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The November 1988 debate was adjourned until January 1989 - and even that debate required two sessions of synod.  The following is reported in full to give readers the flavour of the debate.  Copyright Church House Press. 

The Chairman: This item was introduced by Mr Godin at the last group of sessions and stood adjourned until today. Eventually we shall reach a number of amendments on the first, ninth and eleventh notice papers, and we have timed business in one hour. It is essential, therefore, that we take the amendments formally, if Synod will permit us to do so, and I hope that those who have amendments will rise to speak in the debate and will not move their amendments until I ask them to do so.

If I see him standing, I will call on Prebendary Saward to reopen the debate for us, and then the debate will be open with a ten-minute speech limit to begin with.

Prebendary Michael Saward (London): Members of Synod will recall that Mr Roger Godin moved this motion in November 1988, but I dare say that most of us will not immediately recall the detailed thrust of his argument after three months. If I may then, I will try briefly to summarise the purpose of the motion as he presented it. First, however, two disclaimers that he made. This motion is nothing whatever to do with the abolition of infant baptism; secondly, the whole subject has been bedevilled by the flinging about of confrontational words like "indiscriminate" and "rigorous". These have for a generation polarised the whole issue and left us in the Church of England with a thoroughly muddled situation. And I must myself plead guilty to having done just that in the past - I dare say that others have as well. I hope then, as I know Mr Godin does, that we shall resolutely set our faces in today's debate against the cul de sac offered by those two words. Members of Synod can go down them if they must but it will get them into the proverbial horn-locking dilemma and the motion before us will be wasted.

So what of the motion itself? It originates in the World Council of Churches' Lima report, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, published in 1982, which contains the statement that the churches which practise infant baptism "must guard themselves against the practice of apparent indiscriminate baptism". I remind members that the Synod endorsed the Bishop of Salisbury's motion relating to the BEM report in November 1986 by 383 votes to 12. In his contribution to that debate the Bishop spoke positively of the way in which BEM had "also reinforced our sense of . . falling short" in regard to our baptismal practice, and he reminded us that we were being "challenged to change". The BEM questions on the subject were "of great importance" and "of growing concern in our own Church".

Mr Godin's motion is a response to what we agreed by an overwhelming vote two years ago. It very carefully avoids taking up any position other than that of seeking that we move cautiously into the next stage of the debate by the production of a discussion document. BEM has invited consideration of a recognisably controversial area in ecumenical relations, and we have massively responded to the report's general thrust; and Mr Godin asks us to seek ways of giving cash value to that. And that is all: that is exactly what he asks.

Mr Packer's amendment would not in itself damage Mr Godin's motion, and the point that he makes is bound to be covered by any responsible discussion document. It does however appear to me to introduce a somewhat "little England" image into what is an international and worldwide discussion. It will, I think, be taken to be a typically defensive note in the context of an international and ecumenical debate. So I hope that the Synod will reject that amendment as such, while fully accepting and expecting that the point behind it will naturally be a proper part of the ongoing debate. So much then for Mr Godin and Mr Packer. What Mr Godin seeks is surely both right and inescapable if the Synod is to have any credibility following its November 1986 BEM vote. What Mr Packer seeks, whether we pass his amendment or not, is the proper consideration of both aspects of baptismal practice in a Church with a history of an established relationship to the nation.

I am therefore, from now onwards, assuming that the Synod will pass the motion, amended or not, with a resounding majority, because the alternative is ecumenically unthinkable.

What then will the working party - and I hope that we shall not simply leave it to individuals to produce this document; past experience of that course of action has not been very happy - need to consider? The motion specifies four areas - theological, pastoral, evangelistic and ecumenical, all of them important. I will confine myself to a brief statistical comment and then to the theological question. In statistical terms infant baptism in 1930 ran at about 70 per cent of live births in the provinces of Canterbury and York. They were still at about 60 per cent when I was ordained in 1956. I served my title under one of the leading baptismal reformers, Philip Wood, who died ten days ago and whose memory our Church should honour. By 1970 the figure was well below 50 per cent. By 1980 it was below 40 per cent. And today, although we have not got the very latest figures, I guess it to be about 30 per cent. In the diocese of London from which I come it is 13 per cent of live births. The highest figure recorded now is in Carlisle diocese, 55 per cent. It is rather ironic that the diocese in which Philip Wood died is Carlisle. It could therefore be argued that the "apparently indiscriminate" situation is being solved in ways other than theological.

But what finally of the theology? Almost nothing has been written at a serious level by Church of England theologians in the past half century or more. Today, I am glad to say, that is beginning to change. We have had a spate of booklets from Bishop Colin Buchanan; we have had a recent paperback book from Canon Michael Green; and perhaps best of all, by Canon Gordon Kuhrt, a member of this Synod, this Mowbray's paperback, Believing in Baptism, which incidentally was very favourably received by Canon John Halliburton, from a very different stance, in Theology, a first-class presentation by one who was himself brought up as a strict Baptist - interesting change. All these books and their authors rest on The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism by Pierre Marcel, published in the early 1950s and not very well known in the Church of England - a great shame, it is a fine book. They are all arguments for covenant theology which is virtually ignored by BEM and not even faintly understood, I suspect, by most members of the Church of England. For those who like their learning by tapes, I have four lectures of my own available on cassette!

Covenant theology, I might add, means recognising, as St Paul did in his letter to the Romans, that we need to ground everything in the promise, described as an everlasting covenant by almost all the modern Bible translations, to Abraham. That covenant with Abraham is in no way the old covenant superseded by the new - and here I take issue with Canon Kuhrt: the old one, as I understand it, was the covenant made at Sinai with a nation, and that, it appears to me, was superseded, and the letter to the Hebrews is all about that - but the eternal covenant made with Abraham, the promise, and that remains as our Christian routing for a baptismal theology. Certainly that is the way that St Paul argues the whole case in the letter to the Romans, as I read it.

