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Baptism Confirmation – Theory and Practice


In Christian (liturgical) practice we often say one thing and do another – our theory (our theology) is contradicted by our actual practice.

Confirmation is a case in point. Confirmation has recently come up for discussion at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui. The proposal was to end confirmation in this church. That proposal was left lying on the table. The proposal included having a “new” rite “instead” – what I refer to as a Claytons Confirmation Rite (you stand up, make the same promises as currently made in confirmation, the bishop lays hands on your head with prayer, but it’s not called “confirmation”).

Many people defend the status quo – online, in print, and In Real Life discussions. What is noticeable to me is that much of what is said is not borne out in the actual practice. In fact, much of the practice visually contradicts the theories that are being expressed to support confirmation as it currently happens.

Also discernible, sadly, is the ongoing power of clericalism. By clericalism I refer to the presumption that full-time Christianity means being ordained; the understanding that the “minister” in a community is the ordained one up the front in a church building wearing an alb; that “vocation” means ordination; that “going into the church” means ordination; that the goal is being archbishop, and that we work up from having no title before our name to having increasingly important titles with increasingly dramatic robes and more and more important positions in processions…

The sentences in bold below present some of the explanations to keep confirmation as it is currently.

For keeping the status quo: “Confirmation is adult affirmation of the vows someone else made for you at baptism when you were a baby”
That is one of the most-repeated statements. Read my lips: NZ Anglicanism went to great pains to remove any sense of someone else making vows on a baby’s behalf in our baptism rite. You cannot affirm the vows someone else made on your behalf as a baby because no one made any such vows on your behalf! And there is not a single mention of affirming or renewing baptism vows in the NZ Anglican confirmation rite.

What does it mean to have an adult be baptised and then go on, to another service, to be confirmed? [And I remind you that if you want to be ordained you must be confirmed by a bishop].

For keeping the status quo: “Of course in comparing baptism and confirmation, baptism is the most important.”
Compare a confirmation service in a grand cathedral (choir, processions, robes, full building) with a baptism service – with still some done privately (I can already hear some piously muttering, “baptism is never ‘private’ no matter how few are present”). Some are baptised in order to be confirmed. And for those who want to argue that confirmation for them didn’t happen in a cathedral but in their parish church – find me a parish where the baptism service had a fuller church building, and a more dramatic ritual than the confirmation service in the same parish…

We may use the language that “baptism is full initiation into the church” but, while it was my own practice as a parish priest to communicate babies baptised, at the eucharist of their baptism, and preparing for that was part of my preparation with the family, I still wait to see that as normal practice in NZ Anglicanism.

For keeping the status quo: “In confirmation you receive the Holy Spirit”
Actually, you receive the Holy Spirit in baptism. Some speak of confirmation as “lay ordination” (clericalism!). Certainly, our practice makes it look like “lay ordination”. Ritually (candidate’s alb aside), it is indistinguishable from being ordained. Whilst we may argue it is not “lay ordination” our practice belies our teaching. And just as being a deacon is a requirement for becoming a priest, and being a priest is required for becoming a bishop, and being a bishop is required for becoming an archbishop, so confirmation is required for becoming a deacon. See how it appears as clericalism, people, all the way up.

For keeping the status quo: “Confirmation is an opportunity for education”
There is nothing in the NZ Anglican confirmation rite that indicates that this is a graduation ceremony after having achieved at an educational course. The remove-them-from-worship Sunday-school model of education-is-for-the-young, worship-is-for-the-mature (read “confirmed”) has long passed its use-by date. I have a passion for education and formation, and that is both my In Real Life primary focus and the driver of the hours I spend producing this website in my “free time” – if anywhere needs to stress life-long deep learning and ongoing formation it is the church.

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18 thoughts on “Baptism Confirmation – Theory and Practice”

  1. Peter Carrell

    Hi Bosco
    I appreciate your critique, though do not share all points you make. BUT I have no idea from this post whether:
    – you think confirmation should be retained or abolished;
    – if you think it should be retained, what changes you would make to rectify its errors (and/or what changes you would make to change false understandings of it).
    I suggest that such a searing critique as you make here shortchanges readers by not also giving an indication of whether Confirmation can be “reformed/renewed” or should simply be abolished.
    My deductive conclusion is that you think it should be abolished but I might be wrong and and it would be wrong for me to make a false deduction!

