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Devil in the detail: draft text of proposed alternative baptism rite

24 January 2014


From the Revd N. D. Bryson

Sir, - The Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden ("The reality that is Satan", Comment, 17 January) uses an erroneous comparison with homoeopathy. He states, "dilution . . . [will] reduce the constituent elements . . . to minute particles . . . which will not in fact have any discernible effect."

Hahnemann, the founder of modern homoeopathy, was a doctor and pharmacist who experimented to determine the smallest curative amount of a drug that could be given rather than prescribe unnecessary and harmful large doses. Naturally, a point was reached when no curative effects occurred. It is thought that, careful to ensure complete mixing with the diluent, he stumbled on succussion (banging against thick leather), which, when combined with dilution, made the therapeutic effects stronger - this is known in French as dynamisation. As a professional homoeopath, I have observed these effects many times.

It is surely dynamisation that Dr Ashenden advocates for baptismal liturgy rather than dilution, which Canon Tilby appears to be wanting in her contrasting piece. Here she argues for the removal of all difficulties facing the unchurched who wish their children to be baptised. We are in the second generation of a population with little understanding of Christianity, and yet a percentage still wish to be identified with it. The least that we should do is require their attendance at baptism preparation, which provides some Christian teaching and has the potential to spark interest in the parents and godparents to explore the Faith for themselves. If we dumb it down, these people will continue to think that it is just having their child "done", and a golden mission opportunity will be lost.

Canon Tilby rightly states that only water and the Trinitarian formula are necessary for baptism to be valid: a red herring; for what is pertinent is not validity, but bringing up the child as a Christian, a task with which the Church must assist parents and godparents. This is not Canon Tilby's "doctrinal test", but an equipping that we would be remiss not to provide.

5 Chatsworth Close
Maidenhead SL6 4RD

From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan

Sir, - Canon Angela Tilby, it seems, chairs the group that is drafting the new proposals for additional baptismal texts, and understandably commends them warmly. But, in doing so, she reveals an astonishing confidence in a completely bogus recent history of the rite, one that surely stems entirely from her own imagination.

She writes: "The distinction between infant and adult baptism is important. . . 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 from it rather than the other way round, which had always been the case in the past."

That "always" reads wonderfully; for clearly she had never seen the 1958 proposals, the 1967-68 Series 2 rites revising the 1958 texts, the Series 3 texts of 1978-79, and the actual authorised texts in the Alternative Service Book 1980, which lay behind the Common Worship ones. In each of these cases, the texts for adults came first in the sequence published, and each of the separate rites for infants was derived from it. The principle that she portrays as an unhelpful innovation in 2000 not only stood as a common feature of all these preceding texts, but as one that was placarded in the introductory material, and was highlighted and commended in the commentaries.

The principle does, indeed, have implications for how the rites should be drafted. But we seem to be faced with drafting done out of determined ignorance of everything that preceded Common Worship.

(Member of the Liturgical Commission 1964-86)
21 The Drive, Alwoodley
Leeds LS17 7QB


From the Revd David Gatcliffe

Sir, - As an assistant curate some 45 years ago, I had difficulty in using the language of the BCP baptism service. I have, therefore, been grateful to various waves of liturgical reform throughout my ministry, particularly in the pastoral offices.

This gratitude turned to dismay on first encountering the wordy and strangely unaware language of Common Worship. In particular, I found that I could not with any integrity ask baptism parents to start talking about "the devil" - even though I refuse to be outclassed in my profound belief in the reality of evil. Whether Augustine's "absence of good" argument is sufficient or not, evil assumes its own independent reality all too easily, wheresoever and whensoever allowed.

Whether it is an alternative mode of being parasitic upon the good or a powerfully destructive vacuum existing in the absence of good seems to me a matter of supreme pastoral (if not philosophical) irrelevance. Either way, evil is all too horribly real. I have never experienced any difficulty in enabling parents to express this reality in their own words during baptism-preparation conversations. What I have consistently refused to do is confront them with the need to personalise evil as "the devil", with all its possible medieval and pantomime baggage. Of course, some parents have used the term of their own accord without any sense of embarrassment. Equally, as many parents have questioned whether they are supposed to believe in him, and have expressed relief when I have replied that it seems to me to be a matter of poetic and linguistic taste.

For the baptism service to have any meaning at all, belief in the devil is surely optional. Belief in the terrifying reality of evil is not.

Since the advent of Common Worship, I have, therefore, taken refuge in the rubrics, and fled with relief to the more user-friendly (but equally rigorous, in my view) language of the ASB. I thank Canon Angela Tilby for her helpful article, especially her refusal to confuse evil with "the devil" (the Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden in the same issue has singularly failed to do so), and welcome her openness to rethinking the absence of repentance in the experimental baptism promises.

