On Sunday (23rd) I was confirmed. This is an Anglo-Catholic ritual that traditionally happens soon after baptism. At least this is my understanding. I was introduced to this concept as a teenager when I first joined a CofE church, their policy was that you couldn’t have communion unless you had been baptised & confirmed. This was quite a shock for my brother and I, who were following Jesus and had taken communion many times before.
And from the off – confirmation and I had not seen eye-to-eye.
In the last month I was confronted with the concept again. As part of my exploring a calling into ministry within the CofE, I have been meeting with various people (sort of informal interviews – stretched over a year). But last month I met with a guy who holds the position of DDO. (Director diocesan of ordinands – or something like that) His job is to oversee all the people, exploring this as a future job. And to, frankly, vet us.
When he found out I didn’t really know what the whole confirmation business was about – apart from it lets you take communion in some churches – let alone that I hadn’t been confirmed. He told me this was a red-flag. If I wanted to go any further – I needed to do this.
So I asked what it was. He said it’s based on the bit in the bible where Jesus is baptised and comes out of the water and God says ‘This is my Son, with whom I’m well pleased’. God was confirming Jesus… As a Christian? As a follower of Himself? I wasn’t too sure. But it made a sort of sense that the Church could perform a similar thing whereby it confirms God’s work in your life.
So who does it? Can my vicar confirm me? Since he’s the one who really knows me, and has seen me grow, and knows about my walk with God and how my life is spent serving Him? No. It’s a bishop. Ah, so I meet the bishop and talk with him, and he’ll find out about me and confirm that God is at work in my life? No. Apparently it’s very rare to meet a bishop before confirmation. But he will have my name on a piece of card before the service. When the DDO said this, I couldn’t help but laugh, and laugh out loud.
Someone, who doesn’t know me, has never heard about me, comes to my church (wait? No, I would have to go where the bishop was) one day and confirms that God is at work in my life…Ah, that makes sense. Now I’m more sceptical than ever.
So why did I get confirmed?
- It’s a matter of submission: For me at least, this nonsensical act is a symbol of me coming under the authority of Church leadership. I don’t need a stranger in a robe to tell me that God is at work in my life, I can see this from the fruit, from my time with Jesus in the mornings, from the daily battle with sin that I choose to fight. The thing about submission is that it is fairly easy, when you’re told to do something you’d probably already be doing. It’s a lot harder when it’s something that requires effort or doing something uncomfortable or costly. By being confirmed I was declaring that I am coming under the authority of the CofE. (Obviously this doesn’t mean blind obedience, and there may be obstacles yet to come that I won’t be able to submit to – but this wasn’t going against God (Mark 9.38-40) or my faith (Rom 14/1 Cor 8).)
- It doesn’t hurt anyone – except my pride. I wasn’t going to say things that were going to hinder anyone’s faith. I declared truths about who God is – publically, I declared that I belong to Jesus and that I reject sin. I didn’t have to say anything that contradicted what I believed, it didn’t undermine what God is doing in my life before confirmation. It just was just humbling to stand alongside new believers, remembering that I need grace just as much as them. So often I think we Christians can cause divisions over petty things, just because they hurt our pride.
- God’s sovereignty was clearly at work – After meeting the DDO on the 11th September, I spoke to my vicar and found out that the bishop just happened to be coming to our church in a couple of weeks. And that they could probably “slot me in”. Given that people wait months for this, and have to go through loads of classes etc etc. This happened in less than 2 weeks. I’m not saying that God wants me to be a Vicar, or is leading me down this path, but I do think (if nothing else) He wanted me to face my pride in another encounter between obedience/submission and disobedience/suppression.
So why did I get confirmed? Well, a large part of it was that I needed the certificate to get me through to the next stage. But even in this God was at work, making me more like His Son.