Wesleyan Theology: Confirmation
By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal
The Sacramentals are those Means of Grace which have Sacramental qualities but which were not clearly established as Sacraments by our Lord in Scripture and, hence, are not counted as "Sacraments." Like the Sacraments, the Sacramentals require a human response of faith for them to operate in our lives as effective Means of Grace. While there are many more Means of Grace than those which we will examine here in these articles, throughout the history of the church at least these means have generally been recognized as avenues through which God provides Divine grace to believers. Again, each means listed has sacramental qualities, but Methodists and most other Protestants do not recognize them as literal Sacraments.
In The United Methodist Church we recognize Confirmation as the completion of the Sacrament of Baptism, and hence it is often ranked as part of the Baptismal rite. Indeed, if you will check the Hymnal in your pew next Sunday you'll notice that the liturgy for confirmation is contained within the Liturgy for Christian Baptism (see the UM Hymnal, page 37).
But what does Confirmation do? It is the response to grace and the public profession of faith of a believer who has been baptized and, for the first time before a congregation, affirms their faith in Jesus Christ in response to the grace received in their baptisms. As such, confirmation completes the Sacrament of Baptism. For those who are baptized as infants, the response of faith in confirmation cannot come until the child attains the mental and emotional maturity to be able to affirm that God's grace has moved them to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. For those who are baptized as either youth or adults, confirmation may well occur immediately after the application of the Baptismal waters.
This should illustrate that what is going on in the baptism of an infant is identical to what is going on in the baptism of a "believer." Both instances of the sacrament reflect God's grace, which comes before anything that we ever we do. While baptism may be understood as reflecting Prevenient Grace, confirmation can equally be understood as reflecting Justifying Grace. In baptism, God claims us as his very own children; in confirmation we proclaim God as our Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. In Baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ as the children of God; in confirmation, we affirm the efficacious validity of our baptisms by professing our faith in Jesus Christ and entering into active participation within the Body of Christ.
© 1999 Dr. Gregory S. Neal
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As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.