The Rite of Confirmation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (MAT 3:5,6)

  1. It was our privilege today to witness the rite of confirmation. It would be useful for us to take advantage of this opportunity to reflect for a few moments on the meaning and purpose of this rite.

    1. In the New Church there are both rituals (or rites) and sacraments.

      1. There are two sacraments:

        1. Baptism

        2. Holy Supper.

      2. There are presently seven rituals recognized in the General Church:

        1. Confession of Faith or Confirmation of Baptism.

        2. Betrothal

        3. Marriage

        4. Ordination and Inauguration

        5. Memorial Service

        6. Interment

        7. Dedications of various buildings, such as homes, schools, and churches.

    2. The difference between a sacrament and a rite is that the sacraments are specifically commanded by the Lord in the Word and they have the power of real correspondence with spiritual things because they are the Lord’s presence with us in the world; while the rituals are implied by the various teachings, but nowhere specifically commanded and they only represent spiritual things, they do not correspond.

      1. Among the rituals, there is a varying degree of scriptural authority. Certainly, weddings are described in the Word, the Lord tells us that we are created male and female so that we can be married, and it is clear that marriage is a spiritual conjunction, not just a civil relationship. It is easy to see that the church ought to provide for weddings and that ministers should officiate at them (even though we know that ministers are not used in heavenly weddings).

        1. On the other hand, it’s kind of a stretch to say that the Word teaches that we ought to dedicate a home or a school, because the only scriptural reference is to dedicating a house of worship.

      2. So why do we have rituals like the dedication of a home or school? Arcana Coelestia 3720 teaches: the externals of the church are rituals, the internals are doctrinals…. We have rituals because the general doctrine of the church tells us that for internal, spiritual things to be real to us, they have to be ultimated, they have to be brought down into the same plane of existence where our conscious life exists.

        1. For example, it’s not enough for a husband and wife to simply say that they love each other – it is essential that be expressed in a warm embrace.

          1. And, in our attempt to bring that internal into an external form, or ritual, we have the bride and groom exchange spoken vows, and then seal their promise with a kiss! It’s obviously the right thing to do, but it’s not taught in scripture.

        2. Another example is our promise to the Lord that we will work on a particular sin is confirmed and strengthened when it is accompanied by the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.

        3. Finally, our promise to raise our children to love the Lord and keep His commandments, and the Lord’s promise in return to wash away the evils of the proprium is confirmed and ultimated by the waters of baptism.

    3. Confirmation is a Rite, not a Sacrament.

      1. It is not mentioned in Scripture or in the Writings, but it has been in existence as a rite since an early period of the Christian Church. Such a service, under a variety of names, has been a feature of every New Church organization’s liturgy.

      2. In the early Christian Church it was called the “imposition of hands” and was thought to be the “seal of baptism.”

        1. “The sense of seal was afterwards carried over to the word confirm, signifying to make firm, strengthen, or settle and establish. It conveys the idea that the infant after baptism may wander, but that in confirmation he voluntarily returns, and his state is fixed and established by his own act.”1

      3. The rite of Confirmation is an extension of the Sacrament of Baptism. When people join the church as adults, they are baptized according to their own wishes, and take the responsibility for their spiritual lives on themselves. When little children are baptized, the promise is made by the parents on behalf of the children. It has been the practice and teaching of the General Church that it is useful, though not required, for individuals to mark their coming into spiritual adulthood by taking those responsibilities on themselves, and acknowledging the Church as their spiritual mother, and the Lord as their spiritual Father.

  2. What is being confirmed is that the promises of Baptism, made by the parents for the child are now valid and binding on the conscience of the young adult.

    1. To review those promises, they are in general

      1. To take care, so that by life in the world, the child will be prepared for life in heaven.

      2. To cooperate with the Lord in the care of the child so that the Lord’s ends and purposes may come into existence.

      3. To search the Word for the knowledge that will guide you to do your part of the work well.

    2. Specifically

      1. Lead the child to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Father.

      2. Teach the child the Lord’s prayer as an introduction to true worship.

      3. Teach the child the Ten Commandments so that he may learn to shun evils as sins.

      4. Teach the child to read the Word with understanding, so that he may be prepared for Regeneration.

  3. One of the basic assumptions of the rite of Confirmation is that by taking responsibility for your spiritual life upon yourself, your natural parents become secondary to the care provided by your spiritual parents: the Lord and the church.

    1. In order for that to happen, the individual seeking Confirmation must be of an age where it can be reasonably expected that he will be able to successfully take this responsibility upon himself.

    2. Since we are not able to point to a particular passage that tells us to have confirmations, let alone one that guides us to the appropriate age where this should take place, we have to draw from the general doctrine a policy that is as consistent as possible with other teachings.

