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Rev’d Jess Stubenbord – Rector of Mulbarton, Norwich

The new baptism service gives me a number of problems.  Frankly I do not feel I can use it with unchurched folk without some serious revisions.

My problem?  It could be demonstrated that this new service teaches baptismal regeneration, which is not the doctrine of the Church of England (in the Articles of Religion).  Yet, even if the new service does not conclusively teach baptismal regeneration, I feel it is inappropriate to use such an ambiguous service in the hearing of unschooled ears, as new people will probably be led to understand that their child is regenerate as a consequence of bringing the child to church and splashing him/her with water and saying lots of words.

Occasionally the New Testament blurs the distinction between the sign (baptism) and the thing signified (new life in Christ).  Yet a sacrament speaks of and proclaims the grace of God, rather than it being the channel to convey this grace.  The NT undoubtedly teaches that the forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ come through faith in what Jesus has done for us (Eph 2:8).  The repentant thief on the cross was told “this day you’ll be with me in paradise”, not “get down from the cross and be baptised.”  “What must I do to be saved?”  “Believe on the Lord Jesus...”  Often there is a reference to baptism as a sign of this new life (as in Acts 2:37).  Baptism will undoubtedly be the norm for all Christian disciples.

My main problem with the service is a blurring of the “sign of” and the actual “reception of” the new life.  This happens throughout the new service and will often be misunderstood by many who hear it, leading them to a false sense of peace with God.  So I argue that the new service uses NT language in a non-NT way and context.  For instance, in Romans 1-4 Paul declares that we are justified by faith in Christ’s death for us (the means of acquiring the new life) without reference to baptism, and only from chapter 5 does he move on to state that “we were buried with him through baptism (the outward sign of this grace) into death in order that ... we too may live a new life” (6:4).

By using this new service I believe we run a great risk of giving parents the false assurance that their child is all right with God without any further response needed from that child.  So now that adaptations we made to the service have been rejected by our diocesan liturgist, I can only now appeal to the Bishop to allow me to continue to use the ASB, which though not perfect does call forth faith and commitment from the new families.

Am I alone in having such problems of conscience (and theology) with the new service?  Am I seeing it in an unbalanced way?  I would very much appreciate feedback.  

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