Confirmation and Catechumens
NCW 33, April 1996 (Part II)
Q. (1) Please would you explain what your Church understands confirmation to be. Isn't this ordinance from post-Biblical times? (2) What is a "catechumen"? Isn't this also a post-Biblical idea?
According to the tradition of the episcopal churches, confirmation (from the Latin, confirmare, meaning "to strengthen") is the rite in which a young person, when arrived at the years of understanding, takes upon himself the vows which had been taken for him at his baptism by his godfather and godmother. This tradition we must reject as unbiblical because (a) baptism is an ordinance in which the believer takes on personal vows (covenants) to walk in the Gospel, and (b) there is nowhere in the Bible which says that a proxy can take vows for another. If this is what "confirmation" is, it is without any doubt totally false. It is presumptuous at least, if not outrightly blasphemous, to induct someone into the Church against his will or who has no comprehension of what he is doing. It is for this reason that New Covenant Christians totally reject "infant baptism".
The Roman Catholic Church regards confirmation as one of the seven sacraments which they hold and in the eastern orthodox Churches it is likewise a sacrament which they hold, which they call Chrism.
The Catholic and Protestant Churches have argued over the origin of confirmation for centuries, the point in dispute being whether such an ordinance existed in the time of the apostles, or whether it belongs to a later date. Both parties admit that the laying on of hands was practiced by the apostles only upon baptized persons, as in the case of the converted Samaritans (Ac.8:12-17) and the disciples at Ephesus (Ac.19:5-6). A close examination of these passages reveals that the laying on of hands had, as its object, the conferral of gifts of the Holy Spirit. For this reason Mormons believe that confirmation is the bestowal of the "gift of the Holy Ghost"; unlike Catholics and Protestants, however, they believe that only they have the power to do this.
However, as many Protestants would point out, in the various cases of baptism of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, of Lydia, of the jailer at Phillipi and others, there is not a single reference to the laying on of hands. This omission, however, does not necessarily mean that confirmation did not take place, and it can be argued that the writers simply did not feel it necessary to record it.
However, it should be pointed out that there is no authentic reference to the rite of confirmation in the writings of the earliest ecclesiastical writers. Some of them, as for example, Eusebius, speak of the "seal of the Lord", an expression, however, which refers to baptism rather than to confirmation. We know from Tertullian that the newly baptized were anointed with oil, and from Cyprian that this formed an essential part of the rite of baptism. And we also know that from a still earlier period that the laying on of hands with prayer formed a part of the baptismal ceremony.
Most students of early Church history are agreed that "confirmation" was, if you like, Baptism Part 2. Whereas baptism could be performed by either deacons or elders (presbyters), confirmation was the call of the bishops. The bishops were said to "seal the baptism" by the laying on of hands. Hence confirmation was, in the early church, known simply as the signaculum, or "seal", or "the complete act of baptism".
"The sign of the imposition of hands was the common token of religious consecration, borrowed from the Jews, and employed on various occasions, either to denote consecration to the Christian calling in general, or to particular branches of it. The apostles, or presiding officers of the Church, laying their hands on the head of the baptized individual, called upon the Lord to bestow His blessing on the holy transaction now completed, to cause to be fulfilled in him whatever was implied in it, to consecrate him with His Spirit for the Christian calling, and to pour out His Spirit upon him. This closing rite was inseparably connected with the whole act of baptism. All, indeed, had reference here to the same principal thing, without which no one could be a Christian, -- the birth to a new life from God, the baptism of the Spirit, which was symbolically represented by the baptism of water. Tertullian still considers this transaction and baptism as one whole, combined together; although he distinguishes in it the two separate moments, the negative and the positive, the forgiveness of sin and cleansing from sin which was mediated by baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the importation of the Holy Spirit following thereupon, upon the individual now restored to the original state of innocence, to which importation the imposition of hands refers."
Only later, with the introduction of the heretical baptism of infants, did the idea of "confirmation" assume its present meaning in the Catholic and Reformed churches.
In the Eastern Orthodox Churches baptism, confirmation (Chrism) and the Lord's Supper are administered in immediate succession and this, in all probability, was the ancient custom.
Interestingly, the ordinance of Chrism (confirmation) in the Eastern Church involves, as it did anciently, the anointing with oil of the eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, breast, hands and feet, followed by the laying on of hands. This same practice has been restored in the New Covenant Church of God; the candidate is taken into the temple, where he is anointed with oil, and then receives the laying on of hands. As the Eastern Orthodox ordinance more closely resembles the original apostolic practice, New Covenant Christians prefer to use the older Chrism in place of "confirmation", as the latter is all too easily confused with the Catholic and Reformed traditions.
Catechumens (in Greek, "learners") were, in the early Christian Church, candidates for baptism. So great importance was attached to this order that special schools were established in the Church to teach these "investigating members", over which catechists were appointed. Indeed, one part of the Church service was designed for the benefit of the catechumens, and when it was over, the catechumens were dismissed and the service continued for fully baptized members.
Dr. Jamieson, in his work, Manners and Trials of the Primitive Christians writes:
The remarkable thing about all of this is that the New Covenant Church of God received revelation to institute such a practice without any foreknowledge of the primitive Church's procedures. Though the use of the term "catechumen" is new to the New Covenant, the process of instructing and carefully weeding out insincere "converts" has been a practice of the New Covenant temple ministry almost from the beginning of this work. It is therefore gratifying for us to see that the same Spirit that guided the early Church is today guiding us in exactly the same direction. For those of us who have been with the Church since the beginning, this is a strong testimony that the Lord's hand is in this work.
