See that beautifully manicured mullet up there? Yep, that’s me, about a month after my 14th birthday and finishing the 8th grade. It’s my confirmation photo.
If you weren’t raised Catholic or Lutheran, you may have no idea what confirmation is. So let me try and explain it – from the Lutheran perspective.
For many American Christians, the Christian faith is about hearing the Word of God and making an individual decision to commit your life to Jesus Christ. In many churches, this happens toward the end of the church service, as the preacher closes his message with something called an “altar call,” where everyone is invited to come forward and make that decision to follow Jesus. From there, the person is baptized and then a recipient of salvation. This is how many view the “process” of salvation, because it is the process employed by television preachers such as Billy Graham, and is the one shown in Christian movies.
But this is not the reality for the vast majority of Christians, nor has it even been present for the majority of Church history. Until the late 16th century, over 1500 years after Jesus walked the earth, the means of salvation was this: You were brought into saving faith via baptism, usually as an infant, wherein you received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who created saving faith in you. Then, when you reached a certain age, you made a public confession of what you already believed, in order to affirm your faith. This public declaration, then acknowledged by the entire church (thus confirming that faith in you), continues to be know as confirmation. So, you were saved at your baptism – by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – by means of your baptism. Your confirmation is your acknowledgement of that salvation in front of the church, who in turn acknowledges that salvation in you.
A deeper discussion of faith and baptism and salvation could take a year’s worth of posts, but the primary point is this: that faith is a gift, and not a work or product of intellectual understanding or of “figuring out” the truth and deciding to believe in it.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Truth is something you are shown; something you see, and acknowledge to be true. You don’t decide to believe that 1+1=2, you see that it is true (learning) and acknowledge your understanding of it. Thus, you could observe that 1+1=2, even before you fully understand what it is that you are seeing. and it is the same with faith. When the Christian comes forward at the altar call, prays the sinner’s prayer or “decides” to follow Jesus, she or he is actually “deciding” to acknowledge what she or he already believes. The decision would be in choosing to ignore or reject the truth, not in “accepting” it.
This may seem like semantics, but it’s actually extremely important. If salvation depended on your decision, how sure do you have to be in order to be saved? I can make a decision to try something while being doubtful that it will work – is that enough for salvation? And if salvation depends on intellectual understanding, what happens to those whose cognitive abilities are impaired? Not just people with disabilities, but what about people affected by dementia or Alzheimer’s? Do they lose their faith because they are no longer even aware that they believe? Of course not! Faith, the Bible says, is the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1) – we don’t have to understand it to believe it; to see that it is real – and that is a blessing!
So confirmation is a celebration in the church, because it is the public acknowledgement by young men and women that they have been given faith, have been taught the faith, and are ready to walk in that faith – no longer as children, but as young men and women, ready to walk in their vocations as Christians. I like to tell my confirmands that this is the day you stop being brought to mom and dad’s church, and start going to your church!
Gorgeous mullets or no, we are thankful that God works salvation in our lives in such a way that we are always learning and growing in our faith, so that through us others may come to know His great love for them. May God bless all those confirmands who are taking this next step in their faith journeys this Spring.