The former Prince Charles automatically became king after his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away on September 8, 2022. And now his official coronation is set for Saturday, May 6, at Westminster Abbey. Dudley Delffs’s The Faith of Queen Elizabeth* helpfully made explicit the Queen’s devout faith, but what about her son? Is King Charles III a Christian?
King Charles and the Anglican Faith
In his first address to the United Kingdom after his mother’s death, King Charles III affirmed his responsibility to the Church of England in which “my own faith is so deeply rooted.” According to one report (“King Charles III and Securing the True Protestant Religion”), after the Queen’s death, one of the first oaths King Charles made was to swear to the security of the Church of Scotland:
“I, Charles the Third, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of My other Realms and Territories, King, Defender of the Faith, do faithfully promise and swear that I shall inviolably maintain and preserve the Settlement of the true Protestant Religion as established by the Laws made in Scotland in prosecution of the Claim of Right and particularly by an Act intituled ‘An Act for securing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government’ and by the Acts passed in the Parliament of both Kingdom for Union of the two Kingdoms, together with the Government, Worship, Discipline, Rights and Privileges of the Church of Scotland. So help me God.”
Significantly, he bears the title “Defender of the Faith” as King of the United Kingdom. He is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Some might interpret this oath as little more than parroting religious formalities. However, what we can know from the oath is that Charles is committed to the Protestant faith and the Church of England—Anglicanism.
A Protestant Coronation
If Charles’s coronation follows that of his mother Elizabeth’s in 1953, an oath that the king will need to swear by at the Westminster Abbey is as follows:
Archbishop: “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?” (read the coronation here)
To which the response should be: “All this I promise to do.”
If the King’s ceremony follows that of the Queen’s, he will rise and go to the altar, make his solemn oath before all the witnesses and lay his right hand on the great Bible to say:
“The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.”
He will then kiss the Bible and sign the oath.
In terms of works that might result from faith, Charles speaks on behalf of persecuted Christians and supports the Catholic charity, “Aid to the Church in Need” (Edward Pentin, “The Religion of King Charles III”). In this same source, a former chaplain to the queen suggests that Charles “only recently has committed himself to Anglicanism.” Charles’s interest in other Christian faiths such as Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and non-Christian faiths such as Islam, may be “more diplomatic than personal.” Charles had said to his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby (The Prince of Wales: A Biography), in 1994, that he would prefer the title, “Defender of Faith” rather than “Defender of the Faith,” as a way to be inclusive of other people’s faiths. (“The Christian Faith of King Charles III”).
Charles as the Prince was not without moral failure; some will point back to the 1990’s when he had his extramarital affair before being divorced from Princess Diana.
None of this, however, proves or disproves that King Charles today has devout and personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. We do not know what goes on in the hearts of individuals. Some evangelicals might want to know whether King Charles is “born again.” But would a High-Church Anglican like Charles be expected to have the same understanding of “born again” as an evangelical? Much depends on how one interprets John 3.
All the same, if King Charles were to be asked whether he is a Christian, he would doubtless say yes.
Biblical Models for a King
What does Scripture have to say about the way a king should rule? The Old Testament shows many examples of kings who turned their backs on God, whether Saul, Solomon, every king from Jeroboam onward in Northern Israel, and many kings from Southern Israel. But there are some examples of righteous kings—for example, David, Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah, even though such kings as these also had their personal flaws (see 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles).
The Perfect Kingdom
The perfect king and kingdom, of course, is reserved for God (Psalm 95:3; Isaiah 6:5; 33:22; Zechariah 14:9) and Jesus as Messiah (Rom 15:12; 1 Tim 6:15; Revelation 17:14). The prophets anticipated a kingdom in which the Messiah would rule as king in peace, wisdom, equity, and righteousness, and there would be reconciliation with the nations and Israel worshipping the Lord together (Isaiah 9:2–7; 11:1–12:6; Jeremiah 33:14–16; Ezekiel 34:22–31; Micah 5:2–5). For Paul, Jesus the Messiah will eventually rule to the entire world (cosmos) when he returns (1 Corinthians 15:20–28).
Qualities of Kingship
According to Elwell and Comfort: “The qualities of God’s kingship were power, glory, fidelity, wisdom, concern, service, delegation of power to man, blessing and protection, just rule, judgment, vindication, and deliverance. Israel’s kingship was to be no different from God’s. Their varied and sometimes complex laws taught Israel to distinguish between what was holy and common, clean and unclean, the ways of God and the ways of the nations. The ways of God enhanced love, fidelity, justice, peace, harmony, service, concern for others, wise living, defense of the needy, and judgment of the guilty. The ways of the kingdoms of the world all too often promoted selfishness, anarchy, despotism, and disregard for justice” (Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, “King,” in Tyndale Bible Dictionary 2001:774).
But of course, ancient Israel was a theocratic society, and the Messianic kingdom does not reflect the present kingdoms of this world. Nevertheless, virtuous qualities such as fidelity, peace, justice, wisdom, love, and service are timeless ones, as is reverence for God in belief and conduct. These should be some of the marks of any good reign, including that of King Charles.**
* For the link to The Faith of Queen Elizabeth, click here.
** We can assume that Charles has a much better chance of having a good reputation as king than his prior namesakes. Charles I (1629–49) was executed for treason (though the charge really depends on whether one stood for the Commonwealth rather than Monarchy). Charles II (1660-85), though a popular king, had at least 13 mistresses and a number of illegitimate children. When he passed away, he had no legitimate heir and so the throne went to his brother James (see “Kings and Queens of England and Britain”).