Recent adaptations in the baptismal rite of the Church of England further illustrate the troubles endured by that ecclesial communion. I’d like to excerpt an article, make some comments of my own, and then set up for an article tomorrow wherein we ought to spend a little time looking at our own current Rite of Baptism, and some of the ways it also made some puzzling (and some would argue troubling) shifts in emphasis of its own in the 1970s.
For now, here excerpts from an article in the Daily Mail . My comments are in plain red text.
Parents and godparents no longer have to ‘repent sins’ and ‘reject the devil’ during christenings after the Church of England rewrote the solemn ceremony. The new wording is designed to be easier to understand – but critics are stunned at such a fundamental change to a cornerstone of their faith, saying the new ‘dumbed-down’ version ‘strikes at the heart’ of what baptism means.
In the original version, the vicar asks: ‘Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?’ Prompting the reply: ‘I reject them.’
They then ask: ‘Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor?’, with the answer: ‘I repent of them.’
But [now in the proposed new rite] already being practiced in 1,000 parishes, parents and godparents are asked to ‘reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises’ – with no mention of the devil or sin.
Somehow I am mindful of a slogan used at Google headquarters some years ago: “Don’t do evil.”
But of course these days, “evil” has become a somewhat vague and open-ended concept. Traditionally evil was understood as “moral evil” and involved rather clear violations of Divine and Natural Law.
Now, many who use the term “evil” tend to self-select what they mean by term. Thus, may things such as fornication, homosexual acts, greed, the idolatry of false worship, failure to attend divine services, and so forth are screened out of many people’s notion of evil. And things like, pollution, contributing to “global warming,” being “homophobic,” or in any way “judgmental” or of any contrary opinion to the new morality, things like these replace the void left by the others.
So, sadly, simply asking, “Do you reject evil?” is too vague in the modern context. But it would seem, from what the article says later, that this is exactly the reason for the change. The authors of the new rite seem to want to keep the whole concept of what is being rejected here vague so as to be inclusive of a wide variety of notions. I can almost hear someone at one these rites when asked, “Do you reject evil” say, “Sure, why not. Evil is, like, bad, ya know? Don’t do evil, bro, I’m with you on that.”
The rewritten version… is designed as an alternative to the wording in the Common Worship prayer book, rather than a replacement. But why permit a watering down of the faith at all??
But the idea has angered many senior members of the Church, who feel it breaks vital links with baptisms as described in the Bible. One senior member of the General Synod, who did not wish to be named, said ‘The trouble is that large parts of the Church of England don’t believe in hell, sin or repentance. They think you can just hold hands and smile and we will all go to Heaven. That is certainly not what Jesus thought. Yes! Have we not discussed this very problem at length on this blog?
[The Church official went on to say] ‘There is so much left out that one wonders why do it at all? If you exclude original sin and repentance there is very little substance left. ‘It doesn’t just dumb the service down – it eviscerates it. It destroys the significance of the rite by watering down the concept of sin and repentance. ‘A humanist could say “I renounce evil.” If you take out repentance you immediately strike at the heart of the whole idea of needing to be baptized. ‘John the Baptist only baptized those who came and were repentant. This rite is saying to people you don’t need to be particularly repentant. Just come and join the club.’
Yes, indeed, baptismal renunciations of Satan and repentance from sin, and the promises that follow are no time to be vague. Once again, I am somehow mindful that when I was a child my mother might ask me, in releasing from my time out in my room, “Do you promise to good?” And I’d say, “Yeah…” as I ran off to punch my brother in the stomach for “ratting me out.” Somehow I could still promise to be good, while at the same time “remind” my brother not to work for the opposition.
[Another Church official said] ‘By removing all mention of the devil and rebellion against God, we are left to our own vague understanding of what evil might or might not mean.’ Exactly
The draft was drawn up by the Church’s Liturgy Commission to redress fears the current version was too off-putting for lay people who only go to church for baptisms, weddings or funerals.
Wowza, why bend over backward for people that don’t even want to come anyway? My own experience with people who have “been away for a while” is that they are usually more disconcerted by changes in what they once knew, and that substantial changes only further drive them from the Church which comes to seem more and more unfamiliar.
Either way though, it seems strange that any denomination or Church should confect its liturgies to appeal to people who don’t come anyway.
The Bishop of Wakefield Stephen Platten, who chairs the commission, said repentance was implied in phrases urging people to ‘turn away from evil’… (But that’s just the point, its only implied! We have to do better than that)….
And [Wakefield] defended the omission of the devil by saying it was ‘theologically problematic’.
Problematic? Do you mean that some other clerics and faithful in your denomination deny the Devil’s existence and that to mention him is problematic? Apparently Jesus never got their memo, since he talked about the devil a lot, and even engaged the devil personally on a number of occasions. He tangled with him in the desert, and, as I recall, drove him out of a number of people. And let me also add on a personal, as some one who has also tangled with old scratch, he is quite real.
Or perhaps the good bishop means that he understands that omitting any mention of the devil is what is problematic. If so, why do it, or permit others to do it?
Whatever the case, all the more reason to teach clearly on the reality of the Devil and teach people to specifically renounce him. In the Roman Rite we say rather clearly: Do You renounce Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? I DO renounce (abrenuntio) is the clearly prescribed response. And yet the good bishop says,
He said: ‘We are certainly not dumbing down. Far from it. What we are concerned about is to make sure that people who are coming to baptism understand what is being said.’ What am I missing here? Is it not the opposite that is being done? Since when does becoming more vague help to “make sure” people “understand?”
OK, well, sad to say the least, but not unexpected, given the meltdown in the Church of England. For the record there are Anglicans who are disturbed. And well they should be.
Of course it is not my job as a Catholic blogger to critique other denominations except insofar as it is a teaching moment for us who are Catholic. And as we know, there are sadly some among our own number some who have bought into the lies and errors which deny the existence of the Devil; who also seek to preach mercy and salvation without repentance. And we have well discussed it here.
Hence I do not single out the Church of England here. However, at least in the Catholic Church we have some mechanisms in place, including the grace of infallibility, which help avoid any dogmatic deviations, despite our internal bickering.
Tomorrow however I would like to broach a topic regarding our own baptismal rites and whether it is not perhaps time for us, as a Church, to reconsider having omitted the exorcisms that were once integral to that rite, even in the baptism of infants.
There is a good article on this matter I want to share with you by Ralph Martin who quotes extensively from St. Thomas on the importance of the exorcisms. I do “Old Rite” baptisms a few times a year and
I can tell you the exorcisms are powerful and they really give the Devil his walking papers. But more on this tomorrow!
Here’s a Hymn from a better moment in the Church of England: