2

When I was a baby I was baptized in a Reformed church descended from the Dutch Reformed Church. I still have my certificate of baptism. Then I went to Sunday school with other kids in the neighborhood.

When I was in middle school, I went to catechizing class taught by the pastor along with the other Sunday school kids my age. After about a year, there was a public confirmation ceremony (part of a regular Sunday service) where I received another certificate. From then on, I became an official member of the church and I needed to go to the "adult" service.

I didn't know much about Reformed theology at the time. I didn't even know that my church's theology was "Reformed". I found out later that the pastor recommended Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology if I wanted to learn more, and that's how I knew that my church was Reformed.

In Catholicism, there is a sacrament of Confirmation, which is also given at about the same age (11-16) for candidates already baptized (at which they received the indwelling Holy Spirit). The sacrament's primary purpose is exactly what the priest said as he traces the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the candidate as he says "Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit." (source). Unfortunately I didn't remember what the pastor said during the ceremony when I was confirmed, nor do I remember what gestures he used.

My question: In comparison with the Catholic sacrament of confirmation, what is the purpose of confirmation according to Reformed theology?

Related questions that an answer may want to address as well:

  • Is it understood that there is a similar "sealing with the gift of the Holy Spirit"?
  • Is there a connection with the forvigeness of Original Sin which in the Catholic understanding was given in infant baptism so babies can go to heaven, but in Reformed theology this "not going to heaven if you are not baptized" is no longer applicable because of predestination?
  • What is the Biblical basis for this practice in Reformed churches?
  • What did Calvin say about it?
  • Since when it was practiced?
  • Which Reformed denominations do public confirmation today?
5
  • The cynic in me would say that its only purpose is to be a substitute for the role baptism is meant to have ;) I never heard a good explanation in my old Anglican church, and my current church doesn't do confirmation.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 23:54
  • The process would better be called 'catechizing' in my own personal view.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 7:18
  • @curiousdannii maybe it's for pedobaptist Reformed church to affirm the faith status of everyone since birth, to give a place for parents's faith to be given role as Holy Spirit's agent (because faith upbringing is something of great value that should be affirmed, cf Deut 11:19, as a gift of grace to the infant). Thus infant baptism is more for parental expression of promise while confirmation is for the kid's conscious expression of faith. The problem is the practice of baptism + confirmation duo can be ritualized as age based "to do items" due to peer pressure. Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 11:16
  • 1
    @NigelJ Thanks! That's the right terminology. Updated my question. Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 15:42
  • @GratefulDisciple Brought up Presbyterian, I was baptised (late, for some reason) at the age of five and then, effectively, catechized at school (in the Highlands of Scotland in the fifties) at the age of seven, via the Shorter Catechism. I vividly remember both events and they form part of my childhood spiritual experiences.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 9:23

2 Answers 2

3
+100

In Reformed churches, children of believers are baptized at infancy and are considered members of the covenant community of God, even before they profess faith. However, they can't participate in communion yet because of Paul's warning that anyone who comes to the Lord's Table without "discerning the Lord’s body" (i.e. understanding what is happening in the Sacrament by faith) "drinks judgment to himself" (1 Corinthians 11:29, NKJV.) Hence, confirmation is what it sounds like: "confirmation" that an individual who was already a part of the visible church community really possesses living, saving faith in Christ (as far as we can discern, anyway) and is now ready to participate in Holy Communion.

Confirmation necessarily involves a profession of faith, and is is similar to what a new member is expected to do in credobaptist denominations when joining the church, except that it centers around communion rather than baptism. Since knowledge and assent to the truths of Scripture are essential elements of saving faith, infants and children are also barred from the Table until they have been fully catechized. Ideally, that process involves thorough instruction in the fundamentals of the faith and basic interpretation of Scripture.

By contrast, credobaptist denominations typically only admit baptized, professing believers into membership, essentially "confirming" them at the same time as they are baptized (as adults.) Hence, the rite of confirmation is not typically practiced in Baptist churches.

For Reformed Christians, not only is participation in the Sacrament the birthright of the believer, but it is also a vital means of grace by which Christ Himself strengthens and assures those who trust in Him that they, personally, share in the salvation promises of God. Understandably, being cleared to participate in the Sacrament is a big event for anyone who is trusting in Christ by faith.

