EN article: Why you can’t have your cake and eat it in the church

My final Evangelicals Now column, at least for the time being, is below.

It was recently reported that the Duke of Sussex was upset because the Queen has agreed that he should lose his royal patronages and honorary military appointments. This means he is going to be stripped of his official positions, including Captain General of the Royal Marines, honorary air commandant, RAF Honington, and commodore-in-chief, Small Ships and Diving, Royal Naval Command and his two rugby patronages.

What exactly prompted this reaction from the Queen? Some while ago, Harry and Meghan decided to resign as working royals. An article in The Times reported:

Buckingham Palace has long maintained that it would not be possible for the couple to be both half in and half out of the royal family. A source said: “There was no choice. The reality of not being able to have their cake and eat it is finally dawning on him. I am sure it is really painful for him. He is very upset to be in this spot. But they have made some choices… you cannot confuse representing the institution and the head of state with the sort of commercial operations that they intend to run.”[1]

Whatever your view on the value and efficacy of the royal family, it isn’t hard to see why being both a royal and not a royal, enjoying the benefits without the obligations, is not a tenable position. Few of us can decide to quit work and yet still get paid and receive company benefits whilst pursuing commercial interests elsewhere. You are either in or out of the company. You either take your responsibilities seriously and receive whatever benefits come with them, or you leave your obligations behind along with the perks that go with them.

If this is true even for those within the royal family, I wonder why so many of us seem to think it doesn’t apply to us in the church? Indeed, many of us speak of the church as the family of God. Just as in any family – apparently including royal ones – there are responsibilities and benefits that go along with our being a member of it. We either join the family, fulfilling our obligations and receiving the benefits, or we don’t and must live without the good things that we might want to access.

But far too many of us want to be Prince Harrys. We want the perks of membership without the responsibilities. We want to take communion, for example, without actually belonging to the body. We want to serve in certain ministries because they look interesting to us without the accountability and church discipline that necessarily go along with it. We want the intimate relationships in the church without ever committing properly to it. Some even grow discontent and leave the church altogether whilst still trying to cling on to the teaching from a distance by downloading it and the fellowship by maintaining contact with those they have, in reality, shunned by leaving.

But scripture doesn’t allow us this sort of cake-and-eating-it attitude to the church. Paul insists that, in communion, we are to discern the body. That is, we are to recognise who is and isn’t a member of it and dole out communion accordingly. He elsewhere tells us to ‘bear with one another’ and in another place to submit to our leaders joyfully and without grumbling. There are many other responsibilities the Bible places on church life that we either joyfully submit ourselves to, receiving all the rights of membership in return, or we decide we do not want them, but then place ourselves outside of the church and all of its benefits.

[1] ‘Harry ‘upset’ as Queen agrees he and Meghan must lose royal patronages’, The Times, Tuesday February 16thHarry ‘upset’ as Queen agrees he and Meghan must lose royal patronages | News | The Times