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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


Confirmation: An Explanation, Defense and Refutation of the Rite

George Duncan

From the book, Church Life Among the Baptists, 1883

"Who will also confirm you unto the end."-I Cor. 1. 8.


All the great Episcopal churches attach much importance to the ceremony which they agree in naming "confirmation." Every week hundreds are confirmed in England alone, and the service is looked forward to with interest by all the parties concerned.


Baptists, and all the other non-Episcopal churches, have refused to observe this rite. They consider it unscrip­tural, and, on the whole, mischievous.


In this discourse I purpose to lay before you the ex­planation, the defence, and the refutation of the rite of confirmation.


I  THE EXPLANATION 0F THIS RITE


1. The signification of the rite.—This we ascertain from the names given to it; the definitions which the various churches accept, and the various parts of the rite itself.


(1) The names given to it.—It is called "consecration," for it is the setting apart of a person or persons to the service of God. These persons are no longer common or unclean; they are now consecrated to the divine life. It is called "perfection," for it perfects that which was com­menced in baptism.


Baptism pointed forward to this rite, and was completed, perfected in it. This is the final stage of baptism. It is called "unction," because of the solemn anointing with oil, which takes place in it in some churches. It is called "sealing," for the candidate is sealed—marked off as the possession of God. They are now His, and not their own. It is called "confirmation," for here the candidate confirms all that was promised in his or her name in baptism, and in this service he is con­firmed in the grace supposed to have been imparted in baptism.


All these ideas are perfectly scriptural. We are sancti­fied, consecrated, set apart ones; but we are set apart by no mere outward rite, such as our Episcopal friends observe.


We are set apart by the Holy Spirit, and the evidence that we are so is not the observance of any human cere­mony, but our living the consecrated life. We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit of God, and not by the manipulation of man.


We ought, after our baptism, to go on to "perfection," but the perfection we must seek after is spiritual. It is not the observance of a mere mechanical rite; our bap­tism points forward to a life of holy endeavour, and not to the mere submitting to some religious ceremony. We ought to have an "unction, a sacred anointing; but it is not oil put on our foreheads by the fingers of a, bishop. It is an unction from the Holy One." It is a spiritual anointing. It is the act of the Holy Spirit on our spirits. We ought to be "sealed," but it must be the "sealing of the Holy Spirit;" "the Holy Spirit of promise, by, whom we are sealed." It is the Holy Spirit of God marking us off as God's people, and God's possession. We ought to be "confirmed;" but this is not and can­not be done by a mere outward ceremonial. The rite of confirmation cannot effect nor occasion confirmation, in the Scriptural sense of the term.


It is God Himself who confirms, anoints, and seals us. "Now He, who establishes us with you in Christ, and who anointed us is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts."


We must look to God alone for confirmation, and if we look to any man or human institution to confirm us, we err. Man, by exhortation, can confirm us instrumentally, but he cannot by any mere mechanical act, such as that observed by Episcopal churches, confirm us.


(2) The definitions given to it.—The Roman church de­fines it as " unction by chrism (accompanied by a set form of words), applied by the bishop to the forehead of one baptised, by means of which he receives increase of grace and strength, by the institution of Christ." But:


(a)  Christ instituted no such ceremony;


(b)  Christ never commanded any of His ministers to put oil on the fore­head of any believer;


(c)  Christ never promised to afford any special strength to persons thus anointed.


There is not the slightest evidence that people receive any grace or strength from observing this ceremony, and, if they did:


(1)  That would not justify us in establishing a sacrament not appointed by Christ; and


(2) The same strength would be vouchsafed to us by the observance of those things really       established by Christ and His apostles.


The Greek Church defines it as "a mystery in which the baptised believer, being anointed with holy chrism in the name of the Holy Ghost, receives the gifts of the Holy Ghost for growth and strength in the spiritual life." But:


(1) The Lord and His apostles say nothing about this chrism.


(2) The Lord and His apostles refer to another kind of anointing altogether. The "confirmation" of      the Greek Church is unknown in the Bible.


The Anglican Church defines it as "a rite, by means of which the regenerate are strengthened by the manifold gifts of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, on the occasion of their satisfying the baptismal vow."


We ask, who re­quired this service at your hand? What authority have you for asserting that the regenerate are strengthened at this rite and by it, by the manifold gifts of the Spirit? The Bible is silent about this "ratification of their bap­tismal vow."


The three definitions substantially agree, but they de­fine a rite that sprang from human ingenuity, and is no­where taught in the inspired volume.