    1. Thanks, Peter. Similarly I feel readers of your comment are shortchanged…

      BUT I have no idea from this comment what you appreciate and which points you do not share.

      If you put “confirmation” into the search box of this site, the result points to about a hundred blog posts (it looks to me as if that is not the end of the number of blog posts on the topic, but rather a limitation of the search engine). Similarly if you put “baptism” into the search box. Not all that is to be said about my position on confirmation is said in an 800-word blog post, but from those hundred or so posts I would hope a not-too-unclear position is painted – at least in broad brush strokes.

      Since, for example, no one has, either publicly or privately, been able to give a definitive answer whether removing confirmation from our ordination requirements would make not an iota of difference in the recognition of our orders within the Anglican Communion, and make not an iota of difference in any of our ecumenical conversations, I cannot begin to respond to your either-or question.

      As someone integral to the ordination process within our diocese and province, maybe you could provide the formal answer to that, and then we can continue this conversation you are encouraging here further.


      1. Hi Bosco
        Let me reframe my question: suppose Confirmation is not a requirement for ordination, nor a “dealbreaker” re ecumenical or Communion relationships. As a questioned, much argued over rite of our church, would you continue its use or vote for its abolition?

        I am asking the question because I would not like to make the wrong deduction from your comments above, which I read as severely negative about the continuing practice of Confirmation in our church (apart from the currently “necessary for ordination” requirement). Am I misreading you as severely negative about its continuing practice?

        (I am in favour of the practice, I think we should stick with it, I think education prior to Confirmation does not detract from the ongoing education and training which is part of lifelong discipleship, I am in favour of Confirmation being required for ordination, but I would like to see our church review whether Confirmation might be administered by priests rather than bishops at the time when an adult is baptised. I also favour a review of the occasion for “renewal of baptismal vows” with a view to developing a stronger practice of that renewal taking place at Easter and/or Pentecost).

        You don’t have to answer my question. And if you don’t I will try not to over-read things into your post above.

        1. Thanks, Peter.

          In your desire to allow priests to “administer” confirmation at the time when an adult is baptised, what do you understand is actually being “administered”? Specifically: How does your adult being baptised without such “administering” differ from your adult being baptised with such “administering”? I’m afraid that, within your stated framework of your first paragraph, I cannot distinguish the two.

          When you say you are “in favour of the practice”, again I need your clarification: what are our most-thriving, flourishing, growing parishes lacking when, year upon year, they never have a confirmation, and never offer it as an option?

          When you say you are “in favour of Confirmation being required for ordination” you seem to me to contradict the framework of your comment set up in your first paragraph. If a Baptist (say), after years of worshiping in an Anglican parish, applied to be ordained, why would you require this person to be confirmed prior to ordination?

          To be clear, I do not think there are only two, binary options you place before me: continue confirmation’s use or vote for its abolition.

          I look forward to your response.


          1. Hi Bosco,
            First, your reply below to Gale satisfactorily answers my questions!
            Secondly, (and briefly), I see merit on Confirmation as a rite which helps hold our church together: the bishop coming binds communicants in otherwise disparate parishes togethers; confirming faith in an Anglican church (after appropriate education) helps cement commitment to this way of being Christian (so, yes, a number of parishes thrive without regular COnfirmation, but do they deepen commitment to the Anglican way?); finally (in this brief comment), I think our clergy should be confirmed since they are asked by the prayer book to annually challenge/invite parishioners to be confirmed: what is good for the goose etc.
            (The priest administering confirmation question … I might post on that one day on ADU).

          2. Thanks, Peter.

            Continuing the conversation:

            1) “the bishop coming binds communicants in otherwise disparate parishes togethers” – so you see confirmation as a requirement to have the bishop come to a parish? Ie. Without confirmation, bishops would not come to parishes? A quick look at our diocesan stats indicates that about 10% or so of our parishes have anyone confirmed whatsoever. Are you suggesting the bishop does not visit the other 90%? What about having the bishop baptise – both infants and adults at the bishop’s visit to a parish? Ie. following the thrust of my post: baptism starts becoming what we say it is – it is administered with great ceremony when the bishop visits…

            2) “confirming faith in an Anglican church” – this is exactly the sort of interpretation my post is arguing is nowhere within our agreed rite. There is not even a mention of “Anglican church” in our rite. If you want the rite to be understood as “confirming faith in an Anglican church” you have to initiate a change to the rite so that it expresses this. “helps cement commitment to this way of being Christian” – there is nothing in the rite that I can see that “helps cement commitment to this way of being Christian” rather than some other ways of being Christian…

            3) “a number of parishes thrive without regular COnfirmation, but do they deepen commitment to the Anglican way?” – are you suggesting that the vast majority of our parishes are not deepening “their commitment to the Anglican way” (whatever that may be)? And that the 10% who have confirmation are, thereby, the model of “the Anglican way”?