"While those who were entitled to partake of the Lord's Supper were exclusively denominated the faithful, and considered as occupying the rank of perfect or approved Christians, there were several other classes of persons, who, though connected with the Church, and forming constituent parts of it, were yet separated from and inferior to the former, being in various stages of advancement towards a qualification for the holy rites of the gospel. These orders, known as catechumens, were distinguished from each other by lines of demarcation, beyond which none was allowed to pass without a long and gradual preparation; and between a newly-made catechumen and a Christian in the rank of the faithful, there was as wide a difference in the eye of the primitive church as between an infant of a day and one who has attained the stature of a full-grown man. In the records of apostolic times we shall in vain look for any traces of this distinction; for then, a heathen no sooner made an avowal of his faith in Christ than he received the initiatory rite of Christianity [baptism]. His conversion was immediately followed by his baptism, and whatever shades of difference there might be in the knowledge of the new converts, all were considered as equally entitled to the outward sign [baptism] as they were to the inward and spiritual benefits of the ordinance. But in process of time, when the church was enlarged by a daily increasing influx of members from heathenism, and when her purity was no longer guarded by the presiding care of those who possessed the miraculous gift of discerning spirits, the pious solicitude of her rulers in after-times gave rise to the custom of deferring the admission of converts into the fellowship of the Church, till clear and satisfactory evidence was obtained of their fitness, in point of knowledge and sincerity, to be enrolled in the ranks of the disciples. The dear-bought [costly] experience of the primitive Christians had convinced them that the gross habits of idolaters were not easily, and all at once, in many instances, relinquished for the pure and spiritual principles of the gospel, and that multitudes of professed believers held their faith by so slender a tie that the slightest temptation plunged them anew into their former sensuality, and the first alarm drove them back into the enemies' camp. To diminish, and if possible, to prevent the occurrence of such melancholy apostasies, which interrupted the peace and prosperity of the Christian society, and brought a stain on the Christian name, was a consummation devoutly wished for by the pious fathers of the primitive age; and accordingly, animated by a spirit of holy jealousy, they adopted the rule, which soon came into universal practice, of instituting a severe and protracted inquiry into the character and views of candidates for admission to the communion of the Church, of not suddenly advancing them to that honourable degree, but of continuing them for a limited period in a state of probation. It was thus that the Order of the Catechumens arose -- an order which, though unknown to the age of Peter and Paul, boasts of a very early introduction into the primitive Church; and at whatever period its date may be fixed, its origin is to be traced to the laudable desire of more fully instructing young converts in the doctrines of the Christian faith, and at the same time affording them opportunities to give evidence of the sincerity of their profession, by the change of their lives and the holiness of their conversation."
In the early Church, the length of probationary membership as a Catechumen varied from two years to eight months, depending on their proficiency. In some places a tradition arose requiring them to fast and pray for 40 days before being admitted to baptism. As of today, the New Covenant Church requires, on average, a one year probationary period.
Catechumens were admitted by the laying on of hands by the local pastor, as is also the New Covenant practice. The catechumen was assigned to the care of some missionaries whose duty it was to teach him about the elementary principles of the faith privately in his own house. At a pre-arranged time, and when he had satisfied his private instructors of his capacity to profit from the Gospel, he was admitted to a place in the congregation to hear readings of the Scriptures. If his conduct was good, he would later be allowed to listen to the preaching of sermons and be present at prayer meetings. He would then, having satisfied the conditions of this probation, be permitted to listen to "the higher and more abtruse doctrines of Christianity" ["meat Gospel"] and even be a witness (at a humble distance) to the dispensation of the Lord's Supper. Having fulfilled this requirement, he was considered ripe for baptism, and given a further course of study. Prior to baptism, he was subjected to frequent and detailed examination on every subject in public meetings. He was required to know, by heart, the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed. For twenty successive days he partially fasted and had daily interviews and prayed with his pastor who would bless him with the laying on of hands. The pastor would pray that the catechumen be delivered from any evil spirit that had possession of his heart so that he could consecrate himself as a living sacrifice to God and Christ. Baptisms were often performed on "Easter" (Passover).
Such was the discipline of the catechumens. As one commentator, Lord King, remarked:
There can be little doubt that the early Church was considerably stricter than even the New Covenant Church which for most Christians is already "too strict" for their liberal tastes! If a catechumen fell from grace during his training, the length of training was simply extended, sometimes (if he was never fully repentant) for the rest of his life.
"None were permitted to enjoy the privileges of the faithful until they had in a manner merited them; which was, when they had, through a considerable time of trial, manifested the sincerity of their hearts by the sanctity and purity of their lives. When they had changed their manners, and rectified their former habits, then they were washed with the waters of baptism, and not before."
Admission to the New Covenant Church
In the New Covenant Church of God catechumens are enrolled in the School of Goyim which they attend each Sabbath and also receive regular visits from the Elders and Deacons in their home ministries. They are allowed to attend all meetings except the Lord's Supper and the other Sabbath Schools (Israel, Temple, Priesthood, etc.) -- this includes the main Praise and Preaching meetings on the Sabbath and the mid-week Bible and Prayer groups. The average length of probation for a catechumen is one year. During this time he will be expected to have a basic knowledge and understanding of the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer.
After baptism the new member must undergo a further one year's probationary period before being admitted to Chrism (confirmation) and the Lord's Supper. During this time he will be examined for his Christian life and study the basic doctrines of the Christian faith as contained in a series of lessons called Foundational Teachings of the Bible. He will then receive his anointing and the laying on of hands in the temple (Chrism) and be admitted as a fully communicant member.
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