History and Information about Confirmation in The United Methodist Church
“Confirmation ties together God’s act in Christ and our response in faith. It reminds us of the power of the community of faith and promises the presence of the Spirit on our journey,” (OC, p. 31).
I. Confirmation in the Early Church Traditions
In the early church, baptism and confirmation happened at the same
Persons were baptized and then anointed with oil as a sign of the Holy Spirit confirming within them the grace of God, the gift of salvation in Christ, and the work of the Spirit within their lives.
II. Why are baptism and confirmation separate now?
During the Middle Ages the two rites became separated from each other
because of church government. According to church rules, parish priests
could baptize, but only a bishop had the right to confirm. As the church
grew, there were long periods of time when the bishops were not
available, so the church continued to baptize but waited until bishops
were present to confirm. Unfortunately, because of that very practical
need to make a change the very nature of confirmation changed. When
baptism and confirmation became divided, the church came to understand
that confirmation somehow completed baptism.
III. Is confirmation a sacrament?
A “sacrament” is an outward and visible act that represents the
inward, invisible act of the Holy Spirit on the participants. In the
early church, both baptism and confirmation were considered sacraments.
As the church grew and divided over different issues, Protestant
Reformation leaders limited their definition of a sacrament to the
practices actually initiated by Jesus (baptism and communion);
therefore, they rejected the idea of confirmation as a sacrament and
deemed baptism alone sufficient initiation into the church. The
Catholic/Orthodox Church continued to understand confirmation as a
sacrament. In place of the sacrament of confirmation, the Protestant
denominations created a catechism (summary of principles of the
Christian religion in the form of questions and answers) that children
would learn before they were admitted to the sacrament of communion.
IV. How has the UMC understood Confirmation?
Although the Methodist Church grew out of the Anglican/Protestant
Church, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, did not encourage or
recommend that the new Methodist Church in America should take part in
confirmation. The church that Wesley started participated regularly in
class meetings where members came together for accountability, acts of
outreach and devotion, nurture, and spiritual growth. Methodists
by design gathered often for the daily living of the faith. Wesley
“.. . baptism was initiation into the church; (and
that) Methodists would learn the faith in the discipline of the class
meetings,” (QPAC, p. 24).
Confirmation as a catechism or time of instruction was not
The process of confirmation, however, is a natural fit for the
distinctive United Methodist theology that emphasizes the need for
justifying grace, repentance, and conversion later in life. In the
process of time the Methodist Church grew as did the primacy of the
class meetings. Beginning in the 1960s, the Methodist Church first
returned to the idea of confirmation, and the process has changed a lot
since then. Adults of today who grew up in the UM Church remember not
being invited to participate in communion until they were confirmed,
while now baptized persons of any age are invited to the communion
table. The newness of the rite, the changes that Methodists have
witnessed through the years, and the influence of other denominations
and faiths often lead to confusion when we seek to understand what it
means to offer confirmation in 2008.
Since 1988 the UMC has seen the greatest and most fruitful changes in
our theology and understanding of baptism and confirmation. The programs
and curriculum we encourage are based on these changes, as well as the
changing needs of youth. To understand confirmation today, we have to
first understand how the UMC views baptism.
V. Baptism in the United Methodist Church
We believe that baptism is a sacrament. It is an
outward sign of an inner grace.
We believe baptism is an act of God whereby:
We are initiated into Christ’s holy church.
When you read the Thanksgiving Over the Water in the baptismal
service you find that we are rehearsing, affirming, and claiming God’s
might acts of salvation. In baptism we affirm not just our own faith,
but the faith of all the faithful men and women who have gone before
from the book of Genesis until now.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of
given new birth through water and Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.
In the UMC people of all ages, most especially infants and children,
are brought forward for baptism because we believe it is first about who
God is, what God has done, and what God will continue to do in the life
of the child. Promising to nurture the child as he or she grows through
our own faithful obedience we ask, “Why would you wait to offer the
grace of baptism and communion?” We understand that a person can move
away from the grace and promises made at baptism (a child who is not
brought to church or nurtured by the church community or an adult who
grows away from Christ), yet believe that what we do in our individual
lives never changes what God has done.
Therefore, we baptize only once and we recognize and celebrate the
baptism of other faiths.
In baptism, a journey is begun. The journey is a gift initiated by God.
It is a journey that is not meant to be traveled alone, but nurtured and
sustained through the holy obedience of God’s family, the body of
Christ, the church.
VI. Confirmation in the United Methodist Church
Confirmation is an act of the Holy Spirit by which we ask the Holy
Spirit to work in us, helping us to be disciples.
…the Holy Spirit work within you, that having been
born through water and Spirit,
you may live as a faithful disciple.
During confirmation we give thanks for and confirm what God has
already done in baptism and what God is doing within us in particular.
Confirmation is a means of grace.
…the Lord defend you with his heavenly grace and by his
Spirit confirm you in the faith and fellowship as all true disciples of
We recognize that element of faith that is the same for everyone, and
we recognize that the faith that God enlivens in each us is yet a gift
that is unfolding and unique to God’s calling in our individual lives.
In the end, by the power of the Holy Spirit our lives and journeys are
knit together into the family of God. The response is both personal
(youth) and corporate (church family). “Confirmation ties together God’s
act in Christ (grace, salvation, new birth); the faith (and
faithfulness) of the church; and the personal response of the individual
into a rite that has become a means of grace.” (OC, p. 29).
Confirmation in early adolescence in one of the first significant
moments in which we affirm the faith into which we were baptized. It
defines our call to ministry given in baptism. Confirmation is a rite of
sanctification by which we dedicate ourselves to growing and living
toward holiness of heart and life. Unlike baptism, confirmation CAN be
repeated. It allows for a person to witness to and celebrate new forms
of ministry. It also provides for reflection about the meaning of the
VII. Confirmation at Soapstone
Since 1994 our confirmation program has been designed so that staff,
laity, parents, and peers work together and share in the joy and
responsibility of the baptismal covenant. Through mentor relationships,
peer relationships, field trips, hands on learning, spiritual growth,
worship, and study that spans a period of 8-9 months our youth journey
together toward claiming the name Christian and claiming the name United
VIII. Considerations for Confirmation
How do I know if my youth is ready? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The United Methodist Discipline
states that youth age 6th grade and up are invited to participate. However, recent research and reflection indicates that, ideally, confirmation
would be offered during late Middle School and early High School. For that reason Soapstone is offering confirmation for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade
students. The main thing to consider is whether or not your youth/family is ready to commit to the journey. You know your child better than anyone.
Talk with them about confirmation. Look at the schedule together. As you consider the commitment also think about other obligations such as
sports, school activities, family commitments, etc.