THE baptism texts that are causing all the trouble have their
origins in a motion put forward by the diocese of Liverpool to the
General Synod, which was carried in February 2011. It called for
some alternative texts to be provided for baptism "in accessible
The background was widespread discontent from members of the
clergy using the Common Worship service, especially at
babies' christenings. Many had come to dread the typical
Sunday-afternoon baptism, when families were often completely at
sea with the earnest inquisitiveness of the Common Worship
The long and theologically dense Prayer over the Water was a
stumbling block for some (cue congregational shuffling and
outbreaks of chatter). For others, the worst part was struggling
through the Decision, that part of the service where parents and
godparents promise on behalf of the baby to turn away from evil and
turn to Christ.
This is the focus of the present row. Common Worship
makes rather a meal of the Decision, requiring rejection of the
devil and all rebellion against God, renunciation of the deceit and
corruption of evil, and repentance of sins that separate us from
God and neighbour. Parents and godparents are then required to turn
to Christ as Saviour, to submit to him as Lord, and to come to
Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.
When I was a vicar in Cambridge, I found all this overloaded
andeven intrusive. It all too clearlybore the marks of unresolved
theological differences, and produced glazed looks from those for
whom the baptism of their baby was essentially about thanksgiving
CURIOUSLY, the Decision section in Common Worship never
sounded quite so artificial in the context of adult baptism, when
the person being baptised would be likely tobe conscious of a
personal conversion, and able to "own" a sense of sin. Even so, I
came across adult candidates who struggled with rejecting a
personal devil; some even found the notion risible (the little guy
with the horns and tail?).
The distinction between infant and adult baptism is important in
understanding the current problem. Common Worship had
taken the unprecedented decision that adult baptism should be
regarded as the normative rite, and that services for babies should
be derived fromit rather than other way round, which had always
been the case in the past.
THE argument that broke out recently was between clergy who feel
passionately that the Decision needs to be in language that people
on the fringes of church life can use sincerely, and those who feel
that the "adult" language is appropriate for all. The latter group
believe that doctrinal issues are at stake, which should not be
compromised by avoiding words such as sin and concepts such as the
The drafting group struggled to find a formula that expressed a
genuine turning away from evil and towards the living Christ,
without overloading the moment. We looked at the Roman Catholic
rite,and at the forms used in other Churches, and found that they
were generally simpler and easier tosay.
On reflection, it seems to me that the Decision should not be
made to function as a litmus test of the parents' and godparents'
faith. Baptism is not a reward for correct belief, but an
entry-point to the Christian life, and parents and godparents
should not be expected to carry the fall-out of our theological
IT IS worth remembering that there is no Decision at an emergency
baptism. What makes baptism valid is water and the invocation of
the Trinity. Moreover, recent research on behalf of the
Archbishops' Council suggests that most parents bringing their
babies to baptism do not remember much about the words at all; what
has a lasting effect on them is water administered by a priest, and
the naming of the baby.
The research also suggests that, whereas some parents struggle
to link the notion of sin to a recently born baby, they are very
much aware of the evil present in the world, and the dangers and
trials that are likely to confront their children. This is why the
alternative form of the Decision asks for a rejection of evil. In
our increasingly automated and virtual world, impersonal evil is
arguably a much greater threat to the integrity of the self than
the problematic notion of a personal devil.
As for sin, well, we shall see. There is certainly reference to
sin and the need for cleansing elsewhere in the service. The texts
offered are only being trialled at this stage, and if parishes feel
that repentance of sin is an integral part of the Decision, they
will make that clear. And, of course, these texts are not intended
to replace what we already have. They are alternatives, and no one
has to use them.
To me, the question is how we reach out to families who are not
regular churchgoers, but still want to feel that they are part of
Christendom through the baptism of their children. Are we
interested in them enough to take their aspirations for their
children seriously, or do we require them to pass a doctrinal test
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.
She is a member of the Liturgical Commission, and chairs its
Christian Initiation: Additional Texts in Accessible Language
Current Common Worship service:
In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his
To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with
Therefore I ask: Do you reject the devil and all rebellion
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
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 come to Christ.
Where there are strong pastoral reasons, the alternative
form of the Decision (CWIS, p.168) may be used.
Proposed alternative text:
In baptism God calls us to new life.
We die with Christ to all that destroys, and rise to live with him
Therefore I ask: Do you reject evil?
I reject evil.
And all its many forms?
And all its many forms.
And all its empty promises?
And all its empty promises.
The candidates, together with their parents, godparents and
sponsors, may now turn to face the font, a cross, or the large
Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.
And put your trust in him?
And put my trust in him.
And promise to follow him for ever?
And promise to follow him for