Mere Anglicanism

Satan absent from alternate CoE Baptismal Liturgy

The devil may not be in the details of a revised Baptismal Liturgy of the Church of England. On 13 July 2014 the General Synod of the Church of England meeting in York approved the first reading of a revision for Additional Texts for Holy Baptism for Common Worship, the church’s alternate service book.

The current text in Common Worship asks parents and sponsors to “reject the devil and all rebellion against God”, “renounce the deceit and corruption of evil” and “repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour”. The text approved by Synod asks they “turn away from sin” and “reject evil”, omitting mention of the devil.

In his presentation of the revised text to General Synod, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Rt. Rev. Robert Paterson (pictured) said the liturgy commission sought to address concerns the current text was “wordy and complex.”

“We all know that, for many people, the devil has been turned into a cartoon-like character of no particular malevolence. We have no quarrel with standing up to the devil: the problem is helping people with little doctrinal appreciation to understand what we mean by affirming that the devil is a defeated power.”

He added the new service would not replace the current authorized forms in Common Worship, but would be a supplement.

Marketing surveys found that the parents and sponsors of children brought to church for baptism did not remember or understand the language of the service. He noted that the word, “submit”, “seemed to some like bullying.”

The simple version of the text was written as a “pastoral” response to the lack of religious knowledge among members of the Church of England. “We all know that, for many people, the devil has been turned into a cartoon-like character of no particular malevolence. We have no quarrel with standing up to the devil: the problem is helping people with little doctrinal appreciation to understand what we mean by affirming that the devil is a defeated power.”

Concerns the revised text had “dumbed down” the faith were expressed by some members of Synod. London lay delegate Alison Ruloff gave failing grades to the text saying the commission “could do better” and “must try harder”.

The Rt. Rev. Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, voiced his concern over the thinness of the language of the liturgy, saying worship should be considered a form of “primary evangelism”. The absence of Satan was unfortunate, he noted. “Thinking about the wider environment, I think we probably think we need to stir up the imagination.”

Prudence Dailey, a lay delegate from the Oxford Diocese argued lack of knowledge was a catechetical not liturgical problem. The remedy for deficiencies in the one, were not appropriate for the other.  “Those parts of the baptism service which are difficult to understand need to be explained to them, they deserve to have it explained to them, the principles of the Gospel, there is no short cut to that.”

However the Ven. Andrew Brown, Archdeacon of Man, spoke for the majority when he said the current liturgies were not user friendly.  “The current liturgies are a hoop too far for too many parents. Our Baptism liturgies should mean more to the young parents and Godparents than they currently do – the explanation of what the promises mean can be done in the baptism classes.”

Archdeacon Brown said he would “miss the devil, but I am not a young lass bringing my baby to church to be baptised.”

Bishop Paterson said it was the belief of the liturgy commission that as England was no longer a Biblically-literate nation, the prayers used for the English must be suitable to their worldview. He added that the committee would revisit the wording of the text, but noted that too much emphasis placed upon the Devil would imply the Church was in constant conflict with Satan – a position he did not believe was justified.

In his summary statement, the Bishop of Sodor and Man said the serious criticisms are taken to heart, but that the world is no longer so biblically literate, so the text needs to be adjusted to suit that. He added it is important that the devil isn’t given too much focus, as this may suggest the Church is in battle with the devil constantly.

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