Should Christians care about monarchy?
This month the UK has a unique celebration. Queen Elizabeth II, who began her reign in 1952, becomes the longest reigning monarch in British history. She surpasses the long reign of Queen Victoria (63 years and 7 months). One of the questions that people will be asking is, “Which monarch was greater, and should we even care?”
Despite this extraordinary milestone in Elizabeth II’s reign, I suspect that historians will judge her great, great grandmother Victoria to have been the greater queen.
Why? First of all, Queen Victoria, who died in 1901, reigned when Britain ruled the seas and the sun never set on her empire. During her reign, Britain became an imperial superpower.
Second, an entire age was named after Victoria. The 19th century is often referred to as “the Victorian age.” “Victorianism” reflects, in part, the piety, moralism, and imperial reign of Victoria.
It’s different with Queen Elizabeth II. Britain is no longer a superpower. The empire has all but vanished. Elizabeth does not define the ethos of her generation. No one refers to the last fifty years as “the Elizabethian Age.”
Having said that, Elizabeth has done exceedingly well as queen given the fact that she is reigning in a more democratic, even anti-monarchial age. Because of her constancy, character and wisdom, she has been respected and remains popular. Many royalty watchers wonder if anyone who succeeds her, especially her son Charles, will be able to command the same respect.
This is a good opportunity for Christians to consider the whole subject of monarchs.
While we live in a democratic republic which celebrates the fact that we deposed Queen Victoria’s grandfather, King George III, Christians should be very careful not to dispense with the concept of monarchy or sovereignty altogether.
Why? Because in the Bible God reveals Himself as the cosmic king. The vision of God ruling from His throne runs throughout Scripture. It pictures Him as sovereign in creation, providence and grace. People who do not know this are either ignorant of His sovereignty or are in rebellion against it.
Also, in Scripture Jesus is the Father’s enthroned king over the world. After He ascended, he sat down at His Father’s right hand. He is called “the king of kings and Lord of Lords.” The nations are said to be His inheritance. He will reign until all his enemies, including death, submit to Him. Ultimately, every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. This is why every Christian should, to a certain extent, be a monarchist.
It is important to understand contemporary biases against monarchy. The radical individualism and egalitarianism of our age originates, in part, as a reaction against the abuse of authority by tyrants. Countless rulers have used their power to oppress others and serve themselves. But this is not the whole story.
The modern bias against kings and queens also springs from a rebellion against the very idea of authority and hierarchy. It is not politically correct to say that some people or some ideas are in some way superior to others. Many will extend this anti-authority sentiment to the realm of truth. They protest, “how can you say your truth is superior to my truth, or your metanarrative is superior to mine?!”
Of course thinking and living this way does not work out well in day-to-day life. Food inspectors, quality control departments, and auto dealerships, to name just a few areas, are all based on the idea that some standards, practices and brands are better than others.
So here’s the good news. There is a king. He has a kingdom. That kingdom has broken into this world with the first coming of Jesus the Christ. It will be consummated with his second coming. Meanwhile His church gives visible witness to this invisible kingdom. It does so by faithful Christian living, by building healthy churches, and by serving as his royal witness.
Americans are in the habit of thinking that monarchy is on the wrong side of history. We only emphasize the downside of royals, and the upside of liberation from their rule. We understand popular sovereignty as an absolute value. However, that is not the way it was understood in a previous era.
In fact, in early American history popular sovereignty was often understood to be a sovereignty under God the sovereign king. Deposing one sovereign (King George III) was done while acknowledging “the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient.” (Samuel Adams)
So let’s be a little more careful when we quickly assume that all this monarchy business is of another age and will soon fade away.
To the contrary. Every time we preach the gospel of Christ’s kingdom, we remind people of God’s ultimate sovereignty.
We have a Bible which says that everyone, both kings and subjects, are accountable to Him. Psalm 2 exhorts wise kings and leaders to “serve the Lord with fear” and revere His royal son. And of course, the last book of the Bible emphasizes the rule and return of this king.
The celebration of a respected monarch like Queen Elizabeth II is a great occasion to remind ourselves of these Biblical realities.