The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, May 5, 2023

It’s Friday, May 5th, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Preparing for the Coronation of King Charles III: Some Christian Considerations Before the Crowning of Britain’s King Tomorrow

Tomorrow, millions and millions of people around the world, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States will be watching the coronation of King Charles III, the British King. The coronation is going to follow a procedure which has been in basic shape and basically in almost the same place for almost 1000 years. There is something, first of all to be said about the intersection of history and the present, and nothing makes that more clear than the pageantry of the coronation of a king. And for Americans, of course, it’s not only a matter of historical and present fascination, it’s a matter that invokes no small amount of irony. But nonetheless, even as you are looking at this, there’s some big issues here, and I want to tell you right up front that we’re going to discuss what happened next week on Monday’s edition of The Briefing.

Lord willing, that’s the plan, but it hasn’t happened yet, but I want to talk about it today in order to say enough that we might all understand a little bit more of what’s going to be taking place in Westminster Abbey tomorrow. The space itself, majestic, one of my favorite places in terms of the history of Christianity anywhere. To stand on those paving stones and know that for virtually 1000 years, the word of God has been read in that place, and prayers have been offered in that place. One of the most historic seats of Christianity anywhere in the world. And of course the place associated with the coronation of English or British monarchs going back almost a millennium. Now, if you have any historical consciousness at all, it’s amazing to speak about something like a century, anytime, anywhere, but a millennium? 1000 years?

And that’s what makes, I think, the spectacle of what will take place of Westminster Abbey so interesting to so many Americans, the majesty of the monarchy. And by the way, monarchy requires majesty. That’s actually the whole point. You have the authority of the monarch that is demonstrated in certain social customs, and in a national celebration in which the role of the monarch is affirmed. That’s what the coronation is, but there’s a lot more to it and most secular observers, and indeed I think probably most Christians, won’t understand much of what will take place. So I want to think about it today rather briefly compared to Monday, in order to set us up to watch what’s happening and to make certain that we don’t miss certain things that, frankly, most of the world is going to miss. For one thing, we need to notice the Christian structure of the entire ceremony. We need to understand that it is taking place in one of the most historic seats of Christianity in the world.

It is indeed a service of worship. It is indeed one that is structured largely by scripture, and in ways many people will simply not understand. But I think as you watch it, and millions will watch it, I think it’s important to recognize that what’s going on there is, at least to a considerable degree, an historic recapitulation of the anointing of Israel’s kings in the Old Testament. It underlines, for one thing, not only the long Christian heritage of the British monarchy, but the Christian foundation of Western civilization, and even in a secular age, and Britain’s a very secular nation these days, even in a very secular age, you have people who want to deny and if not deny, simply ignore that Christian past. It is interesting that at the very moment when Great Britain is going to be celebrating a new king and recognizing a new king as king, it is going to go back to a biblical pattern that begins with kings named David and Solomon.

Now, let me also tell you right up front, there is likely to be a great deal of controversy about this coronation, because after all, we are not just talking about the coronation of a king, but the coronation of King Charles III, who is a little bit different. King Charles III was actually at another coronation that took place, amazingly enough, 70 years ago. He stood then as a four-year-old boy, very close to the spot where he will be anointed, even as his mother was, in 1953. In 1953, Elizabeth II became the coronated queen of England. She of course, had become queen more than a year earlier upon the death of her father, King George VI. In the case of Charles III, he actually became king on the 8th of September of last year, when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, died. But the coronation comes later, in the case of Charles, not nearly as much later as it did for his mother.

But then again, his mother was notable for being particularly young, and Charles is known for being particularly old. In historical terms, it is quite remarkable to look the pictures of the four year old Charles with his hair plastered so tightly to his head. The four year old who fidgeted in 1953 is now going to be the king in 2023. Indeed, he is king, but now comes his coronation. But as I said, there’s so much behind this and included in what might happen tomorrow, and I say might because until it happens, we simply don’t have assurance of exactly what’s going to happen. But we do know that controversy has preceded Charles on this score now for a number of years, well over a decade. What are we talking about? We’re talking about the fact that Charles, years ago in an interview with the journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, the new age Prince, then the Prince of Wales, made the statement that he did not intend to receive the coronation throne title, defender of the faith, but rather wanted to be defender of faith in some general, new age sense.