On the other side, in the past 30 years or so in this country, as far as I am aware, there has only been one modern case for what can perhaps best or fairly be called "general" baptism, a book called Forbid Them Not, by an Anglican clergyman, R R Osborne, published in 1972. It was described in print - and I think honestly not maliciously - as "a curious mixture of incoherent theology, evangelistic naïveté, idiosyncratic exposition of Church history and sentimental English nationalism". I am reminded of the question that George Bernard Shaw once asked, "Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favour of England because you were born in it?" Mr Osborne seems to think that the answer to that is probably "Yes".

Our past, present and future infant baptismal practice must get to grips with covenant theology. That, more than anything, is the first task of the working party. The Bishop of Leicester saw that in his report of some years ago on godparents, and he made the point in no uncertain fashion. That, I believe, is the best way to respond to BEM. Pass Mr Godin's motion in some form or other and, God willing, today we shall set our reply in motion.

Revd John Wynburne (Guildford): I hope that we shall not pass this motion. We are being asked for a substantial discussion document with no specific aim in view, and it is bound to be inconclusive; it will, I suspect, be, as someone said, like a jacuzzi in which everyone is having a stimulating experience without getting anywhere. The Lima document, in that one brief sentence quoted, questions the practice of indiscriminate baptism, but to take that point out of context of the section on baptism is not justified. The critical tone of the motion echoes the idea that baptism is a conclusive, closed event, that it all has to be there, faith, church attendance, the lot, right at the beginning. Lima is really much more generous than that: its whole emphasis is on Christian nurture, on growth into faith, on the process of faith development, on entering into a spiritual inheritance, on the continuing struggle of every baptised believer to seek the reality of God. And rather than censure indiscriminate baptisers perhaps we should have a motion censuring those who are lackadaisical about provision for Christian nurture in their churches, including little sensitivity to children in worship. Baptism, however it is done, is in Lima put firmly in the context of Christian nurture.

The commentary says, "A rediscovery of the continuing character of Christian nurture may facilitate the mutual acceptance of different initiation practices", and it is to Christian nurture and not to indiscriminate baptism that we ought to give our full attention.

But there are two more subtle issues behind this motion which I would like to mention. The first is the whole issue of whether folk religion, that archetypal residual spirituality in people, is viewed as an asset or a hindrance to the mission of the Church. Those pressing for tighter baptismal disciplines generally dislike the view that we are a Church of the nation and that expressions of folk religion can be built on for good. They tend to work with an associational model of the Church; they want to know who belongs: they seek an ecclesiastical purity. That approach certainly produces results, but at a cost, and the cost is the alienation of many fringe people and the discouragement of those who seek spiritual reassurance or comfort. Furthermore, it leaves the impression that God's gifts of mercy and forgiveness are conditional on their being a certain type of person or having reached a certain spiritual state. As Lima points out, baptism is something given; we are adopted by grace; we do not have to earn the favour of God, but it does seem sometimes that we have to earn the favour of the vicar.

Baptism is not simply about becoming a member of the Church, about belonging, and to reduce it to those functional terms is theologically aberrant and pastorally disastrous. It is also concerned with the anarchic free grace of God, and we should not make God's love contingent upon human goodness, human response and human understanding.

I want to be part of a welcoming Church, welcoming those who find it difficult to be specific or public about their beliefs, welcoming those who in some ill-defined way believe that God is real and that Jesus Christ is the human face of God, welcoming those who in some way want to say Yes to Jesus Christ but No, thank you, to institutional Christianity, welcoming those who come to us, often guilty and confused, those who long to belong.

The second issue that lies behind this motion is the need to give pastoral recognition to the fact that there are deep, irrational, unconscious forces to lead people to ask for baptism. These are often unacknowledged by those who want to make baptism conditional on a cerebral understanding of the sacrament. Many parents who ask for the baptism of their child are expressing a deep religious need, responding, albeit faintly, to some sign of transcendance in our midst, to some calling from the depths of their interior life, and looking to collect. What we often do is either fail to hear that response and that cry or try to rationalise it, forgetting the deep need that we all have for religious symbols and rituals. 

In our desacralised society, in which religious symbols are fast disappearing, baptism with water can provide a therapeutic function, a point of growth towards integration for fragmented lives, which cannot be explained but only experienced. Surely we are in the healing business? Yes, people do want to mark their rites of passage, they do have a need to express through ritual important and emotional occasions in their lives, and most clergy would never think of dealing pastorally with those who ask for a funeral as they do with those requesting baptism. Yet on the pastoral level both can be of equal weight in the life of the person concerned.

So I hope that for these reasons this motion will fall. It will not get us anywhere; it is more likely to put the Church out of speaking distance of many more in this country.

Canon Gordon Kuhrt (Southwark): I plead guilty to being Michael Saward's ex-strict Baptist who is now an Anglican by strong and firm conviction.

The circumstances of this debate have an interesting parallel with some understandings of baptism itself, especially infant baptism, that is, it started on one occasion and is, we hope, to be completed on another. But there are all sorts of possibilities of what might happen. One possibility is completion or fulfilment in confirmation and a baptised life in Christ. So this debate could come to a completion and fulfilment with a thoughtful and new discussion paper. Another possibility is incompletion because baptism remains unconfirmed, that is, in a sense, the plug is pulled. So this debate could have the plug pulled on it and not lead to a hopeful consequence. Another possibility is an attempt to do it all over again, that is, what is called a re-baptism. So this debate, if it does not lead to a helpful conclusion, might have to be called for all over again a few years' time.

That third possibility is, of course, in theological terms in the realm of baptism a theological impossibility, as initiation is by definition once and for all. But this matter of what is called re-baptism is a very real issue. The Bishop of Aston says in the current News of Liturgy, "The pressure on many clergy to re-baptise or to provide some ritualised response to spiritual renewal is growing."

