The passing of Queen Elizabeth II marked the end of her seventy-year reign. During the seventy years, her royal majesty was the head of the Commonwealth, states, realms, and government of the United Kingdom. In addition, her majesty had political and diplomatic influences beyond the United Kingdom. The concern of this article is her position as the defender of the faith and the supreme governor of the church of England.
The details of the emergence of the church of England cannot be narrated in this short article, but attempts will be made to provide pieces of information that will make you appreciate the position of British monarchs as the defender of the faith. I would love to make it clear that the British Monarchs represent various things to different people.
For instance, the former colonies of Great Britain, now independent states, often recall the cruelty and feudalism that came with colonization. Yet, on the other hand, some admit that civilization and modernism would not come if there were no colonization. However, it is not the intention of this article to cherry pick the faith side of the British Monarchy to absolve her of some of her misdeeds in the past. Neither am I writing to open up any debate; instead, I am using the British monarchy as an example of how monarchies have contributed to the Christian faith over the years.
The leading African indigenous church in Nigeria is the Christ Apostolic Church. The first president of the church is an Ibadan Monarch in the person of Oba Akinyele, the first literate Olubadan of Ibadan. Oba Akinyele, a monarch, influenced the purchase of many landed properties owned by the Christ Apostolic Church in Ibadan. This is a vivid example of how monarchy influences the Christian faith in contemporary times.
We must recall that when the monarchy started in Israel, the high priest was the head of the church, and the king was the head of state. The two institutions worked in harmony, and the evidence is seen in the prosperity of the state and the church. For example, the temple of Solomon is valued at over thirty million dollars. All the temple’s building provisions came from the head of state, David. However, the church of the New Testament started with the disciples of Jesus Christ, and the state was not friendly to them. Primarily the high priest and Pharisee saw the movement as a threat. Since they were very close to the roman government, which represented the state at that time, they consistently presented the disciples as the enemy of the state.
The church suffered in the hands of the state until the time of Constantine. He was the first Roman emperor who gave the church a breath of relief after years of opposition. This brought so much prosperity for both the church and the state. I will love to discontinue this aspect of church history here.
The church is the body of Christ, and what happens to her is solely determined by her head, which is Christ. However, when the state opposes the church, it slows down the level of advancement. The gates of hell in any form cannot prevail over the church of Christ. Once the gates of hell choose to attack the church through the state, the church suffers a lot before having victory. The underground churches in some places are thriving, but more advancement will be recorded if the state is more friendly or liberal.
Back in England, before the church of England broke away from the papacy in the middle of the sixteen century AD, during the reign of king Henry VIII, there were records of monarchies that had supported both Celtic and Roman churches in England and Ireland. It is important to recall that no United Kingdom existed during this era. Several kings, but a few, abolished paganism in their domain and supported the Christian faith.
For example, Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 604 AD, enjoyed King Ethelbert’s support in South England during his gospel work between 596-604 AD. He also enjoyed the support of Edwin, king of North Umbria, while propagating the gospel in his domain. Aidan, the bishop of Lindisfarne who died in 651, also enjoyed the kings Oswald and Sigbert’s friendliness while working in their domain. Alfred the Great (849-899 AD), the king of Wessex, also did so much for God. Among his good deeds was that he made the ten commandments the code of laws in his domain and rebuilt churches destroyed by invaders
From the time of Henry VIII till date, the British Monarch had supported the gospel using both hard and soft power. For example, King James VI of Scotland commissioned the project of translating the Bible into a simple translation that was better than the Geneva Bible in the early seventeenth century. They adopted Christianity as their state religion, which was implemented in most colonies. Although, some scholars have a contrary opinion, given the crime against humanity and injustice that came with the same people who brought religion. There is a need to distinguish between the colonial masters and the missionary. While some missionaries chose to stay and die in unfamiliar tropical forests and swamps for the love of men, the colonial masters did their bits and ran back to their country.
In addition, God has used men who are ungodly for his purpose in the past. For example, Cyrus was a pagan king but was instrumental in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. I am in no way contesting that some conducts of the colonial masters do not reflect the values of the Christian faith which they profess. But instead, the gospel of Jesus would not have reached us without them.
Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut;
I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron:
And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
Here God referred to the ungodly king Cyrus as his anointed. His ability to subdue nations made no one oppose any course he supported. In the fourth verse, God said he had not known him, but he chose to call him by name for Israel’s sake.
For the sake of men in the dark, God has chosen to use the monarchy as torch bearers of the light of the gospel. Although the gospel brought by the church of England did not come with so much demonstration of power, love and kindness are evident among those who received it. Based on that gospel, every other thing stands in Nigeria, America, and other former British colonies.