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baptism confirmation ordination

Maybe we have our weighting wrong.

Last weekend I was at an ordination. In our grand, full cathedral, with one of the world’s excellent choirs, with grand processions of robed clergy, coped archdeacons, billowing incense, and five splendidly attired bishops, with prostrations and much ceremony, the two hour service ordained four priests. The bishop, visiting from half a planet away, preached a sermon on the vocation to the ordained priesthood. Each new priest receives a sizeable certificate with the bishop’s personal signature and seal. It will probably be hung prominently in their study. After years of study, preparation, and prayer this is one of the most important days in their life …

Previously they would have been confirmed. Probably in their parish church – varying in quality. There might have been a choir doing its best. The church may even have been pretty full. Probably no incense. The bishop may have vested in cope and mitre or merely rochet and chimere. The service might have taken an hour or so. The sermon probably addressed the whole congregation. Kneeling rather than prostration. Each newly confirmed might have received a certificate no larger than an A5. Certainly no episcopal seal. If they were devout then, they may still have it. After weeks of preparation this was a special day…

Previously they were baptised. Sometimes baptised “in order to be confirmed” (some I know are confirmed “in order to be ordained”). Probably in the back of a church – sometimes the parish church, sometimes not. Maybe on a Sunday – that’s the norm now, but in their age-group it could just as easily have been with only the family on a Saturday afternoon. And it might have taken less than a quarter of an hour. The priest probably wore an alb and stole. There may have been no sermon. I hope they were given a certificate. I hope they still have it. After maybe a meeting to discuss this, this was a special moment…

In the Bible and in the early church, everything was the other way around. Baptism marked the great occasion. In the early church the lengthy baptism liturgy was celebrated throughout the Easter night with much drama after lengthy, intense preparation. Confirmation was integral to baptism, and ordination was the early-church equivalent of a little addition to a regular service.

Do you prominently display your baptism certificate?
Do you, year by year, celebrate the anniversary of your baptism (do you even know the date?!) and those in your household?

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19 thoughts on “baptism confirmation ordination”

  1. You mentioned that in the Bible and in the early church, Baptism was a great occasion, lengthy with much drama. One of the arguments Protestants use is that in the early church, worship was simple and not hierarchical at all. What evidence do you have or books can you refer to that illustrate this kind of worship in the years 75AD to 150. Those seem to be the years many of us question.
    The question of authority and priest/bishop etc.. succession seems to rest on this issue for many.

    Thank you.

  2. While I was in seminary I discovered that my mother could not come up with either a baptismal certificate or remember exactly where and when I was baptized. My father was in the army and we moved a lot and they had seven children. I did, however, have my confirmation record, so we assumed I was baptized, however by that time we had settled into mother’s home town. The priest in my parish in San Francisco conditionally baptized me on a Sunday morning along with a infant. The choir, in which I sang, was very surprised when I stepped forward a few feet to the font for the rite, after all I was in seminary. It was very tempting to pretend I had never been baptized, but I really couldn’t do so. So I was received into the Episcopal Church on September 29, 1960 and baptized some 37 years later. Yes, my ordination was in a beautiful cathedral and I have a fancy certificate, but my “conditional” baptism was very special, not because I don’t believe I was already baptized, but because I made a new profession of my faith before my faith community.

  3. I can say Yes to some of that. I have my Baptism Certificate (Methodist in those days)in my folder of certificates and CVs etc. It came along with a poem by J.M.Blake as a gift from the minister. I hadn’t thought of celebrating the anniversary each year. Worth doing…..

    At first we held her to be all our own
    Until, across the font, in Holy Sacrament,
    We saw her as God’s loan:
    No casual gift, but lent
    Into our human care.

    And then besprinkled in the Triune Name
    Over the passing names she was to bear
    We took our vows to share her laud and blame
    With her First Father, in the mystic tie
    Which binds the earthly to the Eternal Family.

