The nation has just enjoyed the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. And the bunting and flags were out across the country in celebration. The Union Jacks were flying.
Her service, inspired by her Christian faith, has been wonderful. Long may she reign! But being in her 96th year we have to face the prospect that sadly she will not last forever. Change is coming. What kind of change will that be?
The Faith and faiths
As head of the Church of England, the monarch is titled ‘Defender of the Faith’, by which is meant the Protestant Christian faith. When our Queen departs, the throne will pass to Prince Charles.
In an interview aired on Radio 2 back in 2015, Prince Charles clarified his position regarding his attitude towards other religions in our country.
He explained: ‘I said I would rather be seen as ‘Defender of Faith’, all those years ago, because, as I tried to describe, I mind about the inclusion of other people’s faiths and their freedom to worship in this country. And it’s always seemed to me that, while at the same time being Defender of The Faith, you can also be protector of faiths. It was very interesting that 20 years or more after I mentioned this – which has been frequently misinterpreted – the Queen, in her Jubilee address to the faith leaders, said that as far as the role of the Church of England is concerned, it is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country. I think in that sense she was confirming what I was really trying to say – perhaps not very well – all those years ago. And so I think you have to see it as both. You have to come from your own Christian standpoint – in the case I have as Defender of the Faith – and ensuring that other people’s faiths can also be practised.’
This is a sensible and gracious position. But even with that outlook from the man who will lead Anglicanism, one wonders how long it can remain the Established Church. Apart from Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism etc. there is the vast majority of people who adhere to Christianity only nominally or who have no faith in any God at all. Only 5% of the population are found in any kind of church on a Sunday.
The Queen has had such a powerful Christian influence through the years that the possibility must be faced that following her death, it will not be long before ‘progressive’ politicians will be arguing that the idea of an Established Church has no place in today’s multi-cultural society. If the current ‘anti-conversion’ legislation is passed by Parliament, and then the Church were to be disestablished, especially given the aggressive nature of current political correctness and the ‘Woke’ lobby, we could see the nation explicitly rejecting its Christian roots. A very difficult time for all churches would ensue, particularly for Bible-believing congregations.
A kingdom divided
In recent decades devolved governments have been established for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland there is ongoing pressure for another independence referendum. But how was it that we ever came together as one nation in the first place?
In the 1500s there was no United Kingdom. England, Scotland and Wales hated each other deeply. In particular, the border between England and Scotland was a flashpoint of warring parties and armies and the greatest ally of Scotland was France. What stopped the wars was that Scotland became a Protestant country. The alliance with France was broken. John Knox and others brought Scotland away from Catholicism into the Protestant fold.
Broadly speaking it was the Protestant faith which brought the United Kingdom together. Our Christian heritage has been the nation’s glue and the Queen’s faith, even if not held by many others, has underpinned that. If when the Queen goes the United Kingdom drifts even further from its Christian roots then it seems likely that deep divisions will emerge and we might witness the break up of our country. Goodbye Union Jack. Jesus said, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand’ (Matthew 12:25).
As a Grace Baptist I see no mandate in Scripture for the idea of an Established Church. But I am realistic enough to know that all Christians have benefited from and been protected by the establishment of Protestantism in our country. That protection is likely be removed in coming years. The country itself could disintegrate. The changes we face may be huge. The churches and their pastors need to prepare to sail through uncharted and dangerous waters.