Church of England accused of 'dumbing down' baptism service

Michael Nazir-Ali
Image caption Michael Nazir-Ali said the Church had done away with key elements of the service

The Church of England has been accused of "dumbing down" Christian teaching by removing the requirement to repent sins and reject the devil in an alternative baptism service.

Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said "crucial areas of teaching" should not be eliminated.

The Church said priests would be able to choose whether to use the new wording or keep the existing service.

A trial is running at over 400 churches until April.

In the existing version of the service, parents and godparents are asked: "Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?" and "Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?"

In the new alternative version they are instead asked to "reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises".

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Dr Nazir-Ali said: "Since at least the 1970s there has been a fashion in the Church of England to minimise depth and mystery in its worship because of the alleged need to make its services 'accessible'.

"Instead of explaining what baptism means and what the various parts of the service signify, its solution is to do away with key elements of the service altogether!"

He continued: "Because of its anxiety to make everyone feel welcome and its desire not to offend anyone, the new service, almost entirely, does away with sin and the need to repent from its personal and social manifestations and consequences.

'Easily-swallowed soundbites'

"Rather than the constant 'dumbing down' of Christian teaching, whether for baptism, marriage or death, we should be spending time preparing people for these great rites of passage.

"When it comes to the service itself, the need is not to eliminate crucial areas of teaching but to explain them.

"It is best to call a halt to this perhaps well-meant effort before it further reduces the fullness of the Church's faith to easily swallowed soundbites."

A Church of England spokesman said that the baptism service used would be decided by the priest, in consultation with the family.

He said the new wording was the third revision of the baptism service in 30 years.

He said the current service had been in use since Easter 1998 and the wording had been amended by general synod in 2000 and in 2005.

He said: "In 2011 a group of clergy from the Diocese of Liverpool brought forward a motion to the general synod of the Church of England requesting materials to supplement the baptism service "in culturally appropriate and accessible language".

"Specifically the motion requested new additional materials which would not replace or revise the current baptism service but would be available for use as alternatives to three parts of the service."

He said the general synod's house of bishops had agreed that the additional materials should be piloted and that and the trial period would run until the end of April.

"The texts have no formal status without approval by general synod," the spokesman added.

Dr Nazir-Ali was the first non-white senior bishop in the Church of England when he was appointed the 106th Bishop of Rochester in 1994. He resigned from the post in 2009.

He is now president of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue, which seeks to prepare Christian workers and pastors for ministry in situations where there is a danger of persecution, and writes articles for newspapers, magazines and journals.

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