual rule and discipline or carrying out any of its other God-given duties. Voting for particular representatives or the parties they are in will have a very significant bearing on how we are governed. Many Reformed Christians would now conclude that there are no political parties or representatives for whom they can vote with a clear conscience. Voting to remain in or to leave the EU may make little difference or may make a great difference as to the actual representatives who will be elected in our country.

Laws passed by parliaments, whether in Scotland, Westminster or Brussels, have both a short term and a long term effect on public morals, norms and attitudes to the Word of God.  They either advance and encourage (even unintentionally) obedience to the commandments of God, (which is what rulers as God’s ministers for good are given for), or they discourage, hinder and deter from obedience to God’s law. They may be a terror to evil, or a great source and encouragement of evil. The laws of Scotland, of the UK and of the EU under which we live contain a mixture of both good and evil and voting to remain in the EU or to leave the EU may have a significant bearing on the future balance between what is good and what is evil in the laws under which we will live. Some good and just laws and the obligations of treaties and securities in courts of justice may greatly aid the conformity of individuals to the law of God. Other laws, treaties and judicial measures may obstruct obedience and hinder conformity.

Not least among the duties of the Church is the great commission itself, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature – to teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded them. This, the rulers of the earth should promote positively. Failure in this is a great sin to be repented of and mourned by the Church. Refusal to use opportunities when given in providence and the consequent removal of opportunity and ability to fulfil Christ’s commission, is cause for repentance. In deciding between leave and remain, we might therefore ask which option would more likely induce the Church to repent of its past neglects in this great duty? If God is chastising the Church for its failures in this regard by allowing rulers to restrict its ability to perform it, we are in that, being called to repentance. When rulers pass laws which hinder and obstruct this work, there is need for them also to repent and to have their laws changed and reformed. What will be most conducive to that end is therefore most desirable and worthy of seeking. That which hinders and obstructs this great duty is an evil and a stumbling block in the way of the disciples of Christ and in the repentance of the Church from her neglect of her duty, rulers are called to aid them by removing the stumbling blocks out of the way.


The second consideration of Reformed Christians in the forth-coming referendum is to be seek what is most conducive to and helpful for the promotion and spread of the gospel of Christ and the ordinances of his house in all the world in their purity by those appointed means and methods found in the Word of God.

Reformed Christians in Scotland, holding to the Scripture descriptions of Romanism and the Westminster standards in their description of the papacy, recognise the Roman Catholic Church as Christ’s greatest foe in the world in the New Testament era. They adhere to the once universally held Reformation position that the pope is the antichrist, “that man of sin and son of perdition,” identified in the Bible. While rulers may do much to hinder and obstruct the spread of the gospel, Reformed Christians believe that Romanism is by far the greater enemy to that great endeavour. They also believe that spiritual Babylon is to be destroyed by Christ and that nations will yet cast off the shackles of her dominion. They look and long for that time that is promised when Babylon the Great will fall, when the great men of the earth, kings, captains and princes, will remove themselves and their people from her tyranny. The call of the Scottish Church since the Reformation has been, “come out of her my people, that ye be not partaker of her plagues.”

It may therefore be felt that in the choice before the United Kingdom in the referendum, separation from Romanism and popery is our present calling and duty as well as our God-given opportunity. This consideration assumes that the European Union is (intrinsically and in fact) an association with and snare of the papacy and that being in it is equivalent to being in spiritual Babylon. Many commentators over the years have identified both in political movements, institutions, treaties and also in various symbols and external marks, a clear and plain identification of the European Union with Romanism. Protestants have often been encouraged to make this connection and have been exhorted and warned to break off the association and remove themselves thus from the influence, tyranny and interference of Popery and Romanism. Books and articles have been written which enlarge on this theme.

