The Need for Confirmation
A few months ago I wrote a post on infant baptism. Since then, I’ve been wanting to follow it up with a post on the practice of confirmation, since the two are closely related in my opinion. Confirmation is practiced diligently in the Roman Catholic church, strongly in the Episcopal and Anglican churches, and, well, somewhat loosely in our United Methodist Church. While I may not go so far as to elevate confirmation to a place of sacrament, as the Roman Catholics do, I do think we need to place far more emphasis on this holy practice. Here’s why.
As I posited in my post on infant baptism, when we baptize an infant we are affirming what Christ has already done for them on the cross and acknowledging the prevenient grace given to the child through Christ’s redeeming love. Baptism is not a saving ordinance – just because you got baptized doesn’t mean that you’re saved.
Salvation is a heart issue – it’s about having faith (sola fide), through the grace of God, which manifests itself in the life of a believer in obedience to Christ and growing in a life of holiness. In confirmation, we are affirming the believer’s faith through the justifying grace of Christ.
Confirmation actually serves multiple purposes.
Renew Baptismal Vows
Confirmation gives the baptized Christian the opportunity to remember and renew the baptismal vows that were made on their behalf as a child. Now that they are of an age to understand and make a conscious decision to follow Christ on their own, they can affirm their baptismal covenant and take responsibility for their own personal faith and spiritual growth. Confirmation confirms their personal decision to accept and follow Christ.
Confirmation gives the believer a solid theological foundation through catachetical teaching. All Christians need to know what we believe about the God we are covenanting with, about faith and grace, and about all the basic fundamental truths affirmed in Christian doctrine. This is a time for the believer to grow deeper in knowledge and understanding of God and what it truly means to be a believer in Christian doctrine.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Confirmation has traditionally served as the moment when an apostolic leader would lay hands on a believer and pray for the Holy Spirit to possess their human spirit. While we believe that the Holy Spirit is operative in the lives of all people through prevenient grace, drawing them to know God, He only possesses, or lives in, believers who have accepted Christ, repented from sin, and affirmed their covenant relationship with God. The believer would be anointed with oil and would be prayed over for the Holy Spirit to inhabit them and empower them with spiritual gifts.
Practicing confirmation is important for traditions like ours that believe in and practice infant baptism. Now I’d be hard-pressed to find a valid argument for confirmation in scripture; there are a limited few references to an “act” of confirmation in the New Testament, and in my opinion using those references to justify it is a sacrament is an exegetical stretch. Most of the time, an apostle was “confirming” a believer’s baptism because they were not baptized in the name of the Trinity, or they were simply praying for the Holy Spirit to anoint and possess new believers.
However, what’s important to note is that throughout the history of the church, beginning as early as the 1st century, our church has effectively practiced confirmation. Leaders would anoint new believers after their baptism with oil and lay hands on them to pray for their receiving of the Holy Spirit. We know that, up until the time of Constantine and the secularization of Christianity, the practice for new converts was to go through an extensive period of “catechesis”, teaching and growing, in knowledge of the faith before their baptism. In fact, candidates for baptism were called “catechumens”, meaning “ones being instructed”. Just as covenanting with God through infant baptism replaced Jewish circumcision, confirmation at the coming of age replaced the Jewish bar mitzvah.
Our United Methodist Church ought to more faithfully embrace the practice of confirmation. It encourages believers to make a personal decision to take their baptismal vows personally and seriously. It teaches the fundamental truths of Christian doctrine to new believers and gives them a more profound understanding of their own faith. Where infant baptism serves as an affirmation of prevenient grace through Christ’s redeeming love, confirmation serves as an affirmation of the believer’s faith through justifying grace.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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