Church of England “Waters Down”Baptismal Rite?

010614Recent 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:

16 Replies to “Church of England “Waters Down”Baptismal Rite?”

  1. Monsignor, I would point out that there could very well be Anglicans who just use the older Roman Ritual, although many, such as Fr. John Hunwicke, have joined the Ordinariates.
    As to baptisms under that form, Summorum Pontificum gives the pastor discretion to use it when pastorally appropriate. Considering the entire rite can be conducted in English, I agree with Fr. Tim Finigan of Blackfen, England. It can be freely used all the time.
    The Church of England is rapidly reaching a point where its members cannot be said to be in even imperfect communion with the Church of Christ, that is the One, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church.

    1. Yes, I am going to talk more about the “old rite” tomorrow. But I also advocate some looking at the current rite in order to beef up the exorcism. BTW, when I do the Old Rite I always do it in Latin except when I am asking the godparents questions etc.I’d like to find out more about when and what can be done in English. Do you have some somewhere you can point that says its OK to do the EF in English. I know that some of the guy did that in the “transition” time, But I am not sure what is actually allowed under Summorum Pontificum in terms of the use of English. If so, which translation; I have several.

  2. Could it be that the very thing the church of England seeks to achieve is the very thing that is keeping people away? By becoming “all inclusive and welcoming” to the non-churchgoers, they have watered down religion so much as to make it tasteless. As God’s children, aren’t we created with the longing for Him, aren’t we drawn to him? Who would want to eat paper when they could eat the Bread of Life? In fact, in this case, wouldn’t ANYTHING be preferable to the non-substantive offerings of an “all inclusive” church? Whether we acknowledge it or not, we want that line between good and evil. How else do we know who we are?

  3. I’m not convinced this is ‘watering down’ at all. It seeks to add a more contemporary explanation of the meaning of baptism into the liturgy that may be more appropriate for those with little grounding in traditional churchgoing. It’s meeting people where they are in order to lead them further in. Very like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When people hear the Church talking about sin they think of the deeds not the state, acts of sin rather than the ‘human propensity to mess things up’ (Francis Spufford: This is a prime example of why contemporary expressions of liturgy are needed to communicate with contemporary people.

    1. But isn’t our job to convey Biblical truth and keep people acquainted with it in season and out? Words like Sin, repentance, Satan speak to realities that we need to consistently repropose, not just drop because they go out of vogue. I can understand changing words if the words come to mean something different in a language setting than what we are saying. But that is not the case here. How is no longer renouncing Satan communicating better? Are you not merely removing truth, rather than enhancing understanding?

      1. It’s only words….. yet the old words remain, as do the concepts they represent. Neither have been banned or abandoned – in fact the alternative Anglican liturgies are only experimental and may not even get through in their present form. Communication is about appropriate language and for some people that means using a more contemporary presentation. When, and if, people move on in their Christian walk they will be better able to understand the older language. In the meantime we repropose the realities in language people understand. Satan isn’t dead – just going by another name……

        1. Well, It’s a good discussion. I think we have to a lot clearer today, not less clear. The COE though it seems long ago adopted a stance that it was going to try and reach as many disaffected as possible by “inclusive” approaches. I think the fact that their numbers have plummeted is indicative that such an approach is wrong. But, it’s not my church.

          1. It’s not our church and, this is a very worthy comment which encourages us to keep our house in order but, when looking at it for possible inspirational value, it seems best to look elsewhere (up) for inspiration.
            The part about “all inclusive” leads me to think of Matthew 9:9-13. When Christ mentions the Physician for the sick this seems all inclusive but, for a physician to heal effectively the patient must follow directions. Uncomfortable directions are given as the Four Gospels progress.

          2. The Church belongs to Christ, not to any of us, and I don’t see him adopting an exclusive approach to discipleship. All are called, though, of course, not all choose to follow. I’m grateful that Pope Francis seems to be going faithfully down the inclusive route as well. Yes there will be a Day of Judgement and people will have to give an account of their faithfulness or otherwise – I think we’ll all be surprised on that Day by the extent of God’s forgiving grace. As you say, it is a good discussion and I am convinced, though I know it’s not particularly a Catholic view, that it is a good thing there are different churches with different approaches. I wish them all well, rather than getting critical because their way isn’t mine.

