News from the Anglican Synod tells us that the Church of England have voted to change the language of the Baptism service. According to the Guardian, the CofE will ‘offer shorter, snappier baptisms in “BBC1 language”‘. I’m not sure what they mean by ‘BBC1 language’, but BBC1 is the main television station for the BBC. It offers the most mainstream programming. So I assume it means ‘everyday’.
I am ambivalent and cautious about this. First, I have felt that the Methodist’s baptismal service (close in language to the Anglican version) is rather long and could use an update. But I’m not interested in making it ‘snazzier’, whatever that means. I would ask the question of what experience do they want to relate with lapsed Anglicans by taking out the metaphors in there (water/spirit birth, slaves in Egypt). I think that many churches (and I will hold up my hand here and admit fault) do not take the time to teach the meaning of what we are saying (either before the baptism or during).
Second, I think that we (at least the Methodists) baptise too casually. I am in the minority on this, and Methodists tend to be a ‘baptise all who ask’ people. We want it to be easier for people and call it ‘grace’. I have some sympathy for this, especially for children who I know are born into awful situations and I want to show them grace. But, I once heard Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright say that if we are going to base this understanding baptism in prevenient grace, then why not take a hosepipe into the streets and ‘baptise’ all we can? I think we can offer grace with other means, and also allow a family to give thanks to God for a child without having them make vows that baptism requires. So if we attempt to offer grace by the usual baptism service I think it loses the context of what that grace means.
I mention this because I see the Guardian article quote figures of decreasing baptisms. Obviously, in this the Anglicans see this as an issue that needs remedy. I don’t. I’m not bothered by the fewer numbers that are seeking baptism for their children. Rather, I would see us look at how we might increase our adult baptism numbers.
Paul tells us that baptism is a call to die with Christ. This isn’t language that is mean to be attractive. While I would like to see an update, I do hope that it won’t be at the expense of the theology behind it. In some sense, the experience of baptism doesn’t relate to us, but calls us to a new experience that doesn’t always fit into what our life has been to up to now. I hope to see it in language people understand, but can’t help but think that what is behind this is a way to make it more attractive.