Jesus arm wrestles the devil

The internet is awash with tub-thumping horror that the Church of England is diluting baptism by removing “sin” and “the devil” in alternatives. Usually immersed in far more important issues such as may gays love each other or can women lead, many are shedding tears at what they see as further infiltration by those nasty, wet liberals watering down the pure gospel.

The Church of England’s Common Worship, asks parents and godparents, or the candidates themselves

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?…

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?

In the alternative, that becomes

Do you reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises?

Common Worship, at the signing with the cross, has the congregation say

Fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and remain faithful to Christ to the end of your life.

In the alternative that becomes

Stand bravely with him. Oppose the power of evil, and remain his faithful disciple to the end of your life.

The alternative also abandons “submitting” to Christ.

This is all part of a formal General-Synod-approved trial alternative that has been going (without this current internet salivating) in hundreds of parishes since 2012. This year there will be a debate whether to allow the trial wider approval. Former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali is one of the people seeking that the church wash its hands of this alternative rite and hopes to dampen the enthusiasm for it. Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, backs the changes.

I don’t want to pour cold water on this debate overseas, but just point out that in the baptism rite of A New Zealand Prayer Book – He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa the devil does not occur at all. “Sin” is mentioned in the NZ rite in a quote from the Acts of the Apostles [Peter saying, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God may call.”], and in the Apostles’ Creed [“…the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,…”]

The parallels to the above sections are

The bishop or priest says to the candidates, and (for children), to the parents and godparents
Do you renounce all evil influences and powers that rebel against God?

The candidates and parents and godparents reply
I renounce all evil.

The bishop or priest makes the sign of the cross on each of the baptised, saying
We sign you with the cross, the sign of Christ.

A lighted candle may be given by a representative of the congregation, who says,
Walk in the faith of Christ crucified and risen. Shine with the light of Christ.

Correct me someone, but I don’t think we have ever had the devil in any NZ baptismal revision (we began our revisions in 1964), and we said good-bye to “sin” (in the sense being debated now in the CofE) in the 1970s. And no – there’s no “submitting” here.

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