Church of England Responds to Criticism That It Is Dumbing Down Baptism Service Wording

The Church of England recently clarified its move to offer alternatives to phrases such as "repent" of one's sins and "reject the devil" in baptism services after it was accused of "dumbing down" the official text.

The church body said in a statement Saturday that a 2011 motion requesting for additional materials with "culturally appropriate and accessible language" "would not replace or revise the current Baptism service but would be available for use as alternatives to three parts of the service."

The motion had been proposed by a group of clergy from the Diocese of Liverpool who felt "they were losing touch with congregations at important moments," such as baptisms. They felt a "tension between understandability and historic theological reference in our rites" especially when unchurched persons, such as godparents, were involved.

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Among the phrases they found problematic were asking 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 neighbor," according to The Daily Mail. The proposed alternative is to "reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises."

Some clergy, such as former Bishop of Rochester the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, have warned against offering new wording for baptism services, and, according to The Daily Mail, said that the need "is not to eliminate crucial areas of teaching but to explain them."

"Rather than the constant dumbing down of Christian teaching, whether for baptism, marriage or death, we should be preparing people for these great rites of passage," he contended.

"It doesn't just dumb the service down – it eviscerates it. It destroys the significance of the rite by watering down the concept of sin and repentance," Nazir-Ali maintained. "A humanist could say 'I renounce evil.' If you take out repentance you immediately strike at the heart of the whole idea of needing to be baptized."

The chair of the Church's Liturgy Commission, the Rt. Rev. Stephen Platten, the Bishop of Wakefield, argued that the proposed new wording still requires repentance, and explained that "the devil" in the text was "theologically problematic," The Telegraph reported.

The Church of England also explained in its statement that some media reports have falsely claimed that the baptism ceremony had not been changed for more than 400 years until 1980, when in reality, it had been revised three times in the past 30 years.

The motion by the Liverpool diocese was passed by the General Synod, the governing body of the Church of England. The supplemental materials still need final approval before becoming official.

An initial trial period for the supplemental materials, backed by the Most Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, has already begun at a number of parishes and it will last until Easter.

In October 2013, Welby presided over what he called the "hugely important" baptism of the British royal baby Prince George, and used the opportunity to highlight the importance of christenings.

"God doesn't care who we are – it's for adults and children," the archbishop of Canterbury said, adding that baptism is "at its heart the gift of God."

Welby stated: "God's love is offered without qualification, without price, without cost, to all people in all circumstances, always."

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