07 January 2014, The Tablet

CofE considers dropping language of sin and the devil from baptism service

The 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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