By Robin G. Jordan
As well as endorsing an Order for Holy Baptism at its most recent meeting, the College of Bishops gave their endorsement to an Order of Confirmation. The College of Bishops’ endorsement of these two rites represents another step toward providing the Anglican Church in North America not just with a Prayer Book of its own but a Prayer Book that will be unreformed Catholic in its teaching and practices. Having examined the Order for Holy Baptism in a previous article, we now turn to the Order of Confirmation. The Preface to Confirmation and the accompanying Order of Confirmation may be found here.
The Preface to Confirmation makes the claim that the rite of confirmation is evident in Scripture and cites 2 Timothy 1:6-7, Acts 8:14-17; and Acts 19:6 in support of this claim. In 2 Timothy 1:6-7 Paul writes:
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” [2 Timothy 1:6-7, ESV]
The “gift of God” to which this passage alludes is in the commentaries understood to be the special gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Timothy at his ordination when Paul and an unidentified group of the elders presumably those of the Church of Lystra laid hands on him, prayed over him, and set him apart for the ministry of evangelist. This passage does not describe an apostolic rite of confirmation anymore than does Acts 8:14-17 and Acts 19:6.
Acts 8:14-17 and Acts 19:6 describe the apostolic practice of laying on of hands, NOT an apostolic rite of confirmation. This is an important distinction. The rite of confirmation is not an apostolic ordinance, much less a sacrament. The rite of confirmation has its origin not in apostolic times but in fourth or fifth century Gaul. Its development was accidental. For a lengthy but thorough examination of the origin of confirmation as a rite, its history, and its development in Anglicanism, see “An Anglican Prayer Book (2008): The Catechism and the Order of Confirmation.”
The Preface to Confirmation goes on to claim that the rite of confirmation guarantees a particular blessing: God, though the prayer of the bishop, strengthens the believer for Christian service and witness. This claim emphasizes the role of the bishop as an essential mediator between God and the confirmand and a supplier of sacramental grace, a view that has no basis in Scripture but is based on tradition. It is, however, consistent with the claim made in To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism that confirmation is a sacrament. This particular claim places the theology of confirmation reflected in the Preface to Confirmation and the Order for Confirmation itself as well as in the Anglican Church in North America’s catechism squarely in the unreformed Catholic camp along with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church in North America—specifically its College of Bishops—makes the “medieval mistake” of categorizing confirmation as a sacrament, as J. I. Packer describes this error in Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs.
The Preface to Confirmation does not quite separate itself from the equally unbiblical views that the Holy Spirit is conferred at confirmation or that Christian initiation has two stages and the Holy Spirit completes in confirmation what he began in baptism:
“…and we pray that he will pour out his Holy Spirit on those who have already been made his children by adoption and grace in Baptism.”
This passage brings to mind a passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which originally comes from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Divinae consortium naturae.
"From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ's will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church." [Art. 1288]
As we shall see in our examination of the Order for Confirmation itself the rite departs from the reformed understanding of the rite of confirmation reflected in the Anglican formularies—in the two Books of Homilies as well as the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The rite at best bears a superficial family resemblance to the 1662 Confirmation Service. The arrangement of the elements of the rite is roughly the same. Its doctrine is decidedly not that of the 1662 service. While it borrows material from that service, there are significant alterations and omissions.
When the title of the ACNA confirmation rite is compared with the title of the 1662 Confirmation Service, there is a noticeable difference of emphasis. The 1662 subtitle is “or laying on of hands upon those that are baptized and come to years of discretion” The ACNA confirmation rite’s subtitle is “or laying on of hands by the bishop.” The 1662 subtitle emphasizes those upon whom hands will be laid; the ACNA confirmation rite’s subtitle emphasizes who will lay hands on them. The difference between the two subtitles is an indicator of the difference between the theology of the two rites.
The opening versicles and responses for the Eucharist at which confirmation takes place emphasize the conferring of the Holy Spirit, a further indication that the drafters of the rite had difficulty in separating themselves from such notions as the Holy Spirit is conferred at confirmation or Christian initiation has two stages and the Holy Spirit completes at confirmation what he began at baptism. Both views have their adherents in the Anglican Church. They are tied to the belief that the rite of confirmation is a sacramental in nature. They, however, are purely conjectural and have no basis in Scripture. They are also not consistent with the reformed understanding of confirmation reflected in the Anglican formularies.
The salutation, “The Lord be with you;and with your spirit” precedes the Collect of the Day. I have examined elsewhere the unreformed Catholic doctrinal associations of this greeting and response and the significance of its omission from the 1552, 1559, 1604, and 1662 Prayer Books with the exception of before second Lord’s Prayer in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer and before the Lord’s Prayer in the Order of Confirmation.
The Preface of the 1662 Confirmation Service has been replaced by an exhortation that articulates the theology of confirmation favored by the drafters of the rite and endorsed by the College of Bishops. Among the requirements for confirmation mentioned in the Exhortation is the requirement that the confirmands has been instructed in “the Catechism of the Church.” This is not a reference to the short catechism in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer but to the longer To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism with its unreformed Catholic teaching.
