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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reinventing the Wheel

Or: Doctrine of Holiness, Not as Distinctive as We Thought

From the Catholic Catechism:

"Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us to bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds" (1316).

"Confirmation, like Baptism, imprints a spiritual mark or indelible character on the Christian's soul" (1317).

I'm just going to be completely honest here, I did not understand what confirmation meant until I began to study it.  Later in this post, I will talk about the preparation for confirmation.  This preparation is what I would previously have defined as confirmation, itself.  I think this has a lot to do with the general definition and understanding of the word, confirmation.  I thought that, in the Catholic Church, confirmation was about the people confirming their commitment to God.  I guess that makes sense, so I'm going to try not to be too hard on myself or embarrassed about this.  But I was wrong.  And even as I started to wonder if confirmation and sanctification might be closely tied together, I just had no idea how accurate that concept was or where my questions would lead.

In confirmation, there is "a renewal of baptismal promises and the profession of faith" (1298), but there is also the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Interestingly, Protestants are generally pretty adamant that sacraments must include an outward sign of some sort, something tangible, perhaps even something that incites a sensory experience.  As someone who is very "hands-on" and sensory oriented, this is helpful to me.  Confirmation in the Catholic Church does include such a sign.  To signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, there is an anointing with chrism, an aromatic oil.  It is a seal.  "This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service forever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial" (1296).  Hear me out, Protestant friends.  In the Catholic Church, confirmation is sanctification.  It marks the coming of the Holy Spirit.  We can try to get around this, but there is no way to deny that Jesus instructed the apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.  There is dominical institution here.  There is a physical sign.  God imparts grace with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  How is this not a sacrament?

Confirmation in the Catholic Church culminates in the sign of peace and these words,

"Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God's presence.  Guard what you have received.  God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts" (1303).

Two things about this.  First, we do not confirm. Christ confirms.  Mind blown. 

Second, just think this through for a moment.  In holiness denominations that build their articles of faith around the doctrine of holiness and sanctification, wouldn't it make sense to embrace this as a sacrament of the church?  What if we issued such a statement as the one above when people were filled with the Holy Spirit?  What if we actually empowered people to live like this?

But that's not all...

The history of confirmation is fascinating.  Originally, confirmation was bestowed on infants, much like baptism, making it the responsibility of parents.  Over time, the age has increased, first to "the age of discretion" (commonly seven years old) and then to the early to mid teenage years.  With these changes has come a time of preparation that aims to lead people into a more intimate union with Christ, understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, and community within the church.  It requires penance and intense prayer on the part of the confirmands.  It requires accountability in the form of a sponsor (or what I might describe as a spiritual director). 

This is very serious, an intense process that prepares people who are already filled with grace for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  I think we largely miss this in the Protestant church.  From my own experience, holiness and sanctification are most often preached at gatherings whose purpose is evangelism or revival.  Sometimes these gatherings are even wrought with emotional manipulation, which may cause a person to feel obligated to receive the Holy Spirit without any training about what this decision actually signifies.  We do not offer any type of seal or any type of sending out.  At best, there is a brief moment of celebration at an altar of prayer that all too often becomes a marker of an event as opposed to a transformation.  This is our tradition, but it's not too late to make some changes.

I have a lot of thoughts about how this might look, how the concept of "making changes" might translate into discipleship teaching and training in real life, in preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, but frankly there are too many words for the scope of this particular post.  So, I think what I would really like is to solicit your thoughts and ideas.  Dialogue with me here.  What should we be teaching as we lead others toward confirmation, as defined as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?   


1 comment:

  1. Some of what we might teach in the process of training towards confirmation depends on when we teach it - not just strictly age, but taking into account each person's mental, emotional, and spiritual development. Is the person ready for this?

    For example, desire is not the only factor for readiness. Desire must be present, and strong, but it is not enough by itself (this is true of a great many things, as well). I remember when I became an active part of the Church of the Nazarene in my early teen years, and soon began hearing a lot about this "sanctification" thing. I had a strong desire to understand what this was. If a person could be made holy, could grow closer to Christ in this way, I certainly wanted that. My desire became strong to experience sanctification. But I needed to understand it first, to truly grasp the meaning and significance.

    As you said in your post, often what has happened is we push an event/experience on people without "any training about what this decision actually signifies." For me, I was actually allowed and encouraged by my youth pastor and other mentor/leaders to take the time to learn what this meant, what the implications were, and to be transformed through these learning experiences. They were patient with us, training us in the way we should go, explaining to us the intricacies of faith and theology, and allowing Holy Spirit to do God's work in us in God's time, making changes in us until we were *ready.* But that may be, unfortunately, a rather rare experience in churches today.

    So what we teach in order to properly prepare a person depends somewhat on where they are at right now in their emotional, mental, spiritual development. We can't cookie cutter everyone - however, I *do* think a "training program" or "apprenticing program" is really important. This was true from Ekklesia's beginning, evidenced in many places in the New Testament writings. The Didache essentially is the early training manual for this new Way of life - I've just begun working my way through this at my site (most recently here: I think it's possible that what I am going to find is that the completion of the training found in the Didache would be the place at which we might identify readiness for confirmation/sanctification. So that is one place we might start.

    Related: I have always been torn about waiting for baptism until a person was ready and a kind of immediate baptism when a person desired to follow Jesus. I have watched people be rushed to baptism who quickly left Ekklesia never to return. This seems wrong. But I have watched people wait far too long and not receive the grace they needed through that sacrament.

    I think what I am seeing now is "look, here is water, why shouldn't I be baptized?" is completely valid. But in true bothandian fashion, so is a significant period of training and apprenticing in preparation for confirmation.