A substitute religion?
These dramatic, historic events prompt a down-to-earth question: How should we as Christians respond to those who govern us and “rule over us”? Does the Bible offer any guidelines? By Colin Sedgwick
I urge, then, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except what God has established. Romans 13:2
We had a phone call the other day from somebody wondering if we shared his distaste at the torrent of gushy sentimentality (as he saw it) following the death of the Queen. We were glad to assure him that yes, we did share it - that, indeed, there were moments we found ourselves wondering “Is there something wrong with me that this national outpouring of grief leaves me, to be honest, rather cold?”
Sadness, yes of course. A real sense of shock, by all means. A focus on the universally recognised qualities of the Queen, who was clearly a wonderful person – her devotion to duty, her dignity, her integrity, her faith, her humour - absolutely yes. But surely a lot of what we have seen is, to borrow the cliche, rather “over the top”? One tries not to slip into cynicism, but it’s hard not to wonder if much of this is really slightly unhealthy. Is it in fact a symptom of a substitute religion?
Well, we will all have our own opinions. But these dramatic, historic events prompt a down-to-earth question: How should we as Christians respond to those who govern us and “rule over us”? Does the Bible offer any guidelines?
The answer is a big Yes. Boiling it down, I would suggest that we have two basic obligations laid upon us by our Christian discipleship.
First: to pray for those in authority.
This is spelt out clearly in the two verses from 1Timothy I have quoted above. Paul urges us to pray “for all people”, but he then goes on to make special mention of “kings and all those in authority”.
That surely covers an enormous swathe of people – any who through their decision-making have a significant impact on our lives: politicians, of course, but also “captains of industry”, “influencers” (whatever they may be!), educators, writers, even television and sporting personalities.
We may not realise it, but our attitudes and life-styles are shaped by people whose influence may or may not be good. So they need our prayers, as much for our own sakes as for theirs.
Perhaps the Queen’s death will prompt us to pray in a more focussed way for all the members of the royal family, for the glare of publicity makes us aware that at heart they are just people like the rest of us, with the same feelings, strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities as we all have.
We may be tempted to envy their wealth and splendour; but on reflection, would we really want to be born with such an enormous burden on our shoulders? Not me, thanks very much!
Second: to be good citizens.
This is a brief summary of Romans 13, especially verse 1: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except what God has established”.
When we read those words we need to remember that the “governing authorities” in Paul’s world were anything but Jewish or Christian: no, they were pagans who operated by means of a cruel military machine and whose empire, the Roman empire, depended to a large extent on slavery.
Other Bible passages make clear that there are times when people of Christian faith must in fact stand out against the governing authorities. If it comes down to obeying God versus obeying human governments, there can be no question: loyalty to God takes priority.
But Paul here is recognising that human societies need law; otherwise they descend into chaos and anarchy – exactly as we see in many parts of the world today. And so, unless there is some very compelling reason, loyal citizenship is incumbent upon Christian people.
This, again, covers an enormous swathe of things: from obeying the law and paying our taxes to being good neighbours and observing speed limits… we can all add to that list!
Being a Christian, then, lays these two obligations upon us. But going back to our present situation, it’s worth mentioning that there are different areas too where we are not under obligation. No, there is nothing necessarily wrong with us if we find ourselves repelled by excessive displays of emotion (is that something the Queen would have wanted?)! And, of course, there’s no obligation to actually like some of the people we pray for!
We should not allow our faith in God to become corrupted by excessive loyalty to our nation. It’s well known that the Russian Orthodox church is currently in full support of President Putin and his war in Ukraine: it is, apparently, a Christian duty to stand up for “Mother Russia”. And in America, I read that some churches tell their members which candidates to vote for at elections. This cannot be right.
A footnote… At another level, there’s a danger of allowing our doctrine to be coloured by sub-Christian or downright non-Christian influences.
There’s a poem doing the rounds at the moment on social media which depicts the Queen’s death as resulting from Prince Philip beckoning her to join him, and is accompanied by a cute little cartoon of the two them sitting together, presumably in some kind of heaven.
One hesitates to trample too hard on something which apparently brings comfort to many. But let’s call it what is: sheer sentimental tosh.
Let scripture be our guide, not this kind of folksy, gushy nonsense!
Father, you have blessed us in Britain with the gift of a truly admirable Queen over the last seventy years. Thank you. But help us to remember that in Jesus you have given us the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that it is he who commands our ultimate allegiance. Amen.
Image | Debbie Fan | Unsplash
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com, where this reflection originally appeared.
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