As for your question about how confirmation in Reformed churches differs from what is practiced in Roman Catholicism: both essentially serve the same purpose, but Roman Catholics consider confirmation to be a full Sacrament by which children are initiated into the Church. The sacramental nature of confirmation was rejected early on by Protestants, but the practice continued due to the important role it plays in fencing the Table.

Further reading: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church | Q&A: The OPC's view of communion

3
  • 1
    Welcome to C.SE. Great answer (including the comparison with Catholicism and external references) and rings true to my experience. Now I remember that starting with confirmation I could participate in communion. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 17:49
  • Bounty is given to you for exemplary first answer and a welcome gift to you. Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 16:49
  • @GratefulDisciple Thank you, and God bless!
    – andrewtc
    Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 16:52
1

In the Lutheran tradition the rite of Confirmation is viewed, among other things, as a type of preparation for entering into adolescence. In the more traditional branches of Lutheranism there is strong emphasis on teaching the basics of the Christian faith, along with an emphasis on learning the basics of apologetics.

At the rite of Confirmation there is a laying on of hands by the Pastor for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, along with Spirit prompted selections of Bible passages given to each confirmand. In rare occasions the gift of tongues has occurred among confirmands in conjunction with praying for the Holy Spirit in this rite. However, most of the time general spiritual gifts are stirred up that prepare adolescents to better fight the good fight of faith.

Confirmation was seen in the first few centuries as a type of prayer dedication & rite of “Preparation for living the Christ like life in a hostile world.” In the 13th century there was even a tradition of a “light blow” delivered by the bishop in imitation of a blow by a sword - in which a young Teutonic warrior would be dubbed a knight.

The rite of Confirmation is also rooted in Jewish tradition. The Talmud gives 13 as the age at which a boy's vows are legally binding, and states that this is a result of his being a "man," as required in Numbers 6:2. The Jewish tradition has a rite of passage called a Bar and Bat Mitzvah. "Bar Mitzvah" literally means "son of the commandment." "Bar" is "son" in Aramaic, which used to be the vernacular of the Jewish people. "Mitzvah" is "commandment" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. "Bat" is daughter in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Extra Notes:

John Calvin in his Latin edition (1559) of his "Institutes of the Christian Religion" argues that the laying on of hands in the rite of Confirmation has no command of God. Therefore its practice is "sacrilegious audacity." What the apostles did at Samaria (Acts 8:15-17) was to lay on their hands and actually "dispense" the "visible gifts of the Spirit." But these "miraculous powers and manifest operations, which were distributed by the laying on of hands, have ceased." The bishops cannot imitate what the apostles effected through the laying on of hands.

So, according to Calvin, it is "nefarious" to claim that baptism cannot be "duly completed without confirmation." Episcopal confirmation "is a noted insult to baptism, the use of which it obscures - nay, abolishes."

Confirmation, as Calvin viewed it, is best practiced "without injury to baptism" as catechetical in nature. After instruction "a boy of ten years of age would present himself to the Church, to make profession of faith, would be questioned...If he was ignorant of any point, or did not well understand it, he would be taught. Thus the whole Church looked on and witnessed, he would profess the one true sincere faith with which the body of the faithful with one accord worship one God."

For an excellent survey of the various views on a theology of Confirmation see the Lutheran theologian Theodore Jungkuntz's book, "Confirmation and the Charismata."

4
  • I appreciate the Jewish parallel and the Lutheran answer. If you could give the Reformed answer, that would be great! Commented Mar 28, 2022 at 17:06
  • GD, sometimes reformation theology is called “reformed” theology. So, Lutherans would be included. But strictly speaking Calvinism is what you are thinking about. So, in that sense I get where you are coming from. And you are probably also thinking of a subsection that practices infant baptism.
    – Jess
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 14:57
  • 1
    I mentioned the ancestor church I grew up in (Dutch Reformed Church) to help the answer writer locates the precise theological tradition I was asking about, which as you say, is now a subsection of a large variety of options within the Calvinist tradition. In a sense, I should pay attention to your answer since 500 years ago Calvinist would have been closer to Lutheran. Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 18:54
  • 1
    Thank you for the additional detail that points to the more underlying reason of Calvin's understanding of confirmation as well as comparison with other traditions. andrewtc's answer is more derivative and still correctly explain the current practice and the additional aspect of confirmation as "fencing the table". That's why I choose to accept this answer. Commented Apr 16, 2022 at 16:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .