Confirmation – An Affirmation of Baptism

By Rob Durocher, Minister of Worship and the Arts

This Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 at our 11 am online worship, we will celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism for four of our 2020 Confirmation Class. Confirmation is an important time in the life of a young person, as they claim for themselves the promises made at their baptisms. Not only is this a very important milestone but very big step in their faith journey.

Historically, Confirmation has roots at the very beginning of the Christian church. Centuries ago confirmation, along with baptism and Holy Communion would take place in a single celebration on the Vigil of Easter, which was the evening before Easter Sunday. Prior to that time, those who desired to join with members of the Christian community would participate in a process called the Catechumenate (a convert to Christianity receiving training in doctrine and discipline before baptism and receiving instruction in the basic doctrines of Christianity before admission to communicant membership in a church). This could take up to three years because it was a time of intense meditation, study and preparation, which often took place in secret because Christianity was still illegal in the Roman Empire. At that time Christians feared being persecuted by the authorities and catechumenates were guided through their process by a sponsor who would present the new Christian to the community and to the local bishop for baptism. (The three- year process was to make sure that each person had rid themselves of their paganistic ways and beliefs).

Catechumenates who were converting and being presented for baptism and confirmation were usually led through the waters of a stream or pool outside of the ‘church’ where they were baptized by priests and deacons. It was also during their baptism that they received the initial anointing. The second anointing was done by the bishop (who had remained with the gathered assembly) who “confirmed” their baptism and affirmed and accepted the conversion of the individual. After the confirmation, the assembly gathered to celebrate the sacrament of holy communion which would have been the very first reception of Holy Communion for those newly baptized and confirmed. The anointing would mean that ‘we have been called and strengthened for an important task. The anointed would go forth in life as a Christian, a disciple of Jesus and a person of the Holy Spirit with confidence and strength. This would then follow with the ‘laying on of hands’ where the power of the Holy Spirit is called down upon the confirmand. (A confirmand is a person who is to undergo the religious rite of confirmation)

Through the centuries, the period of separation between Baptism and Confirmation grew longer but the church still celebrated the rites of Christian initiation in the original order of Baptism, Holy Communion (at the age of discretion) and Confirmation.

For many years following it was the duty and right of the local bishop alone to confirm since it was the bishop who ordained priests. Perhaps, the feeling at that time was that Confirmation was in some way the ordination of the laity and a celebration of the priesthood of God’s people and the universal priesthood of the faithful. (From: Ratramnus of Corbie, a ninth century French monk). Lutherans do not believe that only a bishop can confirm.

Today in the Roman Catholic Church, Confirmation remains a sacrament (one of seven), whereas for the Protestant church Confirmation or the Affirmation of Baptism is not regarded as a sacrament, but it is a vital traditional rite with the purpose for each confirmand “to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate more fully in its mission.”

Scripturally, a sense of Confirmation and the laying on of hands is found in the Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17: where we read:

“Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

By the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote his Small Catechism (in 1529) as an aid to teach the Ten commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the Office of the Keys and Confession and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism for the training of small children and the broadening of their understanding of faith. Even today, Luther’s Small Catechism serves as a basic book of instruction for the Lutheran Church. Interestingly, Martin Luther did not always have kind words to say about confirmation as a rite, but he was remembering the days when he was a Roman Catholic monk when the Roman Church taught that Confirmation was a sacrament that spoke to good works and not grace alone that brought us salvation. It is said that he called this brand of confirmation ‘a bit of monkey business’! (from the German, affenspiel)When Luther called confirmation ‘monkey business’ he was not referring to confirmation instruction, but to the Rite of Confirmation that had become an empty ritual over the centuries.  Luther wanted to emphasize the instruction, learning and faith formation rather than the ‘rite’. A few generations after Luther’s death, pastors, theologians and other Lutheran reformers restored the use of the ritual, and it is for that ‘ritual’ that we celebrate the Affirmation of Baptism together!

Today, we refer to ‘confirmation’ as the Affirmation of Baptism which is a much better description for what is actually happening! It’s an opportunity for each confirmand to affirm for themselves the promises that their parents, sponsors and congregation made for them at the time of their baptism which was:

“… to live with them among God’s faithful people, bring them to the word of God and the holy supper, teach them the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments, place in their hands the holy Scriptures, and nurture them in faith and prayer, so that your children may learn to trust God, proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.”

At the Affirmation of Baptism, our confirmands declare for themselves that they will live out the promises made for them by their parents and sponsors in their baptism (for those who were baptized as  infants). ‘The years that they spent in confirmation classes are intended to continue, more intentionally, the exploration of faith, faith and life, and faith and the church so that students can make that affirmation of baptism statement of faith in the hope and trust that God will continue to lead and guide them in all the aspects of their lives now and in the future.’ The Affirmation of Baptism should not be thought of as a journey’s end or ‘finish line’ in a rite of passage, but rather it is a ‘starting gate’ for our confirmands.

In preparing for their Affirmation of Baptism, our confirmands will have learned key components of the Christian faith including, Bible study, the Creeds, Luther’s Small Catechism, some Lutheran history, and God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, in our service of the Affirmation of Baptism, each confirmand will share a little bit of their faith journey with us before they are confirmed by the ‘laying on of hands’ by our pastors. This should inspire great hope and trust in our young people who are very much like the rest of the church where faith and ministry occur in everyday living. It also reminds us that their faith formation happens not only within the congregation, but the application of their formation continues with them on the athletic field, the classroom with their friends and family, and throughout their life’s journey!  (And as an added bonus following their Affirmation of Baptism each confirmand becomes a member of the confirming church having now joined through their confirmation a Lutheran congregation!)

In closing I’d like for you to join me in this prayer for our Confirmation Class of 2020:

Almighty God,

We give thanks for Millie, Lucy, Makeema and Kari and for their faithful journey in preparing for their Affirmation of Baptism. Fill them with the joy of your presence. Increase in them the fruit of your Spirit. Help them to experience and trust your dwelling within, so that they may count on your guidance today and every day. Show us the way to help one another become better disciples of Jesus Christ, sharing your love with our world and with each person we encounter. Amen.

(From A Prayer for A Confirmand)

 

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