    3. Bishop W.F. Pendleton wrote, “The trend of thought in the New Church, or at any rate in our body, has been to fix upon a period … when the youth is about to enter upon the duties of adult age, when the rational is to be opened, or illustration given, and the spiritual understanding of truth established; or when the young begin to think from light in their own minds, and no longer from the dictate of command of another; that is, when they have left school, and are about to take their place among men and women; when their state of dependence has come to an end, and they have reached “years of discretion,” marking the period of final transfer from parental control and discipline; and when they are prepared to enter into the combat of spiritual temptation, to enter which, we are told, no one is ready until adult age is reached, or until the spiritual rational mind is opened, or may be opened. (A. C. 1661, 4248, 5044.) It is this opening of the rational mind on the approach to adult age, or the introduction to a state of spiritual enlightenment, that is meant by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which gift is conferred by the laying on of hands, which closes the period that follows baptism and introduces to the period of spiritual temptations. And let us note in this connection that it was after the Spirit had descended upon Him that the Lord entered into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (MAT 3 :16 and 4:1.)”2

      1. We must note that at the time this was written, the great majority of people went into the world of work after High School. So, when he refers to the time when a young person has “left school” he means graduated from High School.

  4. Finally, we may ask what the rite is supposed to accomplish for the person who enters into it, in other words, why was this ritual created in the first place?

    1. We know that the great challenge of adult life is the blessing and the curse of free will in spiritual things.

      1. The first and most obvious reason is that when a person stands before God and states their faith and their promise to live according to that faith in front of witnesses, it gives them a greater strength and power to keep that promise.

      2. A second reason is more subtle because it’s spiritual and internal. On the one hand, our greatest delight in our lives comes from being able to think about what we want to do, and then go ahead and do it, to act from genuine spiritual freedom.

        1. But, on the other hand, the consequence of real freedom in spiritual things it that you are also free to make terrible mistakes and bear the consequences of those mistakes when you make poorly informed choices. There are no “take backs” in adult life.

        2. You can learn from your mistakes and make better choices later as a result of them, but you can’t redo the past. So it’s important to have some help and encouragement in the exercise of your free will.

        3. In this, it’s helpful to remember that the world of nature exists as a foundation and support of the spiritual world. Just as the letter of the Word was written in the way it was so that it would contain a spiritual sense that it for the angels of heaven, so the angels are involved and associated by correspondence with everything that happens in the world of nature.

        4. When we choose to do or think what is evil or false, we know that it attracts evil spirits who encourage that kind of thought and act.

        5. Happily, the same thing happens when we think what is true and do what is good. We attract to our spiritual neighborhood angels and good spirits who are in a similar state. Our association with them is not conscious, of course, but it brings a secret kind of strength that upholds our hand as we go through life, and gives us the courage and support to do the right thing when faced with a temptation to do what we know is wrong.

          1. The Lord Himself is our spiritual father, and we look to Him for guidance and direction and approval.

          2. The angels themselves are the internal church, our spiritual mother, and our holy fear of harming their states, of disappointing them gives us strength to resist.

          3. Just as by baptism we are associated with the Christian heaven, when we, as adults, confirm for ourselves the promises made for us by our parents, our association with Christian spirits is also confirmed.

But as they grow up and become their own masters and think for themselves, they abandon their angel tutors, and choose for themselves such spirits as are at one with their life and faith. These facts show plainly that baptism is being brought into association with Christians in the spiritual world too. (TCR 677:e) Amen.

First Lesson: Mat 3:1-6

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, {2} and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” {3} For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” {4} And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. {5} Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him {6} and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

Second Lesson: TCR 621:11

TCR 621: [11] Respecting baptism [the angels] said, that baptism is spiritual washing, which is reformation and regeneration; that a child is reformed and regenerated when, having become an adult, he does the things that his sponsors promised for him, namely, these two, repents, and believes in God. For they promise first that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and secondly, that he will believe in God. All infants in heaven are initiated into these two duties; but to them the devil is hell and God is the Lord. Moreover, baptism is a sign to the angels that a man belongs to the church.”

Hearing this, those of the assembly said, “We understand that.”

Third Lesson: TCR 677:5

[5] In the heavens, however, children are by baptism brought into the Christian heaven, and have angels there allotted to them by the Lord to take care of them. So as soon as children are baptized, angels are put in charge of them, who keep them in a state in which they can receive faith in the Lord. But as they grow up and become their own masters and think for themselves, they abandon their angel tutors, and choose for themselves such spirits as are at one with their life and faith. These facts show plainly that baptism is being brought into association with Christians in the spiritual world too.

  1. 1Notes on Ritual, p. 86, W.F. Pendleton, ANC 1956

  1. 2Ibid., p 90

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