"Debaptism" 09
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In 2009 the issue of "de-baptism" was resurrected by the NSS following the widely publicised efforts of a member seeking formal removal from the Church of England "membership".  In the Church press this was mainly taken up by  the Church of England Newspaper with an article by Toby Cohen shown below.  A BI response was sent by Roger Godin and published prominently in full as below.  Further correspondence is also shown

1500 debaptised in just one week

By Toby Cohen

FIFTEEN HUNDRED people paid to be `debaptised' last week alone, as a new trend threatens to undermine the Church.

The National Secular Society (NSS) has provided a 'certificate of debaptism' on its website for five years which has been down­loaded by more than 100,000 people. They have recently introduced a new parchment copy for £3 which has proved incredibly popular, but the Church is refusing to rec­ognize a need for the procedure.

The recipient of the certificate declares they "reject all [the Church's] Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged Original Sin, and the evil power of supposed demons."

It continues: "I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege."

The NSS have asked the Church if they will follow the Catholic example and provide an official procedure for undoing baptism.

A letter from the Church's legal adviser Stephen Slack to NSS president Terry Sanderson said: "The Church of England has no reason from its point of view for maintaining a formal record of those who have renounced their baptism: it is content simply to accept that those who have explicitly repudiated their baptism and take no part in the life of the Church should not be regarded as members of it in the more general sense."

The Church insists that it only collects data on attendance; the number of those who have been baptised in the Church of England in the year in question; and the number of people whose names are entered on the electoral rolls maintained by its parishes.

However a recent investigation by the Times revealed that the number of Anglicans baptised in England was used by the Wakeham Commission in reform of the House of Lords. The 26 Lords Spiritual could now have their position undermined as the number of people being debaptised grows.

Mr Sanderson has been "astonished" by the popularity of the certificate. He said: "It could have political repercussions if a sufficient number of people became involved. I can't see that happening though. It mainly shows that the resurgence of religion that we're seeing at the moment is unsettling a lot of people."

The certificate has in fact angered groups on the other side of the debate. Mr Sanderson said: "There's been a lot of criticism even from atheists about it, saying 'what are You bothering with this for, if you don't believe it, what difference does it make doing away with it,.,,

The certificate was designed by former NSS president Barbara Smoker, who once considered becoming a nun. Mr Sanderson sees how the popularity of the certificate demonstrates the need for the sacramental.

"It's always in the background, everybody has still got that residual echo of religion in their heads even if they rejected it intellectually”


BI Response (from Roger Godin) published in full 3rd April:

I doubt we need to be much worried about “1500 de-baptised in just one,,” (isolated)” week”.  Based on the CofE statistics nearly 3,000 are baptized every week, so even last week we “made” a net gain of 1500!

But statistics mean little against the sad stories on the NSS web site. As you read the “case studies”, you see that many of the misunderstandings arise from the failure of the Church to explain not only the meaning of baptism, but also the heart of the gospel. The renunciation of “the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN” (sic, capitalisation from the certificate) reveals that many people have not heard the full story of what baptism is all about.  We don't believe baptism by itself cleans a baby from original sin nor banishes demons, do we, for the benefits of baptism are only appropriated by faith.   We need to reproach ourselves on this, not the NSS.

In BI we have ourselves discussed the alleged “human rights” issue, and one of the reasons we recommend Thanksgivings rather than baptisms for parents who appear to have no faith is because we want to respect the human rights of a baby not to be "opted in" before s/he has been consulted.  

We should also keep in mind that, parallel to de-baptism there is actually a demand for “re-baptism”! That is largely from the growing number of Christian teenagers and adults converted, who regret that they were christened in infancy and, sadly, often seek baptism (usually by immersion) in another denomination.

So it is worth mentioning that the Common Worship Affirmation of Baptismal Faith opens up for a person baptised in infancy the possibility of renewing, affirming, and renewing his or her baptism, by walking through a baptismal pool and immersing himself or herself (Common Worship: Christian Initiation, pages 349f). This may not be the same as believers’ baptism (indeed, it must be clear that it is not), but it does give the opportunity for the vivid outward and visible testimony often sought by enquirers to our website (www.baptism.org.uk).   It can be a happy complement to those who want the reverse of “de-baptism”!


David Perry also responded to the article as follows;I


Sir, The heart of the de-baptisers' com­plaint is that they were baptised in infancy before they could give any informed con­sent.