The exhortation concludes with this statement:
“Now, these candidates here desire publicly to confess their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and their commitment to follow him as Lord. They also desire the strengthening of grace through the laying on of hands that the Holy Spirit may fill them more and more for their ministry in the Church and in the world.”
Note how this statement ties the infilling of the Holy Spirit to an infusion of grace given by the imposition of hands. The 1662 Confirmation Service contains no equivalent of this statement. What the 1662 Confirmation Service does teach about the laying on of hands, as we shall see, is omitted from the ACNA confirmation rite.
The exhortation is followed by the examination of the confirmands, which is adapted from the ACNA baptismal rite. Omitted from the examination of the confirmands is not only the minor exorcism but the affirmation of the baptismal covenant.
The examination of the confirmands is in turn followed by a prayer which is an adaptation of the first prayer for the confirmands in the 1662 Confirmation Service. A comparison of the two prayers shows the extent of the alterations that the drafters of the ACNA confirmation rite have made to the original prayer. First, the prayer from the 1662 Confirmation Service:
“ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins: Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.”
Then the prayer from the ACNA confirmation rite:
Almighty and everliving God, we ask you to strengthen these your servants for witness and ministry, through the power of your Holy Spirit. Daily increase in them the gift of your grace and the fruit of your Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
As can be seen from this comparison, the drafters of ACNA confirmation rite have not only changed the language of the prayer but also its meaning. Now compare the prayer from the ACNA confirmation rite with the contemporary English revision of the 1662 prayer from An Order of Confirmation, First Form, from An Australian Prayer Book (1978):
Almighty and everliving God, whose Son Jesus Christ was crucified and rose again to break the power of sin and death: we give you thanks and praise for the gift of your Holy Spirit by whom these your servants have been born again and made your children. Grant that in the power of the same Holy Spirit they may continue to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ. Increase in them your gracious gifts, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and inward strength, the spirit of knowledge and godly living, and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of true reverence for you, now and always. Amen.
And this contemporary English revision of the same prayer from Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings (2012):
Almighty and everliving God, you have been pleased to grant to your servants new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and have given them forgiveness of their sins; strengthen them, we pray, with the Holy Spirit; grant that they may grow in grace; and give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of discernment and inner strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and fill them, Father, with wonder and awe in your presence, now and for ever. Amen.
Both prayers are much more faithful to the language and meaning of the original prayer than is the prayer from the ACNA confirmation rite.
What is also noteworthy about the prayer from the ACNA confirmation service is its length. Considering that the Preface to Confirmation maintains that God, through the bishop’s prayer, strengthens the believer for Christian service and witness, one would expect this prayer to be slightly longer.
Omitted from the ACNA confirmation rite are the versicles and responses that precede the first prayer for the confirmands in the 1662 Confirmation Service and in which the congregation acknowledges its dependence upon God’s help and entreats to God to hear its prayer. This omission is significant. Having claimed in the Preface to Confirmation that God, through the prayer of the bishop, strengthens the believer for Christian service and witness, the drafters of the rite remove this reference to the prayers in the rite of confirmation as the prayer of the assembled church. This is a key element in the reformed understanding of confirmation. In that understanding of confirmation the bishop acts as the voice of the gathered church. The prayer is not his. It is that of the church. The Homily on Common Prayer and the Sacraments points to our attention:
"And although there are retained by the order of the Church of England, besides these two, certain other Rites and Ceremonies about the institution of Ministers in the Church, Matrimony, Confirmation of the children, by examining them of their knowledge in the articles of the faith, and joining thereto the prayers of the Church for them [emphasis added], and likewise for the visitation of the sick: yet no man ought to take these for Sacraments, in such signification and meaning, as the Sacrament of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are: but either for godly states of life, necessary in Christ’s Church, and therefore worthy to be set forth by public action and solemnity by the ministry of the Church, or else judged to be such ordinances, as may make for the instruction, comfort, and edification of Christ’s Church."
The Homily on Common Prayer and the Sacraments comes from the Second Book of Homilies, a collection of twenty-one sermons that expound the doctrine of the reformed Church of England. This collection of sermons was mainly written by Bishop John Jewel and was published in full in 1571. The sermons contained in the collection were appointed by law to be read each Sunday and holy day in every parish church. The purpose of the sermons was to instruct the people in the doctrine of the reformed Anglican Church.
Also reflected in the omitted versicles and responses is the view that is articulated in Article 10. We cannot do anything “that is pleasing and acceptable to God, unless the grace of God is first given through Christ, so that we may have a good will, and the same grace continues at work within us to maintain that good will.” We are utterly dependent upon God’s help.