Let me tell members the story of Sheila. Religion was virtually insignificant to her throughout her childhood and youth and into adulthood, but in her late twenties she became a committed Christian. Her life was transformed by faith in Christ. As she read the Acts of the Apostles she saw that this new life was apparently expressed in baptism into the church community. She went to see her vicar. It transpired in the conversation that she had been baptised as a baby although she had never known about it and neither her parents nor her godparents had done anything about it as far as she knew. The vicar kindly but firmly said that baptism again was out of the question. Sheila is perplexed. What did that baptism mean those 20-odd years ago? What does it mean for her today?

The World Council of Churches' document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry addressed this problem. Pressure for re-baptism inside or outside the Church of England is a very real theological and pastoral problem today, even among many of our ordinands, or else the suggestion for a baptismal renewal which is so similar to baptism as to invite confusion and has been called sacramental and liturgical brinkmanship. But the issue is much sharpened and made pastorally difficult by the apparent indiscriminate baptism of infants. I am glad that the House of Bishops is considering this issue at present, but larger issues lie behind it. The document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry was overwhelmingly approved by the Synod and I too voted for it: excellent in many ways, but seriously inadequate in its theology of infant baptism. I sent my study to Geneva but I have yet to hear that the World Council of Churches secretariat will take the critique seriously.

The FOAG response from the Church of England was again very valuable but seriously inadequate in its reaction to the BEM complaint about apparent indiscriminate baptism, and it spoke, as did the last speaker, about this quite unhelpful polarisation between an associational view of the Church and a territorial view of the Church. I believe in a gentle, loving baptism discipline and yet I have recently written for a territorial view of the Church as opposed to an associational one. The widely held belief among Anglicans and others who prefer infant baptism, that there are two theologies of baptism, a theology of adult baptism and a theology of infant baptism, is discrediting biblical theology and gravely damaging to theological integrity and pastoral confidence.

For these reasons and many others I hope that Synod will overwhelmingly support this call for a fresh study.

Mrs Dorothy Chatterley (Carlisle): As I reflect upon the inestimable privileges of my baptism wherein, let me remind Synod, I was made a member of Christ, the child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven, I want to weep at the richness of my privilege, and I wonder exactly what we are doing, worrying ourselves about indiscriminate baptism. There is a part of me which wants to rush out into the highways and byways with a hosepipe; after all, baptism is the moment of God's intervention - not ours, God's: his grace is freely given, and it is none of our business to make it difficult, to invent conditions or, worse still, to draw up contracts in which God may thus act provided that we do this or that. Yet we do not live in a perfect world, and we can all think of babies who have little hope of encountering Christian standards, never mind Gospel teaching. So there is a problem.

I wondered how our Roman Catholic friends would take it, and I set about trying to find out. I got a copy of the code of canon law, the 1983 English edition - I do not think that I could cope with the Latin - and I discovered that Canon 851 says that an adult who intends to receive baptism is to be given instruction and that the parents of the child who is to be baptised and those who are to be sponsors are to be "suitably instructed on the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations attaching to it". A little further along I discovered in Canon 870 that "an abandoned infant or a foundling is to be baptised unless diligent enquiry establishes that it has already been baptised". No mention of instruction here. And further, in Canon 871, that "aborted foetuses, if they are alive, are to be baptised, in so far as this is possible". No possibility of instruction there.

So I was led to wonder if further pastoral guidelines are issued to Roman Catholic clergy. My local priest assured me that the practice was the same in Borneo as in my own village of Seascale, but he encouraged me to write to his bishop. I did this and received a most gracious reply, assuring me that "there is no divergence of practice in the north of England and certainly no indiscriminate baptism". He goes on to state that "since Advent 1988 the normal way for the reception of an unbaptised adult is by 'The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults'", an ancient practice which, he concedes, will take time to establish itself.

From this small piece of personal reporting I am convinced that we should indeed work towards the production of a document on baptism, but I would like it to look outside the Church of England as well as at our own practice. I wish to support the motion most warmly.

Revd Peter Hobson (Manchester): I have two amendments tabled in my name which I shall address in a moment, but I want first of all in this general debate to express my welcome for the main motion, which will come as no surprise to those whose memories reach back to the final debate on the Lima document which we debated together with the Final Report of ARCIC in my first year of membership of this Synod. I tabled a following motion specifically referring to this point of the apparently indiscriminate baptism within the Church of England, which I withdrew during debate on assurances that it would receive further attention. At the beginning of this debate Mr Godin drew attention to that point, saying that up to now assurances have remained on the table. So I am very grateful that this Private Member's Motion has reached the top of the list and that we can look at the matter with rather more substantial weight of opinion behind it.

In my judgment - and it is only in my judgment - there is a real problem of what is called apparent indiscriminate baptism, and I think that it is right to say that the words and phrases we use can be unhelpful; I am happy to look around for different words which might describe a problem which is nonetheless real. In the judgment of others, including some who have spoken in the debate so far, there is no problem or, if there is a problem, it is because people like me and Mr Godin and others would seek to limit what they see as God's unconditional grace in baptism, to be applied to all and sundry.

It does not in one sense matter whether or not members of the Synod believe that there is or is not a problem; what matters is that they accept that others believe that there is a problem, including the authors of the Lima report. If others believe that we have a problem here, and if, as has been said already, we have overwhelmingly accepted the thrust of that report, surely it is an obligation upon us to address that matter, more than just as we are doing now by a simple, brief debate, but with proper investigation, study paper and so on. So I believe that Mr Godin's motion is valid, whichever side of the polarised debate members are inclined towards.

To refer to my amendments, Item 733 is a very short amendment: it is incorporated in Item 732 but, in case 732 is not passed, it is necessary; it is a tidying up amendment, catching up with what I suppose we would have to say was a misjudgment of timing in Mr Godin's original motion. If the motion remains unamended, it calls for a debate initiated by a report which is not yet written, the debate to be held by the end of last year. No member would surely wish to oppose an amendment which clarifies that minor infelicity. Item 732, however, is slightly more substantial. It concerns the question of who should undertake the reflection and preparation for the synodical response to this matter. Members will see that my amendment suggests that the Standing Committee should take responsibility for commissioning such a report rather than the House of Bishops. This demands a certain amount of explanation.