Now that just quintessentially captures Charles, who is in so many ways, religiously, a very new age person, a very syncretistic person, a person who also seems to have a very superficial understanding both of Christian orthodoxy, and of the actual meaning of world religions. Now, I had the opportunity several years ago to be invited to meet with the then Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, to discuss these very issues. And I can tell you that at that time I discovered that he’s a very gracious man. I can also say that when it comes to theology, he is a very elastic mind. Now again, we will see, although it is expected that he actually will do what he said he wasn’t going to do, and he will accept that title as a throne title, precisely because it is under the control of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, who is going to be presiding at the religious ceremony.

And so even as Charles had offered this new age pledge that he wanted to be defender of faith, it is still likely that he will be enthroned as defender of the faith. Little footnote here, Christian should understand that that title does not go back 1000 years. It goes back to the Reformation. Actually, you could say it goes back in English terms to just prior to the English Reformation, and it was actually a title that was given by the Pope to King Henry vii. Now King Henry VIII and the Pope would later have a disagreement, and of course that had something to do with the numerous wives of King Henry VIII. But nonetheless, King Henry VIII wrote a tract against the reformer Martin Luther, that at the time greatly pleased the Pope. And the Pope then gave to King Henry VIII and to the British throne the Papally dispensed title, Defender of the Faith.

And the throne is held onto it, even as, of course, England broke with papal authority and with the Roman Catholic Church during the very reign of King Henry VIII. The Defender of the Faith turned out to be the enemy of the papacy. That Pope and later popes clearly regretted giving the British monarch the title Defender of the Faith, but there it is and it stuck. The question is, will it stick with King Charles III? Even if it does, no one’s going to take him seriously as a defender of the faith of the Church of England, much less as a defender of the Christian faith. And it has already been announced by Buckingham Palace that there will be interfaith participants who are clearly identified as such in the ceremony. So again, we’re going to watch that. We’re going to see how the title is or is not used, and in what form it is used, and we’re going to find out what else happens in the course of the ceremony.

But as I said, the big story is how inherently biblical and deeply Christian the ceremony is going to be, because unless they just unravel the entire ceremony and dispense with it, it is going to be deeply grounded in the scripture. And the references are going to go back to David and Solomon and of course to the crucial role played by Zadok the priest. Before Zadok the priest, the crucial role was fulfilled for David by Samuel, who anointed David with oil as the monarch God had established for Israel, the king over Israel. By the time Solomon is anointed king, Samuel is dead, and that purpose is fulfilled by Zadok the priest. You find that text in 1 Kings 1, beginning in verse 38, and also you have the music that will come along with it. The crucial point in the coronation is not actually going to be visible either to persons in Westminster Abbey, nor to those watching by any form of media transmission.

The crucial point is going to take place when the king to be anointed is closed off from his people with an elaborate screen, that’s already been shown, by the way, in anticipation, by Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. That screen is going to hide the king from public view, and it is at that time in the most intimate of ceremonies, the priest actually approaches the monarch, and with oil anoints the king just as Zadok the priest anointed Solomon. And at that point, what will be playing in Westminster Abbey, what will be played and sung, is actually choral music known as Zadok the Priest, written by none other than George Frederick Handel for the coronation of King George II in 1727. So again, almost exactly 300 years old a 1000 year old ceremony, almost, 300 year old music almost. And of course, the language of the Book of Common Prayer going back to the era of the Reformation, and of course so much of it including scripture.

And that will mean in this case, in what in Britain is called the authorized version. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s updated in terms of more contemporary language. But then again, if you’re going to update language, the place that it’s least likely to show up as updated is at the coronation of a king. Because the entire ceremony is basically attempting to harken back to centuries upon centuries of tradition and history. And there is no question that the British monarchy is one of the longest lasting institutions still surviving, in terms of human civilization. Be watching for the king to sit in the coronation chair. That chair itself is 700 years old, indeed, even more than 700 years old, and in it will be a block of stone just under the seat known as the Stone of Destiny. Previously, it had also been referred to as the Stone of Scone, referring to its Scottish roots.

