Our worship is loaded with royal language. We sing of thrones and majesty. We pray to the Lord. We speak of sovereignty. We bow our heads in reverence.
But what does it mean to have a king?
For most Americans, having a king means watching the Windsor family of the U.K. as if they were another reality show.
They are a pleasant but sometimes troubled bunch who are quite mannerly and high class (except when they misbehave). They wear fancy uniforms and big hats but they do not have any real authority – which seems to make them all the more endearing to most Americans.
It is amazing that we continue to be fascinated by this single set of royals.
Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel
Why aren’t we more diverse in our appreciation of royal families? For example, Princess Victoria of Sweden married her personal trainer, Daniel. You have to appreciate the fact that this “non-royal” man married a princess and he didn’t have to slay a dragon to earn the opportunity.
Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain
Historically, the U.S. has as many ties with Spain as it does Britain, so why aren’t we paying attention to the Spanish Royals? Prince Felipe has a beard that makes him resemble a pirate or “The World’s Most Interesting Man.” His new bride was a news anchorwoman. She also wears strange hats.
As long as we are going to take an interest in royals, let’s take an interest in those with actual political power.
King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarch. It’s good to be the king! But I suppose we think of him as a political leader rather the impressive yet harmless royals with whom our supermarket papers are obsessed.
Are we obsessed with the British royalty because the Queen has had such a long reign? Before anyone tells me that Queen Elizabeth II has been around for a long time, let me say that the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has reigned since 1946. He was king for six years before Elizabeth II was crowned. He is the world’s longest-reigning current monarch. We should give him some credit. The King and his wife, Queen Sirikit, are incredibly popular and loved by the people of Thailand. He even hung out with Elvis Presley and seemed to enjoy it. The King of Thailand and the King of Rock!
The King meets The King
Why does any of this matter? It matters because it demonstrates that Americans do not know what it means to have a king. That lack of familiarity with true royal experience keeps us from fully appreciating the royal language of Scripture and worship.
A colleague in graduate school, a man from South Africa, pointed that out to me years ago. He said, “You American do not know what it means to have a king!” I must admit that he is right. Our understanding of royal concepts in Scripture and worship are hindered by our National Inquirer relationship with a particular royal family. We do not get it when we speak of the Lord of Lords. I believe we treat the title Lord as nothing more than a show of respect like saying “Sir and Ma’am.” What we should grasp is that having a king means much more than respect.
What does it mean to have a king? It means that we know the one person who has true authority. Jesus said it himself, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18). That authority hasn’t been given to anyone else since then. Jesus needs no heir since he is eternal. Church leadership is one thing. We have many gifts of leadership in the church, but authority rests solely with the King – that is, Jesus Christ. Church government is not a difficult concept to understand. Regardless of how one positions elders, pastors, deacons, apostles, bishops or any other office, church government is an absolutely monarchy with Jesus Christ as king and everyone else as subject. End of discussion.
This authority also means that our religion and politics are blended in ways we often do not recognize. More on this below.
What does it mean to have a king? It means we know the lasting significance of the gospel. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are about three-fourths of the early church’s confession of the gospel. The remaining fourth was the testimony that the risen Christ is exalted to rule as God’s King. (see Phil. 2:9-11) God has exalted Christ and given him a name above all names. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. It is not an option, just a matter of when. Americans may not understand this because our history is unique, but even with our unique government we do have a King. No, it’s not the royalty of any nation on earth. It is the King over the Kingdom of God.
What does it mean to have a king? It means we bow down. This is the religion and politics connection. We do not elect a king. We do not crown him king. We do not make him King. God has done that. We bow down. Which means we worship. Our worship is a political act of reverence to the true power in heaven and earth. This is why empires and governments get nervous about the Christian faith at times. Faithful Christians recognize one lasting authority. Sure, we may be respectful of other governments and even serve them when they are not opposed to the way of the King, but our allegiance and obedience is reserved solely for the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. All of our other commitments are an outgrowth of that single allegiance.
Without a king, we find ourselves in the sad situation described in Judges 17, 18, 19, and 21 – “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes.” The king is the defender and standard of what is right and just. We look to the king for the standard of what is right. Otherwise we shrug and assume that everyone is right; which often means no one is right.
What does it mean to have a king? It means that we must choose a side. There is nowhere on earth where Christ is not king. There’s no such thing as a “Christian nation” because there’s no such thing as a “non-Christian nation.” Those are concepts left over from Christendom and they assume that a government may opt-in to the Kingdom of God and thus expand the K.O.G.’s territory. A reading of Scripture indicates that it doesn’t work like that. Christ is king everywhere and in everything. His rule is complete. Some choose to accept it, whereas others reject it. Rejecting the authority does not nullify the authority. All the world may resist and war against Christ and his followers but the Lamb of God will triumph because God has made him Lord of Lords and King of Kings. (see Rev. 17:14)