Church of England considers changes to baptism service

Considers dropping language of 'sin and the devil'

By Abigail Frymann
Posted Jan 9, 2014

[The TabletThe Church of England is trialling a new version of its baptism service, in which parents and godparents are no longer asked to “repent of sins” and “reject the Devil”.

The new wording – which is being piloted in more than 400 parishes until April – was devised in response to requests to couch the ceremony “in culturally appropriate and accessible language”.

Anglican baptisms are recognised by the Catholic Church, and vice versa.

In the current version of the CofE service, which dates back to 1998, the vicar asks: “Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?”. The candidate, or parents and godparents acting on his or her behalf, reply: “I reject them.”

Parents and godparents are then asked: “Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?”, to which the reply is: “I repent of them.”

Instead of this formula, reference to the devil or sin is dropped and parents and godparents are instead asked to “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises”.

The amended version currently has no formal status because it has not been formally approved by General Synod. The reforms are backed by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

But it has already attracted criticism. The former bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, and Bishop of Willesden Pete Broadbent accused the church of dumbing down.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Bishop Nazir-Ali said: “The need is not [for the Church of England] to eliminate crucial areas of teaching but to explain them”, warning that the CofE should “call a halt to this perhaps well-meant effort before it further reduces the fullness of the Church’s faith to easily swallowed soundbites.”

The Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, took issue with a raft of proposed text changes, concluding in a blog: “This is crass. It’s baptism lite. It will not do.”

But Revd Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, a vicar in Durham who has been asked to use the new texts in baptism ceremonies until the end of April, said: “This is a first draft, for experimental use. It will doubtless get better as people write in with stories of what worked and what didn’t. But the aim, to have elements of the service that even those of low literacy can understand, is entirely laudable.”


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Comments (20)

  1. Chris Epting says:

    This is not “baptism lite.” It is simply an attempt to express the ancient truths of our Faith in terms people can understand and relate to.

    1. Margaret Fletcher says:

      Whole heartedly endorse.

  2. Joyce Ann Edmondson says:

    That’s good news for me. As long as the Bible refers to “satans” and “adversaries” we know that there are many in our lives. Rejecting “evil” is far better in my view.

  3. Ron Hall says:

    The church in it’s headlong dash to be relevant to everyone will soon find itself relevant to no one. “Culturally appropriate and accessible language”, balderdash!

  4. Rich Basta says:

    I concur with the sentiments expressed by Bishop Nazir-Ali. The solution is for the church, be it priests or laity, to educate those of “low literacy” (as Threlfall-Holmes put it) on what baptism means, what repentance means, and what sin means. These are very accessible and knowable terms that people of all social classes and literacy levels have been able to grasp for centuries. All it takes is priests who are willing to take 5 minutes to explain the terms before the service begins. Certainly, especially in the age of the internet, most people can get spooled up on the terms before or after they attend a church service.

    1. Ron Hall says:

      I agree Rich, well stated.

    2. Janet Diehl says:

      I also agree. Church of England and Episcopalians USA need much better faith formation, more Bible study, and a better understanding of Church history. Why not add Evil to the formula? But not take away the present wording.

    3. john c. smith says:

      What is “SIN”?

  5. Sanford Z. K. Hampton says:

    I appreciate the intent but would prefer to retain”Repent of Sins and reject evil in all its many forms”.
    “..all its empty promises” sounds “empty”to me.

  6. Tom Neal says:

    I’m far more appalled by the change of the noun “trial” into a very awkward verb “trialling” than the distinction between “sin and Satan” vs “evil.” Yes, it’s change, and change makes us cranky. But you grumpy folks need to get over yourselves. If the Church didn’t change with the times, well, we’d be answering to the Holy Father in Rome (or Avignon), instead of tipping our hats vaguely towards Canterbury. And Ms. Abigail, work on your grammar!

    1. Pearl McElheran says:

      Agree on both points.

  7. Danny Anderson says:

    I say don’t change it . We need to know what sin is and reject it .

  8. Rich Basta says:

    Mr. Tom Neal:

    I can’t speak for those who agree with me, but I’m not grumpy at all, and am certainly not cranky. I’m not sure how you arrived at that judgment. I’m just raising a legitmate, reasoned argument in favor of not changing core Christian principles, as reflected in the baptism liturgy. Words have meaning, correct? Just because one argues against change in a certain area of Christian liturgy doesn’t mean one is against change in the church in general. Some change is good. Some change is not.

    I wish you peace.

  9. Suze Barrett says:

    ” The solution is for the church, be it priests or laity, to educate those of “low literacy” (as Threlfall-Holmes put it) on what baptism means, what repentance means, and what sin means.”
    This, followed by “Certainly, especially in the age of the internet, most people can get spooled up on the terms before or after they attend a church service.” (??!!)
    …Are you then condemning “illiterate” people for not boning up on whatever currently accepted terminology might be facing them each Sunday morning? By accessing a computer and READING up on terminology?
    For my 2cents, I find the “new” version full of mischief, easily bent to mean whatever any individual would like it to mean, and wholly unacceptable. The original phrasing “Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?” seems quite universally valid to me…our problems today are the same as they have been for centuries. Do not be a source of derision from God/Allah, which is also to say; your neighbor. ANY neighbor. No matter their faith. The original phrase is rather absolute, and does NOT open the door to “evils” being committed under the cloud of personal discrepancy.

    1. Danny Anderson says:

      Amen .

  10. Rich Basta says:

    Suze Barrett:

    I was not condeming “illterate” people at all. Condemining is a a strong word, and I have never condemned anyone in my life So, to answer your question and to clear up any misconceptions, the answer is a resounding “NO”. More importantly, I did not originate the term “illterate”. That was Therlfall-Holmes.

    i do, however, think that if you only attend church services for weddings, funerals and baptisms, you shouldn’t be at all shocked that you don’t understand some of the terms. That’s not the Church’s fault. That’s a “you problem.

    What I am saying is that it’s a two way street. Church leaders need to offer accessible opportunities for education on the core teachings of their faith . But, by the same token, those who attend services need to take some responsibility for their own education and faith formation. I don’t think that’s considered condemning anyone. I don’t beleive in the soft bigotry of low expectations, do you?

  11. Julian Malakar says:

    Repentance is primary set of mind God wants from us to receive His grace. If we are in trouble like twin tower disaster in 9/11, to be repented and rejecting all evil’s work is not difficult to promise.

  12. Suze Barrett says:

    Rich, I was not attacking you..but I think you’ve perhaps missed my point regarding your own cotradiction, and the actual ability, or inability, of all peoples everywhere to have a computer and internet of their own, to refer to at any hour of any day. As well, illiterate is a very strong term.
    In fact, my own dear mother devoted her entire life to Christian Education, as a Director for many years (until at the Diocese), so I understand very well the role the church is capable of playing, in a constructive and active way.
    I still say, watering down the Baptismal wordings, is a precariously dark well to go down.
    ~But I’m a fan of John Donne..so there you have it.

  13. Father Mike Waverly-Shank says:

    Thank God I’m an American Episcopalian, and we are not changing our Baptism Service. And every time I use it I explain it, so as not the dumy it down.

  14. Tom Hogan says:

    As a Roman Catholic brother I would like to remind you that Christ spoke of the Devil, hell and damnation far more often than he spoke of heaven. Check your Bibles and prove me wrong. The Anglican / Episcopal Church needs to swim the Tiber and come home. And I say this with a prayerful heart.

Comments are closed.