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.