The House of Bishops has a valued role in terms of synodical government, a role which we have come to value even more in recent years, for example, in debates on the nature of Christian belief and the handling of the matter of the ordination of women to the priesthood. The House of Bishops is increasingly spending time on reflecting on important matters concerning the Church and matters which this Synod in due time may reflect on, but it cannot be expected to pre-digest every item of business which comes before the Synod. I am sure that it would not wish to do so, and clearly this is an issue where a certain amount of discrimination is necessary. In this particular matter I would suggest that consideration of the administration of baptism is particularly not within the special sphere of competence of the House of Bishops alone. The clergy are the front-line ministers of infant baptism. It is we clergy who for the most part, though increasingly in co-operation with the laity, have to prepare parents and godparents and to handle the applications, and it is we clergy who in the last resort are responsible for asking the questions during the service itself. "Are you willing to give this child the help and support which he or she needs by your prayers, by your example and by your teaching?" and to ask those same parents and godparents to respond to the questions, "Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? Do you renounce evil?", those questions to be answered in the affirmative.

If it is the clergy who are in the front line, it is the laity who present themselves and their children for baptism. It is, more to the point, the laity of the church who welcome children into the family of the Church during the service and afterwards, and it is those same laity who often come back and ask the questions if the said family is never seen again.

Where do the bishops come into this? They have in their time been both laity and clergy, or so I understand, but their part as bishops is to be appealed to when things go wrong. In other words, a diocesan or a suffragan bishop's role in infant baptism relates solely to when things have got themselves in a mess. That surely cannot incline them to the most objective consideration of the evidence of what is happening at the coalface. I am sure that, being honourable men, they would all do their best to set that aside. I just ask whether it is therefore necessary for us to ask them to undertake this report rather than to do what is surely more reasonable, on behalf of the whole Synod, which is to put together a small working party representing the whole Church and, in particular, those in the front line on this matter.

So I suggest that the Standing Committee be asked to do that. Perhaps I should put on record that my amendment is not to be taken as any evidence of distrust or denigration of the House of Bishops, rather the opposite: it simply says that this is a matter for the whole Church. I see no reason why, on behalf of the whole Church, the Standing Committee should not commission this report.

The Archbishop of York (Dr J.S. Habgood): I am not sure that I entirely understood what Mr Hobson was saying about bishops. I am not terribly keen on the role of sweeper up after the clergy, but it does seem to me that the issues in front of us involve some serious theological considerations and that therefore the House of Bishops should properly be involved from the start in whatever is done. But that is not really what I rose to say.

I do want to say very briefly that one of the problems with the Synod is that we are always doing well-meaning things without very much relationship to one another. Somebody has a good idea about another topic which needs to be studied and yet another working party is set up, and it bears very little relationship to any logical progression of thought which the Synod might be indulging in. This, it seems to me, betokens a lack of theological seriousness, and I believe that the Church of England will be taken much more seriously in ecumenical circles if we show that we have an ability to think things through from first principles and build up a coherent theology and ecclesiology in terms of which then our practice can be determined and understood. It is very important that as a Synod we should get a grip on our agenda and try to fit particular practical concerns of this kind into some coherent process of thought.

Tomorrow morning we are to have a debate on salvation. I find it very strange that when Prebendary Saward was talking about the theology of baptism it was all about covenants and nothing to do with salvation. Surely, if baptism is about anything it is about our theology of salvation, and we shall very soon discover, as we go deeply into the theology of salvation, that we are led much more deeply into ecclesiology, the theology of the Church; and as we think about the theology of the Church we must ask deep questions about the relationship between a Church and the culture in which it is set. This is the proper context in which to raise all those issues which are under the surface concerning the nature of establishment.

If we can do that, we have a coherent theological base on which we can look at our baptismal practice. But simply to go at it now, into this rather delightful jacuzzi, as someone described it, is to do what we are constantly doing, putting the cart before the horse, if members will forgive the rather mixed metaphor.

One could also get into this subject from a different angle by thinking about the nature of evangelism and whether in terms of evangelism we are endeavouring to take people out of the culture in which they are set or whether we are more concerned somehow to evangelise the culture and the people within it. That again is a serious debate which has a great deal to do with our baptismal practice.

I hope therefore that we will drop this particular motion as being admittedly well meaning, as having pastoral implications, but one which at this stage would lead us astray. I hope that we will make a self-denying ordinance to be a bit more serious about the kind of theological progression which we hope to go through in the years ahead.

The Chairman: I think that I should say something about the conduct of this debate. A Chairman should not change his mind, but I am now going to move on to the amendments and to call, if I see him standing, Mr Packer to move his amendment and speak to it. But I will leave it entirely to the Synod to decide whether it wants to scramble through this business with closure motions or to let it stand adjourned again at 5.45 and pick it up again next time we get to Private Members' Motions.

Revd John Packer (Sheffield): I beg to move as an amendment:

'After "attention" in line I insert the word "both", after "Church of England" in line 5, insert "and also to the concern felt by others over the theological implications of rigorous baptism policies", leave out the word "it" in line 8 and add at the end "to the question".'

I move the amendment because I believe that the motion as it stands, unamended or amended by Mr Hobson's amendments alone, presents some of us with a difficult choice and starts the discussion from the wrong point. I can see some purpose in a discussion document on baptism, and I would have thought that it could incorporate and go alongside the concerns which the Archbishop of York has just expressed. But if there is to be one it needs to take account of and explore a variety of theological understandings of baptism, and not just the particular concerns of the BEM document which has already been heavily criticised in this debate by Canon Kuhrt and Prebendary Saward.

Mr Godin in November and Prebendary Saward today said that they do not like words like "indiscriminate" or "rigorous". I do not think I do either. But if we have one of them in the resolution we ought to have the other as well.

