Your Faith. Your Commitment. God’s Call.
Too often confirmation has been downgraded to the role of a checkpoint along the faith journey. The Confirm family of resources reclaims confirmation as the first step on a journey that leads to a mature, adult faith. Confirm treats confirmation as more than a decision. Instead, it is the beginning of a conversation about what it means to be a Christian, living out your faith, your commitment, and God’s call.
Confirm is an easy-to-follow and fully customizable confirmation program that can be used virtually any church setting and with a wide variety of schedules. You have the option to schedule your lesson choices and the tools to organize your own confirmation program over the course of a school year, a 3-year span, or in any other way that meets your needs without having to purchase additional customizable content.
With flexible and easy-to-understand materials, Confirm provides students with the basic beliefs of a theologically sound, United Methodist faith while engaging them in creative and thought-provoking activities to help them internalize what they’ve learned. Confirm also embraces the importance of community in the journey of faith development, and provides materials to encourage cooperation with parents and mentors in the confirmation process and beyond.
This helpful guide provides direction for creating an effective discipleship path for teens using confirmation at your church. Complete with detailed instructions, you will learn how to integrate Confirm with the church’s youth ministry program and other ministries throughout the church. In addition, you will be provided tools for creating specific confirmation assessments and reasonable expectations for youth, pastor, parents, and confirmation leaders.
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Confirm Director Guide
Your Faith. Your Commitment. God's Call.
CokesburyCopyright © 2016 Cokesbury
All rights reserved.
What Is Confirmation?
"No one is born a Christian. One becomes a Christian through becoming a part of a community with a distinctive way of life involving definite ethical and creedal commitments."
While the aforementioned statement is true that individuals are not born Christian but become Christian, the reality of this truth is more reflective of a time when large numbers of people were initiated into the church. At that time people were as eager to join the church as the church was eager to receive them. Once welcomed into community in the early church, individuals continued to be nurtured through religious education that was valued and taken seriously by all because of the intentionality placed upon it. As a result the church grew and was established as an integral part of the community.
Today, however, membership is declining in our churches; congregations are losing members at a greater rate than they are welcoming newcomers. Further, the understanding of the importance of religious education has waned among church leaders and members, along with the enthusiasm with which it is engaged. There are many interests competing for the limited time and attention of individuals, especially youth. As a result, the church ranks low on the list of priorities for many young people today, because it has not been as enthusiastic about initiating and sustaining the interest of young people.
Yet, the words Jesus spoke in the Great Commission still stand as the gospel. According to Matthew, Jesus spoke very clearly as he stood on that mountain among those who worshiped and those who doubted. He commissioned the disciples to make disciples of others by baptizing and teaching so that the world might be transformed. Likewise, as followers, we are charged today with the task of initiating others into Christian community so that doubters will come to believe in God's presence, promises, and power and so that the entire community might be strengthened.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, "I've received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I've commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age." — Matthew 28:16-20.
This section explores what Christian initiation and confirmation have meant throughout the history of the church so that we might be inspired to envision what confirmation could and should become in the future.
At one time Christian initiation was a series of seamless events that adults were eager to partake of so that they could become a part of the church. There was a time when baptism, confirmation, and the first Communion were all a part of the same ritual. Becoming a member of the church was a big deal and celebrated as such because it signified two important decisions — a personal profession of faith and a commitment to live for God. In fact, people committed to extensive and rigorous teaching both before and after they were baptized in order to remain connected to God and the church. It is important to note that this was very much an individual choice and not an obligation — well, at least initially.
Over time the commitment to and the relationship between these acts, who receives them, when they are received, and how and to what extent they are offered changed drastically. Since Jesus spoke those words, our understanding, or lack thereof, of Christian initiation — including baptism and confirmation — and how these practices have been influenced by the political climate, cultural shifts, and technological advancements has taken on different meaning (as discussed later in this section).
Although baptisms still occur, the subsequent teaching, understanding of, and living out of that covenant has lost much of its importance. As a result, confirmation, now a separate event, has in turn lost its sacredness among those who came to believe that baptism was the only means necessary for Christian initiation.
While this can be successfully argued for adults, who are baptized and can respond for themselves, it is not the case for infants and children whose parents/guardians respond on their behalf. Salvation is still personal. Confirmation is important at the appropriate time so that these individuals, for whom someone else responded earlier, can offer a personal response to their faith in Jesus Christ and a willingness to become faithful members of The United Methodist Church through the offering of their prayers, presence, gifts, witness, and service.