It had been historically a part of the coronation of Scottish monarchs, with the formation of the United Kingdom or Great Britain. It became part of the coronation of British monarchs, but it’s also a symbol of Scottish identity. And in 1996, it was actually returned to Scotland. And so under high security, it had to be brought down from Scotland to London for the coronation tomorrow morning. You can’t have the coronation in England without the Stone of Destiny, which has to come from Edinburgh. Yeah, it’s a complicated process. The king is assuredly for the coronation to wear Saint Edward’s crown. That crown itself is more than 350 years old. And by the way, that is not gold plating. That crown is solid gold. You want to know what that much solid gold looks like? Well, just look at that crown. It is also crucially important as you’re watching the ceremony, and there’s going to be so much to watch.

As you look at the king receiving the instruments of state, he is going to be receiving, for example, a scepter and an orb. The scepter is pretty easy to understand. It goes all the way back in the history of kings. The scepter is a sign of temporal authority, of the king’s authority. The scepter in hand means the power in hand, but the orb is different. The orb that will be put in the king’s hands is actually a symbol of divine authority, that is, the mandate of God through the king. So you look at that, you recognize this is what historically has been referred to as the divine right of kings. Now, Americans rejected the idea of the divine right of kings, but that does not mean that even if you could go back in time, you could go back to, say, the formal beginning of the American Revolution in 1776.

It does not mean that the Americans then were rejecting the authority and the divine right of all kings. And remember, the very same colonists had actually earlier appealed to King George III for relief from Parliament. It was a reluctant break with the divine right of kings. And frankly, one of the greatest challenges for Americans at the time was devising a national government that could claim authority, and could exercise power without a king, and thus without the divine right of kings, it is simply not the case that there was an American consensus even in the beginning of the American experience, even including a revolution against eventually the British King, King George III.

It was simply not the case that the American people then, or for that matter, now were arguing against the legitimacy of all of the kings who had come before. So at this point, I mean, simple encouragement, watch the coronation tomorrow and understand what’s going on and also feel a bit of the weight of history, not only as Britain observes the coronation of a king, a monarch, but also as we recognize the sadness in all of this, that there is so much biblical content in the coronation. And it’s going to come through one way or another to one extent or another. And yet there is so little living affirmation of the words of scripture and the biblical truth that is going to be declared there.

Just understand that this is a demonstration of secular borrowing. This is where the secular world tries to borrow all of the ceremony and trappings of biblical Christianity, and of the civilizations that came from biblical Christianity, and they want the authority for the king in a secular sense. They even want a sense of majesty for the king in a secular sense. They might even want to insinuate that there is a divine blessing upon the king. But when it comes to the entirety of scriptural revelation, well, the reality is an increasingly secular Britain, as evidenced by its rather secular, new age king, he doesn’t really want all of that. We will come back on Monday after the event, lord willing, we will talk about what did happen and what it means, and there will be some surprises to be sure. We’ll pay close attention to what is said, and what isn’t said, to what is sung and what isn’t sung.

Part II

If Gene Therapy Was Able to Eliminate Such Genetic Disorders as Down Syndrome, Would That Be Seen as a Morally Acceptable Procedure? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, we’re going to turn to questions. And I appreciate all the many questions that listeners to The Briefing send in. And I’m particularly alert for big questions that come out of the blue that we really haven’t considered before. And some of these questions just seem to demand an answer, and to demand Christian thinking. And one of them came from a mom who has teenage sons who are seniors at a Christian school, and this will make you happy. We’re told that these two teenage sons, well, they quote, “Love to discuss, read about and learn more about theology.” Again, how encouraging is that? But nonetheless, this mom’s writing in because of a discussion she had with her boys over the question of Down’s syndrome. Now that shows up in the news from time to time, but more importantly, it shows up these days in some pretty important moral debates in this country.

