Confirmation is the historic rite of initiation into the full fellowship of the body of Christ. Christian initiation in the early church apparently consisted of two actions, baptism followed by imposition of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The sequence of events was governed by the early disciples’ personal experience of salvation in Christ and the endowment of his Spirit. Paul, reflecting theologically, brought out the underlying spiritual unity of the two rites.
Christian baptism has its origins in the various Jewish rites of ritual purification and in John’s baptism of repentance. Christian baptism differs from its antecedents, however, in important respects. It is baptism in the name of Jesus, signifying belonging to him, and is associated with the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Baptism symbolizes participation in Christ’s death and resurrection and the believer’s incorporation into the new covenant people of God. The New Testament does not lay out a specified order for the rite of baptism.
There is an integral correspondence between the Christian Lord’s Supper and the Israelite Passover. Like the Passover, the Lord’s Supper is a joyful reaffirmation of the covenant. And like Passover, it recalls the Lord’s great act in the deliverance of a people. But the Lord’s Supper also points ahead to the ultimate destiny of Christians: freedom in the presence of God.
The Lord’s Supper, as instituted by Jesus Christ and elaborated in the Epistles, has its roots in the ancient rite of covenant, a practice that predates Abraham. Indeed, the covenant forms the basic structure of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel and is, for this reason, the underlying motif for the establishment of Christ’s relationship with the new people of God.
Although the New Testament offers several versions of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, common themes emerge. In observing the Lord’s Supper, the church puts the worshiper in contact with the redemptive death of Jesus—the act that has brought the church into being as one body, the eschatological new covenant community.
Protestants commonly use the term Lord’s Supper for the act of worship that centers on the table of the Lord. The Lord’s Supper originated with Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, in the context of the Passover, and shares with the Passover the theme of the Lord’s deliverance of Israel. As interpreted in the Gospels and by Paul, the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of Christ’s death, a memorial that places the worshiper at the Cross. It is the ratification of the covenant between the Lord and the people of God, an emblem of the communion or mutual participation of all members of the body of Christ. The Supper is a proclamation of the gospel and a symbol of faith in Christ.
In traditional Christian worship, acts of confession of sin may appear in the acts of entrance, the service of the Word, or at the Lord’s Table in association with the prayer of thanksgiving. In the worship of the contemporary liturgical renewal, the confession of sin usually occurs after the prayers of intercession, marking the transition into the service of the Lord’s Table. Prayers of confession are not usually found in the corporate worship of evangelical and charismatic churches; confession of sin is an act that usually accompanies individual conversion to Christ and personal counseling situations, rather than the life of the gathered assembly.
In the religious life of the biblical communities, as in that of the churches of today, prayer was both individual and corporate. Although the biblical worshiper always approaches the Lord as a member of a larger covenanted community, there is a distinction between prayer in general and prayer set in the context of acts of corporate worship. Because prayer is a pervasive posture and activity in the Christian life, the subject of prayer is a comprehensive one; the following discussions are confined largely to prayer as a part of the worship of the gathered community. Prayers of intercession are petitions offered to the Lord on behalf of others: people in special personal need; those who bear particular responsibility for the welfare of others, such as leaders of church and state; the many concerns and issues affecting the church, local and universal; and the larger community of the nation and the world.
The historic creeds of the church have their origins in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Although the Bible contains no formal creedal statements, it contains affirmations of faith that have something of the character of the later Christian confessions. These rudimentary biblical statements were primarily acts of worship, as opposed to tests of doctrinal orthodoxy. The historic creeds have their place in traditional Christian worship, often following the sermon as a response to the proclamation of the Word of God.
The New Testament distinguishes between preaching and teaching. Preaching is the proclamation of the Messiahship of Jesus, as revealed in his ministry, death, and resurrection. Preaching, therefore, occurs not in the worship of believers but in the public forum. The worship assembly is the setting for instruction in the faith and exposition of the Word of God. Although the sermon or homily of today may be a presentation of the gospel and an appeal for commitment to Christ, it had its origin as a part of worship in the teaching activity, rather than the public preaching, of the New Testament church.