5.1.14

The devil doesn't exist

The Telegraph reports on some experimental changes to baptism liturgy that the Church of England is introducing to help its services become more 'seeker-friendly.' The actual case is that at its last meeting the House of Bishops agreed that additional material should be piloted. 400 churches will trial the liturgical adaptations until the end of April, 2014. The texts will not have any formal status until after this time and their approval by General Synod.

The Telegraph paper reports how,
In the current version... vicars ask parents and godparents if they “reject the devil and all rebellion against God” and if they “repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour”. However, the new text asks them instead to “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises”, with no explicit mention of the devil or sin.

The words in official liturgy as set by the church are copied below: 
In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.
Therefore I ask:
Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?
I reject them.
Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?
I renounce them.
Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?
I repent of them.
Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?
I turn to Christ.
Do you submit to Christ as Lord?
I submit to Christ.
Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?
I submit to Christ. come to Christ. 
Mike Ovey presented a paper for GAFCON in which he said: 
My first really significant encounter with worldwide Anglicanism came at theological college. It was 1990 and an east African priest was on secondment with us. He preached in the college chapel. He posed a question. Which gospel, he asked, which gospel do you westerners want us to believe? The one you came with or the one you preach now?  
When Mike asks, 'What is this difference between what we westerners say now and what we said then?' the new baptism decisions might be one of those differences. 

The Liturgical Commission would probably not agree with this: 
'The Liturgical Commission was reminded that nothing in the material they produced should imply an alteration in the theology of baptism as expressed in the existing provision in Common Worship.'

However, the new material is described as emphasising 'the love of God, the
need to turn from destructive influences and behaviour and the cleansing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.' Influence and behaviour replaces the older emphasis on the devil and the sin that separates us from our neighbours. 

At Gafcon, Mike Ovey asked whether we are now defining Grace: 'The issue is what we mean by it, and  whether we mean what the bible means or whether we have made up our own meaning for ourselves.'

It would seem that in the experimental new baptism liturgy, we are certainly defining evil. Is it not so that anyone, from any background, ideology or faith would be able to make the new baptism promise to 'reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises?' There is nothing distinctly Christian at this point. 

Mike Ovey describes how, 'Baptism ... involves repentance. This means that for centuries repentance has played a vital part both in Anglican worship, in our sacramental services...if you offer inclusion without repentance, then you are offering inclusion without the forgiveness of sins.'


With the new definition of evil, many will have no problem, it is easily heard by the world. Is this revision to language being made to accommodate those who want Christenings without Christ, baptisms without discipleship, and to visit church without becoming church? 

A service of thanksgiving is a great alternative to a baptism for a family who want to thank God for the gift of a child, and ask His help with the raising of that child, but without that pressure to confess doctrines they don't believe and become church when that is not really what they have in mind. Surely this is the alternative to baptism. 

Mike Ovey describes how, 'Western churches do repent of some  sins...sins that the world recognises as sins in Western culture,' and he gives some examples. 
It’s very safe in Western culture to say that racism is a sin. Very safe to repent of it. It even wins a certain admiration from the world... when western churches repent of the history of colonialism and the murder of indigenous peoples, are we doing it because it is offensive to God or because it is – rightly – offensive to the world? I think the acid test of whether our repentance is really towards God is when God and the world disagree....I’m afraid that where we do repent, we repent of the things that the world finds offensive.
God and the world will disagree about the devil. 
God and the world will disagree about God! 

The Church hopes that it will attract more people to itself by changing its language. Ovey describes how, 'so much of the leadership of major Western denominations, including the Church of England, has made a virtue of trying to modernise itself...to bring the church into line with the world around it. Now the theory behind that was that if the church did this, people in the secular West would come back to church in their droves. That hasn’t happened.' 

Mike Ovey encourages leaders to ask themselves the painful question of whether it might not in fact be that their modernisation programme is part of the problem. 

I am not sure I have any solutions to this, only in that in my own context, I will continue to offer baptisms with the full liturgical decision or thanksgivings, a far better alternative than this 'baptism-lite.' As part of baptism preparation candidates are introduced to many of the key doctrines of the faith. It seems strange then to not acknowledge those more explicitly in the service for which they have been prepared and initiated. The revised baptism liturgy will not help to introduce people fully to the God they meet in the scriptures and in Jesus Christ. 

I would be interested in your views. 

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