This weekend marks the official celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. A recent pastors’ discussion on Facebook was prompted by the question “How will you be marking Jubilee Sunday?” My answer is that “I won’t”. I’ll write a little bit more about that tomorrow. Steve Kneale has written here explaining why he won’t. Personally, I’ve no problem with people celebrating the Jubilee itself. I’m not an out and out republican, though my own inclination is that the present monarchy isn’t likely to last much beyond the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and I don’t think that will be a bad thing. It’s the Sunday I have a problem with but more on that tomorrow.
However, the question, as is often the case prompted other offshoot discussions including one about whether the Queen is actually a Christian. Some people have argued that the Queen’s faith is itself something we can draw upon in our evangelism. She is officially the governor of the Church of England, she is considered devout, prioritising church attendance and she has spoken publicly about Christian faith and Jesus, particularly in her Christmas broadcasts. Others were less comfortable and one person observed that they would not readily offer believers’ baptism to the Queen based on her public comments.
Well, the reality is that we cannot read the hearts of others and particularly those who we have only been able to observe from afar and at a distance. So, the answer is that I don’t know if the Queen is a Christian and in the sense that she’s not someone who I know personally, it’s no more my business than the state of anyone else’s heart who lives in London.
However, this does prompt me to consider two things. The first is on what basis we baptise people. The practice at most churches I’ve been part of has been to interview people before baptism in order to hear their testimony. Now, there are two things to consider here. The first is that the public comments of someone who is not a pastor/preacher/theologian and whose comments are constrained may well not give us the full picture of who they are and what they believe. I wonder whether the public comments of many of us (those addressed beyond our own congregations such as on Facebook and twitter) would provide a fitting basis for us to be accepted for baptism.
But I also wonder if there is a risk that we can have a fixed idea not just of what faith in Christ is but how it is expressed verbally. We can look for testimonies that meet our set formula of words and that are doctrinally correct in all their detail. If we do, I fear that we may miss what has happened in people’s lives. Over the years I’ve heard plenty of “classic testimonies” only for those people to be nowhere with the Lord a little further down the line. On the other hand I’ve heard “testimonies” that don’t seem to match the formula and yet, there has been clear evidence over time of real, lively, deep and persevering faith in Christ. There are a number of reasons why the person’s testimony doesn’t quite match our formulas. For some, it will be that they don’t have the doctrinal language to articulate what has happened. For others it will be about culture, age, background.
The important thing is not that someone is able to use the right language. Though often a simple catechism style question and answer will confirm what a free style testimony does not. The important thing is that both through conversation and through observing a person’s life that we can see evidence of their trust in Christ, repentance from sin and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them. As I commented above, I simply don’t know the Queen in a way that will permit me to answer those questions though I’ve heard positive comments from those in a better position to answer them.
The second thing is around the words that the Queen herself has said. Now, I think there is a cultural factor here in that the Queen is very much a middle of the road Anglican and in her speeches uses middle of the road Anglican language. Some of it won’t hit our accepted Evangelical formulas but does that mean she is wrong or that the language points away from lasting faith? I suspect that what those questioning her Christian faith are picking up on is that there’s a lot about the moral teaching of Jesus and his good example in her speeches. For example, in 2014 she said:
“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” (2014)https://haventoday.org/blog/10-surprising-things-queen-says-jesus/
However, whilst she does focus on example there. I want you to notice two things, first that she describes Jesus in terms of personal faith, an anchor in her life. Secondly, she also alludes to the crucifixion, of Jesus’ outstretched hands, his love and forgiveness. This is put more sharply and clearly in her 2011 speech:
“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. 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.” (2011)https://haventoday.org/blog/10-surprising-things-queen-says-jesus/
Those are words I’m sure we can sign up to. Jesus is more than philosopher and general, he is saviour and he saves us not as helpless victims from outside forces but from ourselves. It is his power to forgive which makes him Saviour.
Now, yes, the Queen does talk often about Christ’s example as seen in the first quote but does that mean she is semi-pelagian, seeking to follow an example in her own power? Well, it’s worth remembering that the New Testament does offer us Christ as both propitiation and example. We are completely dependent upon his sacrifice, we are forgiven, we receive the free gift of eternal life at the Cross. But forgiven people are also called to follow his example as we grow in faith and are sanctified through the power of the Spirit. See for example Philipians 2:1-11:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Or have a look at 1 Peter 2:18-25
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
So, whilst you or I may have used the opportunity differently, may have chosen different words, may have prioritised things differently if invited to address the nation, I don’t think that the words the Queen has used somehow bring her faith into question. Indeed, I’ve been much encouraged by her willingness to speak publicly about faith in Christ’s the Saviour.
Now, as it happens, I don’t think that this means we should be relying heavily on the Queen’s words or on whether she has personal faith in Jesus in our evangelism strategies this weekend (or at any point). That’s nothing to do with what I think of her, her faith or her words. It’s simply this. I don’t think people, even the staunchest Royalists care much about the Queen’s beliefs and they are unlikely to influence them one way or the other.
Too often our evangelism has relied on quoting the example of this or that person. Here’s a famous scientist who believes in God, here are the words of CS Lewis, did you know that such and such an actor or pop star is a Christian? No one has turned to Christ because of Cliff Richard or the actress who played Dot Cotton.
This weekend, as at any other time, if you want to talk about Jesus and the Gospel, then take the opportunities when they come and lead people directly to Christ, in his own words, in Scripture.
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