On the coronation of King Charles III

Why did the Church proclaim Charles as God’s anointed?

You’d need to be 70 to have seen the coronation of a British monarch before. The nature of the coronation ceremony came as a surprise to many. It was an Anglican church service, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Justin Welby acknowledged King Jesus as the king of kings, and called on Charles III to do the same. Submission to heaven’s reign matters: a king who humbles himself and pledges to live as a servant of the heavenly throne is more likely to treat his people with grace than a ruler who believes all power rests in his own hands.

The big question the coronation raised for me is this: Is Charles God’s anointed? Is that the good news the church is called to proclaim?

Why the claim to divine appointment?

The Archbishop appealed to a 3000-year old ceremony: King David’s anointing as God’s anointed for Israel. Charles was screened from view while the archbishop performed this ceremony, and we listened to Handel’s Zadok the Priest, a reference to the anointing of Solomon (1 Chronicles 29:22).

The tradition is much older. Long before the tenth century BC, in most tribes, nations, and kingdoms, a priest or shaman declared the will of the gods regarding who should rule. In ancient Egypt, for example, the Pharaoh’s name often incorporated the name of the god whom he claimed had placed him in power.

Since Christianity came to Britain in the first millennium AD, it was natural for the kings to claim divine authority to rule: the divine right of kings, as they called it. The coat of arms of the United Kingdom declares that the monarch’s right to rule comes from God: Dieu et Mon Droit.

That’s the reason the Archbishop anointed the King. The Anglican Church proclaimed Charles III as God’s anointed to rule over the British Empire, its realms, and the Commonwealth.

Why were people surprised?

Many people I’ve chatted with expressed surprise. Many churchgoers were not expecting the church to lead matters of state. Many secular friends were shocked or offended. American democracy rests on the separation of church and state. That demarcation had its roots in the French Revolution and the American War of Independence, both of which rejected monarchy.

So people are asking if it’s appropriate for the church to take this role in a secular society. But there’s a more basic question that goes to the heart of the church’s identity and gospel: Should the church be proclaiming someone other than Jesus as God’s anointed?

What is God’s anointed?

In the narrative of Scripture, this term arose as Israel transitioned from theocracy to kingdom. Under the Sinai covenant, Israel was ruled by the Lord (Judges 9:22; 1 Samuel 8:7). After God acceded to their request for a king, the nation was ruled by the Lord and his anointed (1 Samuel 12:3, 5; Psalm 2:2).

But the kings were unable to hold the nation together. It divided, falling to Assyria and Babylon. Kings like Manasseh had so misrepresented God’s authority that God was very angry with your anointed … renounced the covenant with your servant … defiled his crown in the dust (Psalm 89:38-39).

Retelling the story of David’s son after the exile, the people prayed for God to restore the kingdom: Lord God, do not reject your anointed. Remember the great love promised to David your servant (2 Chronicles 6:47).

But no son of David was anointed as king. They served foreign kings. The nearest they had to a God-anointed king was the Persian emperor who ordered them to return and rebuild Jerusalem’s temple (Isaiah 45:1).

That’s why the declaration of Jesus as the Anointed is so significant. The New Testament bursts on the scene proclaiming that God’s anointed has come: Jesus, the anointed son of David (Matthew 1:1).

The word Christ means Anointed. To say that Jesus is the Christ is to say that he is God’s Anointed — the God-chosen king, descended from David, the ruler who finally restores the reign of heaven to the earth.

The New Testament makes that declaration more than 500 times! We miss it because we don’t see the word Anointed. We see a transliterated foreign word: Christ. We don’t realize that the gospel is the proclamation of Jesus as God’s anointed. The gospel of the Anointed ruler gets lost in translation.

The gospel

Justin Welby seems like a nice guy. He’s a good Bible scholar and theologian. He does acknowledge the gospel of King Jesus, the anointed ruler appointed by heaven for all the people of the earth.

That’s why I can’t understand him using his position to proclaim Charles III as God’s Anointed in the same sense as King David and his descendants. Surely that role is already filled. God’s Christ — God’s anointed — has already come. He is reigning over us.

While nations need their leaders to restrict violence and injustice, the church has been given only one name to proclaim by heaven. There’s not one for the Anglicans and another for the Russian Orthodox church to proclaim.

The church of Jesus Christ has only one Lord to proclaim. Heaven has given only one name for all nations, all peoples, all language groups. If the world’s churches proclaim different heaven-anointed leaders for their nations, we can find ourselves going to war with each other and killing each other in the name of God.

The gospel of the Christ (the Anointed) proclaims one corporate unity for all humanity: one heavenly Sovereign who is Lord of all, one leader to trust, one God who is Father of all, over all, in all (Ephesians 4:6). We proclaim the Christ who gave his life for his people, and was raised up by heaven to lead us (4:7-10). Heaven’s Anointed commissions his church to embody and explain how all humanity can grow to its full maturity in him (4:11-16).

Consequently, there is explicitly no place for perpetuating the old order of things where warring rulers divide God’s world up among themselves as the nations do: I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the nations do (4:17).

Why does it matter?

This is a call for the church to climb out of bed with the rulers of this world, to proclaim and embody the true gospel of God’s Anointed who alone is the hope of the world.

When we get the gospel wrong and ally with worldly rulers, we alienate people.

Listen to the pain in Aboriginal voices as they describe their experience of British colonialization. We drive them away from faith when we promote the wrong messiah.

Listen to the mistrust of people who were born in Asian countries controlled by Britain or other powers. The opium wars in China for example, or people born in the Falklands or Iraq. The church that ties itself to the English monarch has no message of faith for them.

In the near future, Australians will be asked to vote on the style of government they want: monarchy or republic. A church that’s tied to the monarchy will be irrelevant. Who would vote against King Charles III if he is God’s anointed?

We have a better message to proclaim. The house of Windsor is not the gospel. Proclaiming a different gospel from the one we have received from heaven places us at enmity with the one whom God has anointed to rule and divides us from each other.

Let’s get back to the gospel of heaven’s Anointed.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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