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Draft ‘baptism lite’ criticised

10 January 2014

AN ALTERNATIVE baptism liturgy, which does not mention sin or the devil, is "baptism lite", and should be thrown out by the General Synod, the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said this week.

The experimental texts have also been criticised on social media by other clerics, including the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David Walker, who tweeted that he "reckon[ed] these draft texts are more banal than even ASB".

The text is currently being piloted in 450 parishes. It was developed by the Liturgical Commission after the Synod approved a motion from Liverpool diocese asking for an alternative text in "accessible language" (News, 11 February 2011).

A note attached to the text, which was published on Sunday, says that "Clergy frequently find themselves conducting baptisms for families who have little contact with the Church. . . For the majority of those attending on such occasions, the existing provision can seem complex and inaccessible."

The note states that the Commission had sought to "express the primacy of God's welcoming grace, while retaining the solemnity of the promises to turn away from evil and towards Christ".

The existing Common Worship rite asks parents and godparents: "Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour? Do you turn to Christ as Saviour? Do you submit to Christ as Lord?" The alternative text asks: "Do you reject evil? And all its many forms? And all its empty promises? Do you turn to Christ? And put your trust in him?"

On Monday, Bishop Broadbent said of the Common Worship text: "It has content about what Christian discipleship is all about: a sense of turning away from what has gone before; of evil being corrupt; repentance being central to what it means to be a Christian; the needing of salvation; the lordship of Christ. I understand entirely why people find some of our stuff is impenetrable. . . But what they have produced here is more about style than substance."

Preparation was part of the answer, he said, and "walking people through" the service, with "plenty of symbolism and movement" rather than relying solely on the text.

"I honestly believe that you need accessibility, but also mystery," he said. "The Christian faith is both transcendent and immanent, including language that is sometimes difficult. Rejecting the devil and renouncing evil have always been part of what Christian theology and baptism is about."

The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, who chairs the Liturgical Commission, said that the new text used "the language of turning: the whole point of turning is that it comes from the New Testament word for repentance." Of the Decision section of the service, he said: "I think the terseness of language that we use is pretty challenging."

The candidate would also be told "Christ claims you for his own" and "Do not be ashamed of Christ," the Bishop said. He argued that sin, resurrection, and salvation were included, but "You can't repeat them in every single section of the service, nor should you."

On Tuesday, the Vicar of St Andrew's, Chelmsford, the Revd Paul Greenland, spoke of the need, from an "urban mission perspective", for an alternative text.

"Baptism liturgy and practice should meet people where they are, and then try to help them on their journey of faith," he said. "I am not interested in dumbing down or compromising one iota of Christian doctrine about repentance of sin or the necessity of believing in Christ crucified, but the language of our baptism liturgy, and especially the promises and declarations, must be accessible."

Even after preparation, during which he explained the cross and the cleansing from sin to families of children being baptised, he felt the need to "translate" the service. "What I am concerned with is what Jesus did, which is always to address people in language and terms they could understand, and meet them where they were."



Question of the week: Should the devil be mentioned in the baptism service?

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