Saturday, July 31, 2010

Coins and Kings

God has a wry sense of humour. I am reminded of it by two letters on our coins, FD. They stand for the Latin,Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith. The title was granted to Henry VIII by Pope Leo in 1521 as a result of the book, "Defence of the Seven Sacraments." The king had taken part in the composition of this reply to Luther"s "Babylonian Captivity of the Church." He took all credit for authorship and his reward was a papal title to rival those of continental monarchs. It was not intended as an hereditary title but the heirs of Henry still hold the title as witnessed by our coins. They have sworn the Coronation Oath to uphold the Reformed Protestant Religion but are pleased to keep their papal title. Recently Prince Charles said that he would prefer to be defender of all faiths. Subsequent clarification from the Prince stated that he did not wish to challenge the constitutional position of the Church of England of which he will one day, God willing, become Supreme Governor. The Archbishop of Canterbury assured the public that there was only one constitutional requirement for the Prince to be crowned king, he has to be the legitimate child of the sovereign. Questions of personal faith or morality are not constitutional impediments.
The televised documentary about the Prince reopened the debate about the establishment of the Church of England. Curiously, little is said about the otheestablished church north of the border but there is public debate on whether Christianityshould have a privileged constitutional position.Evangelicals Now has had articles, notably from Herbert Carson, on the unbiblical status of an established church. In AD 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, professing to be a Christian , issued the Edict of Milan giving full legal tolerance to Christianity. Ever since believers have been divided as to the benefits of Christianity being recognised as special by the state. Originally the Romans had given special tolerance to the Jewish religion and Christians were a Jewish sect. The followers of Jesus lost their privileges when they were expelled by the synagogues . Their subsequent refusal to offer incense to the Emperor as a god was costly. It won for many the martyrs crown. From AD 313, Christianity recognised by the Emperor, meant an end to official persecution. Confiscated property was returned, clerics received special exemptions from civic office and bishops were granted civil jurisdiction. Soon however shepherds of Christ's flock became princes of the church. Bedecked in purple, the imperial colour, they were to sit on thrones. A cathedral is the place of a throne, not a sheep fold. The down side of the establishment of Christianity is well documented as it affected the church.
Most of the current debate in the Church of England is about how wrong it is for the Crown through Parliament to have influence over the appointment of bishops, and for ungodly parliamentarians to legislate for the church. Presbyterian Scotland does not seem to have such problems having dispensed with the servicesof an episcopate. While an establishment for England like the Scottish model has been suggested I have yet to hear the Anglican case for a presbyterian church of England. That was offered by the Westminster Assembly 350 years ago but did not find favour even then when there was neither king nor bishops to remove.
Many but not all Evangelicals favour disestablishment. Some Anglicans want it. Secularists certainly favour it. A strong opinion opposed to any change appeared in The Times on July 12th. Rabbi Dr. Julian Jacobs, the Chief Rabbi's representative on interfaith relationships, wrote that disestablishment would be a major step towards the secularisation of Britain and would reduce religious tolerance. He believes that modern Britain has a unique record of religious tolerance. Establishment embraces diversity and embodies the central role of faith in the life of the nation. If that is removed all faiths will suffer and be equally marginalised in a new secular state. After the role of religion is reduced what follows is a reduction in the value of human life.
Chesterton said that when man ceases to believe in God he does not
believe in nothing but in anything. Proponents of disestablishment forget that to disestablish Christianity is not to establish nothing. Humanistic secularism would be enthroned as supreme arbiter. I believe that the state needs establishment far more than the church. I have never been a member of an established church but as a christian active in politics I value the fact that we are constitutionally a Christian country. Parliament opens each day with prayer, an acknowledgement that legislators are not autonomous. They should not make up the laws as they go along but discover the will of God for civil government. In the borough where I am a councillor the Mayor's chaplain prays for the councillors when the council meets. This year I protested to the mayor when he decided not to have a chaplain. I miss the reminder that councillors are responsible to a higher authority than the mayor or the electorate.
Most of all Christians should argue for the continuing special place of Christianity simply because it is true and other religions are false. The gospel does not need state approval or toleration. The King of Kings reigns over all earthly rulers. They should confess Christ as his ministers in public office. The outworking of the truth of our faith has given true religious liberty in Britain. It was a struggle in which many lives were lost for the crown rights of the redeemer. Men like Samuel Rutherford contended for the sovereignty of Christ over not only the church but rulers too. His book "Lex Rex", would have cost him his life at the Restoration had not God taken Rutherford home to Emmanuel's land.
Christian liberty is worth defending. It is an inheritance not to be despised for a bowl of secularist tolerance. Liberty is more than toleration. Christians should not be content with mere toleration in a secularist state. They should continue to contend for that truth affirmed in the coronation service when the monarch receives the orb. The archbishop reminds the new ruler that Christ by his cross rules the sphere of the world.

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