Thursday, April 23, 2009


My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Confirmation:

Q: What is “confirmation”? What churches practice it and what does it mean? Does the Bible give any instructions about confirmation?

Confirmation is a church tradition practiced by many types of Christians, but there is considerable variety about its details among different churches, even between different congregations within the same denomination. Confirmation usually involves a time of instruction for the person to be confirmed, an opportunity for them to publicly state their agreement with the beliefs of their church, and a blessing by the clergy overseeing the confirmation. Confirmation is usually practiced by church denominations which baptize the infant children of their members. Because the child is not old enough to speak, sponsors (sometimes called godparents) and the congregation speak for the child at his baptism, and at confirmation, he speaks for himself that he agrees with what had been said at his baptism.

In the ancient church, as soon as new Christians were baptized, a minister would then place oil on their forehead and bless them. As it became more common for those baptized to be infants and children, this anointing and blessing were postponed until a later age and became what we know as confirmation. Some churches also see the mention of “laying on of hands” (Heb. 6:2, 1 Tim. 4:14 & 5:22, 2 Tim. 1:6) in the Bible as a reference to confirmation. The words “confirmand” or “catechumen” are used to refer to those preparing for confirmation, and they may study a book called a “catechism.” Some churches require that confirmations be overseen by a Bishop or other church leaders, while in many others, confirmations are overseen by the local pastor.

Since there are no commands in the Bible concerning the specific details of confirmation, local congregations have considerable freedom, and the variety seen in this tradition is understandable. The most typical age for confirmation among churches I have encountered is approximately 14 years or eighth grade, although it is not uncommon for churches to choose an age a few of years either side of this. On some occasions, a church may evaluate students’ readiness individually, without considering age. Many churches also make a practice of confirming baptized adults who come into their church from another denomination. In some churches, confirmation is also connected with beginning to participate in the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, Communion), but in other traditions, children begin to take part at younger ages and are confirmed several years later.

Some churches, such as Roman Catholic and Episcopal, consider confirmation to be a Sacrament, while others, such as those from the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, do not. In some churches, confirmation is accompanied by anointing, which is the application of oil to the confirmand. A particularly beloved practice, especially among Lutherans, is the giving of a “confirmation verse” to each youth being confirmed. This verse is frequently used decades later as the sermon text for their funeral. Confirmation most often occurs in the spring, although the precise dates may vary. One traditional date for confirmations is Palm Sunday (The Sunday before Easter). Other popular dates include Pentecost (7 weeks after Easter), Reformation Day (October 31), and Mother’s Day. Recently, confirmation dates have often coincided more closely with the school year, taking place on a specified Sunday between late April and early June.

There are also several common misconceptions concerning confirmation. For example, it is sometimes understood that youth become members of the church when they are confirmed. This generally is true for an adult who is new to a church, but in most churches children become members at Baptism, although they might not participate in all aspects of congregational life until after confirmation. Another example of this is that confirmation is sometimes looked at like a graduation because it comes at the end of a period of more concentrated instruction. In contrast, it is actually intended as quite the opposite of a graduation. Instead of being an end to a person’s spiritual development, confirmation is intended to open the door to fuller participation in the congregation and a lifetime of continued discipleship and instruction in the faith.

In spite of the previously-mentioned differences in traditions, the common thread regarding confirmation is that a previously baptized person acknowledges their baptism, is given further instruction in the Bible and church teachings, and has an opportunity to publicly confess the faith and pledge their faithfulness to their church.

Readers are encouraged to submit questions for inclusion in future issues. According to your preference, you may include your first name or submit questions anonymously, and I will do my best to answer your questions as my knowledge and research allow and according to their suitability for publication. You may submit questions by email to or by mail to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

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