Before we get too far along in our understanding of what confirmation is today, we must consider what confirmation meant to the church, people, and society at different points in the history of Christianity. As we journey through our history, you will notice that over time shifts occurred in the age at which one was baptized, the reason one was baptized, and the relationship between baptism and confirmation.
In The Theology of Confirmation in Relation to Baptism, Gregory Dix, an Anglican priest, said that the shifts in our understanding of Christian initiation rituals along with the "benefits" have been watered down over the years to the extent that people today associate "Baptism vaguely with vaccination and Confirmation with leaving school." Christian initiation, including confirmation, was not always viewed as a dreaded experience that one just "had to get through" in the way that it is viewed today. While it's true that no one is born Christian, "becoming a part of the community" — Christian initiation — has clearly lost some of its distinction and definition over time.
As we move forward in our understanding of what confirmation should be, we must solidify our view of confirmation and its potential for discipleship-making so that we can help parents and students move from dread to excitement. Let us now explore Christian initiation, including confirmation during the early church, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the early days in America, the Industrial Revolution, and today.
The Early Church (Through the Fifth Century)
In the early church, Christian initiation meant committing to be a part of an experiential way of life that was radically different from the dominant culture. Initiation into this community consisted of extensive education, which sometimes lasted up to three years, and was then followed by a sequence of sacramental events including baptism, confirmation, public profession, and then, the Eucharist. To be more specific, baptism was followed by an anointing, a sealing with the sign of the cross and the laying on of hands which confirmed the believers metanoia, or "change of heart," and involvement in ministry as symbolized by the broken bread and spilled wine at the Communion table.
After the all-encompassing sacramental system of initiation was conferred upon individuals, they were full-fledged members in the church of Jesus Christ. These new converts were to be spirit-filled and powerfully different from those persons who continued to live their lives based on the dominant culture. They were expected to carry forward the mission of disciple-making.
Even though there was initial excitement among those new members, leaders in the early church realized that after the membership was attained through this climactic experience, enthusiasm quickly waned because the dominant culture was too strong to resist. Hearts that turned in towards the church turned outwards again, reverting to their previous way of life.
To counter this, leaders created intentional structures to nurture and encourage new converts in their faith. So, education continued in order for people to grow in their faith and their relationship with God. According to Walter Brueggemann, our Jewish ancestors viewed education as a means of encountering God as well as a means of passing along traditions among young people. The church created a means by which individuals could be strengthened through an acquaintance with God. Confirmation, a part of this process of Christian initiation, was offered with the hope that individuals would have an encounter with God. This encounter should still be the emphasis today.
Things were going well in the expansion of Christianity until the fourth century, when Constantine mandated Christianity as a state-approved religion. This decision drastically changed the way that confirmation was understood, which ultimately changed how it was offered. Rather than being confirmed into the church because one had experienced a change of heart and wanted to live differently, individuals joined the church so that they could earn a living. Yes, under Constantine's rule, church membership was politicized.
During Constantine's reign, membership in the church came with social privileges. Becoming Christian was now a requirement for employment. As you can imagine, church membership increased significantly because of this. It did not take long before there was a "waiting list" for initiation. Unfortunately, however, those who were initiated only for political reasons reverted to business as usual once they received employment. Churches, "swollen" by the influx, were left with inflated rolls consisting of individuals who were members in name only. Those who did not take their faith seriously became "bored" with their understanding of Christian initiation and they checked out. This tarnished the image of the church. Those who joined for the wrong reasons quickly left, creating doubt among onlookers and calling into question the validity of the entire experience and its significance.
The Middle Ages (Fifth Century — Fifteenth Century)
Another significant shift that occurred in the early times of the church was the separation of the events in the initiation process. By the end of the sixth century, concern had grown over children's souls of the state-approved Christians because they had not yet been baptized. So infant baptism was established. Saint Augustine's theology and the fear of infants dying before they were baptized caused a major shift in how initiation occurred. Infants were baptized within the first few days of their birth. It was believed that God's grace was available to all, even those who could not respond for themselves. As Methodists, we refer to this as prevenient grace — that which is available before we become aware of or acknowledge it. During this time they also began to offer Communion for infants who were baptized. The pastor would place the Communion elements on his finger which would then be placed in the infant's mouth.
