One of the main features of fascist regimes is their unwillingness to listen to rational, informed criticism. Well, if a perverse unwillingness to respond to criticism and to enter reasonable discussion and debate is a defining characteristic of fascism, then the Church of England authorities qualify perfectly. When the Liturgical Commission published draft revisions to the Baptism Service at the end of last year, this draft received much criticism of both theological and literary sorts. I am not talking about Yah-boo disapproval, but about intelligent, articulate comment. The authorities did not take a blind bit of notice and so this week the House of Bishops – why does that phrase make me think of a house of cards? – is blundering heedlessly ahead and incorporating their ill-advised alterations to the Baptism rite official. Having scorned debate first time round, this smug coterie of theological illiterates have again stopped their ears to reasonable discussion. Fascism, or what? Nevertheless, those who have ears to hear, let them hear…
The new Baptism Service is a gross insult to Our Lord Jesus Christ and is therefore properly described as blasphemous. There is no mention of sin in the rite, no call to repentance and the devil is not so much as mentioned let alone renounced. The insult to Our Lord consists entirely in this: if there is no devil to defeat, no sin to atone for and no repentance to be made, why did Christ bother to come here at all and die for us? So it is time to ask just what the modern, euphemistic, coy, sentimental and touchy-feely so-called Christians who devised this (dis)Service actually believe and stand for?
They are specimens of that sort of theologically-vacuous liberal so tellingly dismissed by Richard Niebuhr a long time ago: “They believe that a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
True Christianity has nothing to do with this effete, sanitised, fawning, inoffensive fraud. Christianity is not very nice. It is not goo and slush sucking up to debauched and cloying notions of “family.” There is a proper sense in which Christians are a family: but we are a family at war against sin, the world and the devil. Or we used to be. Think back to something Rowan Williams said in his last sermon before he retired: that the church “has quite a bit of catching up to do with secular mores.” But that is what the church has been doing for the last forty years. The policy is one of appeasement so, if the punters don’t like the original message, no probs, as they say: simply change the message. And so the stark challenge of the gospel has been abandoned to accommodate the barren emotionality of our sentimental and infantilised society, and the new code of practice that is political correctness. The result is banality. And it was Aquinas – 800 years before Hannah Arendt – who told us, “Banality is evil.”
For forty years the liberals have ruled the church and they have destroyed it. The bland have led the bland and they have all fallen into the Kitsch. And behold, those who live by the euphemism will die by the euphemism.
In effect, Christian theology has been demoralised. The doctrines of personal sin and Original Sin discarded while, by way of contradiction, the notion of corporate sin – by the bankers, the capitalists, the social heretics in the nasty party – has been retained. So, insofar as any concept of sin remains, it is depersonalised and institutionalised and identified in a range of preferred targets. For the modern church – that oxymoron – sinners now are those who don’t sign up to foreign aid, who question the virtue of mass immigration, who deny global warming, who warn against the moral and social destructiveness of the benefits culture which condemns succeeding generations to dependence and lives of sheer pointlessness. In short, for today’s church, sinners are all those who don’t subscribe to the nostrums of the new Establishment, which is the socialised state.
Stephen Platten, Chairman of the Liturgical Commission, explained that the devil is omitted from the new Baptism Service because the devil is “theologically problematic.” Now that’s a fine example of strangulated bureaucratic jargon. It is not the devil who is theologically problematic, only the Liturgical Commission is. Since the 1960s and the first appearance of alternative services, marketing a different gospel, each succeeding rite has been more accommodating to the spirit of the age than its predecessor.
But the spirit of the age is unchristian, secularised, diverse and multicultural, while Christianity is particular, definite, dogmatic and, as St Paul said, scandalous. St Paul said the cross is a stumbling block. The modern church has removed the stumbling block and replaced it with an ornament. No original sin? No devil and all his works? No need for personal repentance with weeping and gnashing of teeth? Then, dear Jesus, you had no business coming here, preaching your offensive parables of the wedding garment and the sheep and the goats. You might have spared yourself the bother of being flogged to the point of death and then nailed on a cross of wood and left to die a lingering death on the first long Good Friday. Why didn’t you simply stay up there in heaven easy-listening to soppy charismatic choruses and watching the General Synod’s flatulent proceedings on your I-pad?
The catastrophe of the church’s collapse was not something forced upon it by external enemies, but willed upon itself in a decades-long process of serial self-emasculation. The gruel has got ever thinner so that now there is nothing there. Or, to change the analogy, it is a case of wine into water. Every one of the modern Services has been purged of “offensive” reality. No worms or vile bodies at funerals. No fornication or men as brute beats with no understanding or dreadful day of judgement at the marriage. No devil and all his works at the christening. The new hymn line is effectually “No Lord, no faith, no baptism.”
What can be done? Much. But we must not pretend to ourselves that when Our Lord promised St Peter he had set his church on a rock and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it, he had our contemporary, simpering Church of England in mind. The church is thriving – but not in England, not in Europe the civilisation created by Christian values. In the centuries when Europe professed Christianity, in obedience to Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel, it sent out missionaries to Africa – an heroic achievement now disparaged by our trendy prelates and spiritless theologians as “cultural imperialism.” It is salutary to notice that today African Christians are returning to preach Christ to our godless continent.
For the individual English Christian all that is left is to hang on to the faith and try, however desperately, to find a place where it is still preached. This may involve crossing denominational boundaries. It will certainly mean doing the equivalent of those early Christians who went into the desert to think, pray and worship. There will be a renewal, for the gospel is true and therefore indestructible. Only don’t expect our decadent Ecclesia Anglicana to provide it.