The rite of Confirmation has evolved over the centuries. Today in our Anglican Church, it is a special church service in which a person confirms the promises that were made when they were baptized. If you were baptized as a child, your parents and godparents made these promises on your behalf. As a young person or adult, you may be ready to affirm these promises for yourself and commit your life to following Jesus Christ. At a confirmation service, you make these promises for yourself. Your friends and family as well as the local Christian community will be there to promise to support and pray for you.
In Acts 8:14-16, we read: Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
This passage has guided this rite in the Church in this way: 1. It is important that the believer is prayed for to receive the Holy Spirit through the laying of hands. Today, as many of our parishes are open to the work of the Spirit, most have already been prayed for. Still it is significant to ask the Spirit to fill us again and this is what our Bishop will be asking for over you.
2. It was important for the believers at Samaria to be connected and received by the Apostles from Jerusalem. Being “only local” is not enough. This has evolved into an understanding down through the centuries of the importance of the wider Church in receiving a believer.
Today, our bishop represents this wider Church. The significance of this has somewhat been diluted with the advent of so many churches, many who are independent and local. The Confirmation Service help to restore this awareness and give an opportunity for an experience of a deep and lasting (even lifelong) spiritual commitment to the Church. This involve promises of commitment to serve and give, and in return, the Church is to provide lifelong care for each member. This also involve a mutual member to member commitment. While some may argue that these commitments can be had without a ceremony or rite, the same arguments also flow from our understanding of the place of a wedding in a marriage.
In a society like ours which is run by the rule of law, the Church is also legal entity. This is not an option for us as this is how our society is ordered. Who then are her members? By our constitution, it will be those who are confirmed. Membership will come with some legal benefits and responsibilities. As for the latter, this will include having a legal right to vote in PCC members and decide on important parish-wide decisions on how finances are managed. These legal processes also protects the Church (and especially her Vicar!) from running foul of the law.
Even if you think the that this rite is not necessary since it merely underlines what is already present (this response is true for those who have been Christians for many years), note that this legal aspect is to this rite. If we love the church (local and wider), it will help the Church greatly if regular worshippers also commit themselves as spiritual and legal members.
Perhaps my final thought on this is important. We live in a society which embodies the spirit of the age which is slowly removing many long-held traditions as one seek to be “democratic”. The truth is, this is just modern individualism taken to the extreme. The original idea of democracy is to allow all to have a voice, including those who have passed away. We do well to avoid dismissing traditions which have been painstakingly preserved by our forebears.
I am open to further conversations on this important matter.