Once again, a feeble desire to be democratic and appeal to potential church-goers has led the C of E into muddy waters. No, I’m not talking about women bishops, but the Church of England’s much more significant — and damaging – decision, rubber stamped last Sunday, to remove the Devil from the liturgy of Baptism. Instead of being asked to reject ‘the devil and all rebellion against God’, parents at a Christening will now blandly be asked to ‘turn away from sin’.
The change of language means the liturgy is now so removed from the original Book of Common Prayer as to be unrecognisable, but members of the Synod were told that a pilot scheme of the new version in selected churches had ‘proved extremely popular’. And a report for the C of E’s Liturgical Commission said that vicars now often conduct ‘baptisms for un-churched families’ who may find traditional language impenetrable.
Instead of ‘renouncing’ evil, parents will now reject it, and there will on no account be any ‘repenting’. Like most language from the King James Bible, such words are deemed too difficult.
It is tricky to argue for the retention of what the C of E might call ‘exclusive language’ without sounding like a ranting fundamentalist or a fogey. However, my own disenchantment with Anglicanism began when I was presented during Sunday service with a can of dried fava beans to use as an improvised percussion instrument to accompany a ‘song’ (hymns are also out of fashion). I find such innovations as distasteful and anti-spiritual as congregants attending church in sweatshirts, hiking boots or fashionably ripped jeans. (And, as the old joke goes, that was just the vicar.)
The devil is quite simply the embodiment of evil. Ann Widdecombe, who famously converted to Catholicism out of frustration with the modernising tendencies of the Church of England, has resolutely dismissed the changes to the baptism service as ‘a load of nonsense’. And she points out that parents who experience the new cosy Christening may get a shock if they then open a Bible – since the devil features prominently.
The Devil may in some senses be symbolic, and as hard to depict as God himself. But as a child, the notion of God’s wisdom and power, and the sublime comfort of believing He existed would have been far less convincing without a simultaneous belief in Satan. Melville wrote something in Moby Dick that encapsulates the dilemma. As Ishmael and Queequeg share a bed in a freezing inn, he describes the comfort of feeling warm being greatly enhanced if the exposed tip of your nose remains cold. A bedroom warmed by fire is, says Melville ‘one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich.’ Christianity without the devil is similarly, needlessly, cosy.
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