Even though the Book of Revelations talks of Satan being vanquished and thrown into a pit of fire at the end of the world, the Church of England has concurred that the Devil can now be considered an optional extra. Instead of going through an apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil, the Church’s decision came after a quiet show of hands of members of the General Synod that met at Westminster earlier this month.
Members of the Church’s decision-making body voted in favor of an alternative baptism liturgy that will have no references to the Devil, as part of new initiative that it hopes will make religious services more appealing to those who do not go to church regularly. After a brief consultation, a committee of liturgical experts concluded that the inclusion of Satan as “personified evil” was pointless, as most young people were likely to misunderstand the notion. The word “fight” too, was removed from the new version of the service so as to make it more pacifist in nature.
While an earlier draft of the alternative baptism liturgy had no references to the word “sin” either, that was reinstated after some churchgoers protested against the changes, calling them dumbed down, bland and nothing short of dire.
However, those who wish to hold on to the violent fight against the Prince of Darkness would still be able to do so in the Church’s primary service book, Common Worship, in which those being baptized as well as their parents and godparents are asked to “fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil.”
Even though the subject of the debate was sensitive, there was little to no damnation or hellfire in the tone of the discussion, which eventually approved of the new service without any opposition. The closest the tone went towards condemnation was when members of the General Synod jokingly sighed and quietly rooted at one of the parish priests, Reverend Charlotte Gale from Coventry Diocese, revealing that she had already used the new service, even before it had been approved at the meeting.
“Having been excited by the prospect of these new texts at our discussions in July I thought I would play fast and loose with canon law and try them out,” she said, to mock outrage.
In the existing baptism service, the priest asks parents and godparents, “Do you reject the Devil and all rebellion against God?” to which they reply, “I reject them.” The priest then asks if they “renounce the deceit and corruption of evil” and “repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor.”
In the latest version of the baptism service however, they will only be told to “turn away from sin and reject evil” and instead of battling against the forces of evil, they will be told to simply stand bravely against them.
The Bishop of Truro, Reverend Timothy Thornton, who oversaw the revision, said, “This is seen as a posture of confident resistance rather than an aggressive act and it deliberately stops short of the word ‘fight’. Those who work with young people gave consistent advice that references to the Devil are likely to be misunderstood in today’s culture.”
Chris Sugden, a prominent figure in the Church’s conservative wing, welcomed the changes despite knowing very well that all references to the Devil had been omitted.
“The issue is accessibility of language and also understanding by those for whom these texts are intended,” he said. “Nothing has changed in the doctrine of the Church of England, nothing has changed in our Common Worship services and practices. If we are going to help people understand that is the role of catechesis in which we point to the Biblical references to the Devil, but I think we can accept these texts as they stand as good enough and entirely designed properly for those for whom they are intended.”
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