(3)  The several parts of it.—The parts of the ceremonial are four:


(a) The anointing with oil in the case of the Roman and Greek churches only;


(b) The making the sign of the cross, which is also largely confined to these two churches;


(c) The laying on of hands, which is observed by the Roman, Greek, and Anglican churches; and


  (d) Prayer, which like the former item, all three Episcopal churches agree in observing.


Three of the ceremonies above-named have no grounds in Scripture, and their introduction as religious acts was simply to exalt the priest, at the expense of the people. They added to the importance of the priest, and the dependence of the people; and only where the pastors are considered, and called "priests," is the ceremony observed.


When people are declaring themselves by a scripturally warranted act to be on the Lord's side, prayer is comely, and hence, when we baptise we always expressly pray for the candidate or candidates. While the minister audibly prays, all the brethren and sisters unite in silent supplication to God that those about to put on Christ, by baptism, may prove faithful unto death. We have scriptural authority for thus commending all converts to God; but there is not the slightest authority for observing the rite of confirmation, as practised by all the Episcopal churches.


2. The person who must perform the rite.—The ancient church taught that the rite must be performed by (1) the bishop; (2) The bishop was permitted to give a priest a special commission to perform the rite; and (3) The bishop could even give a general commission for this purpose. The bishop must perform the rite, or else it must be performed by one who had his distinct authority for doing so.


The whole rite, in all its varied and changing aspects, has been much debated, and yet the Bible contains not a single word on the subject.


It will be seen from this brief notice, that as the priests exalted themselves above the people, so the prelates exalted themselves above the priests, and the Pope exalted himself above all; and thus the church became gradually a huge hierarchy, alien alike to the spirit and the methods of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


In the Roman and Anglican churches only the bishop can confirm. The priest is permitted to generally manage the spiritual affairs of the parish. He can preach, teach, and prepare the candidates for confirmation, but he cannot confirm. The bishop, who knows nothing of the spiritual history of the candidates, and cannot have the same love for and interest in them, and may even differ widely from them and their spiritual guide in religious matters, he and he alone can confirm.


The man who has had all the preparatory work to do must stand aside, while a stranger comes in and confirms the candidates. No one can confirm in the Anglican Church but the man who has been sent there by the prime minister of the day.


The Scripture nowhere warrants such an authority of one pastor over another. It is alien altogether to the gospel ministry.


The Greek and Lutheran churches permit the priests to confirm, and in this way preserve the ancient custom of the Christian church, which allowed all the pastors to confirm; but the bishop's authority is seen in the former of these two churches, by the arrangement that the chrism must be prepared and consecrated by the bishop alone.


By departing from the simple rite of Scripture baptism, these Episcopal churches have opened up for themselves fruitless controversies, and adopted barren ceremonies.


3. The time to observe the rite.—In ancient times the candidate, as he came out of the water, was consecrated by the bishop, who was often present, and, if not present, he confirmed the candidates as soon after their baptism as possible. The baptism and the confirmation were con­sidered the two parts of the one rite, and were not divided by any delay, except when it could not be avoided.


The Greek Church still baptises and confirms at the same time, and regards the two rites as really one.


The Roman, Lutheran, and Anglican churches purposely allow several years to intervene between the baptism and the confirmation, but the arguments which justify their doing so would equally justify their delaying the baptism itself. It is as incongruous to baptise, as to confirm the unconscious. Both ceremonies ought to be postponed, till the candidates know their import. This course would be at once scriptural and reasonable.


The Roman church alone has elevated this rite into a "sacrament." The other Episcopal churches consider the rite to be one of great importance. It is the way of entrance into the church and to the Lord's Table, and those who neglected it were, at one time, severely punished; now, they are denied church fellowship.


The personal profession of faith made at confirmation, is the one that ought to be made at baptism and by baptism; but this rite of confirmation, which is oftener a collapse than a confirmation, is a ceremony which all who take the Scriptures as their rule of faith must repudiate, and fall back upon the gospel rite of baptism.


II  DEFENCE OF THIS RITE.


Though Episcopalians are unwilling to defend "confirmation" from Scripture, yet they do sometimes quote a text or two which they fancy, in some way or other, will support them.


Tradition they also quote; but the voice of tradition is contradictory, and is bound to be, for one voice speaks concerning the confirmation of believers who have just been baptised, and the other refers to the various forms of paedobaptism. There is sure to be variety of practice when men allow tradition to share, in any measure, the authority which belongs alone to the Scripture.


The Episcopalians point to the evidence of three classes of texts, which they find in God's Word.


1. The texts where the term "confirm" occurs.


(1) Acts 14:22 “Confirming the souls of the disciples.” There is no word here about a religious rite or ceremony; there is nothing about anointing with oil; there is nothing about the sign of the cross; nothing about the laying on of hands; nothing about the absolute necessity of a bishop confirming the disciples.


