Last night my wife’s church had a confirmation service for several members who had taken lessons and done all that is required to become “officially” recognized by the Episcopal Church (Anglican Church of North America) as Christians. The Bishop of our diocese was present to welcome these new souls into the fold. This is the last year of our Bishop’s service, before he retires and turns over the diocese to a newly elected Bishop (still unknown at this point in time).
The Bishop gave a sermon that linked to the readings, without directly focusing on any of the readings. The readings were Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 139:1-6, Romans 12:1-8, and John 14:15-21, all of which emphasize what it means to be a true servant to God. Those readings eloquently state the conditions that can be found surrounding those who can be termed “Christian,” although that title has only been around for roughly 2,000 years now.
The Bishop announced that he was going to preach as a teacher, and his teaching would be how to understand the questions and answers those being confirmed, and those of the congregation, would read from the printed service bulletin. It was the part under the heading (in bold letters) “Baptismal Covenant.” The new confirmees, and later the whole congregation, would soon be reading those words aloud together. We needed a refresher as to the meaning of those words beforehand.
The Bishop then explained, making it beautifully clear that no one was vowing to serve a doctrine or an institution (although doctrines and institutions can be good). All questions of belief and all answers relative to belief were about a personal acceptance of God within one’s heart. The words to be recited were not part of a question and answer session about what one thinks faith means.
From a personal relationship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, where each moves one on an emotional level, from which all mental and physical actions are subsequently based, we each make a commitment to serve God. In return, God will help us to act like His Son acted. Only in that model are we truly Christian. We allow God to control our actions, so we not only live as one Christian, but as one among a world of other Christians and non-Christians, in a Christian way.
The point the Bishop made so clear is that we are confirmed through a baptism by the Holy Spirit, not a sprinkle of water, not by a mark on our foreheads, and not by a laying on of hands. Holy baptism comes through belief IN Christ and IN God. Paul, as Saul, was so baptized, and thus a confirmed Christian, without any necessity of a group or organization putting their seal of approval on that confirmation. Still, a confirmed Christian needs to associate with others of like heart, like mind, and like heavenly goals.
Confirmed Christians support one another to fuel the flames of faith, to renew the spirit of that first acceptance of Christ within, so one can stop thinking and simply act. Too often we get caught up in the pageantry of a moving ceremony in a lovely building and we THINK that is what being Christian is all about. It is so much more.
Written by Robert Tippett.