What about Confirmation?
In the first part of this article we will be looking at the history and meaning of confirmation in the church today.

Although you won’t find confirmation mentioned in the Bible, it has been a church practice since the third century, and in a number of churches is a sign of adult membership and a means of entry into communion. Those who have been baptised as infants need an opportunity to publicly declaring their faith and reaffirm the vows made on their behalf at their baptism. Confirmation provides just this.

Within the Church of England, for example, confirmation usually involves a Bishop laying hands on the candidates. This goes back to the early church where the adult candidates were totally immersed in water and then anointed with oil and hands were laid on them by the bishop. This expressed their union with Christ and incorporation into the Christian community. As children began to be routinely baptised, things had to change. Consequently, the anointing and laying on of hands were separated off and reserved for the time when the youngsters were old enough to reiterate the promises and the expression of faith made on their behalf when they were baptised.

So what is the meaning of confirmation?
It is a profession of faith. The person who had been baptised in infancy needs a public opportunity of professing their personal faith in Jesus Christ. They confirm the vows and faith expressed for them by their parents and godparents. However, the laying on of hands by the Bishop confirms God’s commitment to strengthen and protect them in their Christian walk.

While baptism is into Christ, confirmation is about full communicant and voting membership of the particular denomination concerned. It is important to recognise that confirmation is not a ‘topping up’ of baptism, or the time when the candidate receives the Holy Spirit for the first time. Baptism alone is a mark of membership of Christ and his church through repentance, faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are therefore not talking about a two-stage initiation process. Confirmation simply gives the person an opportunity of acknowledging their membership of one part of the universal church.

Confirmation is a commissioning for service, not a passing-out parade, as it marks the beginning of a life of active service for Christ.

In the second part of this article on confirmation we look at some of the practical issues involved.

Confirmation begins with preparation, which usually takes the form of a course covering the basics of the Christian life. Those being confirmed need to have an understanding of what Christians believe and how to live the Christian life. Of course, such a course is not intended to be the sum total of their Christian education, for Christian disciples are intended to be life-long learners.

The Confirmation Service itself reflects the significance of confirmation, as the candidates make their own profession of faith and are commissioned for service. Each person repeats the vows made on their behalf at their baptism, in response to the questions: Have you been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Are you ready with your own mouth and from your own heart to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ? (Common Worship). By making the vows themselves they express their own personal commitment to follow Christ.

Then the bishop stretches out his hands and prays for those being confirmed using a prayer based on Isaiah 11:
Almighty and ever-living God,
you have given these your servants new birth
in baptism by water and the Spirit,
and have forgiven them all their sins. 
Let your Holy Spirit rest upon them:
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding;
the Spirit of counsel and inward strength;
the Spirit of knowledge and true godliness;
and let their delight be in the fear of the Lord. 

(Common Worship)

He prays that they will be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, for without him at work in our lives we are unable to live the Christian life.

At the heart of the confirmation service, the bishop lays his hands on those being confirmed with the words: ‘Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit. Amen.’ (Common Worship).  This is in line with what we find in the New Testament, where laying on of hands is used in a variety of ways e.g. healing (James 5.14); commissioning (Acts 13.3) and prayer for the Holy Spirit (Acts 8.17). There are elements of all these aspects in the service, as the bishop asks that God himself will confirm, not just the candidates’ own profession of faith, but also his promise of the Spirit for each person’s life.