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A BRIEF HISTORY of how  Baptismal Integrity came to pass. 
By Clifford Owen

In 1988 I carried out a short piece of research at St. Deniol's Library, Hawarden to trace the history of infant baptismal conditions within the Church of England and attempts to reform them. The Gorham case of the 1850's stands out quite significantly as a marker. The Rev'd Gorham, you will remember, took on the Bishop of Exeter over the question of baptismal regeneration. The case went eventually to the Court of Arches and they found in favour of Gorham.

That judgement in itself didn't appear to make a huge difference to practice in the parishes. In 1896 Hensley Henson, who was to become Bishop of Hereford and later, Durham, used a university sermon at Oxford (he was then vicar of Barking) to condemn the modern practice of infant baptism as 'indecent in itself, discreditable to the church, and highly injurious to religion'. A few years later in 1907 Roland Allen resigned as vicar of Chalfont St. Peter, principally over infant baptism.

It was in 1940, just ten weeks before the Battle of Britain, that Alec Vidler published an article in THEOLOGY (he was Editor!) entitled 'Baptismal Disgrace'. This triggered of a whole series of reports over the next 20 years. If one is looking for milestones in the debate then perhaps the 1965 Ecumenical Conference at Swanwick, Derbyshire, could qualify. It was here that a largely Anglican clergy group voted effectively in principle that something should be done about reforming infant baptism, but decided not to do it.

With the Ely Report on Christian Initiation in the early 1970's a similar outcome was found. After a full debate in General Synod with full Diocesan and Parish consultation, the GS was split about moving ahead to restrict infant baptism to practising Christian families, and in the end stopped short. (See my Essay GRASPING THE NETTLE in 'Reforming Infant Baptism' Hodder 1990 and also Gordon Kurht's book BELIEVING IN BAPTISM Mowbray 1987, for fuller detail of the discussion.)

Running alongside the official discussions there have been two reforming groups.The first, the BAPTISM REFORM MOVEMENT goes back to the mid 1940s. Its aim was to restrict infant baptism to the faithfully practising rather than to operate it 'indiscriminately' as the term became known. This ran until the early 1980's. Then in 1986 came MORIB, now renamed BAPTISMAL INTEGRITY. MORIB was born out of exactly the same concerns as its predecessor the BRM and also out of the conviction that only a pressure group would be likely to make any impact on the thinking of the wider Church of England. So it was that seven of us met at Bayston Hill, Shrewsbury in October 1986 to spend a day exploring the formation of a group. In the event only five of us signed the forming statement and agreed on the name. Originally I proposed MORIBUND which with hindsight might have been wiser as the 'UND' suffix was meant to signify 'Under New Discipline'! However MORIB was launched at a gathering in Malvern, Worcestershire in January 1987 attended by 40 people and given a spot on the 'World at One' with Robin Day.

During the first few years MORIB had quite a bit of publicity and it certainly re-ignited the baptismal debate. It did not come to its constitutiional convictions lightly. Many committee meetings were hot scenes of debate, betraying the fact that there is a wide spectrum of issues around a common epicentre. MORIB never pinned up a set of theological statements; neither for that matter did it give any precise definition to the word 'indiscriminate'. However it did make a strong bid early on that Confirmation at least should be required of Parents and Godparents as the Canons so clearly imply. It has kept up its main reforming focus on pastoral discipline of infant baptismal issues throughout the last 17 years. It has engaged with the new liturgies and held day conferences. It has carried out surveys in parishes and produced a booklet on forming parish policies. It has tried to assist in development of services of Thanksgiving and listened to many points of view. It has sent speakers to Deanery Chapters and Synods. Now with a name change to Baptismal Integrity the same concern for baptismal practice that has run for over a century (at very least!) is set to continue.

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