  4. I just finished reading and reviewing a book recommended by a Catholic friend: The Wisdom Jesus. Therein an Episcopal priest explains how she has discovered, based on the recently discovered “gospels” of Thomas, Judas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene how Jesus was really a master Zen guru, teaching us how to find our inner self, and how what we find in ourselves is really the truth. Whatever we want, that’s the truth. Eastern religions, Christianity, whatever, the religion of the day seems to be “whatever I want.” In a way, I’d not be bothered by that, except that the people who “have found the truth,” whether the gay lobby or the inner self lobby, demand that I agree with them and the truth of their insights. Their truths are right, and mine (or those of any religious authority or Tradition) are wrong. People want what they want, and sadly, as you’ve pointed out, many mainstream churches are willing to give it to them.

    And all that leads to, as The Wisdom Jesus suggests, is the affirmation that we really don’t need ANY churches.

    1. I’ve heard a lot about this sort of thing lately and it tends to remind me of Matthew 16:18. I worry about those gates of hell, hades, underworld, whatever translation and like the thought of a bastion on a rock which offers security.
      One probably should not live in an entirely anxious state but, at the other extreme, I wonder if we find denial.

  5. These people coming to the christenings aren’t coming to meet God, as the Prodigal Son was on his way to meet his father. They are coming out of an obligation to the parents of the child being christened. In an apples to apples comparison, the Prodigal Son’s father would have traveled to the pig fields to meet his son, who wouldn’t have been looking for him in the first place.

    If these people were coming to meet God, no “contemporizing” would be needed! As soon as you have God in your sights, you run to Him.

    1. Yet the strange thing is that God has a habit of being there just where people don’t expect him. If we insist on a full understanding of spiritual things as a precursor to ‘allowing’ baptism then we are in danger of limiting the grace of God. Thankfully the only absolutely necessary thing for a baptism to be a baptism is the application of water using a Trinitarian formula. Of course the minimum is not necessarily the best but it challenges all our attempts to stint the Grace of God by our rules and requirements.

  6. I put your articles into Word documents and change all your Americanisms into ‘real’ English. So I was amused to see that you had Americanised the article in the Daily Mail. Eg. replacing ‘baptised’ with ‘baptized’. So I had to undo all of your Americanisations and put the Daily Mail quotes back into ‘real’ English! But I’m afraid that as a result of things like the internet and films (!) Americanisms are being used more and more in the home of ‘real’ English. For example, it is very unusual nowadays to hear someone under the age of 40 talking about a railway station. And ‘issues’ replaced ‘problems’ with amazing rapidity. Nowadays hardly anyone uses the word ‘problem’ any more. Very sad. However, as we use gas to heat our homes, the word ‘petrol’ is pretty safe. I was intrigued that you commented on an article in a British newspaper. Do you read the Daily Mail regularly or were you alerted to this particular article?

  7. My take on why some of the churches have such difficulty and muddy understanding of the theology regarding baptism is that it stems from the period immediately after Christianity was accepted as the official ‘religion’ of the Roman Empire.

    I recently started an Anglican course on Christian Studies where the opening paragraph on baptism was ‘Although there is no evidence to show that infant baptism was practised in the early church, there is no reason to believe thgat it wasn’t’. Which to me is an apologetic recognition that there is some question, even in the minds of the upper echelons of the church administration, that the practice of infant baptism is questionable.

    My appreciation of how this originated comes from an interaction between Irenaus’, who introduced the concept of original sin, which almost turns sin into a sexually transmitted disease from which we must recover the child as early as possible by infant baptism, and Augustine of Hippo some 200 years later using baptism of infants to justify the concept of original sin. In so doing, it created a circular argument reinforcing the theology of both original sin and infant baptism from which the church has never recovered.

    Baptism is not for salvation, or the forgiveness of sin, else why did Jesus by his own admission in response to John the Baptist’s query, need to be baptised . Baptism is an outward sign before both God and man that the individual has recognised their own sinful nature, repented of it, and has accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour as a gift of God, and not of their own volition. (as was Saul’s conversion).

    Jesus’ baptism was God’s recognition, before ‘men’ (men in quotation marks to avoid offending gender discrimination) of His Son, and His Son’s purpose at the start of his ministry.

    Infants can have no cogniscence of sin, or salvation, and as no one can accept salvation on behalf of someone else,(ie. baptism, not salvation, has to be a personal choice), infant baptism must be wrong.

    Get back to getting that right, and baptism can once again be accepted with the humility that seems to be lost in all the arguments surrounding it.

Comments are closed.