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Ministry Monday: Why I got confirmed

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Posted by Julie Woolford, 4 Apr 2016

Why would someone who was baptised as an adult get confirmed?

Julie was baptised as an adult. Until recently, she assumed that that meant that Confirmation was completely irrelevant to her. But six months ago, Julie was confirmed by Bishop Wallace Benn at St John’s Wimborne. At the service, each candidate was asked to provide a short testimony: here is a transcript of hers in which she signals why she was being presented for Confirmation. Below that is a summary of what Wallace taught (at JAEC 2015) that helped Julie change her mind.

Julie’s testimony on the occasion of her confirmation

My name is Julie. From a young age, my parents were diligent to teach and model the whole counsel of God to me, so there was never a day that I did not know God’s love in sending Jesus to die for me. By God’s grace, I professed this faith from a young age.

As a well-behaved child, I was used to being called a ‘good girl.’ But as God’s Spirit worked in my heart over the years, I’ve become increasingly conscious of my sin. For instance, in recent times my role as mother to two small girls has particularly exposed my laziness and temper. And I struggle with the temptation to idolise my children by believing the lie that my fulfilment will come from their achievements rather than from knowing Christ.

As I see the depth of my sinful state ever more clearly, I am increasingly grateful for all that Christ has done for me. In fact, the battle against sin contributes to my assurance, as I painfully but joyfully know God’s Spirit working to refine me – a work that will not be finished in this life.

So I continue each day as I started – with daily repentance and belief. Due to the tradition of the church in which I was brought up, I wasn’t baptised until I was 18. But during my university years I attended a faithful, Bible-teaching Anglican church and have since married Tom, who is training to be a Church of England vicar. Over the last ten years I have grown in my love for Reformed Anglican theology and practice, and it was at a recent conference where Bishop Wallace spoke clearly and usefully on the Reformers’ thinking about confirmation that I decided to take this step.

So I am here this evening to be confirmed – not because it will impress God, nor because it has any implication for my salvation – but first, in order to profess publically my commitment to the Anglican Church and her people; second, to submit formally to the godly discipline of her leaders; and third, to receive from God – through your prayers – the strengthening work of His Spirit to help me better love, serve, and grow alongside His people in this denomination.

Wallace Benn’s workshop on Confirmation at JAEC 2015

Wallace briefly sketched the patristic history of the emergence of the rite of confirmation before focussing on Cranmer’s reformulation of the rite in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer.

Like the continental Reformed, Cranmer sought to revive and reform the practice of catechesis (Calvin in comments on Hebrews 6:2 even thought something like the rite of confirmation was apostolic). Confirmation, then, was not a sacrament, but the end of the catechetical process – signifying the coming of age in the life of faith (which is why the Order for Confirmation appears in the prayer book immediately after the catechism). This means that the process of confirmation provides ministers with an opportunity to check that what was presumed or prayed for in an infant’s baptism has indeed come to fruition – and to act appropriately if not (yet).

Confirmation did not bring about a fundamental spiritual change: hence the plea in earlier liturgies to “Send down” the Holy Spirit upon the candidate was replaced in 1552 by asking God instead to “Strengthen” someone presumed to be already indwelt by the Spirit. 

Confirmation was the opportunity for the wider Church – represented by the Bishop – to pray that named, professing Christians would by the agency of the Spirit increase in grace, power to preach to others, spiritual maturity, and strength for the spiritual battle. Today, confirmation serves another purpose as a great spiritual and ecclesial leveller for Christians from a variety of backgrounds – both those who were baptised as infants and brought up by Christian parents, and those converted from outright unbelief and who were baptised as adults, together come under the same discipline and charge of the Church.

Julie Woolford is a member of Church Society.

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