And so this is an extremely timely question. Here comes the question, “If gene therapy were able to eliminate such genetic disorders as Down’s syndrome, would that be seen as a positive development?” Here’s what the mom wrote. “My sons believe it would, just as a prosthetic arm or chemotherapy is. Yet I disagreed, suggesting that such disorders allow us to see a variety of image bearers, complete with physical and cognitive “blemishes”. I believe that such individuals have allowed for abundant joy, contentment, and sanctification in their families or communities in a way that would be missing if they were not present.”

Well, I’m thankful for this discussion between a mom and two teenage sons over how Christians should think about this issue. Now, first of all, we need to begin with the fact that the biblical worldview, and this is just from the onset, Genesis 1, Genesis 2, affirms that every single human being under every condition, affected by any specific illness or no specific illness, at any stage of life under any set of physical conditions, is made in the image of God, and is to be respected and granted full dignity by that divinely established status.

And that means that there is no baby born into the world who does not deserve to be fully welcomed, and cared for, and cherished by the entire human community, beginning with parents, and then of course extended family. We would say to Christians also, the church, neighborhood school, you go down the list. But as you’re looking at this question, it takes a modern turn, because only in the very modern era would it be imaginable to talk about eradicating certain diseases, or in this case through genetic therapies, perhaps eliminating certain genetic patterns that are referred to by labels such as Down’s syndrome. Now, between the mom and the sons, there are two contrary lines of argument here. And it’s important that both of these lines of argument are made. Line of argument number one. God makes every single human being, there are no mistakes, and thus we are to welcome every single human being exactly as they are.

And when you look at welcoming a child born with Down’s syndrome, we need to understand that that child, that boy, that girl, eventually that man or that woman is given as a gift to the human community and is to be cherished, not just in spite of Down’s syndrome, but because God made this person for his own glory, even because of Down’s syndrome. In other words, this is a part of the gift that God has given in this person. That’s line of argument number one. Line of argument number two has to do with the Christian affirmation of medical intervention. Now, this is not an uncontroversial issue in Christian history. There have been those who have suggested, “Look if it’s god’s will that someone die of tonsillitis, they’ll die of tonsillitis, don’t intervene.” I think it’s very clear that the Christian worldview does allow for and even honors medical intervention.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we honor every procedure. It doesn’t mean that we would honor, and respect, and allow for, and affirm every medical technology, especially in the brave new world of medical technologies. There are some that are legitimate, there’s some that are illegitimate. But when it comes to the basic question of medical intervention, we are not against it, even when it comes to, say, conquering a disease. And when you look at history of the 20th century, one of the great medical achievements, for example, was the elimination of the disease of smallpox from most of human experience. So much so that there were medical authorities who declared the disease no longer to exist. But remember, in a fallen world, it still exists in a laboratory somewhere, so yeah, it still exists. But there were at that time no live cases of the disease that killed and maimed so many in centuries past, known as smallpox.

We as Christians understand that that’s a part of taking dominion, and it is also a part of seeking human flourishing, and human health, and human wholeness. And there is nothing wrong with that medical intervention in itself. Now, there could be complexities in this that would make it no longer as acceptable. Is the use of tissue from an aborted fetus a part of this? Is there, for example, unwarranted medical experimentation behind this. There could be all kinds of implications, but interventionism is not wrong, and healing disease is not wrong. It’s actually good. It is actually something held out as a biblical promise, ultimately fulfilled in the Kingdom of Christ. So you say this hasn’t been very helpful. You have said there are two lines of argument, but this mom clearly understood those two lines of argument. You’ve made no progress. Well, I tried to define them a little bit better, but I want to say that specifically I’m really siding with the boys here, but not without understanding the concern of the mom.

So here’s the issue. I believe that medical non-interventionism is simply not a Christian affirmation. And thus, if there is a legitimate treatment to offer someone greater wholeness in terms of human experience, we should offer that. And so if we could allow for those who can’t hear to hear, if we could allow for those who can’t see to see, then that would be a good thing. And when it comes to Down’s syndrome, that is defined as a genetic abnormality. Now, the genetic issue makes it a deeper issue, but at the same time, if there were an ethically unconflicted technology, or means of medical treatment, it would not be wrong. But even as we make that argument, we have to come back and say two additional things. Number one, we do greatly, honestly, eagerly celebrate every single human being made in God’s image, who bears Down’s syndrome.

