Anglican Confirmation for Suspicious Evangelicals Pt2

In this two-part article, I am offering a case study in how the Confirmation process can be used to advance the efforts of traditional Anglicans in helping what I am calling “suspicious evangelicals” deeper into the Anglican Way. In the first part, I introduced “Rick” (a composite of many of our parishioners) as the kind of person our Confirmation process at Christ the King Anglican Church sought to move deeper into the (reformed) catholic tradition, and explained why we adopted a cohort model that fostered relationality and personal pastoral care, with its content directed first and foremost at helping Rick have the right framework for understanding why Confirmation is so important in our tradition. Having discussed matters of ecclesiology and apostolic succession in our first two sessions, we now pick up with our third session, which tackles on an oft-neglected theme of Scripture that is nevertheless important for truly understanding Confirmation in the Anglican tradition.

Session 3: A Theology of Blessing

In the previous session, we introduced the notion that bishops transmit apostolic grace through the sacramental laying on of hands at Confirmation. Rick, however, quickly objects: isn’t this “laying on of hands” business just some kind of unenlightened mumbo-jumbo? Before we address what is happening specifically in the sacrament of Confirmation in the next session, we thought it would be worth stepping back and considering more broadly a biblical theology of blessing.

We begin by briefly surveying some narratives surrounding blessings in biblical narratives. For instance, the case of Isaac blessing Jacob (Gen 27) shows the irrevocability of blessing passed down through a particular family line of succession through the laying on of hands and the use of spoken words. The account of Moses blessing Joshua (Deut 34) sees blessing being transmitted through a particular priestly line through the laying on of hands and the use of spoken words, leading to a filling with the spirit of wisdom and authority. And in the story of the apostles blessing the Samaritans (Acts 8), we observe that God continues to work with the same mode and blessing as in the Old Testament.

All of this is to say that throughout the Bible the mode of blessings commonly features two elements: the laying on of hands (either raised or placed upon the person or object being blessed), and the use of spoken words (either a prayer to God asking Him to do something or a proclamation based upon something that God has promised). There seem to be at least three kinds of effects to these blessings: they can be temporal (material prosperity), spiritual (filling with the Spirit), and consecrative (setting things or people apart for holy use). It is likely the case that undoubtedly justified concerns about the “prosperity gospel” have caused many churches to shy away from this topic of blessing, but the subject nevertheless plays an important role in the biblical account of God’s redemptive economy.

We are quick to clarify the point that while all people can bless, certain blessings (such as that given at Confirmation) are effectual for divine promises specifically given to the Church through God’s appointed ministers. Thus, Confirmation is not simply about “welcoming” people into a particular parish, but it is a specific kind of blessing that strengthens and equips a human soul for Kingdom service through the filling of the Holy Spirit. This blessing is therefore consecrative insofar as it is the “ordination of the laity,” setting them apart for Christian service. It is not, that is to say, merely symbolic. As in the traditional Anglican view of Baptism and the Eucharist, God actually effects something that blesses our souls.

By this point, we are hopeful that Rick and the cohort members are at least open to considering that if God worked through blessing in the Old Testament, and this pattern continues into the New Testament, God may continue working according to such patterns today, especially (as will be demonstrated in the next session) if there is clear historical evidence of this being the historic practice of the Church.

Session 4: A Theology of Confirmation

Having established the necessary foundational understandings, in our final session we at last turn to the subject of Confirmation proper. We begin by returning to the Offices of Instruction, which state that the Church provides, as a “special means” of helping us as members of Christ’s Church, Confirmation, “wherein, after renewing the promises and vows of my Baptism, and declaring my loyalty and devotion to Christ as my Master, I receive the strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit” (1928 BCP).

With this definition in mind, we survey the biblical foundations for Confirmation, having cohort members analyze Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:5-6, and Heb 6:1-2 in light of what we had learned regarding blessing and the laying on of hands. We next turn to a historical overview of the emergence of the rite of Confirmation, showing how Tertullian of Carthage (d. 220), Hippolytus of Rome (d. 236), and Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) give evidence of the imposition of hands by the bishop as part of the baptismal rite, as is the case in the Eastern Church today.[1] The laying on of hands for blessing, we discover, was consistently practiced by the early church. We then discuss how, by about 400, Confirmation began to be seen as a distinct sacrament; given the large number of baptisms in Christendom, bishops were increasingly not present at all baptisms, which were generally now taking place as soon as possible after birth rather than waiting for a group baptism (such as at the Easter Vigil, as had been traditional).

