The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that he is going to baptise (and confirm) Meghan Markle at a private ceremony in a private chapel at Kensington Palace, very soon.
Ms Markle has let it be known that she is becoming an Anglican out of respect for her future grandmother-in-law, and her position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
There are some lovely touches of human happiness in this story at first sight. It is a joy that Meghan and Prince Harry have found in each other someone to love and to stand by in their journey together. Their wedding will bring delight to very many people.
It is a sweet and kind touch that Ms Markle wants to offer her future grandmother in law a sign of respect and has chosen to do so by signing up to the religions organisation of which the Queen is titular head.
But baptism is a tricky thing, theologically, spiritually and sadly, politically. Before gay relationships became the jemmy wedged in the gap between Church and state to separate the Church of England from its biblical foundations, baptism sometimes played the same role.
A state church may well be a contradiction in terms. It certainly balances on a very fragile fulcrum. The Bible takes a dim view of the state. From the civic authorities who threw the prophets like Jeremiah into a cistern to silence him, to the book of Revelation which sees the state as infused by satanic spirits, ‘the world’ is an unreliable theological concept and spiritual force, and one that the Church needs to beware becoming married to.
Any state church would need to be on high alert if it is to avoid being reduced to a spiritual veneer on a less than Christian body politic. The blessing of cannons by Anglican bishops to slaughter our German cousins in the name of rampant commercial nationalism in 1914, is one of the more lurid examples. But it is only one of the dramatic example of collusion with the state at the expense of devotion to Jesus.
In many parishes, faithful clergy confronted by folk religion or (some decades ago) bourgeois sentimentality, tried to do what they could to introduce the parents of babies brought to ‘be done’, to the Living Christ.
Many parents proved reluctant to have anything to do with Him, and were quite content to mouth the heart-shattering promises “I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil’ without any concern that they might mean anything, let alone constitute the door to eternal life.
At this point, concerned clergy were hamstrung, because the canon law of the Church decreed that members of the State had every right to be baptised in their parish Church unconditionally.
The outcomes varied from parishes where parents were touched by the reality of the presence of God and came to know, love and serve Jesus, and parishes where the observant vicar was seen as just being too rigid and pious to be a good C of E Vicar.
In one of the few moments in which the parts of the Church of England have stuttered into life, mainly through the charismatic movement, adults who were baptised (and confirmed) would be invited to offer a small personal testimony of how their souls had found forgiveness and new life in a living relationship with Jesus Himself.
The Gospels are uncompromising when it comes to baptism and allegiance to Jesus. They stretch from John the Baptist roaring his warnings against hypocrisy at the curious but uncommitted who came to him as part of the piety of the crowd, to Jesus announcing that those who were lukewarm in their relationship with Him would be ejected, in fact spat out (Revelation 3.16).
The conflict with evil, the sacrifice of love, the enduring of betrayal, the cost of forgiveness, the drama of the struggle for life in the face of death, makes Christianity something that cannot endure the lukewarm. Where it is reduced to act as a spiritual veneer smeared on the top of an unaltered host, it is betrayed and becomes corrupt.
And here is the dilemma for the Church of England. A state Church wedded to a state that hates Christian virtue and Christian ethics; a state that has begun to criminalise Christian witness as hate speech, where police arrest street preachers and have them thrown in prison at the push of a SJW’s phone button; a state that has begun preparations to remove children from their Christian homes if social workers detect what they improperly label ‘homophobia’ in the parents; a state where Christian teachers are expelled and sacked if they do not endorse the secular brainwashing on the fluidity of gender.
Faced with this kind of state, it does not require a subtle reading of Scripture to observe that the gap between the world and Church has grown wide and fierce in our generation. And as always when this happens Christians have to choose between the vigorous and sometimes brutal demands of allegiance the state imposes to cow and tame them; or the faithful witness to Jesus which comes with an increasing and painful cost.
This has happened many times before. The last time we saw this gap between authentic and state Christianity in Europe was in Germany in the 1930’s.
There the fissure between state endorsed culture and the call of Jesus led to two church bodies. The state Church, or Reich Church, which smeared the religious veneer we have identified over the values and agenda of National Socialism fixated with race; and the Confessing Church, led by Bonhoeffer, driven underground, repudiating the corrupt compromises of the State-Reich Church.
The Reich Church of our day has given way not over race but over gender, not to a fascist culture but to the new-Marxist values and concepts, peddled and enforced by universities, schools, state agencies, the police, and more recently the judiciary. The Times
The neo-Marxist or cultural Marxist agenda sets itself not only against Judaeo-Christian revelation and values, but goes further to set itself against free speech. Petitions have been directed to Parliament to defend free speech in the face of the muzzle of the Equalities Act ( Petition) (Please sign.)
When the Chancellor Philip Hammond was asked to provide the title of his favourite book recently, he offered Orwell’s 1984. The office of No 10 vetoed his choice and suggested he go with Dr Seuss’ ‘Cat in the Hat’ instead, so nervous were they of encouraging the populace to remind themselves of what Orwell warned was coming. (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/big-sister-tells-philip-hammond-drop-orwell-for-dr-seuss-mbhg8mldn)
Ms Markle, charming as she is, has been a vivacious advocate for the new egalitarian culture. Will the Archbishop prepare her for her promise to ‘turn to Christ’ with an in depth reading of the Gospels?
Will he save her from underestimating the personal cost of publicly repenting of her sins?
Will he help her to understand that her struggle with evil is not one with the patriarchy, the fatherhood of God, the demanding Christian ethics that warn of the spiritual and social dangers of homosexual practice, but with a cosmic power of corruption and a struggle with pride, the overweening ego and all the forces, state or otherwise tha come against the Bride of Christ?
Will he help her understand how the Bible defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Will he explain to her the exclusive claims of Jesus which will set her on a collision course with multiculturalism as well as the more aggressive and exclusive demands of a resurgent Islam?
Or will we hear nothing more of her Anglican entry into Christian discipleship, beyond her polite and courteous duty to her new grandmother-in-law and her institutional role?
As so often in the past, the approach to the awesome entrance to new life and the kingdom of heaven that baptism provides, will act as a fork in the road.
On one side lies life in all its fullness, reconciliation to the Eternal Father, the crucifixion of the ego, the forgiveness of sins, the Lordship of Christ, the membership of the Confessing Church down the ages; on the other lies the practice of ‘the polite’, the respect for the grandmother-in-Law, the triumph of feminism, the culturally-compliant rites of the State Church.
What voice of witness will we hear from Ms Markle as she emerges back into public life after her private baptism in water and Spirit?
It will tell us which of those routes she has chosen, and which church Justin Welby, as Archbishop of the Canterbury has inducted her into – the culturally compliant State Church or the biblically faithful and state-resisting Confessing Church;
and which spirit he has conferred on her, the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the age.