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Confirmation Journey, Pt1
Previewing our vows
Yesterday I began a 16-week Confirmation/Baptism class with nine students. This is the youngest group of students (6th graders and up) I’ve ever taught, and this is also my first time teaching Confirmation/Baptism since Covid! As I lead this group of students, I am both excited and nervous.
The first thing we did was to go over the vows we make during our confirmation and baptism (Book of Discipline, ¶217). We did this because, at the end of our 16 weeks, this is what they are officially committing to. So they should know what they are saying “yes” to.
I received a question from one student that made me pause for a minute. The student’s question was about whether this is a commitment to God or a commitment to the United Methodist Church.
I’m not sure if this student knows what is currently going on in the United Methodist Church with all the ongoing division and disaffiliation around the topic of human sexuality (and also around many other things). But it is a very fair question. It is something I also wrestled with for a long time before my own ordination.
Our vows in the United Methodist Church are divided into three parts.
The first part is the “Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith.”
To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of their sin;
To accept the freedom and power God gives them to resist evil, injustice, and oppression;
To confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put their whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as their Lord;
To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world;
To receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The second part is the “Reception into the United Methodist Church.”
To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries;
The third part is the “Reception into the Local Congregation.”
To faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness;
In my yesterday’s sermon, I talked about how Christian discipleship is NOT a commitment to a set program or a set culture. I have run into many families who are having a hard time committing to a church, mainly because they cannot commit every Sunday morning or they dislike how American Christianity engages in culture wars in our society. And this is also precisely how Christian discipleship is understood in the U.S. by many active Christians. This is why some get upset when worship services change hours or format. This is why some may get uncomfortable when the outlook of Christianity changes from within (e..g., the browning of American Christianity).
What I hoped to communicate in my sermon was that Christian discipleship is a commitment to a lifelong journey. It is a journey to the unknown, anticipating and embracing all the surprises that come with it. It is a journey from Point A to Point B, from darkness to light—towards God’s heart and God’s kingdom. This lifelong journey is communicated in the Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith. To put it very simply, we turn away (renounce, reject, repent) and follow Christ (accept, confess, profess, remain faithful, serve). Or as I put it yesterday, to leave our comfort zone daily in order to follow their God-given calling, passion, mission, and commandment (see Luke 9:23).
But this journey is something we cannot do alone. We do it together as a body where Christ is the head. This is a communal journey. Not only is the destination of this communal journey the kingdom of God in heaven, but the very caravan of travelers becomes the kingdom of God on earth. And this caravan we are traveling with is the local church.
So while we commit our journey to follow Christ through the Church (with a capital C), that commitment is expressed through our participation in a local church. And today that local church for our students is a United Methodist congregation in Burke, VA.
Again, our discipleship is not a commitment to one particular caravan, but rather a commitment to a journey that travels as a caravan. This is why we receive members from different local churches and different denominations, and we also let members transfer their memberships to different local churches and different denominations. And this is why we—the UMC—do not acknowledge re-baptism. Because our commitment to a journey that travels as a caravan as God’s people remains the same.
So, to finally answer the student’s question, confirmation is a commitment to God, and we are joining this one particular church to live out that commitment at this very moment. And only God knows what kind of caravan we will travel with in the future.