Monday, January 6, 2014

Hubris And Change In the Church Of England

Fr. Dale Matson

“They [Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer (SPBCP)] were correct when they said, as they did repeatedly and sometimes abrasively, that the theologies of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and STU (Services for Trial Use. i.e., what was to become the 1979 book) were different. The SLC [Standing Committee on Liturgy] probably was strategically wise in not affirming this too loudly, but its members knew that the SPBCP was correct. There is a clear theological change." (Excerpted from "Education for Liturgy: An unfinished Symphony in Four Movements," Dean Urban T. Holmes of the School of Theology of the University of the South.)

"Parents and godparents no longer have to ‘repent sins’ and ‘reject the devil’ during christenings after the Church of England rewrote the solemn ceremony. The new wording is designed to be easier to understand – but critics are stunned at such a fundamental change to a cornerstone of their faith, saying the new ‘dumbed-down’ version ‘strikes at the heart’ of what baptism means.

In the original version, the vicar asks: ‘Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?’ Prompting the reply: ‘I reject them.’ They then ask: ‘Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?’, with the answer: ‘I repent of them.’ But under the divisive reforms, backed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and already being practised in 1,000 parishes, parents and godparents are asked to ‘reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises’ – with no mention of the devil or sin.

The new text, to be tested in a trial lasting until Easter, also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission.”

Once again there appears to be a pattern of changing theology under the guise of simply updating language. It is Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (loosely, how we worship determines what we believe). As a psychologist I was trained to look below the presenting issue, which is usually a symptom of a greater problem. There is certain hubris here because this ‘trial’ Rite will probably become the new Rite for Baptism. The leadership believes that it knows what is right for the ‘pew sitters’ and wants them to unconsciously ease into a theology more suited to and compliant with a diverse and pluralistic contemporary culture.

++Justin Welby knows the underlying theological implications of this change and is complicit. The leadership of the CoE is simply too slick, hip and enlightened to be burdened with embarrassing past doctrine. It has demythologized the past to catch up with the present.

"The Bishop of Wakefield Stephen Platten, who chairs the commission, said repentance was implied in phrases urging people to ‘turn away from evil’, and defended the omission of the devil by saying it was ‘theologically problematic’."

Here is the problem as I see it. The CoE leadership does not view humans as suffering from original sin. Humans never made a deal with a devil who does not exist. For them, to personify evil is to look too simplistically at the complexities of human interaction. Sin has been reduced to the inappropriate behavior of intolerance and non-acceptance toward your neighbor. Sin is not a soul-destroying issue any longer for them.

If this new form of baptism is contrasted with baptism in the Roman Catholic Church, which includes exorcism, what does this say about the depth of sin in human existence versus the modern CoE understanding? Have humans evolved as a species to some enlightened and humane plane of existence that demands a new covenant with God? Or are humans still sinners praying the prayer of humble access in need of a Savior? Which is it?

It appears to me that the CoE leadership (except for a few trustworthy and noble individuals like Bishop Michael Nazil-Ali) is not even honest enough to offer informed consent forms to their parishioners for the changes they are making. They say that they are not changing theology, when they know in their hearts that they are doing just that. It seems to mirror the same dishonesty behind the 1979 prayer book revisions. Kyrie eleison


Dale Matson said...

The 1928 prayer book referenced at the beginning is the U.S. prayer Book

underground pewster said...

"The new wording is designed to be easier to understand" because the "Devil" has been redefined by revisionists to be (in the modern mind) a myth required by the ancients to explain the presence of evil, and no modern person could possibly understand all that talk about the Devil, devils, powers of darkness etc. Why, people seeking baptism might think they were joining a cult if they heard that old language. (My sarcasm button has been struck)

And "Submit", you have got to be kidding! I ain't goin to submit to nobody, no way, no how.

No, it is not designed to make the language more accessible. These changes are designed to advance a theology that in the long run denies not just Satan, but Sin as well.

Dale Matson said...

The Underground Pewster has a related article.