Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Towards a New Theology of Confirmation

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Towards a New Theology of Confirmation

Article excerpt

Confirmation is more than a simple first reaffirmation of baptismal vows. In confirmation one assumes responsibility for carrying out what one committed oneself to do at baptism-serve God with one's whole heart, mind, and soul. Like the eucharist, confirmation is a distinctive rite of strengthening and nurture, to sustain us in the difficult task of leading the Christoform life to which our baptism has called us. The Spirit is invoked here, not so much to make us God's own as in baptism, but to empower us for living out our baptismal vows. United with Christ through the Spirit at baptism, we are turned from lives of sin back to the Father; empowered by the Spirit of Christ we go forth as Christ does to serve the Father's mission of love in the world.

Recent developments in the life of the church suggest a need to revisit the theology of confirmation. The canonical questions about whether or not confirmation should be a condition for certain ministries and elected positions in the church are one such development. The answer to such questions hinges, one might presume, on clarifying what confirmation is all about. Prompting further reflection too are recent developments that tend to downplay the importance of confirmation. Confirmation, for example, is no longer a prerequisite for taking communion. And baptism might very well seem to have been elevated in significance, following the 1979 Prayer Book revisions, at confirmation's expense. If baptism is full and complete initiation into the body of Christ, what is now the point of confirmation? Along with ECUSAs new baptismal ecclesiology comes the loss, one might argue, of confirmation's raison d'être. The new baptismal rites of the 1979 Prayer Book indeed incorporate so many of confirmation s traditional elements-a sealing with chrism, laying on of hands when a bishop is present, emphatic invocation of the Spirit, a baptismal covenant suggestive of a mature Christian commitment-that confirmation threatens to collapse into it. At most confirmation simply seems to look back to baptism in reaffirmation, the first among many other such occasions of reaffirmation of baptismal vows in the church's worship life. What more might conceivably be left to confirmation as its distinctive contribution? Why even retain the rite, if confirmation is nothing more than a formal first baptismal reaffirmation?

My task is to shore up the present rite of confirmation-and indeed help reinvigorate it-by sketching a theological rationale that avoids making confirmation a simple reaffirmation of baptismal vows. There is much more to confirmation than baptism. And this can be shown without in any way jeopardizing baptism's standing as full and complete initiation into the body of Christ, as that is so properly emphasized in the 1979 Prayer Book.

What is Confirmation's Distinctive Contribution?

One way to clarify its contribution is to talk about confirmation's relationship to baptism in terms of a shift from actuality to manifestation or epiphany. What is already made real for us at baptism-our becoming one with Christ (Christ's own) and therefore set upon a new way of living-begins to be manifested as our own activity for a whole new way of life at confirmation. Everything has already happened in baptism but has yet to be revealed in our lives, made our own, personally appropriated, turned into a happening that our own lives display, until the decisive shift in our lives that confirmation establishes and marks.

Such a shift from actuality to manifestation is a better way of making sense of the contribution confirmation makes to baptism than a shift from potentiality to actuality (which suggests baptism remains incomplete without confirmation). The shift is more like a shift from an objective happening that alters our whole situation (we are now Christ's own) to our subjective response to, our coming to grips with, that changed circumstance, in correspondence to it. …

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