This brings us next to a discussion of how Confirmation was retained in Anglicanism at the time of the Reformation, not as a sacrament ordained by Christ but rather as a rite or sacrament of the Church. In particular, we point out that the English Reformers attached a catechetical purpose to Confirmation, thus ending the practice of confirming infants immediately after Baptism. A close look at the 1549 BCP baptismal rite shows that it included elements of the medieval Confirmation rite, but then the Prayer Book provided a separate rite for Confirmation (adapted from the writings of the Bohemian Reformation), which was not to be administered until the candidate could recite the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and also answer the catechism questions.[2] The 1549 BCP required Confirmation for admittance to Holy Communion, though the 1662 BCP would allow for those “ready and desirous to be confirmed” to commune.[3] Unfortunately, given the reality of large dioceses whose bishops were not always resident, Confirmation was largely ignored until the nineteenth century, when its importance was revived as it was conceived of as the second and completing half of initiation into Christ’s Church.[4]

With these biblical and historical surveys complete, we then walk through the Prayer Book’s liturgy for Confirmation, noting Acts 8:14-17 as the appointed lesson, the connection to Baptism through the renewal of baptismal promises, and the laying on of hands and spoken words from the bishop. We conclude with an overview of some other traditional elements at a Confirmation, including a “touch on the cheek” as a symbolic slap, chrismation of the forehead, and taking of a new Confirmation name. We also explain that Confirmation enables the individual to be a “confirmed member” of our parish, allowing him or her to vote in parish elections, serve as an officer of the Church, or participate in certain liturgical roles. Again, our desire is that everyone in the cohort will proceed with Confirmation, but we remind everyone that, as “baptized members,” they can still participate fully in the life of our church apart from these few areas canonically reserved for those who have been confirmed. Even if Rick chooses not to be confirmed in this year’s cohort, he will still have many opportunities to participate and even lead in certain aspects of the parish (for example, as a cell group leader or a liturgy guild team leader).

Conclusion

The ball is now in Rick’s court: he has been given, we believe, all the necessary information that will help him decide whether he will be confirmed. Hopefully our non-threatening approach and community-based cohort model have disarmed some of his fears and allowed this “suspicious evangelical” to discover a newfound openness–and perhaps, even, a yearning–to enter into the catholic tradition by the Anglican Way.

Rick decides to proceed with Confirmation, despite some lingering reservations. However, on the afternoon before his Confirmation, Rick was able to have a one-on-one meeting with his bishop (something our bishop does for all confirmands). This opportunity for personal pastoral care helped translate these lofty ideas about the episcopacy into a real relationship with the chief shepherd of our diocese, as his bishop. Rick’s journey into traditional Anglicanism still has a way to go, but the next day he enthusiastically kneels before the bishop to receive the laying on of hands and begin this new chapter of his life in Christ.

The work of adult catechesis–and especially the process surrounding Confirmation–is difficult work, but it is necessary if our parishes are going to be filled with more than evangelicals who like vestments and incense but remain at a distance from embracing many of the distinctive elements of an Anglican identity. More could certainly be said–for instance, good adult catechesis requires sound, spiritually formative pedagogy, and not just “getting through” the curriculum[5]–but this outline demonstrates how we have led dozens of adults to seek Confirmation in the last two years. May our parishes be filled with men and women who daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more, until they come unto God’s everlasting kingdom.

Notes

  1. See further Tertullian, Bapt. 7-8; Hippolytus, Trad. ap. 21-22; Cyprian, Ep. 71.9, 74.5.
  2. On the early Prayer Books and Confirmation, see David R. Holeton, “Initiation,” in Stephen Sykes, John Booty, and Jonathan Knights, eds., The Study of Anglicanism (rev. ed.; London: SPCK, 1998), 293-297.
  3. Holeton, “Initiation,” 298. Today, however, many Anglicans hold that only Baptism is required for admission to the Eucharist, apart from age or Confirmation status.
  4. Holeton, “Initiation,” 298-99, 305-306.
  5. See further Kyle R. Hughes, Teaching for Spiritual Formation: A Patristic Approach to Christian Education in a Convulsed Age (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2022), 92-114.

Rev Dr Kyle Hughes

The Rev. Dr. Kyle Hughes serves as an assisting deacon and director of catechesis at Christ the King Anglican Church (REC-ACNA) in Marietta, GA. An accomplished researcher and author in the fields of church history and Christian education, his most recent book is "Teaching for Spiritual Formation: A Patristic Approach to Christian Education in a Convulsed Age" (Cascade, 2022). He and his wife, Karisa, live in Powder Springs, GA with their three young children. Follow him at www.kylerhughes.com or on Twitter @KyleRHughes10.


'Anglican Confirmation for Suspicious Evangelicals Pt2' has 1 comment

  1. May 10, 2024 @ 10:18 pm Jacob Hanby

    Thank you for these articles, Fr. Hughes! Very helpful.

    Reply


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