Crown him with many crowns? Prince Charles and a multi-faith coronation

Published 21 May 2013  |  
PA
Queen Elizabeth II, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles onboard the Spirit of Chartwell during the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in London

Some news sources have suggested that "the coronation of the next Monarch of the United Kingdom... will not be exclusively an Anglican ceremony and will feature a wide range of religions". The Sunday Telegraph claimed to have "learned of a major shift in attitude within... the Church, towards allowing the representatives of other faiths to participate in a coronation service for the first time".

It would be easy at this point to react with knee-jerk emotion rather than theology. So let's step back and ask what the Bible actually says about monarchs in particular and rulers in general.

Perhaps the most striking point to be observed is that, for a Christian, the only king who ultimately matters is God.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel started to go wrong when they forgot God was their king – and demanded a human monarch, to be "like other nations". But the prophets who ministered over the centuries which followed looked forward to a time when God would come as king and rule.

When Jesus arrived, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, he made it clear that his kingdom was "not from this world". And when questioned about where how his rule might fit in with the supreme earthly power of the day – the Roman Emperor – he declared, "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

What are the implications of this? As former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright has written, "the New Testament declares: God is king, and the kingdoms of the world are thereby demoted. The crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth is God's Messiah, Lord of the world". A believer's ultimate loyalty is to Christ – something which more and more brings us into conflict with increasingly secular governments and legislation in the UK.

But does this mean, therefore, that government doesn't matter? Not at all. As Wright also says: "God has... instituted rulers and authorities (even at the obvious risk that most of them don't acknowledge him and only have a shaky idea of what justice actually is), in order to bring to his world such order as is possible until the day when the rule of Jesus himself is complete". Thus, while it is true that, if there is a conflict of interest, we are to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5v29), then it is equally the case that when there is no clash, we must "be subject to the governing authorities" (Romans 13v1).

Do forms of government matter? Wright continues: "All human power-systems are subject to Christian critique. All power can become idolatrous." But the best forms of human authority can function as sacraments, he argues – using action, drama, symbol, ritual, words and prayers to "tell God's story and invoke his presence and power..." At its best, he says, our monarchy under Queen Elizabeth II has done this.

No doubt this is at least in part because, as Cole Morton argues in the Sunday Telegraph, the Queen "came to her Coronation as a woman of deep personal faith". As she said in her 2011 Christmas broadcast: "God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive."

What's most vital is not our form of government, nor even the way it is instituted – important though both those questions are – but whether our rulers acknowledge that they themselves are subject to the ultimate Kingship of Christ.

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