In November Mr Godin referred generously to my amendment, describing it as coming from the coalface. My concern about baptism does come in part from my experience as an inner city priest and from the impressions that we give to those who have been alienated from the institutional Church, but not alienated from prayer and not alienated from God. My basic concern is for the understanding of God which is communicated to people by our baptism policies in parishes, and I am concerned that the whole baptism debate is in danger of losing sight of doctrines about God and his grace, of that which has been achieved through the death of Jesus on the Cross and the truth that he died for the sins of the whole world and not of the whole Church only.

We have tended to lose confidence in that free-flowing grace of God which is not to be confined by our attempts to channel it with human definitions, and which is sacramentally expressed in an open and generous baptism policy.

One of the curiosities of life for me as a parish priest is that non-churchgoers seeking baptism for their child often have a deeper and more real sense of God acting through his sacraments than some churchpeople, who will sometimes speak of baptism in terms like "only a sign". I believe that God uses that sense of the reality of his action, even though that sense is not always expressed in the words that I would use.

Tomorrow, as we have just been reminded, we shall debate the BMU response to Salvation and the Church. I hope that in that debate someone will tell us just why the report more than once refers to justification by faith through grace rather than using the Ephesians phrase "by grace through faith", maybe it does not make much difference: certainly Salvation and the Church is also prepared to use the phrase "justification by grace". Salvation and the Church also speaks of baptism as the sacrament of justification. The instrument of our justification is the grace of God. The problem with so many baptism policies is, as I know only too well from what people say when they come to me, that they identify faith in practice as a work: whether a child is baptised depends not on God's grace but on the works of the child's parents. Baptism comes to depend not on God but on us. That is the concern which I share with the Synod and which leads to my amendment. Take note of Mr Godin's concerns and BEM's concerns, yes, but take note of mine also. Mr Godin is concerned about indiscriminate baptism; I am concerned also at apparently discriminatory baptism which fails to do justice to the grace of God, which he gives and which we cannot earn by our belief.

I hope that my amendment, incorporating concern over the theological implications of rigorous baptism policies, will be accepted, so that the motion can take account of a wider range of concerns than it does if we pass it in its unamended form.

Mr Roger Godin (Southwark): I am grateful to Mr Packer for so carefully bringing before us his concerns. It is very difficult for me to be negative because I guess that more people will feel able to vote for the motion if it is amended by those words. I am not violently opposed to it but I am, as he guesses, slightly disturbed about the word "apparently" not being inserted in front of the word "rigorous". I only used the words "apparent rigorous baptism" because they are in the BEM document. I do not actually believe that true rigorous or true indiscriminate occur very much at all.

I hope, however, to persuade members that this amendment is not necessary because it is covered by the existing words. I too am concerned that the working party that is suggested should take full account of all the theological and pastoral positions which this Synod would express. If members will look at the transcript of my opening speech carefully, they will see that I implied that in my original words. I hope that the document will take account of dissenting - apparently dissenting - views because there needs to be a balance. My doubts are really whether the additional 17 words in an already fairly long motion are necessary. What is asked for by Mr Packer is implicit and almost explicit in the existing motion. Indeed, if we were to add everything that ought to be considered by the working party, and all the concerns of the Archbishop of York, we would be covering a wide range of items, from the changing of the 1604 Canons to Augustinian infant theology and all manner of permutations in between. We need to be as concise as we can.

Mrs Chatterley, for example, has raised a point already - she has not asked for an amendment to cover it but it is a valid observation which needs to be brought in. So, given the assurance as far as I can give it of how a discussion paper can be balanced, I hope that Mr Packer may be content, having made his point so carefully, not to move the amendment. If, as I suggested, there is a working party with a small group in it, he may find that he has already volunteered to join up. If, however, he does want to move it and it helps to achieve a more unanimous vote, then I am happy too.

Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford): I beg to move:

'That the question be now put.'

This motion was put and carried.

The amendment was put and carried, 186 voting for and 143 against, with 26 abstentions.

Revd Dr Peter Forster (Durham and Newcastle Universities): I beg to move:

"That the Synod do pass to the next business."

The Chairman: We have a procedural motion and I will read to the Synod a form of words about what happens. If the Next Business motion is carried, Mr Godin's motion and the amendments lapse and the matter cannot be brought up again for debate in the lifetime of this Synod unless at least 40 members petition the Presidents for it to be revived. Is that what you intend?

Revd Dr Peter Forster: It is.

The Chairman: Dr Forster has indicated that he wishes to move that Synod do now pass to the next business. In a moment I will ask him to speak in favour of his motion for two minutes and then I will give Mr Godin two minutes in which to reply. Under SO 41 I will have to put the Next Business motion to the Synod immediately after Mr Godin has spoken.

Revd Dr Peter Forster: The issue before us is a sensitive one, with strong feelings on both sides, as expressed yesterday. A vote either to accept or to reject the motion would be unfortunate. In addition, the debate on it has been held over three different sessions, which also appears to be unfortunate, in that it gives a sense of division.

It would be unfortunate if we were to be seen to turn our back on an aspect of the BEM statement on baptism. That could very easily be misinterpreted, and the motion is, as the Archbishop suggested, well meaning; so I would prefer not to see it simply rejected, especially in its amended form. On the other hand, there are compelling reasons for not passing it. As it stands, it is about one aspect of baptismal practice, but the motion itself refers to theological, pastoral, evangelistic and ecumenical issues, and if we continue the debate Mr Hawtin's amendment will, quite rightly, invite us to widen the scope to Christian initiation in general. But a fundamental feature of the Church of England is that we are a national Church; a Church in change, yes, but our basic ecclesiology is that we are a national Church with a particular and distinctive form of establishment. We simply cannot debate and discuss baptismal discipline without raising profound questions on the very nature of the Church of England in relation to the country at large.