  4. You definitely have it correct! Baptism is the primary sacrament and the one which should hold the greatest significance. It is the primary “ordination” into ministry in the Church, too! People forget that in their baptism they were commissioned as ministers in Christ’s church. I frequently refer people to the section in the Catechism at the back of the American Book of Common prayer:

    Q Who are the ministers of the Church?

    A The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

    Q What is the ministry of the laity?

    A The ministry of lay persons is the represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

    Ordination is to “order” the ministry, place people in particular positions. But that first ordination took place at baptism, and should be viewed with as great a reverence and solemnity as ordination to any other order in the church.

  5. This is MARVELOUS. YES!!! I do celebrate my Baptism, Aug. 20 every year…and one of my ‘group’ who entered the convent…ONLY celebrates her Baptism and nothing else… thanks so much for sharing. I agree with all you stated. Peace and blessings. Donna Marie, osm

  6. I’m not exactly sure what you are asking for, Richard,
    I don’t think anyone would expect elaborate ritual during the period when Christians met secretively and generally did not have buildings set aside for worship until Constantine.
    I am also not sure why you choose 150 as a cut-off date – do you see something significant happening at that point?
    For baptism I would of course turn to the Didache and the works of Justin Martyr within your restricted period.
    If I was allowed to move beyond that but still well before Constantine, I would read Hippolytus’ The Apostolic Tradition, Tertullian, the Apocryphal Acts of Judas Thomas, the Didascalia Apostolorum, the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, and Cyprian. I would note the architectural evidence of Dura Europos. These may not lead to an understanding of elaborate ritual, but certainly there is a collective discipline and a shared procedure which is very early and impressive.
    Your other issue with how early the four-fold order appears, that would produce another list including Ignatius of Antioch.
    I hope this helps.

  7. Hi. I was baptized as an infant in the Methodist Church. I have no idea where my baptismal certificate is or when it was, except it was probably in 1965 since I was born in November 1964. I don’t remember getting a confirmation certificate when I was confirmed in that same church as a teen. It didn’t really mean much to me, I admit that I got confirmed because I had to become a “member” when I was of age to be confirmed, to be in the choir.

    I’ve been attending the Episcopal church for some time now and really have embraced the church, the liturgy and beliefs. I want to be confirmed, but my priest told me that they would accept my prior confirmation but I would be “received” formally into the church by taking confirmation classes and seeing the bishop with everyone else… I was kind of disappointed. I’m going to ask if I can get confirmed as an Episcopalian anyway since I’m now a sincere adult and I did my prior confirmation with ulterior motives. I can’t say I really learned much theologically to prepare for that either.

    Since baptism is our official sacrament that transforms us into part of the Body of Christ I agree with you about its primacy.

  8. I realize the subject here is Baptism, but I was just asking about one of your statements.
    My question had to do with the arguments many of my Protestant brethern have raisesd, for instance, Frank Viola, that the hierarchal structure, succession of the priesthood, the very idea of priesthood, is a later departure from the “New Testament” pattern of leadership and church. They speculate, of course, that the church was polluted by the actions of Constantine, and when the earlier fathers come up, they cite Ignatius of Antioch as one of the early church fathers who began to deviate from the true faith.
    I realize there is not much written evidence for the continuation or establishment of a formal priesthood in the early church. Nor is there much said about what constituted worship. But what I’m seeing is that there is a concerted attack on the idea of church goverment and leadership to validate modern new thought of what the church should be.
    I hope that clarifies what I’m driving at. I’m personally drawn like a magnet to formal liturgy. I’ve preacticed it in my private prayer life for several years now. I’m now just trying to determine if the formal liturgical structure is what I really want. Sorry for the extended note.

    1. I am sorry, I am unfamiliar with the works of Frank Viola. επίσκοπος (bishop) and πρεσβύτερος (priest) are clearly present in the New Testament, as is the concept of appointing church leaders by laying on of hands with prayer – who appoint church leaders by laying on of hands with prayer. Far from deviating from the New Testament, Ignatius of Antioch is, within the New Testament period, merely describing the rapidly growing consensus. The abandonment of this early church pattern, where it has, has not necessarily led to a more Christian church, but rather increasing fragmentation and individualised interpretation. I am not sure what you mean by “the formal liturgical structure”.

