A few people have suggested that my attempt to translate my convictions about the true definition of marriage into political involvement (signing the C4M petition) is mistaken because “The fact is that Britain is a secular country”. To which I must respond by pointing out that I (unlike whatever Americans might be readers of this blog) am not in a secular democracy, but rather a Christian kingdom.
In fact, I would even suggest that England has a Christian heritage which is perhaps richer than that of any other nation, and which means that in spite of the urgent need for revival and reformation in England today, the English church is nevertheless uniquely poised to be used by God to bless the nations and prepare the globe for the long-awaited return of the Messiah. I realize this is no modest suggestion, and so must be shown with at least some argument.
Because we live in an age of hyper-democratic sensibilities, I will therefore begin by trying to give a (biblical) defense of (constitutional) monarchy, and the blessing of being ‘one nation under God’.
Royal Coat of Arms
Foundations for a Godly Kingdom
Samuel does not criticize monarchy per se
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us’. (1 Samuel 8:5-22)
It is common among Christians of antimonarchical inclination to claim that the Bible itself is critical of monarchy as a governmental system. They would argue that Israel’s monarchy comes into existence solely as the result of human sin, and suggest that this is confirmed by the prophet Samuel’s view of the situation.
However, a closer examination of the text will show three things:
i) Samuel’s displeasure is specifically in reaction to the people’s desire to be “like all the nations”, thus attempting to cast off their God-given uniqueness.
ii) While Samuel himself may be straightforwardly against the idea of monarchy, the LORD does not seem to share this sentiment, thrice (1 Sam. 8:7,9,22) instructing Samuel to heed the people’s voice and give them a king.
iii) Samuel’s final word of warning to the people is a warning about “the behaviour of the king”, rather than simply about monarchs in general.
Having established that Samuel’s negative view of monarchy is not categorical and final, we must then ask whether there is anywhere else in the Bible where we might find a foundation for a more positive view.
Deuteronomy gives principles for good kingship
You shall surely set a king over you… (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)
We find this foundation in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. In brief, this passage:
i) predicts desire to emulate other nations (v.14)
ii) permits monarchy (v.15)
iii) specifies that the king should be the one God chooses (v.15)
iv) specifies that the king must not be a foreigner (v.15)
We could note here that while monarchy is thus in line with biblical principles, imperialism is not.
v) forbids royal greed (“he shall not multiply horses for himself” v.16)
In view of this, the irony of of Solomon’s wealth (as described in 1 Kings 10,11) becomes apparent.
vi) forbids royal polygamy (“he shall not multiply wives for himself” v.17)
Again, Solomon in particular comes to mind, but we could also name David.
vii) exhorts the monarch to read the Bible! (v.18-19)
Israel’s history shows the need for a king
Moses commanded a law for us… and he was King in Jeshurun (Deut. 33:5)
As well as Deuteronomy’s foundational principles for godly monarchy, we can also construct an argument for monarchy by contrasting the orderly state of affairs under Moses’ leadership with the chaos described in the book of Judges.
While Moses was “King in Jeshurun”, the people of Israel were kept in some semblance of order, in spite of a lack of heart-felt love for God and obedience to His commandments. When Moses died, he was succeeded by Joshua, who had been personally appointed to the task by Moses (Deut. 34:9) having served as his assistant (Numbers 11:28) presumably since the start of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, when he was noted for lingering in the presence of God (Ex. 33:11). Under Joshua, Israel continues to serve the Lord (Josh. 24:31) — and indeed, they continue to do so for as long as “the elders who outlived Joshua” were alive. But after that, there being no clearly appointed successor, the nation descends into chaos and anarchy. In spite of Moses’ warning to Israel that when they enter the Promised Land they must not merely do “what was right in their own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8), this is exactly what happens (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Which means idolatry, gang rape, and civil war.
It is in this context that the people of Israel realize their need for a king.
The Reality of Family Privilege
But someone will say that while Moses might in some sense have been functioning as a ‘king’ over Israel, Joshua wasn’t his son, and what we have said so far only demonstrates the orderliness of having one recognised leader.
The Privilege of Good Parents
So then we must continue by pointing out that family privilege is a spiritual reality. By this I’m not saying that inheritance tax is Satanic, or anything like that–I’m merely pointing out that to have good parents filled with the fruit of the Spirit is (clearly!) a blessing, and to have parents that are liars and thieves is a curse. As Christians we are not fatalists, and we do not believe that the character of the parents will absolutely determine the character of the children. But it will have some influence, and where this influence is good this should be recognised as a privilege.
Divine Promises to Families
We can go further than this, though, and show that God actually makes specific promises to families. Most importantly God makes a promise to Abraham (Gen.12:2-3):
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
More obsurely, we could note God’s promise made to the nomadic teetotalers descended from Rechab (Jer. 35:18-19); or, less comfortably, the promise of judgment upon the family of Amalek (Exodus 17:16). Specifically regarding monarchy, there is of course the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 6) in which God seals the rule of the house of David with divine approval.
Jesus then is not a president, but a king. And as such he inherits the family privilege of God’s promise (as the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel painstakingly demonstrates) and has an inherent authority that is not given but merely acknowledged by the people.
Blessings of Democracy
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being a royalist doesn’t mean I am utterly authoritarian and anti-democratic.
We can note first that representative government is also in accordance with biblical principle. Our text here is Deut. 1:13-15, in which Moses reminds the Israelites of the way that he instructed the various tribes, clans and families to “choose wise, understanding and knowledgeable men” to lead them.
Second, when we look with a biblical lens at the ‘right to free speech’ that most contemporary Westerners assume they have, then we see that the reality underlying this ‘right’ is the responsibility of prophetic critique. By this I mean the duty that we have as the people of God to honor those in authority by keeping them accountable to biblical truth and bringing whatever word of rebuke God might instruct us to deliver without being afraid of the reaction. An example of someone exercising this responsibility would be Elijah coming before Ahab in 1 Kings 17:1.
I refrain from describing this responsibility as a ‘right’, for two reasons. First, I think Western Christians tend to take free speech for granted, when in fact we should expect persecution for publicly proclaiming the challenging truths of the gospel. Second, I’m aware that it is common for those who profit from pornography to defend their evil trade by appealing to their supposed ‘right’ to free speech. And this is clearly absurd.
Nevertheless, something like a ‘right to free speech’ does emerge from the fact that a wise ruler, realizing their own imperfection and their subsequent need to hear prophetic critique, would create a culture where people feel free to share truth and wisdom without fear of retribution. And thus we see (in 2 Samuel 16:5-12) that the wise king David endures even the cursing and stone-throwing of one of his subjects.
Her Majesty the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year. God save the Queen!
I realize that I haven’t yet said anything that shows that Britain is a Christian–and not secular–nation. That is the next step. Be patient with me!