Are we to commit this to a small working party, to report back within the limited lifetime of this Synod? Surely not. Let us note the concern and the issues, to which I am sure we shall have to return at some point and at length, with very careful consideration. In the meantime I suggest that we pass to next business.

Mr Roger Godin: I hope that the Synod will not accept this motion, for a number of reasons. Firstly, so many people wanted the item debated. Secondly, there is so much media and public attention on the issue. Thirdly, because there are still so many outstanding items of synodical discussion unresolved. We have unfinished synodical business from the 1974 debate, which was never translated into an Amending Canon. The debate of 1986 never resulted in a request for synodical action. The 1980 debate has not been finished, and it is not exactly a good record from 1986 either. Furthermore, if we do foreclose the debate we shall not be responding to the words in paragraph 193 of the latest Lambeth report, which pleads with us to do something. Why should we not proceed with this business? The whole tone of the debate so far has been loving; it has shown that it is possible for diverse views to be brought together in a loving atmosphere. I believe that the public desperately needs to hear a clear message, and the whole formation of the motion is to ask that these things be put together so that at last we can close this unfinished business.

I am very puzzled as to why it should be necessary to foreclose now. We are simply asking for there to be a good, informed debate, within the lifetime of this Synod, with theological backing. Surely that is not beyond our scope? So I hope that the Synod will not pass this procedural motion. Let us close the debate properly at the end of this present session.

The Chairman: May I once again make the position clear? If Dr Forster's motion is carried, Mr Godin's motion lapses and cannot be brought up again for debate in the lifetime of this Synod unless at least 40 members petition the Presidents for it to be revived. If Dr Forster's motion is not carried, we resume debate on Mr Godin's motion. 

The procedural motion was put and lost.

A member: On a point of order, Mr Chairman. Could you please give us some information or guidance about the date mentioned in line 9 of the motion? I am used to being asked to do things by yesterday: I just wonder whether in this case it will be possible.

The Chairman: There is an amendment down on this point. The wording will disappear if the first amendment on the twelfth notice paper is passed, and it will probably be amended, if the Synod wishes to be consistent, if the first amendment is not passed, so I beg you to be patient. I cannot give you any information about it at all.

Canon Michael Botting (Chester): I am very pleased to support Mr Godin's motion. Ever since the 1960s when I first became an incumbent I attempted to exercise discipline concerning baptism of adults and infants, gradually finding myself moved to a stricter position if I was to be honest and realistic. I very much support what Prebendary Saward said yesterday on the covenant theology of baptism and strongly recommend Canon Gordon Kuhrt's book Believing in Baptism.

I have never understood the theory that it is the faith of the Church that justifies the practice. In the Book of Common Prayer and the Alternative Service Book, both put the questions to individuals, candidates for adult baptism, and sponsors and parents in the case of infants. I have required adequate preparation. Surely those who first received Christian baptism had very adequate preparation, for they heard Peter's sermon on the first day of Pentecost and they were called upon to respond, to repent and believe, in order to receive baptism. I also required church attendance. It so happened that when I was in Fulham one church there was pulled down. There was an absolute outcry that this church was going to come down from those who had had their children baptised there, those who had been married there and those who had had their dead buried from there. The authorities said that the reason why the church had to be pulled down was that it had only eight members who actually attended.

It is significant that the questions in the Alternative Service Book for confirmation and baptism are identical. I would assume that no self-respecting bishop would be happy if I told him that the candidates I would be presenting to him had had no preparation and were rarely seen at church. If preparation and regular worship are assumed for confirmation candidates, why not for those who bring their children for baptism? They say the same things.

Early in the 1960s I saw the problem of families getting to church so, with my bishop's encouragement, I began a non-eucharistic family service as a deliberate bridge service to help them. Such services have escalated beyond my wildest dreams and, to my knowledge, have helped many parents to full communicant membership of their parish churches. Incidentally, it has also meant that the baptism of their infants was not indiscriminate. I think of one particular family who came and asked me for baptism. I told them that I would be very pleased to baptise their child - I always want to baptise them - but that I had not seen them at church before. I said that we had family services with every provision for their child, a crèche and so on. They started to come. When I went back to that church not so very long ago I found that the man of that family was now a churchwarden. I do not believe that he would have been in the Church had he not been encouraged to come to church by this means and not had his child baptised immediately.

If we have a glorious Gospel to proclaim, we are being no help to families if we are indiscriminate. Discipline can lead to families finding Christ. I would suggest, on balance, that of those who practise apparently indiscriminate baptism and those who exercise some reasonable discipline, as expressed in the preface to the Alternative Service Book, those who practise indiscriminate baptism would have very few people who were actually in the Church today, whereas those who exercise some loving discipline bring a great many more into the Church.

Canon Richard Lewis (Southwark): I support Mr Godin's motion. I listened most carefully to the Archbishop of York yesterday as he brought us back into the real world, but I must say to him that a great deal of my time - more than perhaps on any other issue - is spent both with clergy and in the parish talking about, thinking about, working through, our baptism preparation. I hope, however, that as a Church we can move away from both "indiscriminate' and "rigorous", as words, because these words are judgmental, threatening and divisive. I would like a good dose of "both/and-ism"; rigorous in preparation, in nurture and in pastoral care, indiscriminate in baptism, in that baptism is offered without hurdles and hoops through which people have to jump or crawl before they can have their children baptised.

People ask for baptism - a point made yesterday - often for an unconscious and deeply personal reason, reaching out in ways that are very difficult to express in words. They come at that most wonderful and religious moment in their lives to seek to express the joy of creation in thanksgiving by bringing that child into the family of the Church. I do not believe that people are, in fact, losing touch with the sacraments. What is happening is that the signs and symbols of sacramental life are being transferred to flowers on Mothering Sunday and pumpkins at Harvest. The Church which for centuries has taught the essential nature of infant baptism really must not and cannot now call in question the faith of those who seek to express the deepest of their feelings, represented by the pouring of water in the name of the Blessed Trinity.