  9. Frank Viola is one of the major growing voices in the house church movement here in the United States. He’s written several books which are available on Amazon.com. He’s co-authored George Barna with a book called Pagan Christianity which is perhaps the worst researched book I’ve ever seen. Barna has a major church research organization here in the states and is highly respected. I’m not that impressed with him.
    When I said “formal liturgical structure” I was simply referring to an organized order of worship that has grown in content over the centuries. Your responses have been helpful. I’ll research them as I have time. I think we get hung up on “Priest” because of what Hebrews says about Jesus, who is the great high priest completed and fulfilled the old covenant. As a result he “sat down” indicating the the role of the priesthood was no longer necessary. I don’t believe I agree with that, but am not settled on it yet. I am a Presbyterian, so have a lot of Reformation theology thrown at me all the time.
    Thanks again. I have enough to work with, I think.

  10. Ah – the issue is one of translation, Richard. There is no problem whatsoever in the original texts.
    The English word priest comes from presbyter πρεσβύτερος, just as the English word bishop comes from episcopos επίσκοπος.
    The author of the letter to the Hebrews is using quite a different word with quite a different concept – hiereus ἱερεύς.
    All Christians share in Christ’s hiereus ἱερεύς (1 Peter 2:9) – hierateuma. Within the Christian community (the hierateuma) our ministries are “ordered.” πρεσβύτερος and επίσκοπος are orders within the hierateuma that we all share.
    I provide good quality biblical tools at
    which should help those who struggle with the original texts.
    As to “an organized order of worship that has grown in content over the centuries” – IMO not all growth over of the centuries has necessarily been helpful and hence my own turning regularly to check our developments against our earliest traditions – as with this post.
    I hope that helps.

  11. It is interesting to note the practice among our Eastern brethren which is to baptize, confirm, and commune (Eucharist) all in a single movement…including the initiation of infants.

    And interesting contrast to the gradual initiation found in western churches. Perhaps this helps to put the proper focus in the entry to the church.

    I don’t know about the ordination practices in the East, maybe the face the same challenge you bring up here.

    1. I am pleased that in the Anglican Churches of NZ, Canada, & TEC, at least, there are Western Churches that have returned to the early church practice of communicating all the baptised. It interests me that giving communion from baptism also increases the significance of baptism (and clarifies it as a rite of initiation) as many in the West have a higher understanding of Eucharist than Baptism. Eucharist becomes more clearly the repeatable part of the sacrament of initiation. Other readers may like to add here other Western churches and denominations that have renewed communicating all from the moment of baptism.

  12. Hi Peter,
    there seems to me a sizable number of Christians who feel that they want to be baptized again.Most often because they were infants when baptized and did not (obviously) appreciate the significance when it happened. A few Christians are aware that they had strayed far from the faith after their (adult) baptism and would like to be rebaptised in order to demonstrate their re-commitment to the faith.

    Putting aside the Anabaptist perspective/practice which in my opinion is more a political stance than a theological one, what is the biblical/theological grounds for restricting baptism to a once-in-a-lifetime ritual?

    1. Thanks, Andrew (by the way it’s Bosco, Peters is my surname).

      What you are asking for is obviously more the content of a theological course on baptism than a brief comment. I suggest you explore Ephesians 4 and John 3 for a start. In the church’s history, when is the earliest you can find of this being an issue? We are born once into the church – as I was an infant when I was born physically, yes, I did not (obviously) appreciate the significance when that happened. The Eucharist is the repeatable part of the sacrament of initiation – so the most appropriate way to renew baptism is by receiving communion. Confirmation in many traditions is also a mature way to own what happened in baptism. For those who strayed, confession and absolution may be helpful. Renewal of baptism using water, as long as it is clear that this is not “rebaptism” may be a pastoral way to help. Baptism is primarily God’s act, and to denounce God’s action in baptism is significant.


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