The Rite of Confirmation
Confirmation is a custom of the Church that is preceded by a period of instruction designed to help baptized Christians identify with the life and mission of the Christian community. The rite of Confirmation during the Divine Service provides an opportunity for the individual Christian, relying on God’s promise of Holy Baptism, to make a personal public confession of the faith and a lifelong pledge of fidelity to Christ.
Matthew 28:18-20 commands that we go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching. Baptism gives the sinner a new relationship with the church. It makes one fully a member of the church. (1 Cor. 12:13) It gives the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5, Acts 2:38-39) The Scriptures make it incumbent upon the church (1 Cor 11:28) to exercise concern for its members, to help them grow through Word and Sacrament, to identify more deeply with the Christian community and participate fully in its mission. This involves the mandate, to teach.
The key to understanding Confirmation is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Baptism makes one fully a member of the Holy, Christian (catholic) and apostolic church. Everything that God has to give, He graciously bestows at Holy Baptism. God holds no good thing back from us, especially his graciousness.
Biblically, there is only one kind of membership in the church – a baptized membership. Our baptismal covenant is unilateral. It is totally God at work in us (Phil 2:13). We cannot even wiggle our little finger to come to God. “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16) and “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
Confirmation can only be understood in relation to a sound doctrine and practice of Holy Baptism. Confirmation is not our renewal of the baptismal vow. We cannot renew that which is totally an act of God. Baptism is the living and active dynamic in our lives. Our daily affirmation of it should lead us up to Calvary, nail us to the cross, make us die with Christ, put us under cover of the earth, and bring us forth again into newness of life as we recall that “all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death . . . and that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4).
Those who are baptized, including our confirmands, were made full and complete members of Christ’s church at their baptisms. There is no denominational loyalty alluded to in the rite of Holy Baptism although in the Rite of Holy Baptism the congregation assumes responsibility for the baptized.
Having been instructed in the Christian faith and understanding the covenant God made with him or her in Holy Baptism, the confirmand is asked, Do you desire to be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and of this congregation? The emphasis here is on desire to be, not desire to become. The question calls for a personal commitment of membership and identification with the local congregation and an intentional participation in its worship and ministry. It does not imply that one becomes a member of the Christian church by Baptism and a member of the congregation by confirmation.
The point of practicing one’s Christian life in the church is also of deep significance. One cannot go on being a disconnected Christian. Christianity is not a “solo trip.” Just as a part of the human body cannot live long severed from the rest of the body, one tends not to live long spiritually apart from the church because one is not in the presence of the channels by which God has said He gives His grace to us, through the Word and the Sacraments. Thanks be to God the Holy Spirit continually calls His own back, even when they have slipped.
Confirmation day is a day of joy, as confirmands confess their Christian faith before the congregation. It is a time of celebration as they affirm another step along the way of their Christian walk, nurtured by God’s holy Word and the sacraments.
Every day, as Luther said, the Old Adam is to be drowned again in the water of baptism and brought forth to newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) with the precious forgiveness of sins which our Lord bought for us by his suffering and death on the cross. Thank God, “His mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). God the Holy Spirit will confirm in us that growth in grace which we sinners are unable to effect, but which he has done for us through his blessed Son and bestowed on us in our Baptism.