Saturday, March 5, 2011


One of the great mysteries to me as an adult convert to Christianity within a baptistic community has been the idea of confirmation. I never really understood it and nobody seemed ready to try to explain it to me. I recall once, when serving as an elder in the church we used to attend, we had a membership interview with a family. Since the church took a baptistic view of things, the assumption of the leadership was that baptism would not be applied to infants, and if it was, it would be typical to rebaptize someone upon an adult profession of faith. This family we were interviewing consisted of a husband and wife of middle age, both adult converts who had been baptized as adults, their two children who were pre-teens and had not been baptized, and the husband's mother who had come to live with them in her old age. It was the mother who presented the difficulty to the church board. She was quite interested in joining the church, as she wanted to be under the nurture, guidance, and discipline of the elders. She had been baptized as an infant and had been confirmed. She stressed the fact of her confirmation as her assertion of her Christian faith. At the time, I was coming to a conclusion of the regenerative efficacy of baptism and was starting to put the puzzle pieces together. My opinion was that her baptism was absolutely valid and that her many years of Christian testimony confirmed her vital faith in Christ. The other elders were more hesitant. After a few probing questions about her faith, one of the elders asked her if she had thought about being baptized as an adult. Her response was that she didn't consider it because she had been confirmed. After a little discussion just among the elders, the family was welcoxmed into the membership of the local church. I could, however, sense some ongoing, nagging doubt, especially in two members of the elder board.

About the same time, I had been studying baptism more closely in part because my younger daughter was professing her faith in Christ and desiring baptism. The more I studied, the more convinced I became of an infant baptism position. Meanwhile, the other elders seemed to be wanting to m/ake more clear definitions of what kind of Christian testimony would allow for a believer to be baptized. We kicked the idea around for many hours, looking at Scripture seriously and prayerfully. At long last, my daughter gave what was apparently sufficient evidence of regeneration to persuade the other elders to baptize her.

This puzzle of baptism and confirmation started coming together for me more clearly in the last few months. After working with this daughter for a couple of years after her baptism, which she and many in the church saw as her public profession of faith and pledge that she would live a life for Christ, then after having the daughter spend a year in a catechism class in an LCMS church followed by the better part of a year working with me on catechesis as I've been serving as a vacancy pastor, it's come time to go ahead and have the confirmation. As I was reading over the liturgy for the confirmation I was struck by how similar the rite of confirmation is to what we did in adult baptisms. Here's what I see.

First, we remind ourselves about Jesus' commands to baptize and his promise of his presence from Matthew 28. We have the confirmand acknowledge the gift of salvation, renounce the devil, and publicly confess the Christian faith in the words of the Apostles' Creed. The confirmand then expresses an intention to remain in the faith, a desire to be involved in the local church, and to remain true to Christ even to death. The pastor then prays for the catechumen. 

This seems like a pretty firm confirmation of the faith. In fact, I can't think of many of my baptistic brothers who call for such a firm pledge of faithfulness to Christ in front of the whole congregation. 

Somehow, though, my daughter still didn't seem to get something about the importance of the confirmation service. She viewed it as something worthy, but recognized it is in no way regenerative. It isn't commanded in Scripture and is not treated as a means of grace. She was puzzled by the fact that so many people around the church seemed to be so very excited for her. I explained this morning that it is what Lutherans see as their public profession of faith and their pledge to live a life for Christ. Her response? "I did that way back when I was baptized." There! The puzzle fits together. Yes! It seems that she encapsulated a baptistic view of baptism and its importance. She knew that she was making a pledge that she had been regenerated, that God's grace was working in her. It seemed irrelevant to her to do so again. So I explained that I was very pleased that she was confirming her faith in her baptism, but that the people in the local congregation wouldn't understand that, as their default is to assume that baptism is applied as a regenerative means of grace, working faith through God's word and promise, as a concrete application of the Gospel. The others in the congregation look to a later expression of the Christian faith, and do not seem ready to affirm it until the person is about my daughter's age and has been through some course material which they assume would not have happened previously.

Maybe this is a bit of what Jesus was talking about when he was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness." Maybe not. But we're hoping the confirmation will go through just fine tomorrow, with no illness striking suddenly in the morning. May the Lord use it to encourage others who are present in their renunciation of the Devil, their desire to live a life dedicated to Christ, and their ongoing ministry of encouraging one another in the faith.

Dave Spotts
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