True, St John of the Book of Revelation makes the case for the Church separate and apart from the world. St Paul is both direct and ambiguous. Our Lord himself meets us with more compassion than I sometimes hear amongst Church men and women when we talk about baptism.

Let me end with a story of indiscriminate baptism to which I was a party and for which I am profoundly thankful. A number of years ago my wife gave birth to our first child. On that grey October day I was told that both her life and the life of the child hung in the balance. I went to the phone to call a friend to be with me at the hospital. God, I may tell you, felt very far away. When I got back to the ward the child had died. The young nurse, who could not have known that I was a priest, who did not know me or anything about me, said, "I did baptise him and I gave him the name Jonathan. I hope that was all right." I do not know who that nurse was, but I remain to this day profoundly thankful for her ministry, not only that she named that child before God but that she ministered to my pastoral need, and that ministry has its effect here this morning. To this day I remember her act of faith whenever I say that wonderful prayer in the ASB baptism service, which includes the words, "We thank you that through the deep waters of death you brought your Son and raised him to life in triumph". I remember then that it is not what I do or what the Church does but what God does which is important. If we put up barriers implicit in the words "indiscriminate baptism" we shall make a grave error. I know, I have tasted and it was good.

Revd Peter Hobson (Manchester): I beg to move as an amendment:

'Leave out all words after "and" in line 8 and add:
"calls upon the Standing Committee to initiate within the lifetime of this Synod a debate based upon a suitable discussion document concerning current theological, pastoral, evangelistic and ecumenical issues,".'

You invited me to speak yesterday, Mr Chairman, so I shall take that as my speech and simply say that I am grateful for the twelfth notice paper which makes it clear that although the other amendment, 734, was carried yesterday it does not negate the possibility of my amendment.

Mr Roger Godin: I gladly accept this amendment. If I were not an optimist by nature I would have given up the synodical process a long time ago. Mr Hobson's preference for the Standing Committee is, as I said yesterday, far better than my original drafting. I hope that the Synod will support it.

The Chairman: I see no-one standing.

The amendment was put and carried.

The Chairman: Items 733 and 742 lapse and the debate continues on the motion as further amended.

Revd David Hawtin (Durham): I beg to move as an amendment:

'After "evangelistic and ecumenical issues" in line 11 insert "relating to the whole area of Christian initiation".'

I express my thanks for the twelfth notice paper which helps us to keep track of this debate. Listening to speeches yesterday and some today, it seems to me that the debate on baptism is already under way. That debate does go on inside and outside the Synod, but it would be greatly helped by a first-class and wide-ranging report, which might at least set entrenched positions in a new context.

The BEM document is clearly central to our thinking, but it is not an ex cathedra statement, it is part of a process; and already the Churches have sent in their responses. At the end of this year or the beginning of next, the World Council of Churches will publish a book of response to the responses; and our debate will need to relate to that.

We also need in this debate ecumenical participation in the production of the proposed discussion document. In the light of the Not Strangers But Pilgrims process and Churches Together in Pilgrimage - members have already had a copy - it would be folly to tackle this in isolation from other Churches, not least because the practice of one Church affects the others: the Methodist minister down the road very quickly gets an idea of any change in Anglican baptism policy. The whole style of the new ecumenical instruments is to invite Churches to tackle these issues together, so we must look at the ecumenical dimension and ecumenical participation for the discussion document. Here we come to my amendment: "on the whole area of Christian initiation". It is folly to discuss baptism on its own, just as it is folly to discuss confirmation on its own. I remind Synod of the Archbishop of Canterbury's reply to Mr Hobson's question at the last group of sessions. It was a question about the Knaresborough report. He seemed to be a bit uncertain about whether we were meant to be discussing it before or after Lambeth: certainly it must now be after Lambeth. The Archbishop referred to the Children in the Way report, the revised catechism, the reaffirmation of baptismal vows - all work under way - and he also drew attention to the BCC document Christian Initiation and Church Membership. The BMU has a working party ready to spring into action on this, but it is waiting to see the outcome of this debate before deciding where to move next. I also add to this list the FOAG document Towards a Church of England Response to BEM and ARCIC, GS 661, pages 17-24 and pages 48-50, if members do not have them to hand. There is also talk about an Amending Canon on baptism and the Private Member's Motion in my name on the catechumenate, which glories in 107 signatures to date.

There are many strands and we need a document which reflects that mass of material. It is vital that all interested groups are brought together to tackle creatively, briefly and effectively the whole package of Christian initiation. My amendment seeks to make that explicit.

Mr Roger Godin: Mr Hawtin has a point. The difficulty I have is thinking on my feet. It does widen the scope of the inquiry quite considerably, and that may well cause the suggested working party to have a greater burden to carry than I had anticipated. So while I agree that he has a point and while I personally would vote for it now, I must leave it to the Synod to say whether it wants to be inclusive in that respect as well.

Revd Peter Broadbent (London): I hope that we will not pass this amendment. There is a great difficulty about broadening the scope of what we are doing. What we have here is a pastoral issue, first and foremost, and it is isolated in BEM as a particular problem for the Church of England. It is isolated also with regard to other Churches which practise apparently indiscriminate baptism. But it is, first and foremost, a pastoral question which has been urged on us.

Yesterday the Archbishop of York tried to suggest that if we start to debate this we will end up in a discussion on the whole relationship between faith and society, and that is true; but my worry is that when we actually ask ourselves what we are doing in baptism, what we are doing in our particular practice on baptism, we are in danger of fudging and widening the area of discussion in a way that is unhelpful if we bring in absolutely everything else. When we got to the Knaresborough report we got into deep water because we did not know what we were discussing.

As it was first formulated, the motion asked us to consider a particular issue. Mr Hawtin is not helping us by asking us to widen the scope of the debate. I would ask Synod to reject his amendment.

The amendment was put and lost.

