January 5, 2014
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 neighbour?’, with the answer: ‘I repent of them.’
But under the divisive reforms, backed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and already being practised 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.
The new text, to be tested in a trial lasting until Easter, also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission.
The rewritten version – which came after reformers said they wanted to use the language of EastEnders rather than Shakespeare in services – is designed as an alternative to the wording in the Common Worship prayer book, rather than a replacement.
But insiders predict this draft will become the norm for the Church’s 150,000 christenings each year if, as expected, it is approved by the General Synod. It may discuss the issue as early as this summer.
But the idea has angered many senior members of the Church, who feel it breaks vital links with baptisms as described in the Bible.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali said the reform should be scrapped before it further reduced Christianity to ‘easily swallowed soundbites’.
And one senior member of the General Synod, who did not wish to be named, said: ‘This is more like a benediction from the Good Fairy than any church service.
‘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.
‘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 baptised.
‘John the Baptist only baptised 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.’
Alison Ruoff, a lay member of the General Synod from London, said the new version was ‘weak and woolly’ and lacked conviction.
She 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.’