Liturgical Papers

At Your Confirmation

Laying Hold Your Profession Of Faith!

 

Written by Revd Michael G Blades

 

In this paper I want to focus attention on Confirmation. Asking three basic questions: What Is Confirmation? Is Confirmation the Completion of our Baptism? Is it our Continuous Development in Discipleship? I hope what I set out here will be: A help to – The Baptised but Unconfirmed; and Encourage them to Respond to the Call to Confirmation! A Challenge to – The Confirmed to a Renewal of Confirmation Vows!

When the present Bishop of London - the Right Revd Richard Chartes; was Bishop of Stepney in the East End of London, he would at Confirmation Services always remind the ‘Confirmation Candidates’ that ‘Today our Lord Jesus Christ is making – A Personal Call to you to Commit yourselves to be His Disciples!’ On one such occasion, just seconds after saying those words, a Mobile Phone rang amidst the congregation; thus underlining  that – The Call of our Lord Jesus Christ is still ‘ringing’ and demands an Answer!

As Jesus put it so plainly to some Galilean Fishermen, ‘Come and follow me’ and St Mathew records that ‘Jesus said ‘And I will send you out to fish for people!’ So our Discipleship is about our part in the Evangelisation of others! As St Paul puts it succinctly in Romans 10:9 ‘If you confess that Jesus is Lord and belive that God raised him from death, you will be saved!’ It is about our ‘Laying hold of – A Profession of Saving Faith!’

 

  •       But Didn’t I Become A Christian Disciple At My Baptism!

Here the plain truth is that in – Infant Baptism we are – Received into Christ’s Church. St Paul uses the phrase ‘The Household of Faith’ (Galatians 6:10) and –The Sacrament of Infant Baptism, ‘Commits to Conversion’ in later life. I can best illustrate what ‘A Commitment To Christian Conversion’ means, by recalling a true story.

At the close of an afternoon, at a Sunday School in which I taught (when I was a 16 year old teenager), three rather shabbily dressed people with an Infant turned up at Church. The Infant’s Parents were not very bright and the third person was an Old Blind Man. They said they had ‘Come to have their baby Christened’ but they could not remember ‘the name of The Minister’.

A Phone call established that they had originally arranged to bring the Infant on the following Sunday. But the Minister realised that, as they had ‘turned up’ he had better Act Now!

So with The Sunday School Superintendent and his wife and myself, we represented The Christian Church at this Infant’s Baptism.

I can still remember a most Moving Scene of fifty-two years ago, of the Old Blind Man standing by the Baptismal Font. Almost like Old Simeon in the Jerusalem Temple (see Luke 2:21-38) praying out loud -That God would bless and bring the Infant to ‘Saving Faith’.

You see, he, was the Infant’s ‘Godfather’. He was also an old-time Methodist Preacher, from a ‘Durham Pit Village’; and it was he that had Encouraged the parents to ‘Bring the Infant for Baptism’. But for him, the Infant may have never been Baptised. It was he who had laid before them ‘The Meaning of Baptism’ – that it Commits To Conversion! I can only assume (as I did fifty-two years ago) that the old blind Preacher nurtured the Infant in the Christian Faith. That he was like Old Simeon (who ‘Blessed the Infant Jesus!’) to that Infant on that Sunday Afternoon in 1963. Now of course I can not tell whether the Infant who the Old Blind Preacher prayed for came to ‘Saving Faith’, or let alone was brought to The Bishop to be ‘Confirmed’, but let us assume that he was and ask:

  • What Takes Place-At Confirmation?

In Confirmation those who have been Baptised into The Church of Christ [The Household of Faith] are given the Solemn Opportunity to make ‘A Public Profession of Faith’.

A Personal Profession of Saving Faith. This is what St Paul means when he says: “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and belive that God raised him from death, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9.). Therefore making A Personal Profession of Faith is at The Centre of Confirmation!

 

When I was a Confirmation Candidate in the late 1950s. The Minister who prepared me ran A Pre-Preparation Class under the novel banner of – A Passport To The Kingdom of Heaven. One thing I remember him telling us young candidates was ‘Yon Can’t Get Into The Kingdom of Heaven On Another’s Passport!’ Now that was  to me a fascinating statement; because in the late 1950s I had never seen a British Passport, - let alone been on Holiday abroad and had my name Included on my Parents Passport! Surely this is what Matthew 18:3 [King James Version] means. When Jesus says ‘Except ye be converted... ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven!’

Yet I did think of myself as ‘Being –A Christian!’ for after all I had been ‘Baptised’. I also suspect that my peers in the Pr-Preparation Class thought the same way. I might have not been abroad on my Parents Passport, but I could claim a very Impressive ‘Family Tree’ of Christians.

Although very true, that did not make me A Christian Disciple. In just the same way as I might go to a Football match; but that wouldn’t make me into a Professional Football Player!

The fact is, as St Paul says: “For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved!” (Romans 10:10)

So where do we go from here? Well at a Confirmation Service the First Question the Bishop asks is: Do you here in the presence of God and this congregation acknowledge those things which your Godparents at your Baptism undertook to teach you? Remember the Old Blind Preacher’s Prayer: that the Infant would come to ‘Saving Faith’ in our Lord Jesus Christ. As a Godparent he was asked: Do you undertake to provide, as far as in you lies, that this Infant be taught to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour?

His Godchild, during Confirmation Preparation would also be asked: What do you mean by faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ? Their Answer: I mean believing and trusting in our Lord Jesus Christ, through whose blood we receive forgiveness of sins, and through whose righteousness we are put right before God.