            4) “I think our clergy should be confirmed since they are asked by the prayer book to annually challenge/invite parishioners to be confirmed” – that’s a pretty circular argument isn’t it? Are you saying all clergy are annually challenging/inviting parishioners to be confirmed? And that only 10% can find anyone who accepts this invitation? If so, such a low level of fruitful ministry response should become a primary focus of clergy formation should it not? If not, are you suggesting that the vast majority are in breach of what you say they are required to do?

            5) I look forward to your responses to my questions to you at June 11, 2016 at 10:33 am


  2. I had the same question as Peter and as requested on Twitter, I’ll try the question out here. I’m curious as to whether you are trying to say confirmation should be done away with for serving no real point. Your answer seems to be that I need research your prior blog posts. It reminds me of the conversation with Jesus and the Pharisees about John the Baptist’s authority and where does it come from. I will try to do that. And I know it’s hard to tell from text whether someone’s asking a question with attitude. So I will say I’m not trying to do that. I am baptized, I am not confirmed, I am an adult. I’ve always had mixed feelings about confirmation because it reminds me of the concept of covenant membership as it is used with some in The Gospel Coalition Churches and Acts29 Churches.

    1. Thanks, Gale.

      I don’t know anything about “the concept of covenant membership as it is used with some in The Gospel Coalition Churches and Acts29 Churches”, but I am taking from your comment that you think that a bad thing?

      My response to Peter indicates that confirmation may very well serve an irreplaceable point. Confirmation is required in our church (as in majority Christianity) before ordination. I have questioned whether this is doctrine or discipline. I am interested in the discussion of removing this requirement, just as I am interested in the discussion of removing the requirement of being a deacon before one becomes a priest. These discussions are indicated in the above blog post. But I would not press the removal of the requirement of confirmation prior to ordination if this means that our orders are thereafter not accepted in some places in the Anglican Communion, and if it would become a major step backwards in ecumenical dialogue. So far, neither onsite nor offsite, have I had a definitive answer to this (as I indicated).

      If you are a Presbyterian (as just one concrete example), and you are confirmed in your church, when you want to be ordained in our church the validity of your confirmation would not be accepted. Yes, I have issues with that. But, because of the above paragraph, I may just have to live with that.

      I try to write my posts with links to other places for people who want to explore further. So I hope in your research you arrived quickly at the second link in my above post.

      You would need to expand on your own confirmation quandary for any further comment on that.


      1. thank you Bosco –
        this is a quick item on Covenant Membership http://thewartburgwatch.com/2015/06/19/membership-covenant-abuse-a-rebuttal-to-leadership-journal-post-on-church-discipline-and/
        In researching your prior writings, there was a lot about confirmation being needed for ordination and I believe you are against that. There was a lot about confirmation originally being part of baptism but then getting separated for questionable reasons.
        My question was more about whether confirmation as a thing unto itself was something that you thought was useful, assuming it is not required to do other things, like become ordained, or go to another denomination. There seems to be a common theme in many strands of Christianity about having someone as an adult affirm their Christian beliefs.

        1. Thanks, Gale. I still struggle to know what your own context and denomination is and whether the genre of my conversation with you here is personal and pastoral, or whether you are seeking broad brush-stroke principles from me (to which there could be many exceptions), or whether you want a yes/no, black/white answer from me…

          I can find little parallel, in the article you point to, to the confirmation discussions we are having here. We do not have Anglican Church “membership” here. Confirmation does not confer such “membership”. Not being confirmed does not mean you are not a “member”.

          I am not against confirmation’s necessity if removing that requirement would mean our orders would not be accepted in some parts of the Anglican Communion and if it would further hinder ecumenical dialogue. If it was definitive that acceptance and dialogue would be unchanged then, yes, I would be in favour of removing the requirement that a person be confirmed by a bishop prior to ordination.

          The primary way we affirm our Christian beliefs is in the way we live our daily lives. The regular liturgical way we affirm our baptismal faith is in the Eucharist. Beyond that, there may be a number of ways pastorally appropriate to individual people – including the sacramental action of confession, for example. Confirmation may very well be useful to you – but, as I say, I know nothing about your actual context – so, without that, I am not going to say yes or no – which appears to be what you are seeking?


