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While baptism exorcises sin and the devil from the baptized, the Church of England has exorcised the language of sin and the devil from its baptismal rite.
Instead of rejecting “the devil and all rebellion against God” and “repenting of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor,” the baptismal initiate now simply “rejects evil, its many forms, and all its empty promises.” A woefully deleterious change which one of the members of the General Synod rightly denounces as being “more like a benediction from the Good Fairy than any church service.”
Removing sin and the devil from the rite is not a matter of a slight alteration of emphasis or using new language to say essentially the same thing—it betrays something more serious: acquiescence to a cultural, secular rationalism. This is the sort of thing that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently playfully mocked in an interview by revealing that he, as a Roman Catholic, even goes so far as to believe in the devil!
In some Christian circles, imbued with a certain worldly element, believing in the devil has come to be seen as superstitious. A predominant alternative interpretation being that ‘the devil’ is metaphorical language for evil acts, sinful desires, temptations, and the like, but not an actual, personal being. This, of course, flies in the face of the Bible and all of historic Christianity, as fitfully represented here by the language of ancient baptismal rites. In an increasingly godless England (and Europe), there are presumably pressures to make the faith more palatable in a hostile culture.
Meanwhile, speaking of sin and repentance too much—or at all—is similarly unfashionable. Late-modern, western culture so prizes individual self-determination as the ultimate good that the language of ‘sin’ itself comes into direct conflict with such ‘good.’ Of course, in some sense, it was always this way: the gospel is an offense to the world (1 Cor. 1:18). What’s somewhat novel here is the extent to which the worldly has infiltrated the putative Christian.
Furthermore, without an explicit mention of sin, it’s not entirely obvious what the person being ‘baptized’ is doing, beyond getting wet. The scriptures are clear that baptism is for “the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), but being generally opposed to evil requires neither submersion into water, nor a savior.
In addition to a renunciation of sin and the devil—similar to the pre-change rite of the Church of England—the Orthodox rite of baptism also includes exorcism of the candidate and sanctification of the waters of baptism, driving all evil spirits from them. The language of these prayers leaves no room for doubt as to who Satan is and what exactly is taking place:
Priest: O Lord of Sabaoth, the God of Israel, who healest every malady and every infirmity: Look upon Thy servant [name]; prove him and search him, and root out of him every operation of the Devil. Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them, and purify the works of Thy hands; and exerting Thy trenchant might, speedily crush down Satan under his feet; give him victory over the same, over his foul spirits; that having obtained mercy from Thee, he may be worthy to partake of Thy heavenly Mysteries; and may ascribe unto Thee glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to ages of ages.
In baptism, we become partakers of Christ’s glorious victory over sin, death, and the devil. This is not incidental to what takes place in baptism; it is the very heart of what transpires. The candidate for baptism proceeds to “renounce Satan, and all his Angels, and all his works, and all his service, and all his pride,” turns to the west, and literally spits on the devil and his dominion.
Later, the waters themselves are sanctified by prayers:
Priest: Wherefore, O King who lovest mankind, come Thou now and sanctify this water by the indwelling of Thy Holy Spirit. (Thrice)
Priest: And grant unto it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities, the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with Angelic might; that those who would ensnare Thy creature will flee far from it. For we have called upon Thy Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful and glorious, and terrible unto adversaries.
The Priest then makes the sign of the cross thrice upon the water, dipping the fingers of his right hand therein; and breathing upon it thrice, he says:
Priest: Let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the sign of the image of Thy Cross. (Thrice)
And a bit later:
Priest: And we pray thee, O God, that every aerial and unseen phantom may withdraw itself from us; and that no demon of darkness may conceal himself in this water; and that no evil spirit which instilleth darkening of intentions and rebelliousness of thought may descend into it with him who is about to be baptized.
One suspects that those in thrall to the demons of modern rationalism would find this terribly unsettling. But none of this is negotiable for traditional, apostolic Christianity—the essence of the faith is at stake.
Having just celebrated Christ’s baptism this week (the Great Feast of Theophany, Jan. 6), in which He deigned to submit to the rite for our sake, sanctifying the waters and trampling sin, death, and the devil underfoot, let us remember that there is no life in Christ—no life at all—without repenting of the sins that have ensnared us as subjects to the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), Satan, and his dominion.