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England’s monarchy: Ordained ‘sovereign, defender of the faith’?

Queen Elizabeth II was coronated June 2, 1953.

LONDON (BP) – She was called “the sovereign,” defender of the “one true Protestant religion.” She was crowned in 1953 with nearly 5 pounds of solid gold encrusted with 444 jewels, and was anointed with oils of orange, rose, cinnamon, musk and ambergris.

“Our sure hope comes from the fact the monarchy is not in a person; it is in God’s loving grace that He poured upon the queen and pours upon the king,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby preached at Canterbury Cathedral days after Queen Elizabeth II’s death Sept. 8.

Yet, for all the adoration and admiration she engenders as defender of the faith, head of the Church of England and professional humanitarian, commoners don’t truly consider her ordained for her position by God, surmises Premier Christian Media CEO Peter Kerridge, a Baptist minister who leads the largest Christian media group in Europe, as well as the U.S. nonprofit apologetics ministry PremierInsight.org.

“I don’t think many people think that (the monarchy is ordained by God). I don’t think that they think that at all,” Kerridge told Baptist Press. Rather, the tradition has evolved.

“Now this all goes back to the Reformation and Henry VIII and the breakaway from Rome,” he said. “And so the king, the monarchy, effectively became head of the church rather than the pope. It’s a strange construct, but it has actually worked for us in the UK.

“And the wonderful thing is … it has evolved over the years. Prime ministers come and go, but the role of monarchy stays the same. So they build up a real following and a real love for a sense of permanence, continuity, someone who stands above the fray, away from the hustle and bustle of the daily event. That’s the really wonderful benefit that we’ve seen and what was celebrated over these last few days.”

Brad Littlejohn of North Carolina, who has taught at the former Spokane, Wash., campus of Moody Bible Institute and is considered an expert in Reformation history and political theology, describes the monarchy as “a manifestation, a delegation of God’s authority, a sacred trust ultimately accountable to Him.”

He pointed to Elizabeth II’s coronation for evidence in an opinion article on her Platinum Jubilee in June.

“This understanding of the crown as a sacred vocation was vividly expressed in Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation ceremony, which even then seemed something of a bewildering medieval holdover in a rapidly modernizing world,” he wrote June 23 in WORLD. “Perhaps most striking was Queen Elizabeth’s oath as ‘defender of the faith.’ The archbishop asked, ‘Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed religion established by law?’

“The queen responded, ‘All this I promise to do,’ and then, kneeling before the great altar in Westminster Abbey with her right hand upon the Bible, ‘The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.’”

All of England is in official mourning until Sept. 26. Planning is underway for the coronation of King Charles III likely in the spring of 2023, which according to news reports could fall on the 70th anniversary of his late mother’s coronation, June 2. Just as the day of his mother’s funeral, Charles III’s coronation will be a national public holiday.

“The monarchy in the UK is incredibly well received,” Kerridge said. “Just like in the days of Caesar, the head of the monarch is on every coin, on every banknote, on every postage stamp. The armed forces fight for the monarch. So the king or the queen is the head of all the armed forces. It’s not the prime minister; it’s the king or the queen.

“And because their life is devoted to good work, there’s not a community in the UK that doesn’t see or hear from them at some point in their life. Everybody who gets 100 years of age receives a handwritten note from the monarch.”

It was easy to call Elizabeth II “sovereign,” Kerridge said.

“I absolutely agree that with the wrong character, that would be a very inappropriate phrase or set of terms. But because the Queen’s Christian faith shone out of her, day in, day out, week in, week out, year in, year out, in every relationship that you hear about,” Kerridge said, “every person who’s ever met her would say that this was some super, super Christian woman.

“Then, therefore, she was reflecting to the extent any one human being can, the sovereignty of God, the grace of God, the kindness of God. We certainly don’t idolize people; neither do we idolize the role. But it is a helpful sign of what monarchy can be. And also, in the days of presidents and prime ministers and dictators, it’s quite useful to see a biblical term come to life.”

Charles III is different from his mother, but Kerridge believes England has high hopes for the King.

“I’ve met both Charles and the Queen and of course, they are very different characters. The Queen’s faith was absolutely resolute. She wore it on her sleeve,” Kerridge said, pointing out that her husband Prince Philip was the most literate theologian of the Royal Family and that Philip’s mother eventually became a Greek Orthodox nun. “Charles has been brought up in the Christian tradition and he has said only this past week that the Christian faith is rooted in his very being.

“Of course he’s a very different character. But actually, we’re pretty hopeful that he will continue his mother’s position. And also, it’s a very tough act to follow, but he’s made a very good start.”

The Queen expressed hope that Jesus would return during her lifetime so that she could lay her crown at His feet, Kerridge said.

“We all one day meet the King of Kings. We’re not going to meet the president of presidents, or the prime minister of prime ministers, or the mayor of mayors. We’re going to meet the King of Kings,” he said. “And there is something about being a king or a queen. … I’m a Baptist minister, and all I can say is I’d rather have a monarch who never changes or gets voted in or out, than a prime minister or a president who comes and goes every four years and spends the next four years trying to get reelected.

“And they all have their chicken dinners and their charity galas, and what we’ve got in a monarchy transcends all of that.”