Britain's Oldest Ally

Who’s our oldest ally? America? No. We were the USA’s first official enemy. We also have the honour of being the only nation to have burnt down the Whitehouse, back in 1814.

France? No, this was the nation against which we fought the Hundred Years War (actual length: 116 years).

Scotland? No again. They referred to us as the auld enemy. In fact it’s Portugal and it is the oldest alliance in the world still in force. It was signed at Windsor in 1386, arguably 1373, and its terms are honoured to this day. In 1939 when Britain and Germany became enemies, Portugal announced that the alliance was still intact: by remaining neutral, she ensured the helpful neutrality of fascist Spain. In the 1982 Falklands War, our old ally kindly offered us use of naval bases in the Azores.

The more about this association I learned, the fonder I became of all things Portuguese.

Alliances are pacts between nations which offer assurance of friendly dealings and mutual support in the event of attack. They sound great, and often are, but children of Israel were forbidden from making them in Exodus 23:32:

“You shall make no covenant with them [the inhabitants of Canaan], nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

Alliances offer benefit but it comes at a cost. Your ally will expect you to fight for him and regard him as a friend. God foresaw that allying to a pagan nation would either involve swearing by their gods at the treaty-making stage or would cause their paganism to seep into Israel’s own worship. It was therefore forbidden. It would also create a situation in which Israel would learn to depend on foreign princes rather than her faithful God. She existed as a nation because God had elected her, not because she had won battles or had an impressive field army. She was not to become just another pagan Canaanite tribe.

Lord Palmeston, British Prime Minister, told the House of Commons in 1848:

We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.

Nearly so with the Church of Christ. Our eternal and perpetual ambition is to serve and glorify Christ; sin and the devil remain our perpetual foes. But with none do we form alliances. We respect the state and we shall always obey as much as we can. We respect others’ right to join and adhere to other faiths, but we cannot with them unite. Even within the broad spectrum of Christianity, we cannot share platforms with those who deny Christ and the basic tenets of the faith. This does not mean we are a weary band of lone rangers, with well-gazed navels. Francis Schaeffer coined the phrase co-belligerency: while eschewing joint worship and shared platforms with liberals and papists (subtractors and adders, respectively), we can engage in joint enterprises based on temporary agreements to achieve specific goals. The Roman Church has faithfully defended life’s sanctity in our bloody culture; with them we may be co-belligerent in that regard. Likewise, if the local imam contacted me to complain about some social issue in our locality, I might join with him. The Christian Institute once worked with a secularist organisation in a campaign to preserve free speech, a freedom with which the then government was meddling.

Much as I value England’s old alliance with Portugal, and other nations beside, we in the church of God must guard against yoking ourselves with unbelievers, whilst working with them to achieve some mutual benefit.

Anyone feeling belligerent about the current decline in morals and antichristian bias would do well to sign up to Citizen Go. I regularly support their campaigns though I could not share worship with all of their supporters.


Image by TeeFarm from Pixabay