And we bear the responsibility not begrudgingly to welcome them, but eagerly to welcome them, and to affirm them and to be thankful for them. And yes, there’s a distinctive contribution that is made by them, but there have also been distinctive contributions made by those who were blind, and those who were deaf. The reality is that we also have to say a second thing, and that is that there never is going to be a day when all of these human conditions, all illnesses, all accidents, all injuries, all syndromes are going to be eliminated. That is a medical utopia that simply isn’t going to happen. Well, let’s put it this way. Christians understand it is going to happen, but it’s not going to be in this world, but in the world to come. And that is when you’re going to see to the glory of God, full health, full holiness.

And at that point, it’s not only illnesses and genetic conditions that will be overcome, death itself will have been overcome. And so even as there is all kind of techno optimism about medicine, I just want to say I think it’s very important to recognize that that promise is never going to be fulfilled in the secular terms that it is often affirmed and offered. The hardest issue for Christian ethics is not in whether or not a legitimate, non-ethically compromised treatment would be allowable, and whether it be a good thing for it to be deployed. The harder question is whether there would be an obligation for it to be deployed. An obligation of parents, say, not to bring into the world a child with Down’s syndrome. And this is where the Christian ethic would simply have to back off and say, there are questions, there are decisions, there are issues to be confronted, about which the Christian Church simply cannot be dogmatic.

There’s no biblical basis for being absolutely dogmatic on this issue. Now, I also want to be honest and say I came to this question drawn by the sense that it is very urgent, and I think this is something that is extremely important for Christians to think about. I also come with some fear and trembling, simply because I do not want, in any way to say anything that would be to the slightest degree in injurious to those who have Down’s syndrome, or to those who so love those who have Down’s syndrome. And I’m so thankful for so many people I know with Down’s syndrome, who I consider to be friends and great gifts. My hesitancy also has to do with the fact that hypothetical medical technologies and medical treatments don’t demand a current answer. But it is also true that we need to be thinking about some of these questions before such technologies arrive.

And let’s be honest, the medical technology that is the premise of this question might never arise, but the likelihood of it is at least realistic enough that it does demand that we do some very serious thinking about it right now.

Part III

Genetic Screenings as Engine of the Culture of Death: Abortion Used Against Those with Down Syndrome

We also need to understand something else. We need to confront this directly, and this is one of the most serious issues I’ve ever discussed, in terms of answering questions on The Briefing. Right now, and for the course of the last several years, there’s been a concerted effort to try to remove those who have Down’s syndrome from the human community, and by that I mean by abortion.

And in this case, we’re talking about the threat of a technology that is not hypothetical. It is a technology that exists. And this means genetic screening, and this is where Christians need to understand that long before we talk about any such hypothetical possibility of some kind of genetic treatment for Down’s syndrome, the great threat right now is that there are genetic screenings that are being used in such a way that the vast majority of unborn babies identified as likely to be marked by Down’s syndrome are being aborted in the womb.

That is the great tragedy. That’s the great warning to all of us. That is the great insult to the image of God. That is the great sin that needs to have our attention, because it is the destruction of those babies who are diagnosed with Down’s syndrome and the removal of those babies from the human community that is the warning to us that human beings will misuse almost any medical technology. That sin is so powerful, that the great danger is that almost any medical technology can be used to absolutely horrifying ends. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that all medical technology is illegitimate. It doesn’t mean that all medical treatment is questionable. It doesn’t mean that all medical intervention is wrong.

Again, we come back full circle. That is not part of the Christian worldview. For Christians, the big question here is not, in particular, a hypothetical treatment. The big question here is whether or not we are willing to recognize, and eager to recognize, every single baby born, every single baby conceived, as a gift of God to us all. To be honest, it’s hard to know in this case exactly how to end this consideration, because it feels so weighty. But we do know to end with this. When you meet someone bearing Down’s syndrome, the right response is to love them, to welcome them, and to thank God for them and to see the glory of God in them. If this consideration leads to Christians even more faithfully cherishing those with Down’s syndrome, then it will be a good day.

I wish we’d gotten into more questions on the Briefing today, but this one’s so big, it’s just going to stand on its own.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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