The Bible’s Viewpoint
Confirmation—Is It a Christian Requirement?
“Confirmation is the sacrament which confers on the baptized Christian the full perfection of Christian life, making him spiritually an adult, a soldier, and a witness of Christ.”—The Catholic Encyclopedia for School and Home.
MOST Protestants reject the idea that confirmation is a sacrament. However, the 13th-century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote that “confirmation is a final perfecting of the sacrament of baptism.” Either way, the questions arise: Did the earliest Christians practice confirmation? Is that ceremonial act a Christian requirement today?
“Absolutely nothing in the Gospel indicates that Jesus Himself instituted the Sacrament of Confirmation,” admits the New Catholic Encyclopedia. So why did church teachers later promote the idea that following baptism, a second rite, which may include anointing with oil and laying on of hands, was needed to make the person a fuller member of the church?
How Did Confirmation Begin?
Infant baptism was one of the key factors that led to the need for another sacrament. “Aware of the problems caused by baptising babies,” says the book Christianity, “churches . . . remind those who have been baptised of what this means by ‘confirming’ them later on in life.” Does confirmation truly remind them of what baptism means, or does it obscure the truth about baptism?
The fact is that infant baptism finds no support in the Scriptures. Sprinkling water on a baby, for example, does not free the baby from original sin; only faith in the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus can do that. (John 3:16, 36; 1 John 1:7) Water baptism is an outward symbol that the one being baptized has made a complete dedication through Jesus to do the will of Jehovah God. Water baptism is for disciples—‘believers’—not infants.—Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 8:12.
“Where did Baptism end and where did Confirmation begin?” asks the New Catholic Encyclopedia. It answers: “Perhaps we should not try to distinguish too precisely, for we are dealing with a single rite in the early Church.” Yes, in the first century, the “single rite” that brought full membership in the Christian congregation was baptism.—Acts 2:41, 42.
Is the ceremony of confirmation, with its imposition of hands, needed before one can receive the holy spirit? No. In the early Christian congregation, the laying on of hands following baptism normally was to make special appointments or to impart miraculous gifts of the spirit. These gifts passed away with the death of the apostles. (1 Corinthians 13:1, 8-10) And the laying on of hands is often linked, not with water baptism, but with specific tasks to be done in connection with the Christian missionary activity. (Acts 6:1-6; 13:1-3) Thus, the idea that confirmation continues such apostolic laying on of hands and is, as Basics of the Faith: A Catholic Catechism says, a “sacrament that changes a person in so profound a way that it can be received only once,” does not stand up to scrutiny.
The apostle Paul warned about deviation from basic Bible truth: “The time is sure to come when, far from being content with sound teaching, people will be avid for the latest novelty . . . and then, instead of listening to the truth, they will turn to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4, The Jerusalem Bible) Yet, those who believe in the rite of confirmation cite two Scriptural examples as proof.
A Scriptural Basis?
The account found at Acts 8:14-17 is often used as a basis for confirmation. However, this laying on of the hands to receive holy spirit was a unique occasion. How so? The Samaritans were not Jewish proselytes. Hence, they became the first non-Israelites to be added to the Christian congregation. When the disciple Philip preached in Samaria, many Samaritans “proceeded to be baptized, both men and women,” but they did not immediately receive the holy spirit. (Acts 8:12) Why?
Remember, it was to Peter that Christ Jesus entrusted “the keys of the kingdom”—the privilege of first presenting the opportunity for entry into “the kingdom of the heavens” for different groups of converts. (Matthew 16:19) So it was not until Peter and John went to Samaria and laid their hands on these first non-Jewish disciples that holy spirit was poured out on them as a token of their prospective membership in “the kingdom of the heavens.”
Some see in Acts 19:1-6 evidence that early Christians had a separate rite following baptism. In this case, however, it is obvious that the reason for withholding holy spirit from some disciples in the city of Ephesus was that these new believers were baptized “in John’s baptism,” which was no longer valid. (See also Acts 18:24-26.) When this was explained to them, they quickly “got baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” And in this instance, the apostle Paul “laid his hands upon them” so that they would receive some of the miraculous gifts of God’s holy spirit besides being adopted as God’s spiritual sons.—Romans 8:15, 16.
Of these accounts, the New Dictionary of Theology says: “No direct continuity of usage can be traced to these occurrences, and, even if they do provide some precedent, it is doubtful whether they should be viewed as normative for Christian initiation in the way that water-baptism is. . . . The Acts of the Apostles has many instances of the use of water-baptism without a subsequent laying on of hands (so that these instances in fact appear as exceptions).” Yes, these were exceptional actions to cope with exceptional circumstances.
“The rite called ‘confirmation,’” concludes the New Dictionary of Theology, “has become a ‘rite in search of a theology.’” It is, in fact, an unscriptural ritual, a product of faulty teachings, and certainly not a requirement for Christians.