Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Devil is in the detail

 Surely it is deeply troubling and unsettling to people of faith, whether they be zealous in conviction or just vaguely assenting to the faith of their forefathers, that at baptism the established Church will offer the option not to refer to sin.  This may well blend in with our choice-based, consumerist society, but is it not surely profoundly contradictory to ignore sin and the Devil at the very moment he and his ways are to be renounced?  Of all the services at which to ignore the Devil, surely the sacrament of Baptism is the last at which this should be done.

It may be argued that this is merely a trial, evil is still mentioned, it is only an alternative and no definite decision has been made.  It is my concern that a trial alone and its being targeted at the least religiously-aware congregations suggest the Church does not recognise the gravity of what it is doing.  It just should not have gone down this road in the first place.

In my blogs I have often praised the Church of England as an important force for good and I passionately believe in the need for an established Church, but when such a vital piece of doctrine as the existence of a personified force of evil is denied, one can only assume that the established Church has been corrupted at least by the society it is meant to evangelise and at worst corrupted by the very force it is attempting to sweep under the carpet.

C S Lewis pointed out in his Screwtape Letters that the Devil is at his most powerful when he is thought of as an unbelievable caricature.  It seems as though modern Anglican theology does not spend much time on the personification of Evil.  One does not have to be a Manichean to recognise a malevolent and fallen force that deceives and leads astray; one simply needs to read Scripture clearly rather than through the prism of over-intellectualised theology.

In England it must be the case that for the maintenance of a Christian society the established Church is a significant and indeed vital factor.  Disestablishment would seem to be a renunciation of the whole of society’s Christian heritage and the reduction of Christianity to a disconnected sect.  It is however possible to believe in establishment and yet be very troubled by the direction that the established Church is taking.

In many ways, through its rootedness in communities, through its links with Royalty, through school education, through its sanctifying of national celebration or mourning and indeed family occasions for the irregular attendee, through weddings, funerals and of course christenings, the Church of England ensures Christ remains at least a small part of all our lives and that everyone is part of a parish.  Such a role requires a different tone from the free churches or the Church of Rome, in that these other parts of the Universal Church are completely separated from the State.  However, as T S Eliot argued in his essay on the Christian Society, the purpose of an established Church must be to Christianise our society; it most certainly is not to live-and-let-live. 

It is also pointed out by Eliot that an established Church can be corrupted and is particularly at risk through its connexion with the State. For this reason its hierarchy may from time to time need to come under attack from the community of Christians.  In the case of ignoring the Devil, has not the Church been corrupted to please the existing, liberal, multiculturalist establishment, which advocates free choice and non-condemnation as its values or rather non-values?

Is the Church not also failing in its pastoral responsibilities to those who are least familiar with their forefathers’ faith?  If a personified, fallen deceiver is kept secret and hidden and moral dilemmas are simply portrayed as a matter of autonomous choosing rather than a matter of the risk of being led astray, are we not joining the predominant idolatry of choice and subjectivity that the Church should be crusading against?  How much more difficult it is to make the right choice, when your religious leaders tell you that there is no fallen angel attempting to tempt you and lead you astray!  It is all very well to say evil is within man just as good is within man, although this sounds more Quaker than Anglican, but an awareness of the Devil brings vigilance against sin.  Truly this secrecy about sin and the Devil at baptism is a dereliction of duty on the part of the established Church.

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