Confirmation as Universal Practice
It is helpful to think of Confirmation in the local practice, in light of the wider and historic practice of the Church. Starting with the question “Who has a right to/must take the Supper?” When the New Testament Church first began, a baptized person confessed Christ, was baptized and took the Supper. Their children would be baptized as infants and go through a period of catechism before communing. Both groups went through a rite which admitted them to the full benefits of church membership; the Lord’s Table.
This rite of Confirmation varied through the centuries but it always was in practice in one form or another. Some traditions made the rite less of a ceremony and others more of a ceremony, and some made it a sacrament. Nevertheless, Confirmation remained in various liturgies as a rite of initiation to the Lord’s Table.
What is Confirmation
The word Confirmation is used to describe the rite wherein a person is set apart for God and makes a profession/confession of faith before the congregation of their church. Confirmation generally takes place after a period of instruction by the Church. Opinions and practices differ on the years and location of instruction in relation to Baptism and Communion. Some place this period of instruction before baptism, and others after baptism. While others place it before and others after first communion. Practices are diverse in the particulars but the main acts are agreed upon (though not in this order) that a person confesses Christ, is baptized, and takes Communion.
A Reformed Perspective
How have the Reformed understood and practiced this historic rite? Two important considerations for theologians in the Reformed tradition were protecting the sacrament of Baptism and restoring the historic practice before the medieval corruptions. Calvin wished that, after a child had been sufficiently instructed in the catechism, the child would make public profession of one’s own faith. (4.19.13) This profession would be in the pure form of the ancient Church and not surrounded by ceremonial abuses of the medieval Church.
We must remember the significance of Baptism so that we do not attribute to Confirmation what belongs to Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ and made partakers with his death. It is where the judgment of God is signed and sealed for us in Christ and his Spirit is given to us. In Baptism Christian believers are saved not by works but by the washing of regeneration and God’s mercy (Tit 3:5). This is only a summary of how we should begin to understand Baptism. Yet this reality that Baptism (the visible Word) points to must be embraced by faith. When an infant is baptized the promise is ratified and our faith is strengthened in God’s promises. When the person can, they confess their faith and it is their means of accepting the promise already ratified in their baptism, not a means of grace in its own right. Therefore in the rite of Confirmation it is not proper to devalue or question the validity of our Baptism.
Staying consistent with the monergistic work of God in salvation, the Reformed said in Confirmation it is God who confirms the person. Through the Church God confirms his work in the believer. It is through the ordained officers of the church this work is confirmed
the rule of the covenant is that the church must nurture its youthful members, who were born as children of the covenant and incorporated as members by baptism, to where they can make an independent personal profession of faith and on that basis admit them to the Lord’s Supper. (4.585)
The rite of Confirmation, is the work of God through the Church. In it we see God’s faithfulness continue to the next generation. Where he continues to be God to us and our children as he promised.