The term used (epiaterizon) means to strengthen, to establish, to confirm. The text itself tells us the means used to secure this end; “Exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations, we must enter into the kingdom of God.”


The converts referred to were much exposed to the sin of apostasy, and so Paul uses these spiritual means to confirm their character and to consolidate their creed.


That is the true confirmation, and these are the means of it, and they are the means which we Baptists use in every case, and must use, if we are to be truly confirmed in the faith.


(2) Acts 15:32 “And Judas and Silas being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.” These men are described as “prophets,” that is, preachers, and in keeping with this they are represented as exhorting the brethren, and so confirming them. Judas and Silas used the same means as Paul, and as all Baptists used in former times, and still use.


These men were neither priests nor prelates, and yet they confirmed; and here we read, not about a ritual, but of “exhortation,” with a view to a deepened spiritual life. This is confirmation.


(3) Acts 15:41 "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches." That is, in all these districts he did what has been already somewhat fully described (Acts 14:22) He exhorted the brethren to hold fast by their principles, and to sedulously endeavour to develop their spiritual character and life.


The speeches and the letters of Paul and Peter show us the kind of exhortations the heroes of the cross gave the brethren, with a view to their being confirmed in the faith; but nowhere in the Book do we read of any rite resembling that of confirmation, as practised by the Episcopal churches.


2. The texts where the word “unction” occurs.


(1) 1 John 2: 20. "And ye have an anointing from the: Holy One.”


(2) 1 John 2:27. "…the anointing which ye received of Him abideth in you…but as His anointing       teacheth you all things."


The prophets, priests, and kings of ancient Israel were anointed; and Jesus Christ, as the great Prophet, Priest, and King was spiritually anointed. We, who are pro­phets, priests, and kings, in Him, are also anointed: but it is by the Holy Spirit of promise, and not by Roman, Greek, or Anglican bishops. The latter unction is a poor substitute for the former; and if we have the former, we need not the latter, which is at once useless and unscriptural. Let us, therefore, seek the "anointing of the Holy One," and reject the vain unction of the bishop.


3. The texts where the phrase "laying on of hands" occurs.


(1) Acts 8:14-17. "Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."


It seems that it was a subject of surprise to the Christians at Jerusalem that the Samaritans had so extensively received the gospel of Jesus; and so Peter and John went down to that city, at the request of the other apostles, to see what kind of spiritual work was going on. Peter and John were evidently satisfied that a work of grace had been going on in the hearts of the people; but they saw that though the Samaritan brethren were partakers of the Spirit's "grace," they had none of the Spirit's "gifts," which were so common in those days; so they prayed that the people might receive these gifts, and in answer to their prayers and laying on of hands, gifts fell on the people.


The term used, "fallen on them," seems to point to some visible outpouring of the Spirit—as on other occasions—and not merely to the invisible coming of the Spirit into the heart.


The fact that Simon Magus, a great magician, was so struck with the power of the gifts, that he offered money for it,—the fact that he thought that such power would be of supreme service to him, shows that we are here reading of the miraculous display of the Spirit's energies, and no such vain ceremony as that performed by prelates.


A bishop in any Episcopal church would be amazed beyond all utterance at any one who should be so struck with anything he gave at confirmation, as to offer money for it. The bishop knows he gives nothing, and the confirmed know that they receive nothing. A. mere mechanical ceremony is gone through, which may or may not prove a means of grace. The bishops go through a form, but impart no power.


(2) Acts 11:1-7. "And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spake with tongues and prophesied."


This was a similar case to the one just considered. When the hands were laid on the people, the Spirit entered their hearts and minds with miraculous power. This was soon made evident by the gifts which the converts at once displayed. When the apostles laid their hands on the people, miraculous gifts were imparted; but the bishops cannot impart these gifts, and they know it. The bishop goes through a ceremony unknown to the apostles, and he fails to do what the apostles did when he does lay on the hands. He confers no gifts or graces, whereas the apostles did both.


(3) Heb. 6:2. "And laying on of hands."


A.  Jesus laid His hands on children, but it was to "bless them," and not simply as part of a         religious ceremony.


B.  The apostles laid on their hands in healing the sick (Acts 28:8), but this has nothing whatever        to do with any rite of "confirmation."


C.  The apostles laid on their hands in ordaining to office (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:22)


D.  The apostles laid on their hands when imparting any special gifts (2 Tim. 1: 6)


Patriarchs in blessing their children, penitents in offering sacrifices for their sins, priests when consecrating any person to the sacred office, laid on hands; but none of these things has anything whatever to do with the rite of confirmation.