The Scriptures in identifying popery as the man of sin speak of him “sitting in the temple of God,” which has always been taken to mean that he asserts and uses ecclesiastical power in the exercise of his tyranny and wickedness. The picture of this system of antichrist and its relation to civil powers is as an ecclesiastical power unwarrantably and tyrannically lording over rulers and kings. We should therefore be careful to distinguish between the scriptural picture of antichrist – the papacy – and the rulers, nations and kingdoms of the world over which she seeks to exercise her dominion. From this perspective, the European Union is not itself the antichrist or the beast of Revelation or any other of the biblical figures used to identify the Roman Catholic Church. Alliances, unions and confederacies with other nations as nations therefore do not intrinsically mean that our nation is entering into an alliance, union or confederacy with popery, however dominant and tyrannical popery may be in some or other of these nations. There are biblical examples of civil alliances, unions and confederacies between Israel and heathen nations which show that they are legitimate as civil, even if prohibited if partaking of a religious element. As an illustration of this distinction, it is worthy of consideration when deciding whether to remain or to leave that there is a far closer alliance, union and confederacy with Romanism in the diplomatic ties made by the UK (and Scotland) with the Vatican than there may be in civil and economic or political ties within the European Union and common market.


The third consideration for Reformed Christians in the forth-coming referendum is to seek that outcome which will be most conducive to and hastening of the promised destruction and fall of mystery Babylon – the Roman Catholic Church and the tyrannical papacy.

It may well be that by leaving the European union we would be hastening and encouraging the fall of Romanism in the world. It may however be that by leaving the European union we would see our nation further and more dangerously come under the more direct heel and tyranny of spiritual Babylon. It may well be that by leaving the EU, the distinctly Protestant elements in our constitution would be more vulnerable rather than less vulnerable. Looking at the present divine judgement inflicted on Scotland in the make-up, character, religion and morals of our present rulers and parliaments, can we be sure that the separation of the United Kingdom from the European union would equate to a greater distance from spiritual Babylon? The opposite may well be the case. As a divine judgement on our overturning and despising of the blessed work of Reformation in Scotland, it would be richly deserved. Until we repent, we can expect further bondage, oppression and spiritual judgements.

That which will ultimately be the means for the destruction of antichristian popery is the preaching of the gospel. The weapons of the Church are not carnal but spiritual, and are mighty only “through God” to the pulling down of that and other strongholds of Satan. It is not with Roman Catholics as individuals, nor even as rulers and as nations led by these rulers, that the Church of Christ is called to engage in this spiritual war. It is with spiritual Babylon itself as the tyrannical oppressor of these peoples and rulers and nations. The Reformed Church (whatever rulers do) ought to be motivated by compassionate longing for the deliverance of souls from that tyranny. It is called to use all means and opportunities given in providence, which are consistent with and commanded by God’s Word to advance that great end. That is the apostolic example which brought the gospel to Europe in the first century and the Reformed example which brought it back to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

If protecting our national sovereignty and constitutional framework; if re-adjusting our trading relations and preventing migration; if extracting ourselves from labour laws, social justice measures and political interference are liable to increase and further engage and stir up Reformed Christians to these duties then possibly leaving the European union would be advantageous. If, however we end up further (and increasingly) absolving ourselves of the duty and exercise of compassionate evangelism towards Romanists under the tyranny of spiritual Babylon and if we end up being ruled by those who would bring our people into further spiritual bondage to that tyranny in our own land, then merely leaving the European union would be no benefit at all under this consideration.

It may be that the Lord’s providence has brought the nations of Europe together into a civil and economic and even semi-political union for far higher and more gracious ends and designs than we imagine. It may be that remaining in the European union at this juncture will one day be seen as the most helpful and conducive decision that the United Kingdom made to advance the preaching of the gospel to Romanists and to make possible (humanly speaking and through appointed means) the fall of mystery Babylon. If repentance is our first and primary duty and if obedience to the great commission is our second duty after that, and if seeking the fall of spiritual Babylon is our next and third duty in order, and if we are to seek all three together, then we can look for the blessed outcome as promised. Maybe in such circumstances it would not be far distant. The time of Babylon’s fall may be near, or it may yet be far off, but it is certain. The means to be used to bring it about is the preaching of the gospel and the fulfilment of the Church’s duty in every nation particularly, of the terms and responsibilities of the great commission in all its implications. That is to be the over-riding consideration for Reformed Christians as to positive duty. Their study of the promises of the Bible greatly encourage them in this.