          1. I apologize for my inability to explain myself. I said to someone else, I think we are often living in a Tower of Babel episode at times in this life. I think this is a personal conversation and not pastoral. I am an Episcopalian in the US, but it is where I landed after many other experiences. I can imagine my parallel comparisons may not make sense to you because your background is different. I think you are saying that Confirmation may be useful to some and that it would be fine to have it as optional, like confession. Is that correct?

          2. Thanks, Gale. The focus of this post was the way that confirmation is practiced is regularly in conflict with what we, many/most in our church, say we are doing. What you seem to be asking is whether you, as an individual, should get confirmed?

            These are two, in my mind, separate conversations. If you want to be confirmed – I would encourage you to do so. I encourage you, at least, to take your conversation to your parish priest.

            I don’t know why those two different conversations make this a Tower of Babel experience. On this website we are regularly looking at ways that we can change the way we do things as church. But I am not arguing that, because we can do things differently to the way we currently do them that, we should stop going to/being the church.


  3. Hi Bosco
    I am not sure whether I have the time to answer your questions above, or the energy since it looks like what I say will lead to more questions!

    Let me say briefly: bishops can and should visit parishes for all sorts of reasons, and baptisms would be a great reason to visit a parish; but confirmation is also a great reason, not least because it is a service which focuses parishioners minds and hearts on what it means to be this church rather than another, doing things in this (Anglican) way, and if those being confirmed by the bishop learn more about being Anglican Christians so much the better for the Anglican church. But, yes, there is another way: to be generally Christian and not worry about specific denominational character. Perhaps we are moving there; and if we are, confirmation surely is going to be abolished!

    1. I have as little time as you do, Peter.

      I struggle to get a clear, consistent picture of your position. I read and reflected on your argument on your own site in favour of confirmation because, you said, it is an expression of our catholicity – it is an action that binds us to the majority Christian position today and throughout time (churches with bishops). Now you seem to me to be arguing the opposite – it is an action that distinguishes us from other churches. Doing this makes us Anglican rather than something else.

      Time limits understood, I still think it important, from a/your theology of/for confirmation that you answer the question I posed in response to your being in favour of priests being able to confirm at the time that they baptise adults: In your desire to allow priests to “administer” confirmation at the time when an adult is baptised, what do you understand is actually being “administered”? Specifically: How does your adult being baptised without such “administering” differ from your adult being baptised with such “administering”? I’m afraid that, within your stated framework of your first paragraph, I cannot distinguish the two.’

      I see no significant energy to have confirmation abolished. Because no one seems to be able to answer my question, I see it possibly continuing to be required for ordination so that those ordained here can function overseas, and that this does not become yet another impediment to ecumenical dialogue.


  4. it wasn’t letting me reply to the last post in our conversation, so I’ll just start over here –
    re The Tower of Babel –
    Although both of us are speaking, we don’t seem to be able to communicate to the other our point. For instance, this is not about me being confirmed personally.
    In researching your prior blogs and the comments folks made, there were folks who expressed the idea that they understood confirmation to be the affirmation of adults to the concept of their baptismal rite. As an adult they were affirming what was said at their baptism, by others. I don’t think you agree with this, but there were people who said it. Rightly or wrongly, I think there are people who feel this way. In Covenant Membership, it’s not just about the ‘membership’ aspect, it is also about adults affirming their faith. So to me there was a parallel. That made no sense to you at all. And that’s okay.
    You had a very specific focus for this blog, but it wasn’t the thing that stood out to me. The focus that you state in your response to me I mean. You just happened to be the first person I read a post by who seemed to be saying that you didn’t think confirmation was necessary. That’s probably a random accident, as I’m sure many feel as you do, I just haven’t run into them. So when I initially wrote, I was trying to understand why you didn’t think that confirmation was something that needed to happen, as you felt everything that needed to happen happened at baptism. And then I thought I was asking if you thought the idea of adults affirming their faith was something that might be a good idea. I think you feel it depends and there are many possible answers. I come away at this point with the focus of your blog being your frustration with the concept that confirmation is a pre-requisite for other things. When I started this conversation, the ‘other things’ was not even an idea in mind.
    I know your time is limited and I appreciate your patience. Thank you for taking the time to try and explain.

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