The apostles, when they laid on hands, conferred substantial gifts, which we cannot do. Hence we have not been commanded to observe the custom; yet bishops, though they know that the power is gone, keep up the empty form. It will be time enough to use the form when God indicates His will by giving the power to impart spiritual gifts with it. Till then, our wisest course is to abolish the ceremony. It will thus be seen that the custom or rite of confirmation cannot be supported by the Scriptures, nor by common sense nor reason.


III  THE REFUTATION OF THIS RITE.


1. The Lord neither preached nor practised it.


The Lord taught substantially every Christian doctrine, and any doctrine not taught directly or indirectly by Him is not to be received by us. An institution not founded by our Lord nor by His authority, is not a Christian institution. It may be a useful ceremony; it may be wise, politic, safe, but it is not a Christian institution, and must not be so named. The Lord founded baptism and the [Lord’s Table], and taught us how to observe them but He nowhere, directly or indirectly, says one word about confirmation, as practised among the Episcopal churches.


He says nothing about the rite itself, nor how it is to be observed, nor who are to observe it, nor who ought to officiate at it, nor what oil to use, if oil is to be used at all. Surely, it is unwise to have among our religious institutions a rite on which our Saviour said not a single word.


2. The apostles neither preached nor practised it.


(1) The apostles sometimes had hands laid on them. Acts 13:8.


The apostles were sometimes the messengers of the churches. It was the church that sent Peter and John to Samaria, and it was the church which sent Paul and Barnabas on a missionary tour; when the church at Antioch did so, she laid her hands on them.


Surely, the church was not confirming Paul and Barnabas; but, if not, then no argument on behalf of confirmation can be founded on passages of Scripture, containing a reference to the laying on of hands. Besides, the laying on of hands might be a perfectly scriptural practice, and yet the rite of confirmation be altogether unknown to the apostles.


The two things are quite distinct and different.


(2) The apostle tells us distinctly who it is that really confirmed, anointed, and sealed the disciples.


"Who shall also confirm you unto the end."-1 Cor. 1:8. The two Greek words used in this controversy on confirmation are:


  1. Bebaioo. This term, when applied to persons, means "to establish," "to make stedfast." When applied to things, it means to corroborate, ratify, establish; and hence, in both cases, really to confirm in the true sense.


  1. Epiderizo. This term means "to place firmly upon," "to rest on," "lean upon," " to be supported on," and hence, tropically, "to confirm."


It is God that converts and confirms. He does both, and both alike, and the one in order to the other; conversion must ever look forward to confirmation. God does both, and He does both through His ministries of the Spirit and the Word, and so we have to look up to Him, and not to prelates and priests, for both conver­sion and confirmation.


We must be confirmed, but it is God who confirms us. He establishes our Christian character and creed, and we co-operate with Him in this by attending to all the means of grace. Thereby do we deepen our spiritual life, quicken our spiritual instincts, and inspire our spiritual activities. Devotion and duty alike become a pleasure when we are truly confirmed. We are thus "made stedfast and moveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." This, and not the vain ceremony performed by a bishop, is scriptural confirmation.


3. The early Christians neither preached nor practised it.


We have the record of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, but this record never refers to the rite of confirmation. We have letters addressed to pastors, such as Timothy and Titus, and yet no mention is made of this rite. We have letters addressed to several churches, whose names are given, and yet there is not one reference, however dim, to this rite. We have letters to the scattered of many countries, and yet never once is this rite brought before us.


The believers everywhere were baptised, and the baptised were added to the church without the intervention of prelates. It was only when a pastor became a lord bishop, with priests under him, and the Christian ministry had de­graded itself into an unscriptural hierarchy, that the preacher of the gospel was denied the privilege of confirm-mg, even according to the dead ceremony.


How contrary to all God's Word is the dogma that the man who has taught you, guided you, counselled you, warned you, and been the means of your conversion, and prepared you to de­clare yourself on the Lord's side, should be set aside; and a stranger whom, perhaps, you have never seen before and may never see again—one who cannot know you and love you as your own pastor does—should come forward, and he alone receive you into the church. Surely the one who has been your spiritual guide is the one best fitted to confirm you in the faith, and that is the only confirmation recognised in the Word of God.


All the confusion, and all the display of tyranny and ambition in our Episcopal churches, arise from the intro­duction of infant baptism, and the adding to the simple ordinance of God. Let us exhort all to return to the apostolic teaching and example. We can baptise only believers, and confirm these not by a dead ceremony, but by the living words of the gospel of Christ.