From the Anglican Catechism
118 What is confirmation?
After making a mature commitment to my baptismal covenant with God, I receive the laying on of the bishop’s hands with prayer. (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6)
119 What grace does God give you in confirmation?
In confirmation, God strengthens the work of the Holy Spirit in me for his daily increase in my Christian life and ministry. (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6)
There are a few ways Anglicans have understood Confirmation since the Reformation. For many, Confirmation is when a person who was baptized as a infant is now old enough to claim the Faith that was once pledged for them. For others, Confirmation is the symbol of unity with the larger, historic and global Anglican communion as part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church.
Confirmation is surely these things, as reflected from our catechism above. Confirmation is the sacramental rite drawn from the practice of the Apostles in the book Acts when the Holy Spirit comes upon the baptized believers in an empowering and dynamic way. This dynamic expression has become all the more pronounced since the Charismatic Renewal.
The Anglican Church of North America has recently published a short catechism that says of this Sacrament: “In confirmation, God strengthens the work of the Holy Spirit in me for His daily increase in my Christian life and ministry,” with the rite being administered by the “laying on of the bishop’s hands with prayer,” citing Acts 8:14-17; 19:6, (Catechism, pg. 63).
Historical Developments, Briefly Considered
Confirmation finds its historical basis in the laying on the apostles’ hands after water baptism (Acts 8:14-24; 2 Tim. 1:6). There are two points in our practice of the Confirmation that help bring understanding to this sacrament.
- There is a historic succession of bishops whose ministry is integral to a full expression of the Gospel and the Church; and
- The charismatic gifts of the Spirit have been in operation within the Church since Pentecost.
Jesus sent out Apostles, who established Bishops (Titus 1:7; 1 Tim. 1:3-5; 1 Clem. 42:1-5); and the charismatic operation of spiritual gifts will continue until the “great and glorious Day of the Lord,” (Acts 2:14-21; cf. Ignatius to Phil. 7:1-2).
Sacraments recall the past saving and powerful work of God. That past act is recalled into the present time through faith in God’s past act through specific symbols and acts that God gave in the past act. Sacraments anticipate the fullness of Jesus’ kingdom when He returns, making all things new.
Confirmation reaches back to Pentecost. Every Confirmation is sacramentally a fresh Day of Pentecost experience. In every Confirmation, there is the principal potential for releasing God’s power in dynamic ways to share the Gospel (Acts 1:8; 13:4-12; Eph. 6:10ff). Historically, however, within the Christian West, the two aspects of the initiation rite of Baptism/Confirmation become separated into two distinct Sacraments.
Confirmation as Completion to Baptism
One of the most illustrative segments of Scripture linking water baptism and the charismatic reception of the Spirit with the laying on of hands is Paul’s initiation into the Church. In Luke’s first telling, Ananias is sent by Jesus in a vision to the blinded Saul (Acts 9:10-19). When Ananias arrives, he lays hands on him as scales fall from his eyes. Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke uses, “filled with the Holy Spirit” in a very specific sense throughout the rest of his narrative (see below). Paul becomes a charismatic leader whose dramatic and extraordinary miracles operate as an outflow from his initial reception of the Spirit with Ananias (Acts 13:9; 19:11). This is Confirmation.
In contrast to the first account of Saul’s initiation, Luke describes it again in Acts 22 like this: “Rise and be baptized, washing away your sins, calling on his name,” (22:16, cf. 2:17, 28, 38-39). There is no mention of receiving the Spirit, but washing away sin in water baptism (where the sign and reality are not divided). Were it not for the other accounts in Acts where the Spirit fills with empowering effect, one could lean to seeing water baptism as equal to Spirit baptism. It is a truer, closer reading of the text to see these two aspects as distinctions, formative and nutritive, within the same initiation event (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13 to Luke 24:48-48; Acts 1:8).
Lastly, when Paul encounters the disciples in Ephesus, he teaches them the fullness of the Gospel message. They believe, are baptized and then Paul lays his hands on them to be filled with the Spirit (Acts 19:1-7). Early Christian leader Hippolytus wrote that after the anointing of the newly baptized, priests even blew into the faces of the newly baptized as reminiscent of Jesus’ own breathing on the disciples (John 20:22). Confirmation is the completion of what is started in Baptism as the individual progresses from repentance, to baptism, and into empowerment for mission and living.
Three (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-48; 19:1-7) of the five accounts (8:24ff, 9:10-19) in Acts with details about the baptism/infilling of the Spirit outside simply stating that the new believers were ‘filled with the Spirit,’ or, ‘the Holy Spirit fell on them,’ identify wind, fire, prophesying, speaking tongues and glorifying God as signs of the Spirit’s empowering Presence.
The laying on of hands by the bishop is both Biblically and traditionally the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation that perpetuates the grace of Pentecost. Those who are anointed share in a deeper way in the mission of Jesus and in the life and power of the Spirit. In Confirmation, the Spirit indelibly marks the baptized. The baptized are given gifts of the Spirit to spread the Gospel faithfully.
The Charismatic Renewal
Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, while not a ‘Church’ or a denomination, have segmented into various denominations since the Azusa St. Revival in 1906. Traditional Pentecostal denominations, like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God, Cleveland, believe much the same thing about Confirmation as it relates to a spiritual experience that enables believers to share the Gospel effectively. However they refer to the reality within the Sacrament as, “the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
Donald Stamps writes that, “the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an operation of the Spirit distinct and separate from his work in regeneration … the baptism in the Spirit complements the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit,” (Stamps, 1642). However, Sacramentally, in the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” there is an immediate result of glossolalia that marks the reception of the Spirit, as other charisms follow.
The Charismatic Renewal came out of the Anglican Communion in the late 1950s. The ministry of the Spirit up on the churches in the communion was pronounced, and spread to other mainline church traditions, including the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the Anglican clergy were jolted when they realized the experiences they were having in the Spirit were the graces in the language of the Prayer Book. Check out Dennis Bennett’s “Nine O’Clock in the Morning,” for a first hand account.