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  • Martin Davie

A new guide to the Prayer Book confirmation service

The Christian gospel declares that through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ sin, death and the devil have been defeated and a new life in right relationship with God has been made possible for the human race and, eventually, for the whole of creation.

A question that arises from this declaration is how what Christ has done becomes effective in the lives of particular human beings.

According to the ancient tradition of the of the Western Christian Church, a key part of the answer to this question is that there are two rites of ‘Christian initiation’ through which the benefits of what Christ has done are conveyed to those who respond to the gospel with repentance and faith.

These two rites are baptism and confirmation.

In baptism, by the action of the Spirit, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection and thereby, as Paul teaches us, we die to our old life of sin and death and rise to a new life with God which will be fully revealed at the resurrection of the dead at the end of time (Romans 6:1-14).

In confirmation we re-affirm the promises which we made (or were made for us) at our baptism, and we receive through the laying on with hands with prayer the sevenfold gift of God’s Spirit which was first given to Christ (Isaiah 11:2-3). We are thereby given strength through the Spirit to live the new life we have been given in baptism, and protection from all that would turn us away from God.

This understanding of confirmation was accepted by the English Reformers in the sixteenth century. Although they rejected the medieval idea that confirmation was a sacrament, they retained the practice of confirmation for two reasons. First, because they believed it was the practice of the Early Church and had its origin in the practice of the apostles themselves as recorded in Acts 8:14-17 and 19: 1-7, and secondly because they believed that confirmation preceded by catechetical instruction was the necessary complement to infant baptism.

The English Reformers produced a new English confirmation service which corrected what they saw as the corruptions that had crept into the medieval confirmation rites. It is this service, in its final 1662 version, that is found in the Book of Common Prayer and it remains the normative Church of England confirmation service, to which the confirmation services in Common Worship are only authorised alternatives.

The purpose of my new book on confirmation for the Latimer Trust is to provide an introduction to, and commentary on, the 1662 service. In my experience most people in the Church of England (including many members of the clergy) do not understand the meaning of confirmation, or the theology of the Prayer Book confirmation service. My book is intended to help correct this lack of understanding.

The book has four main chapters:

Chapter 1 -provides the historical background to the 1662 service by describing how the Church’s understanding and practice of confirmation developed in the Early Church and during the Middle Ages.

Chapter 2 -looks at how the confirmation service in the Book of Common Prayer developed from 1549-1662 and the theological reasons for this development.

Chapter 3 - provides a detailed commentary on the Book of Common Prayer confirmation service.

Chapter 4 - responds to ten questions that are commonly asked about confirmation today.

Two appendixes contain a modernised version of the 1662 confirmation service and the Church of England’s current regulations concerning the admission of children to Holy Communion.

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Martin Davie is the Theological Consultant to the Church of England Evangelical Council and the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life. He is also assistant lecturer in Christian Doctrine at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.



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