While it seemed great to include the youngest among them to be baptized, this caused challenges for the sacramental system that had been previously established. Infants could be baptized and receive Communion with the help of others, but they could not be confirmed because confirmation is an individual act. As a result, confirmation was separated from what was once a seamless system of events and delayed until young people could respond for themselves, causing the connection within the sacramental system to be broken, literally and figuratively. What was once joined with baptism and Holy Communion was removed. From that time forward, confirmation would never again be viewed at the same level of importance.
Confirmation became a "member intake" process for children of adult believers so that they too could receive the bounty of the state and the promise of the church. It was separated from baptism and offered to children at age seven. As all of these changes were occurring, the meaning of membership was still shifting. Also the notion of education as a means of continued nurture and encouragement was evolving.
Reformation (Sixteenth Century)
Confirmation was even further defined during the Protestant Reformation. Reformers such as Martin Luther viewed baptism and Holy Communion to be the only two sacraments because those were the only acts that could be traced back to Jesus. "The Protestant churches, which developed out of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, rejected the idea of confirmation as a sacrament."
Many theological leaders at this time contributed to the redefinition of this act. Soren Kierkegaard considered it "a triviality" because it had been watered down to serve merely as a gateway into adulthood where young people received the right to vote, "work, join a guild, attend a state school, or go off to boarding school." Confirmation became a set of classes, a celebration of the "great festival of youth," an examination, a confession of faith, and the memorization of a biblical passage. Because there were so many different understandings of confirmation at the time, random customs became associated with it. For example, during the service of confirmation, students were encouraged to leave the chancel rail to seek out their parents in the congregation in order to ask for their forgiveness and blessing. Acts like this were not originally a part of initiation but became a part of the watered-down version. The focus was no longer fully on God; emphasis was now placed on an individual.
John Calvin considered it "misborn wraith" and Martin Luther considered it nothing more than "monkey business." John Wesley, our founder, also had definite thoughts of confirmation that were not too far removed from these church leaders (as seen in a later discussion).
As a result of this new way of thinking about Christianity that was separate and apart from the Catholic Church, the Calvinist, Lutheran, and Anglican traditions emphasized the necessity of catechesis — the teaching of faith to those who have been baptized as infants over confirmation.Confirmation, then, became a ceremony for those who had learned the catechism and other basics of faith publicly professed in Christian commitment. Because we stem from Anglican roots, it is important to note that "when John Wesley revised the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to serve as a worship book for North American Methodists, he omitted confirmation completely."
Methodists in America Without Clergy (1784)
The meaningfulness of confirmation did not fare well among Methodists who were settling in America. With the new settlers, Methodism entered a world that was much different from its roots in Great Britain. Initially, there was a clear connection to British Methodists. However, after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, American Methodists were no longer able to receive Communion from the Anglican churches because the ties with the British had been cut.
Because of this change, no ordained ministers were available to offer the sacraments for a more than one year. During this time, worship consisted primarily of preaching, singing, Bible reading, and praying, which weakened the balance they had originally hoped to maintain. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, knew this had to be resolved because of his belief in the connection of the means of grace and personal piety. So, in December of 1784, the Christmas Conference was convened in Pennsylvania to ordain American Methodist ministers who would be able to administer the sacraments. But the "damage" had already been done. Disconnected from England, Methodists were now focused less on the sacraments and more on the individual experience of salvation.
Therefore, confirmation, now only a loose extension of baptism, became even more ambiguous when the sacramental meaning and significance of baptism was lost. According to Gayle Felton, there was a time when Methodists held together "sacramentalism," which attracted people to the faith. However, when Methodism came to America, the emphasis on the sacraments changed and minimized the importance of confirmation even more. Because of Wesley's intentional omission of the confirmation service from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and the absence of Methodist clergy to administer the rituals, neither the sacraments nor confirmation were practiced.
Twentieth Century (Industrial Revolution)
While it is true that Luther objected to the flawed system, he did believe that it provided people with a path of discipleship. This system "provided pastoral care in a comprehensive way to deeply felt human needs" that are permanent. Likewise, in The United Methodist Church today, we acknowledge the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, but the need for pastoral care still exists. Members in churches need a path of discipleship that meets their needs along all ages and stages of life's journey. By the 1950s and 1960s, confirmation language began to reappear. By 1964, a service of confirmation was added to The United Methodist Hymnal as a part of the baptismal service.
Excerpted from Confirm Director Guide by Cokesbury. Copyright © 2016 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Cokesbury.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMeet the Confirm Team,
What Is Confirmation?,
Theology of Confirmation,
Why Confirmation Matters,
Creating a Meaningful Confirmation Experience,