The ACNA confirmation rite, like the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, provides two forms for use with the laying on of hands at “confirmation.” The first form is adapted from the form in the 1662 Confirmation Service. It differs significantly from 1662 form in that it prays that that the confirmand daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more until he comes into the “fullness” of God’s eternal kingdom, rather than until he comes to God’s eternal kingdom as in the 1662 form. It reflects the unreformed Catholic view that baptism is the entrance to God’s kingdom. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “this sacrament [baptism] is also called ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal bythe Holy Spirit,’ for it signifies and actually brings about the birth of waterand the Spirit without which no one ‘can enter the kingdom of God.’"[Art. 1215]
What this doctrinal view fails to do is make a clear distinction between kingdom present and kingdom future. To enter the kingdom present, we must be born again. However, to enter the kingdom future, we must make our election and calling sure. The eternal kingdom to which 1662 form refers is the kingdom future, the eternal kingdom of 1 Peter 1:11: “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We cannot enter the kingdom future without the help of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the bishop acting as the voice of the gathered church asks God to daily increase the Holy Spirit in the confirmand more and more so that he can make his election and calling sure.
The second form comes from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and was drafted by the late Urban T. Holmes.
The ACNA confirmation rite also provides a form for use with the laying on of hands at the reception of baptized and confirmed Christians from other traditions and a form for use with the laying on hands at the reaffirmation of baptismal vows by a person who has been previously confirmed or received in the Anglican Church in North America. The form for reception is taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The form for reaffirmation is adapted from the form for that purpose in the 1979 Prayer Book.
The rubrics of the ACNA confirmation rite permit the bishop to make the sign of the cross with the Oil of Chrism on the foreheads of those receiving the laying on of hands. The rite provides a form for use with this anointing. The English Reformers did away with this practice in the sixteenth century on Scriptural grounds. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the traditional nature of the practice:
Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name "Christian," which means "anointed" and derives from that of Christ himself whom God "anointed with the Holy Spirit." This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means "chrism." In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace. [Art. 1289]
As can be seen from this explanation of the practice, it has questionable doctrinal associations.
The laying on of hands is followed by a prayer that is taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It is a contemporary English revision of the prayer that follows the Lord’s Prayer in the 1662 Confirmation Service. It omits the following clauses from the 1662 prayer.
ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who makest us both to will and to do those things that be good and acceptable unto thy divine Majesty; We make our humble supplications unto thee for these thy servants, upon whom (after the example of thy holy Apostles) we have now laid our hands, to certify them (by this sign) of thy favour and gracious goodness towards them.
This omission is a significant one. The last clause summarizes the biblical and reformed understanding of laying on of hands. By this sign the bishop attests to God’s favor and gracious goodness toward the confirmand. Nothing, however, is conveyed through the bishop’s imposition of hands. As J.I. Packer points out in Growing in Christ, “the gesture of laying your hands on the person you pray for” as described in the New Testament is “a mark of good will and concern.” It is, however, not a sacramental sign.
The 1662 Confirmation Service recognizes the laying on of hands as a apostolic practice. But it does not view this gesture as an apostolic ordinance or a sacrament. In the 1552 Prayer Book and the 1662 Prayer Book which is based on the 1552 Prayer Book the Order of Confirmation is a catechetical rite in which individuals baptized as infants or children profess their repentance , faith, and commitment to Jesus Christ before the assembled church, own for themselves the baptismal vows that were made for them at their baptism, and receive the prayers of the Church.
The reason the drafters of the 1979 Order of Confirmation omitted these clauses from the 1662 prayer is that they held a different theology of the rite of confirmation . The drafters of the ACNA confirmation rite adopted the 1979 revision of that prayer for the same reason. For those who may be interested I have included solely for educational purposes the contemporary English version of the 1662 prayer from An Australian Prayer Book (1978):
Almighty and everlasting God, by your Holy Spirit you are at work in us, inspiring us both to will and to do those things that are good and pleasing in your sight; we pray for your servants upon whom we have now laid our hands, following the example of your holy apostles, to assure them, by this sign, of your favour and gracious goodness. Let your fatherly hand always be over them; let your Holy Spirit always be with them; lead them in the knowledge and obedience of your word, so that in the end they may obtain eternal life; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
As well as departing from the reformed understanding of the rite of confirmation in its doctrine, the ACNA confirmation rite is rather pedestrian in its language. It lacks the eloquence of the 1662 Confirmation Service and the other confirmation rites that I have examined.
At this point I believe that it should be very clear that the College of Bishops is seeking to impose the Roman Catholic sacramental system upon the Anglican Church in North America. A criticism that Anglo-Catholics leveled at the ACNA fundamental declarations was that they did not recognize the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic sacramental system. However, with To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism and the various rites that it has endorsed to date, the College of Bishops is making up for this perceived deficit. I would not be surprised if the College of Bishops at some future date fielded a proposal to amend the fundamental declarations to recognize the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic sacramental system.
If these doctrinal statements are not the writing on the wall for orthodox Anglicans in the ACNA who are faithful to the teaching of the Bible and loyal to the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies, I do not know what it is. They have enough pieces of the puzzle to see how the completed puzzle is going to appear. The message is very clear: there is no room in the denomination for those who are not open to unreformed Catholic teaching and practices.