What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is a church practice of what the Anglican Catechism calls “rites and institutions commonly called sacraments.” Along with Confirmation, there are four others like it: Absolution (confessing one’s sins and receiving forgiveness in the presence of a priest), Ordination, Marriage, and Anointing the sick.
These practices (rites) are deeply charged “sites” of God’s grace. They are “commonly called sacraments” (and for some Anglicans, they just are sacraments) because they are visible signs that confer an invisible grace. But we distinguish them from the two primary sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.
There are then three reasons to be confirmed. First, if you wish to affirm or reaffirm your commitment to Christ. Second, if you wish to receive empowerment from the Holy Spirit. And third, if you wish to be recognized within the global Anglican communion, joining more than 85 million people around the world.
While many Protestants shy away from calling Confirmation a sacrament, the witness of the church throughout the ages, especially in the Anglican world, has seen fit to uphold them as a vital means through which God mediates grace to us.
Where did Confirmation come from?
Confirmation arose out of the early church’s reflection on Scripture in connection to how one became a Christian. It was first used to describe what happened when a bishop would lay hands upon, pray for, and anoint the forehead of the newly baptized with oil, signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit. The newly baptized/confirmed would then proceed to receive their first Eucharist.
Gradually, in the western churches (Eastern Orthodox churches still confirm infants immediately upon Baptism), Confirmation became separable from Baptism. For Anglican churches, the normal course would be that you were baptized as an infant, and then as a teenager undergo instruction (catechesis), which prepared you for Confirmation.
Confirmation as growth, belonging, & mission
At its most basic, Confirmation refers to the rite in which, after a believer has been baptized, they make a mature commitment to the faith, and receive an increased gifting of the Holy Spirit through the bishop’s prayer, laying on of hands, and anointing. Once again, the Catechism puts it beautifully. When asked, “What grace does God give you in confirmation?” the response is, “In confirmation, God strengthens the work of the Holy Spirit in me for his daily increase in my Christian life and ministry.”
In order to clear up some of the confusion generated around Confirmation, I want to re-work some of the questions about Confirmation and suggest that we think of Confirmation in terms of two key emphases: maturity and mission.
In both Baptism and Confirmation, the Holy Spirit is present. (It’s a standard rule of Trinitarian theology that wherever there’s one person of the Trinity, all three are present.) But in Baptism, the Spirit washes away our sin, cleanses our guilt, and regenerates us into new life. In Confirmation, on the other hand, the Spirit deepens and strengthens that life, so that we grow up into more mature Christians.
Confirmation is the sacrament of mission. By this, I mean that Confirmation “marks” a person for undertaking the vocation to which he or she has been called.
In this regard, Confirmation is sort of like Ordination: it marks you out for a specific calling. But unlike Ordination, both lay people and priests are confirmed. And this is because it is every Christian’s vocation to proclaim the gospel and to live into a life of holiness.
This is also why Confirmation is linked to the bishop’s presence. As Ordination into the priesthood requires the bishop’s presence, so too, in Confirmation, the bishop’s presence signifies that the person being confirmed is now charged with the duty of carrying on the apostolic mission.
Why should I be Confirmed?
To reinvigorate and renew the practice of Confirmation is one of the most important tasks for the church today because renewing the practice of Confirmation means renewing the mission of the church.
It means well-equipped, well-trained missionaries going out into life, as witnesses of the Good News to those around them. It means further equipping all the saints for the work of the Kingdom. And, finally, it means a rising generation of Christians who have dedicated their lives to the glory of God in every area of life.
If you haven’t been confirmed or would like to consider Affirmation or Reaffirmation, yes you may want to consider being confirmed.
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