47 Catherine Street, Frome
Somerset BA11 1DA


From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, - Since Prudence Dailey of the Prayer Book Society alleges the doctrinal inadequacy of the new baptism service (Letters, 10 January), it must be noted that the Prayer Book allows the validity of private baptisms, provided only that water is applied in the name of the Trinity. These essentials of valid baptism need to be distinguished from the didactic elements with which our reformed Church has wisely surrounded baptism, as it did all other services.

When our clergy assure us that they believe the sacred deposit of essential truths our Church has passed down from the Reformation, and when they assure us that they have a calling to teach the same, it verges on perfidy for them slowly to whittle away the doctrinal content of our services and standards.

For balance, however, given that our Prayer Book implies that the re-application of water in the name of the Trinity would be rebaptism, it is equally difficult to understand or defend those of our clergy and bishops who confusingly practise this in remembrance of a previous infant baptisms.

On the Gorham case that Miss Dailey alludes to, Sir Robert Phillimore (Ecclesiastical Law, 1895) comments that the views of Gorham on the connection of baptism with regeneration were almost impenetrable. "This case, therefore, will be found, on examination, not to support the view sometimes erroneously entertained of it, as deciding that it is competent for a clergyman of the Church of England to hold, nakedly and without qualification, that infant children are not regenerated by virtue of the sacrament of baptism."

The case seems to have turned not on what views may or may not be held, but on the fact that, in instituting into the benefits of a charity, that is, the living, the bishop as a state functionary had no discretion to reject a rightly qualified - that is, a rightly ordained and rightly presented - candidate.

17 Francis Road,
Greenford UB6 7AD


From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, - The current debate on whether the devil should be mentioned in the baptism service reminds me of a little ditty I came across years ago: "The Devil was fairly voted out, And of course the Devil's gone, But simple folk would like to know Who carries his business on."

This resonates with my contemporary experience of discussing spiritual issues with the unchurched: even though they cannot readily grasp the concept of a loving and powerful God, many have no difficulty at all in accepting the existence of the devil - precisely because they "see" and feel his influence all around them, even within them. Evil to them is a powerful and malevolent force, and they have no problem with ascribing it to an unseen foe.

So, to omit the devil from the baptism rite in the interests of trying to relate more closely to the world of the average enquirer is misguided. A further simple word study may help us illuminate this issue: the Greek word for devil - diabolos - is the opposite of symbolo, which means to "bring together", to harmonise. The devil delights in diabolo - the throwing apart, dividing, or fragmenting of personalities and communities, even nations. (In modern Greek, diabolos is the word for "wedge".)

By contrast, Christ destroys the work of the devil (1 John 3.8), by restoring a measure of inner harmony and peace. Let us not jettison these vital truths from our liturgies in a mistaken attempt to be "relevant".

17 Brownlow Drive
Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9QS


From the Revd Steve Axtell

Sir, - On the suggested changes to the baptism service, I suspect that most folk-religionists have no problem with the reality of sin and the devil, and they understand the meaning of repentance. The problem is with submitting to Christ as Lord, i.e Lord of their life. And this is where plenty of regular "religious" churchgoers find it difficult, too.

St Mary's Vicarage
Cumbria CA14 3TA


From the Revd Jonathan Clatworthy

Sir, - At last, a baptism service that does not expect parents and godparents to believe in the modern devil. Asking them to renounce the devil these days inevitably conjures up those modern images of a self-willed, eternally existent opponent of God, popping up everywhere to mess up God's plans and tempt people to sin - while somehow at the same time residing in hell and being God's obedient administrator of punishment.

This ridiculous figure has been read into the Bible for a long time; and so many people imagine that Christians ought to believe in it. If a devil like this really existed, we would have to conclude that God was either powerless to stop these antics, or positively approved of them - and thus deny either God's power or God's goodness.

The Bible mentions a variety of satans, demons, and devils. Some demons are just invisible causes of illness which we would now call germs or viruses. Satans usually test humans, with God's permission. What unites the biblical authors is the supremacy of God, who is good.

There is no heavenly opponent endlessly messing up God's plans. Instead of filling baptism services with dark warnings of evil forces, we should use the occasion to celebrate the goodness of life and God's call.

Editor, Modern Believing
9 Westward View
Liverpool L17 7EE


From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, - The devil is, doubtless, delighted that plans for a pastorally sensitiveinfant baptism service have been sidetrackedinto debating his existence. Matthew 28.19ff presents baptism as enrolment for discipleship, to be followed by teaching. It would be helpful if the Liturgical Commission produced a booklet that could be given to parents, and that summarised Christ's teaching on God's Kingdom - perhaps with the parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son, and bits of the Sermon on the Mount, including the Lord's Prayer.

39 St Michaels Road
Liverpool L17 7AN

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