Sunday, 5 January 2014

C of E Baptism controversy

Ironically on the feast of the Epiphany, Bishop Michael Nazir -Ali accuses the Church of England of 'dumbing down' its new baptismal rites (in fact, at present  experimental and optional - the real story is always less dramatic than the headline)  [here] and [here] and, in effect, obscuring rather than illuminating the essential nature of the faith. 
We sympathise: more often than not the attempt to make the liturgy instantly accessible to everyone (in other words, without the need for any prior effort or willingness to learn and, more significantly, any commitment on the part of the Church to teach)  involves robbing it of both mystery and essential - and essentially and necessarily complex -  layers of meaning. [The texts themselves are here] The real worry, of course, is that what is experimental and merely pastorally permissible today has a tendency to become the norm tomorrow ...

So, are we  - that is, the clergy - now either so lazy or so incompetent that we can't use the 'disconnect' between a congregation composed of 'occasional worshippers'  and the liturgical and theological language we use in church as a valuable opportunity to teach even its basic meaning? 
Not only that, but shouldn't the parents and godparents of infants about to be baptised (and should we really be regarding them as 'occasional worshippers?') be encouraged to take faith seriously and, in the process,  receive a certain amount of instruction (not such a popular term, I know) on the meaning of the Christian life? In today's Church any stress given to the cost of authentic discipleship has been reduced to the point of disappearance. 

Sacraments are not magic .... although contemporary liturgical revision, in its anxiety to break down what many now unthinkingly regard as insurmountable linguistic barriers * to faith would seem, paradoxically,  to be encouraging the belief that they are.... 

* From the Introductory Note to the proposed baptismal liturgies: 

"..Most of the objections to the Common Worship Initiation texts in their present authorised form are that they are not accessible to those who are unused to attending church. Clergy frequently find themselves conducting baptisms for families who have little contact with the Church, and sometimes on occasions separate from the main Sunday morning act of worship. In some instances there are few people present who have any real understanding of the Church‟s language and symbolism. For the majority of those attending on such occasions, the existing provision can seem complex and inaccessible..."

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