The fourth consideration for Reformed Christian in the forth-coming referendum is to seek the fulfilment of the promised blessing of every nation with their rulers actively and publically supporting and establishing by just and good laws, the Reformed Church and promoting godliness and honesty by these laws in co-operation with the spiritually independent government of national Churches.

In many ways the relationship between Church and State in Scotland has come the closest in the whole of history to the biblical model of what it ought to be in every nation. The model is the relation between Church and State in Israel, where two distinct, separate and co-operative but independent governments – civil and ecclesiastical – ruled the nation and its people under God and his Word. Whether a republic, a monarchy or a democracy of some kind, the nation of Israel under God serves as a type of the Church in its full and blessed earthly state during the public glory and reign of the Messiah as king of nations. This vision is promised in all the Scriptures.

The Reformation of the Church of Scotland both aspired to and sought the adoption of that model deliberately, as the writings of men like Durham, Rutherford and especially Gillespie show. The achievement was a momentous one and it is astonishing and marvellous that, in its essentials, it remains the constitutional reality in the present day. There is yet to be a time when all nations will adopt this model, and it may be that the model of the Scottish nation and Church will be greatly used to aid that outcome in other nations. It would certainly involve Scotland in recovering much of what has been lost since the Second Reformation and the model is not yet brought to perfection. But it is as good and biblical as is to be found anywhere on earth.

There are therefore strong and weighty reasons why Scotland as a nation, and Reformed Christians in it, should be very jealous and zealous in defence of her constitutional settlement, even with its weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It is precious legacy and heritage which the selling or loss of would be a high national crime and sin. Having all but sold it spiritually and having shown abject neglect and indifference to its provisions and attainments, Reformed Christians of Scotland are in serious danger of selling their birth-right and losing that which others have wrought for her. It is a perilous and dangerous time for our nation when our ruling party in government is actively and forcefully seeking the removal of these very constitutional blessings. It would surely be no marvel, considering the principles of God’s moral government identified in Scripture, if we would lose these things as a divine judgement on the nation and chastisement on the Church. If we despise it, we are in the greatest possible danger of losing it. If we forget to tell it to our children, we will be deserving the misery of discovering too late that they know not and care not for it. If we neglect to use its provisions and to assert its privileges as ministers, officers and members of the Reformed Church which it was given to us to protect and secure from tyranny, it will be no wonder if we lose it and have it taken from us. Its recovery may be a long time in coming and would surely involve us in national shame of a high degree.

The stated policy of the Scottish Government and of a growing number of Scottish people is to break up the union of the United Kingdom in which the constitutional blessings are secured by the Treaty of Union. This would, if achieved, result in the loss of all that the Second Reformation achieved in terms of public and civil commitment and obligation to Christ and the Church of Christ. If voting leave were to result in added pressure and eventual success of this stated aim in Scotland, it would be a hugely retrograde and damaging step which would involve much loss and harm to the Reformed Church in this and other lands. All that would be lost would have to be recovered by future generations and the triubles and judgements which such a loss would entail are incalculable.


The fifth and final consideration of Reformed Christians in Scotland on the forth-coming referendum should therefore be to make a choice between remain or leave which would, in all the circumstances, be protective of and most likely to preserve the existing constitutional arrangements by which the Church of Christ is secured and the state in Scotland bound to its duty by solemn engagements and inviolable treaties.

There may, from all the above, be a strong case for voting remain. But equally, if after leaving, our nation and people were to be brought under the powerful working of the Spirit of grace to repentance, and if the Church was to repent and do the first works and seek to be more fully obedient to its Master and Lord in all things, and if the zeal for the honour of Christ, the salvation of souls in spiritual bondage and the coming of Christ’s Kingdom of power in the earth was to be given, the outcome of a leave vote would also be conducive, under God’s blessing to these ends.



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