Considering that we live in a society in which our education system encourages children and young people to think for themselves and constantly make choices, it may behove the churches to "go with the flow" and put the emphasis on the baptism of instructed believers. By doing that, they would restore the baptismal experience of St Augustine (he of 'original sin' fame). He was made a catechumen (ie a yet to be baptised church member) at birth, was nearly but not baptised in childhood when he fell seriously ill and came to baptism as a mature adult under the instruction of the wonderful St Ambrose.

The withering away of infant baptism would delight many Anglican clergy who have refrained from having their own chil­dren baptised in infancy. It would also make space for the widespread use of the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child which is at present an unappreciated treasure."

David Perry

Brough, East Yorks

David's letter provoked the following somewhat complex response


Sir, David Perry (Letters, April 9) seeks to engage with those advocating De-Baptism by alleging the justice of their case and urging us to adopt Believer's baptism. However both he and they misunderstand Baptism when it is said to depend upon us or be our declaration of our faith. Since babes can neither understand nor vocalise such assent we must look elsewhere for the Church's rationale for infant baptism.

If we look to Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress we are surprised to find he comes to the Cross and his burden of sin rolls away long after Pilgrim has passed through the Wick­et Gate and struggled over the trials of the long journey to the Cross. All this time Pil­grim is called Christian, even though we are later informed that before becoming Christian he had once been called Grace­less. This reflects an older idea that in bap­tism we take on the name and duties of discipleship long before coming to the cross and finding the burden of our sin taken away.

In Matthew 28 we have the Great Com­mission with its emphasis of converting the nations to discipleship, and of course nations include babes and children, and when their parents are converted they too are included in this discipleship pro­gramme. This is because their children are commanded to be brought up in nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), and that means as disciples. On being convert­ed to discipleship, all these new disciples, babes and children included are to be baptised and brought to observe all that Christ instructed the Apostles (28:19:20).

For myself, the Reformed position even more draws together the rich tapestry of Scripture. Baptism, like other Covenant Signs, is a seal on what God has promised. When God promises never again to destroy the earth with a Flood he gives the sign of the rainbow (Gen. 9:11-16). This is every­thing to do with God's Promise and nothing dependent upon our response. Similarly, the Covenant with Abraham to be the Sav­iour God to Abraham and his seed is sealed with circumcision (Gen. 17:7-10, c.f. Rom. 9:7). It was this promise that led David to believe his child had preceded him to heav­en (2 Sam. 12:23). The perceptive readers of the New Testament will realise this is foundational to the New Covenant (Rom. 4:16, Gal. 3:16) which displaces the Mosaic, not the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:17, Jer. 31:31-32). So it does not surprise us when our Saviour assures us that from such babes and infants of God's people would come the Kingdom of God (Lk 18:16 etc.) and if theirs is the Kingdom, then theirs also is its sign and citizenship. Again we are not surprised when on the day of Pente­cost, Peter assures the repentant Jewish believer that the enhanced New Covenant blessing is to them, the believer, their chil­dren and those from outside that God adds to his people (Acts 2:39).

Things become even clearer when we shed the idea that to baptise is to immerse. Baptism in Hebrews 9:10 clearly refers to the sprinklings with blood, ashes and water in the Old Testament. In the New Covenant, God promises to sprinkle clean water upon his people (Ezek. 36:25) and when John is found doing this, he is asked to explain himself (John 1:19). Again, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 10:45) is called baptism (Acts 1:5 etc.) and as already pointed out, Peter particularly says this Baptism of the Spirit is promised to the repentant believer and his children, and to those whom it is promised is also to be given water baptism as the sign and seal of this promise, and this includes the chil­dren with their believing parents.

What reforms are necessary? At least a re-emphasise that Baptism is more than a naming ceremony, and that it implies this commitment to discipleship. What do I make of de-baptism? Well those who apostatise from discipleship can never be in the same position as those who have never been disciples, they can never undo the past. However, in the parable of the Prodi­gal we have no classic evangelical conver­sion, but we do have the hope that those who renounce their Christian heritage may come to a sound mind and return to take their place as sons of our Heavenly Father. Do I worry that the Gospel net may capture bad as well as good fish (Matt 13:47), or that wheat and tares grow together in the Church (Matt 13:30)? Since our Lord warned us that this would be so, it is no rea­son to set aside the clear teaching of Scrip­ture that disciples are to be freely received and baptised.

Alan Bartley, BSc, ARCS.

Greenford, Middlesex

David's response was as follows:

Alan Bartley (letters 16 April) ends with the words “Disciples are to be freely received and baptised”.  

