The Guardian reports that the fast-declining Church of England will consider getting rid of mention of the devil in its baptismal ritual — this, as a consumer service for post-Christian Brits:
Among the other business, the revision of the baptism service will attract most attention. The present modern language version asks parents whether they will “reject the devil and all rebellion against God”, “renounce the deceit and corruption of evil” and “repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour”. In the new version they are asked only to say that they “turn away from sin” and “reject evil”.
The Church of England is making the changes to adapt to a population which increasingly has no Christian background at all. Where once the pattern was for couples to get married, live together, have a baby, and then have it baptised at about six weeks, they are increasingly living together, having babies, and then, after a couple of years, getting married and having the children baptised at the same time.
As a result, there is a need for a shorter, simpler service that will not put off people who are offended to be addressed as sinners.
The change reflects a much wider cultural change within the Church of England as well as in the society around it. It must now compete for membership with other Christian churches in an unprecedented way and, above all, with apathy and a society which sees no pressing reason to spend Sunday mornings or any other time in church.
Well, that’ll surely give them a pressing reason to spend Sunday morning in church: make church as much like secular society as possible. Would the last Anglican left please remember to bring out the vestments? The Victoria & Albert Museum would no doubt like to preserve some evidence that there once was a thing called the Church of England.
Sociologist Philip Rieff warned in his now-classic book of the 1960s, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, that “psychological man was beginning to replace Christian man” as the dominant character type in our society. Unlike traditional Christianity, which made moral demands on believers, the secular world of “psychological man” rejects both the idea of sin and the need for salvation.” The transformation is now complete in the Church of England.
Yes, but Andrew Brown says the problem for Christians in England is more serious than that. Yes, he says, the Anglican numbers indicate terminal decline — “one generation away from extinction” says Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury — but this is not good news for other churches:
A possibly more interesting question is whether things are going to change, or whether the church will pootle along, like an exhausted cyclist, until it finally wobbles over and collapses.
Most of the people who really believe this as a matter of urgency are other Christians. Catholics have grown rather less self-confident about reconverting England since their experience of the former Anglicans in the Ordinariate. But the various evangelical and charismatic groups, most of them loosely organised as Baptists, remain confident that liberalism will erode the church and that only the rotten media are propping up its rotting facade. Then they see themselves inheriting the remains.
This is possible to believe only because they are much more isolated from much of English life than even the Church of England, which is only institutionally stupid.
Both liberalism and conservatism have been tried as ways to revive church attendance, Brown says, and both have mostly failed.
It seems to me, as an outside observer, that the question is not whether or not the Church of England will survive, but whether Christianity itself will survive in Britain — and in what form? That is, what sort of Christianity stands the best chance of holding on through the Dark Age upon us, and emerging intact at some point in the future? British readers, please advise.
The same question might also be asked about Christianity in other Western European Protestant countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia. It seems clear to me that if Christianity survives in southern Europe, it will be Catholic Christianity. But I could be wrong about that.
UPDATE: Joel Miller wrote about the Anglican baptismal revision, which is supported by Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Excerpt:
Without any reference to the devil, Welby and his heroes have lost the narrative. Jesus didn’t deliver us from a vague sense of wrong or an ethical entanglement. He delivered us from the devil, sin, and death. Satan isn’t a metaphor, and sin is not an archaic word for which “empty promises” is an ample synonym.
Christians have known this from the start. That’s why traditional baptismal services begin with an exorcism. To become incorporated into Christ through baptism is to be finished with the devil and all his pomp and all his works. That’s what it means to become a Christian.