Here the ABC Of Salvation lays everything plainly before us. We are to:

  • Admit that We are: A Sinner (Romans 3:23).
  • Believe that Jesus died to: Save Us (Romans 5;8).
  • Confess that Jesus is our: Lord ( Romans 10:9).

I could not put it more succinctly than the following words: At your Baptism you were received into God’s family, The Church. You have grown in the knowledge and love of our Lord. You have heard Christ saying to you, as he said to his first disciples, ‘Follow Me!’.

Against such a background of Christian Nurturing a Candidate, ‘Comes now to be Confirmed as a member of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, as God’s own people.

Just as I said, I have no certain knowledge that the ‘Young Infant’ that the old Blind Preacher prayed for came to either ‘Saving Faith’ or to be ‘Confirmed’, I allow that the ‘Promises’ of Godparents often remain ‘Unfulfilled’.

 

I acknowledge that many do ‘Come To Faith’ Independently of Christian Nurturing; and some ‘dramatically’. Therefore, the words of Archbishop James Usher in the 16th Century still hold true. “I only have the profit and benefit of these (Baptismal) Promises of Grace. When I come to understand what gift God in Baptism hath sealed unto me and actually lay hold on it by faith in Confirmation!”

 

  • Is Confirmation Completion Of Our Baptism?

No, rather is it - The Fulfilment of The Promises of God. Why is that so? Because, the Nature of Biblical Faith is that - God’s Claimed Promises which others first claimed for us, which we now dare to believe for ourselves, become a reality in our Personal Profession of Faith in our Confirmation. That is what our Godparents Claimed for us and in Confirmation is Actualised. That is what the Blind Preacher Claimed for his Infant God child. Because, as St Paul says in (Romans 5:8); ‘God has shown us how much he loves us-it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us’, whether we are the recipient of ‘Christian Nurturing’ or not. What of the Intervening Years between Baptism? Coming to ‘Saving Faith’? And Confirmation? In those years, God’s Prevenient Grace has been at work in our lives. Prevenient means –‘that which has gone before’, long before we were - Aware of God’s Grace:

 For you Jesus Christ came into the world

 For you he lived and showed God’s love;

 For you he suffered death on the Cross;

 For you he triumphed over death,

 Rising to newness of life;

 For you he prays at God’s right hand:

 All this for you

 Before you could know anything of it!

So if Confirmation is the Fulfilment of Baptismal Promises, then it follows, as the late Revd David Watson once said: “If the conditions are not fulfilled, the promises will not be fulfilled.” So real is the danger of un-fulfilment that: The Book of Common Prayer gives both – A Pointer and A Warning to those charged with Christian Nurturing of The Baptised:

You are to take care that this child be brought to the bishop to be confirmed by him. To profess his faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

By ‘Profession of Faith’, what is meant is what St Paul says it means (Romans 10:10) “For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved!”

 

  • Is Confirmation Our Continuous Development In Discipleship?

Answer, Yes. Because Confirmation does not Complete Baptism it is but the first step - ‘A Public Occasion’ in which we Lay Hold on those Baptismal Promises, that were made for us. As such we are – Declaring Three Things have taken place in our lives:

  • We have – Repented: Turned from Sin and to faith in Christ!
  • We have - Converted: An Ongoing Reshaping of our lives in Christ has begun!
  • We have made – A Decision for Christ to grow in Grace and journey toward Sanctification (Christ-Likeness)!

 

However we need to heed another pointer and warning from one of the great - Church Fathers: St Augustine of Hippo. ‘You can, of course, be Converted without knowing Baptism. Just as you can be Baptised and know nothing of Conversion.’

 

The same can be said of Confirmation, sadly many examples abound. My own mother’s sister was Confirmed. After her Confirmation she rarely went to Church, and therefore never received Holy Communion. It is questionable if Conversion had ever occurred in her life. Even though her Baptism Committed Her To Conversion! Conversely, my own mother was never Confirmed but fifty years ago. I saw my mother make a public decision for Christ!

Confirmation is our being Called to – Continuous Development In Discipleship, as it is defined in (1 Peter 3:18) “But continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord  and Saviour Jesus Christ!”

 

  • Confirmation - Our Lord’s Warning!

One salient piece of information I have left to the last. Confirmation is not a sacrament. It is Pastoral Rite In the Pre-Reformation Church it was so regarded as – A Sacrament. As the Reformers were careful to say – There are but Two Sacraments Ordained by Christ: Baptism and The Lords Supper [Holy Communion]. But that does not mean that there is little or no Biblical support for Confirmation. If we pose the question: Why Is It Important That We Lay Hold On Our Profession Of Faith? In all that I have set out on the subject of Confirmation: Profession of Saving Faith has been central. For our Lord’s words are on the subject. We need go no further than (Mathew 10:32-33) “If anyone declares publicly that he belongs to me, I will do the same for him before my Father in heaven. But if anyone rejects me publicly, I will reject him before my Father in heaven.” In preparation for this paper I discovered that (Matthew 10:32-33) ‘the very words of Jesus’, are crossed referenced with St Paul’s words: “If you confess that Jesus is Lord and belive that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved.”(Romans 10:9-10)

 

  • A Call To Confirmation!

To those already Confirmed - What did Confirmation mean to you? Is it time to – Renew your Profession of Saving Faith? If so, speak with your minister about – A Public Renewal. He will be delighted to talk it through with you.

For many of you reading this, you will have absolutely no recollection of your Baptism, except that is, if you were Baptised as an adult. If you have yet to ‘Make A Profession of Saving Faith’ maybe now is the time to Consider being Confirmed. Likewise your minister will be delighted to talk this through with you and place your name on a list for his next confirmation class. Just remember that Jesus’ Call is still the same today. He says “Come Follow Me”.

 

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