One my favorite British Baptist theologians, Steve Holmes, has written a reflection on the Coronation liturgy of King Charles. It’s straight Baptist fire. His concerns center on the Baptist conviction, beautifully expressed in the First London Baptist Confession of Faith, that Christ alone is the true Prophet-Priest-King of the New Covenant people of God. As Holmes explains, this doctrine of Christ’s threefold office (munus triplex) had important precedents in earlier Christian history, but it takes on a particular force in Baptist theology:
Thomas Aquinas presents the doctrine like this; Calvin starts to use it as an organising principle for narrating the work of Christ. The expansion of its range amongst the English Separatists and Baptists is extensive and perhaps surprising. It is also dependent on a further claim that King Jesus does not delegate any of these offices: he is our great high priest, so there is no need for any human priesthood; he alone is the true prophet, and so we look for truth nowhere other than his word; he alone is king, and so no-one else may presume to command any congregation of his people.
Now, both the expansion of the scope of the offices and this point about the lack of delegation are contestable, of course, and so other theological constructions than a Baptist one are possible. But the instinctive Baptist fear/complaint/demand is always that some human authority is trying to muscle in on a role that belongs to Christ alone.
British Baptists have not, generally, been anti-monarchy: there is a temporal realm, that requires governing, and a monarchy is a possible way to do that. The seventeenth-century English Baptists, even when persecuted, did not stop declaring their loyalty to the crown—but they thought that, in imposing forms of worship and doctrine, the crown had badly over-reached its authority, and was trying to govern where Jesus alone can reign.
Read the whole thing. If the coronation represents an expression of “Christian nationalism” or whatever you want to call it, the Baptist complaint against it not just that it’s a relatively empty symbol in a nation even more secular and progressive than the United States. No, even if the ceremony had more teeth–especially if it had more teeth–the problems are systemic, on a Baptist reckoning. No king or government should pretend to usurp the place that belongs to Jesus alone as the King of the Church and Lord of the conscience.
One thought on “A British Baptist Reacts to the Coronation”
The issues Holmes finds troubling are not limited to the British monarchy and Baptists. The magisterial Reformers inherited this same understanding from Romanism and its roots back to Augustine and Constantine.Those who differed with them throughout history have found themselves on the outside looking in of both State and “church.”