Mr Roger Godin, in reply: One of my favourite books for Christmas presents used to be How to Live with a Calculating Cat. My beloved wife is at the moment thinking of writing a book on How to Survive with an Adjourned Husband: yesterday even one of my questions was adjourned. I hope that I am easier to live with than she sometimes thinks and that the Synod will now live with this amended motion.

In moving - which seems about five years ago - I declared the objective of trying to create a forum wherein these phrases like "rigorous" and "indiscriminate" might in due time be replaced by some phrase like "loving discernment". The whole tone of the speeches in this debate has given some encouragement to that aim. Canon Lewis, in particular, putting forward his doctrine of 'both/and-ism' has a lot to show us on how we might go forward.

I do not think that at this time of day I can respond to all the points that were so well made. But I believe that the debate and the formulation have been all the richer for the diverse reflections on the ministry of healing through Mr Saward, the perspective of Mrs Chatterley and Mr Packer's successful amendment, and, of course, the pioneering pastoral experience of Canon Botting to whom the Church owes so much in the context of the family service.

The motion before Synod specifically asks for a discussion of theological issues, and I just wish to dwell on this point for a moment. Unfortunately, my friendly neighbour the Archbishop of York has disappeared for a while - I wanted to respond specifically to him. Maybe he will get a note of what I said and deal with me later. There seemed to be some confusion about the juxtaposition of covenant and salvation which I, as a mere layman, could not understand. So I took advantage of the voting time yesterday to ask him what he was saying, especially about this jacuzzi-type theology which seems to be the phrase that is the rage. As I understand, what he was saying was asking us to get our total theology right, not only of baptism but also of ecclesiology, soteriology, ecumenology, get that all sorted out before we could say anything. A lot of us have a lot of sympathy for the idea of saying, "OK, let's base all our thought on theology first". But that is not the world we live in in Synod, is it? The ASB itself would not have come into being if we had still been waiting to sort out every aspect covered by it. I do not recall the "get your theology right first" force emerging from the Durham/York hobbyhorse stable during those particular debates.

I said to the Archbishop that what he should do to deal with that particular hobbyhorse is put down a Private Member's Motion, and I would help him with the drafting and the adjournments.

I emphasise that I want this working party to deal with the theological issues. That is why I could not understand what my friendly neighbour the Archbishop was saying. My limited experience of jacuzzis is that they are a health-giving, welcoming and cleansing experience. That is allegorical of the debate that we are talking about.

Let me now pass to what I would loosely call the evangelistic aspects of the motion, because for many people this is the most emotive issue of all. It is important that we give a clear message to the world outside. As Bishop Jim Thompson, who has also walked out on me, said yesterday on Radio 4 to a rather confused Sue Maddox, "We are in a cleft stick. On the one hand we do not want people to use the rite" - and he instanced the marriage vows, someone coming and using the marriage rite at one moment and coming back a few years later for remarriage to another - we want to welcome, but we do not want to sell these riches cheaply."

Last October my wife and I were coming back from Wales via Hereford Cathedral and we saw the Mappa Mundi on about its last public appearance. We travelled gently through the Cotswolds and had a lovely experience - we actually found some churches that were open. We went into one and were struck by a nicely printed card in the portico which said, "Is baptism what you really want for your child?" Not very welcoming, you might think. But as we read it this is what came over: it was clearly and unthreateningly giving to the parents the clear significance of the alternatives of the baptism and thanksgiving services. They were shown the Christian Gospel of love and welcome at a time when they are most open to the wonder of a loving, creative God. No question of rejection; no question of options refused; but a clear understanding of what they were about to do. So much for evangelistic issues.

I have covered, in dealing as lovingly as possible with the motion for the closure, the unfinished business on this. We have had debate after debate but we seem to get nowhere. I want us to get somewhere. So let us bring it all together and close off these issues of 1974 onwards.

Finally, there is the ecumenical issue. In my view, BEM did not receive an adequate response. We now have to give it, especially in view of paragraph 193 of Lambeth. I am sure that it was compulsive reading for everybody last night so members have probably all read it. After affirming the baptism of infants as scriptural, it says, "The baptism of infants shares as fully in the character of the one baptism as the baptism of adults, but we accept the Lima judgment that indiscriminate infant baptism" - and I wish they had said "apparent indiscriminate infant baptism", because I have not seen much sign of either side being solidly on both sides - "should not be practised. It obscures the purpose of such baptism, not only from those who request it but also from those many others who are doubtful about its propriety. Whilst we are aware of the vastly different contexts in which baptism is sought, we encourage the development of standards and guidelines for the preparation of parents and sponsors, with a view to a common discipline." That is what I called in my opening speech a statement of best pastoral practice, which is what I think should come out of this working party report, which I hope the Synod will support. The Lambeth document effectively seems to say it all. There is not much evidence of fully indiscriminate baptism nor of unloving rigorism, but we need to prepare properly for long overdue and appropriate actions, backed - or fronted, if you like -by a sound theological base . With the accepted amendments, I believe that we have that base. I ask members to vote on the wording of the motion and not on any particular hidden agenda which some may think exists. Vote on what it says. We can build a bridge over troubled baptismal waters. We have started on the foundations of that bridge; let us start walking over it.

Canon Len Moss (Hereford): On a point of order, Mr Chairman. I simply want to point out a typing mistake on the reprinted notice paper, where the word "evangelistic" has become 'evangelical". I am sure that it was not intended.

The Chairman: Thank you, Canon Moss, but I think that if we vote on Item 700 as amended it really is as on the original order paper. This twelfth notice paper is just to assist us. I do not think that that will matter.

The motion was put and carried in the following amended form:

'This Synod calls attention both to the concern over apparent indiscriminate Baptism, as expressed in "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry" documents, and increasingly shared by many people of differing theological persuasions in the Church of England, and also to the concern felt by others over the theological implications of rigorous Baptism policies, and calls upon the Standing Committee to initiate within the lifetime of this Synod a debate based upon a suitable discussion document concerning current theological, pastoral, evangelistic and ecumenical issues.'


For the opening speech on this debate in November 1988  click here   

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