What is the rite of Confirmation in the Anglican Communion?

I have put this together for my parishoners today – thought I’d post it here. Unedited. 🙂

What is the rite of Confirmation?

Confirmation is the last step of Christian initiation into the Holy Catholic Church.(1) Hippolytus (d. AD 235) explains that, in apostolic times, confirmation was immediately administered after baptism, along with anointing with oil (the chrism). See Hebrews 6:2: “laying on of hands.” Confirmation was understood to be the same kind of thing that we find in The Acts of the Apostles, when the apostles would lay hands on believers in order to receive the Holy Spirit. So far so good. We know that, theologically, a person is assumed to be regenerate by the Holy Spirit with baptism (and, of course, thus indwelt), but we do see occasional instances in Acts when there is a differentiation between the regeneration signed and sealed by baptism and the “giving” of the Holy Spirit, with the laying on of the hands of the apostles. It doesn’t always happen like that, but there is a pattern evident. Because of this pattern, the Church practiced confirmation along with baptism. They were two parts of the same rite.

Problems arise when a period of time is allowed to separate baptism and confirmation. In what sense is the Spirit given or not given in this initiatory process?

A separation of baptism and confirmation occurred in the Western Church when it was required that only a bishop could administer confirmation. Since bishops would be limited in their ability to get about, a separation would naturally take place. It was understood that all a person really needed in order to be a Christian was to be baptized. That was the only necessary condition laid down by our Lord (Matthew 28:19). Confirmation, then, had to be something extra to regeneration, and was understood as such. Any subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit to a believer must be for the purpose of strengthening the new life via regeneration for discipleship and service.

There is another issue here: full communing membership. In the Western Church, Paul’s warning in I Corinthians 11:27-32 is taken to mean that a person should not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper unless they are of an age of understanding and responsibility. In apostolic times, first communion was taken immediately after confirmation. Logically, if confirmation then is prerequisite and even the occasion of first communion in the historic church, then it makes sense that confirmation should not be given a person until they are old enough to take communion. As the historic church increasingly changed from members coming primarily from adult conversions to members being born into the church, confirmation would be separated from baptism: there were so many infants that were being baptized, and they were too young to finish full initiation. Of course, there would be no separation for an adult convert.

There is also a strong tradition in the Church of preparation for initiation, and thus we have in our Prayer Book the requirement of catechesis before confirmation – which thus also assumes confirmation being later in a person’s life, if baptized as an infant. They have to be old enough to be catechized.

We actually have two “tracks” here, have we not? Those born into the covenant family are baptized as infants as per the Abrahamic covenant. If born in the Western Church, that person then has to grow up until they are able to be catechized, confirmed, and take first communion. For adult converts, or adults who are coming into a Church that requires confirmation for communion, there is no reason for delaying anything.

In the current ACNA Bishop’s Visitation Customary, confirmation is first considered the equivalent of a public profession of faith, required for membership. This seems to be a reference to the practice at confirmation of affirming one’s baptismal vows. Next is a statement of the traditional idea that there is more going on than mere profession of faith. There is also a strengthening of the Holy Spirit for life and service. The statement also recognizes that the subject of confirmation would already be a born again and baptized believer. These statements together summarize the culmination of the understanding of confirmation through history, from a Western and Protestant view.

If you will read through the Book of Common Prayer (1662 or 1928), from “Baptism” through “Confirmation,” you see the whole tradition on display, with the Reformation strengthening the practice of catechizing.

(1) Anglican’s do not consider confirmation to be admission just into the Anglican Communion, but to the Catholic Church as a whole. That is why Anglican’s can accept confirmations from other communions for reception of members.

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