The bishop is coming! And in the case of our parish, the Archbishop is coming. On Sunday, May 7th, Archbishop Foley Beach will be present at Apostles to preach, celebrate the Eucharist, and offer the sacramental rite of confirmation. As we anticipate Archbishop Foley’s visit and the Service of Confirmation, we’re offering a preparation course for all who wish to be confirmed, Christian Essentials, Anglican Distinctives which begins Sunday, February 19th.
If you are new to Apostles or the Anglican way, you may have wondered: what exactly isconfirmation? Is it simply a rite of passage or is there a deeper meaning? Why should Anglicans be confirmed?
Confirmation remains a central work of grace within the life of the Church. More than another ceremony or a rite of passage, confirmation exists to embolden baptized Christians and equip them to serve Christ in his Church and the world. The fact that confirmation requires the presence and ministry of the bishop speaks itself that it is no small matter! The bishop confers the grace of confirmation through prayer, anointing, and the laying of hands. So what particular forms of grace does one receive in confirmation?
- Grace to personally confess Christ as Savior and Lord
- Grace to pursue holiness among the saints with the strength of the Holy Spirit
- Grace to serve in the priesthood of all believers
A Confession of One’s Own
For adults who were baptized as infants, parents and godparents confessed Christ as Lord and Savior and also made public vows to walk faithfully according to God’s commandments. In confirmation, those baptized as infants now profess Christ and Lord and Savior themselves. They renew the baptismal vows themselveswhich parents and godparents made on their behalf in their infancy.
St Paul wrote to the Colossian church that he toiled and struggled to ‘present everyone mature in Christ.’ (Colossians 1.28-29) Confirmation is a sign of maturity from one’s baptism, enabled by the life-giving Spirit given in baptism. But here’s a key distinction: confirmation does not completethe sacrament of baptism, as if the Church’s baptismal service was somehow deficient, ineffective, or the Holy Spirit was deferring one’s new creation in Christ until many years later. Baptism is the sacrament of new birth by water and the Holy Spirit; confirmation is a sacramental action, not of new birth, but of new strength.
The 17th century Anglican bishop, Jeremy Taylor, described the relationship of baptism and confirmation in this way: ‘as God at first appointed us a ministry of a new birth, so also hath He given to His church the consequent ministry of a new strength. The Spirit moved a little upon the waters of baptism, and gave us the principles of life, but in confirmation He makes us able to move ourselves. In the first He is the spirit of life, but in this He is the spirit of strength and motion…in baptism we are made innocent, in confirmation we receive the increase of the Spirit of grace; in that we are regenerated unto life, in this we are strengthened unto battle’1
Strength to Pursue Holiness
This personal confession and these personal vows are central features of confirmation. No one ought to enter into sacred vows lightly. This is why a period of instruction and training in discipleship precedes confirmation. Just as St Paul instructed the Ephesian church to ‘put all the full armor of God’, so the Church trains her confirmands in Scripture, commandments, doctrine, prayer, and service. (Ephesians 6)
We need this kind of training for the Christian life because we take seriously Jesus’ words about his Kingdom: the way of his Kingdom is a narrow way. (Matthew 7.13-14)
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summarizes the narrow way of holiness required in his Kingdom, punctuating this high calling with the command, ‘You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5.48)
The three ancient enemies of God which are renounced in baptism—the flesh, the world, and the devil—cannot be defeated by willpower alone. It is a lifelong fight to pursue holiness in the midst of these enemies. Even though one desires and seeks the way of holiness, one inevitably falls because ‘the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ (Matthew 26.41b)
The flesh of one person may be weak, but the Body of Christ is strong because Christ is the Head of the Body. Therefore, confirmation is not about the strength of an emotional experience; it is about the strength of the Holy Spirit descending upon a Christian through the laying on of hands; of fighting the good fight of faith with the saints. As the Anglican preacher and poet John Donne famously said, ‘no man is an island.’ Confirmation means receiving a source of strength in the pursuit of holiness that transcends one’s willpower and weakness. In confirmation, one need not generatepower from one’s own feeble resources; one receivespower from the Holy Spirit, given through the Church in the bishop’s confirmation prayer:
Strengthen, O Lord, with your Holy Spirit, your servant (Name); empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life.
Remember, too, what Jesus promised about his church after Peter’s great confession of faith: ‘on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’ (Matthew 16.18) Confirmation, too, requires a public profession of faith like Peter. And through the bishop’s prayer and laying on of hands, the confirmed Christian receives strength beyond her power after her confession of Christ; power to fight within the church against which the gates of hell will not prevail. Perhaps it was reasons such as these that St Bonaventure described confirmation as ‘the sacrament of warriors.’
Serving in the Priesthood of All Believers
Within the bishop’s confirming prayer is the petition, ‘empower him/her for your service.’ In 1 Peter 2, we hear the Apostle Peter’s vision for the church in these words: ‘you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ (1 Peter 2.5) This vision of a kingdom of priests begins in Exodus, continues in epistles such as 1 Peter, and persists in the vision of St John in Revelation.
Baptism has been described as ‘the ordination of the laity.’ Whereas ordained priests are consecrated for sacramental ministry within the Church, all baptized Christians (the priesthood of the faithful) carry out their ordained ministry in the world as ‘priests of the natural order’.2 Confirmation, then, is the empowering of the laity’s ordination to boldly proclaim Christ through their witness: in families, in friendships, in one’s work.
Whether one serves as a teacher, banker, mechanic, baker, salesman, artist, nurse, scholar, or engineer, our presence and work ought to glorify God and add goodness in his world. Jesus said of his disciples, ‘you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5.13-14) Bishops, priests, and deacons are set apart for service in Christ’s Church and a principle role of ordained clergy is ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry’—to strengthen the laity for their ordained service in the world.
One’s vocation matters in the Kingdom, not simply for earning a wage, but for increasing the goodness of God in his world for all eternity. Confirmation provides a sacramental moment in which the ordination of the laity, given in baptism, is further strengthened for serving Christ in the world.
The Sacredness of Each Christian
Each life in Christ, each vocation is sacred. Christians are not confirmed with one group prayer; each person comes before the bishop to receive the laying one of hands. We belong together, we struggle for holiness together, yet our gifts, our trials, our vocations will be deeply personal. Each one is a ‘living stone’ being built up in Christ’s Church. This is why I believe confirmation matters for every Anglican.
The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles when they were gathered in one place, yet the Spirit appeared in individual tongues of fire over each person. Just as baptism by water and Holy Spirit is a personal sacrament, so also is the sacramental rite of confirmation—it is a deeply personal gift of God’s grace. It is deeply personal so that we may be fully human, fully mature in Christ in this life and in the life to come when we enter his everlasting kingdom.
- Jeremy Taylor, Jeremy Taylor: Selected Works, eds. Bernard McGinn and Thomas K. Carroll, The Classics of Western Spirituality. (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1990), 256. ↩︎
- Charles Miller, The Gift of the World: An Introduction to the Theology of Dumitru Staniloae. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000). ↩︎