By Michael Wren
Back in the ‘70s, contemporary Christian artist Keith Green wrote a song about the Devil, entitled “No One Believes In Me Anymore.” In the song, Green depicts Satan as celebrating the fact that people generally deny his existence, allowing him easily to spread lies like atheism and new age philosophy, and innocently promote the occult: “I used to have to sneak around/ But now they just open their doors/ You know, no one’s watching for my tricks/ Because no one believes in me anymore.” Though over three decades have passed since Green wrote and recorded the song, times have not changed.
This week, as The Telegraph (an English newspaper) reports, an alternative liturgy is being promoted for the christening service the Church of England uses in its infant baptism ceremony. All services and ceremonies in the Church of England follow The Book of Common Prayer, and have since 1549, when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer published the first edition. In Cranmer’s edition, the priest asked the parents and godparents, “Do you forsake the devil and all his works?” In the current edition, published in 1998, the priest asks similarly, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” However, an alternative is being promoted, and is already being used in 1,000 parishes, which simply asks them to “reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises.” There is no mention of the devil, or even sin. On the surface, the change is put forward as an attempt to better explain the meaning of the ritual to people who are mostly unacquainted with the church. However, a change like this, a change to the week to week worship of thousands of churches, is not a simple matter of better pedagogy or even more effective marketing. Behind this change is a denial of the existence of the devil, and for some it is a denial that sin separates humans from God at all (as Andrew Brown celebrates).
That there are some within the Church of England who have radically redefined Christian theology should not be surprising. There are many in Christian denominations in America who have done the same. There are certainly a few folks in our churches, especially younger attenders, who would sympathize with the changes to this liturgy. However, we would be remiss if we did not consider how important it is that we recognize the reality of Satan’s existence.
What is really at stake in all of this? What are we missing if we leave the word Satan out and substitute the phrase “evil in all its forms?” We are missing the humbling recognition that there are spiritual forces in existence against which we have no natural defense. We lack the insight that we are truly powerless, not only because of our own frailty, but because our enemies are more powerful than we are. And we fail to appreciate the urgency of prayer. We need to pray because we are powerless without prayer. Paul instructs us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil,” (Eph 6:11). That armor, consisting of truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, and salvation, is put to use in prayer (verse 18). When we deny, or even merely ignore, the existence of the devil, we lack the motivation to stay vigilant against sin. And ignoring the devil is as dangerous as denying his existence.
When we remember that the devil truly is a prowling lion (1 Peter 5:8) seeking to devour us, we are spurred on to prayer and watchfulness. We desperately need the power of God if we are to ward off the destructive power of the devil on our lives, in our community, and in our world. Consider these remarks by Martin Luther:
“This we must know, that all our safety and protection consists in prayer alone. For we are far too weak against the devil and all his might and forces arrayed against us, trying to trample us underfoot. Therefore we must keep this in mind and grasp the weapons with which Christians are to arm themselves for resisting the devil. What do you think has accomplished such great results in the past, parrying the counsels and plots of our enemies and checking their murderous and seditious designs by which the devil expected to crush us, and the gospel as well, except that the prayers of a few godly people intervened like an iron wall on our side? . . . But by prayer alone we shall be a match both for [our enemies] and for the devil, if only we persevere and do not become weary.”
Most of us are not guilty of denying Satan’s existence, but we are guilty of ignoring him and growing weary. We are not watching for his tricks. The result is that we are weak. Who knows what else has fallen down around us while we have slept?