What is “freely” about? Who are disciples? In the early centuries disciples were those actually learning the faith. As they did so they would go forward for baptism when they and their mentors felt they were ready.  

Few people are aware of the 12th Canon of Neo-Caesarea of 314 AD. It states “If anyone were baptised in illness he cannot be made a presbyter: for his faith is not from spontaneous resolve (sua sponte), but from necessity; unless perchance he show his suitability by his subsequent zeal and faith, and there be a shortage of suitable persons.

Here two forms of baptism are contrasted. There is the baptism that arises when someone comes forward willingly (Alan’s “freely”) to embrace the faith and there is the baptism “of necessity”, i.e. clinical or emergency baptism. It is clear that the latter is regarded as second best.  

Jeremias in his Infant Baptism in the first four centuries spent all his energy hunting for wisps of evidence that babies were being baptised. He gave no thought to material which would indicate that the baptism of healthy infants was nowhere in the frame.  

This Canon shows that the norm from NT times that baptism was for the believing instructed is still going strong nearly 300 years later. How the Church departed from that norm can be discovered in the subsequent Christendom centuries when the freedom of the ordinary individual was eclipsed by norms of social obedience (e.g. cuius region eius religio) and baptism turned into a compulsory rite for infants.  

In a paper read to North Holderness Deanery Chapter in 1976 I made the following prediction: Just as the recovery of the Eucharist in every denomination has been heavily dependent on the model provided by the pre-Christendom Church, so will renewal in mission and unity be dependent on the rediscovery of baptism in its original context of the Catechumenate.  

David W Perry 

To which Alan has responded (1st May)

Sir, Had David Perry (Letters, April 24) read my letter carefully, he would have realised I was referring to the attitude of the Church when I said "disciples are to be freely received and baptised", and that infant disciples are included in this wel­come.  

He prefers to argue from the apparent poverty of evidence for infant baptism from the time after the Apostles rather than engage with Scriptural arguments, but regarding the lack of evidence he is again mistaken.  

Kurt Aland (Did the Early Church Baptise Infants?) says "For if we find infant baptism in Africa c. 250 (Cyprian), and its obser­vance in Palestine c. 230/250 (Origin), why should it not have existed in Rome , say c. 220?" The latter refers to the evidence of the alleged Church Order of Hyppolytus which says "First the little ones should be baptised, All who can speak for themselves should speak. For those however who can not speak for themselves their parents or another ... should speak." David Perry quotes Jeremias (Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries) but he is actually very positive saying "For the first century we have no special evidence for the baptism of Christian children. In the second it is taken for granted. We shall see how unambigu­ous the testimony of Origin, four times repeated, that it is the custom of the Church to baptise children in the very ear­liest years."


Of course there are two problems for those who want evidence in the writings of these Fathers. First the use of the word baptise is scarce and its use in the context of infants scarcer, and secondly, these examples come from manuscripts many centuries later than the time of these early Fathers. Given this, we soon come to debate whether this evidence for infant baptism is genuine or interpolated by later writers.  


However, fortunately, in the early Fathers is much more evidence than first appears as the Church Fathers use other phrases to confirm infant baptism. To give but one example among many from W Wall (The History of Infant Baptism). He says Irenaeus (130-200) refers to infant baptism when he says: "For he came to save all per­sons by himself: all, I mean, who by him are regenerated unto God; infants, little ones, and children -ands youths and elder persons." He says: "The reader will also see in almost all the passages I shall have occa­sion to produce, the same use of the word constantly observed: that to say regenerat­ed is with them as much as to say baptised."  


However, if we reject this understanding of regenerated, we are faced with numer­ous claims of infant regeneration in some way other than as a euphemism for baptism and I suspect that will cause evangelicals even more problems than understanding them as infant baptism.

In closing, we have no choice in inheriting Original Sin from our parents, but we are blessed indeed if with Timothy “from infancy [we] have known the holy Scriptures (2 Tim.3:15) and we can sing with Charles Wesley: “With thanks I rejoice, in Your fatherly choice, of my state and condition below; if of parents I came, who honoured Your name, ’twas Your wisdom appointed it so”


Alan Bartley

Will there be another exciting instalment in this saga?  We await with bated breath (??) - though in the same edition Rev Andrew Robinson comments:

I think the exchange of letters from David Perry and Alan Bartley about de-baptism is taking us in a direction which could distract us from the wider debate with secularism.  This is a great pity, because Christians should see this as a challenge and opportunity for us to present a case for Christianity in the public sphere.

Andrew Robinson


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