Renouncing Satan: the meaning of the confirmation vow
Soon young Christians will step up to the altar to be confirmed. Just before this act of blessing they recite a doctrinal text from the early church that deserves to be given a closer look.
“I renounce Satan and all his work and ways, and surrender myself to You, O triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in belief, obedience, and the earnest resolution to remain faithful to You until my end. Amen.” That is the text—very solemn, not everyday language and not a casual prayer. The seriousness of the promise becomes clear.
The confirmation vow is contained in a text that was drafted at the start of the third century. This text is known as the Traditio Apostolica, the Apostolic Tradition. Next to the Didache, the “doctrine of the twelve Apostles”, which dates back to the second century, it is the most important source of information regarding church life and liturgy in the early Christian congregations.
Originally a baptismal vow
The text of our confirmation vow was among the specifications for baptism. It was therefore originally a baptismal vow that was, as a rule, given by adults who had converted to the Christian faith and had completed their course of baptismal instruction. When children were baptized, their parents or another family member would give the vow on their behalf. In the New Apostolic Church this ancient baptismal vow is used as a confirmation vow. When they give this vow, the confirmands confirm the vow which their parents gave on their behalf at their baptism and sealing ((Catechism 12.2.2)).
Renunciation and confession
The text consists of two formulas: a formula of renunciation and a confessional formula. They bring to expression some fundamental decisions that are part of being a Christian: the no to evil and the yes to the triune God as the Lord of our lives (Catechism 22.214.171.124).
The renunciation formula reads: “I renounce Satan and all his work and ways.” The idea behind this formula is that the young Christian has decided to deliberately turn away from evil. Those who utter these words in faith express that they want to distance themselves from the evil one. Pronouncing this formula does not mean that those who have spoken it are suddenly without sin or that they will always succeed at resisting the influences of the evil one. It much rather brings to expression that the confirmands are aware of their sinfulness and do not want to lead a life in the domain of that which is evil and opposed to God. That is why the support and help of the Holy Spirit are necessary, a gift which the confirmands have already received.
God is the Lord
Human beings are incapable of keeping this vow if they were to rely solely on their own strength. That is why the renunciation formula is followed by the confessional formula. It declares: “I … surrender myself to You, O triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in belief, obedience, and the earnest resolution to remain faithful to You until my end.”
The young Christians thereby declare that they accept the triune God as their Lord, and that He is to define their lives. Belief and obedience are the essential aspects of a life with God. The earnest resolution is declared publicly. The confession to God is not something that is lightly spoken; those who speak it are serious about fulfilling it. They profess to remain faithful to God until their end. This is nothing other than their response to the faithfulness of God, who gives us the sacraments and His lifelong support.
Divine services with confirmation in the New Apostolic Church take place between Easter and Pentecost.
Photo: Oliver Rütten