On the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation in Scripture

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Under the Mosaic law, only specific persons received the special gift of the Holy Spirit—prophets, priests, and kings, and other such folk. The new relationship between God and man inaugurated in Christ involves the incorporation of all citizens of the Kingdom into a participation in the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in Christians was promised by Christ (John 7:37-9). The Spirit becomes incorporated into humanity supremely in Christ’s miraculous anointing at his baptism. This is the first step in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, for Christ sums up all flesh in himself (1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1:10).

To “receive the anointing” which is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20-27) or “receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, 8:14-17, 9:6, 17-18, 19:1-7) refers to a sacrament still practiced in the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism to this day. The word “Anointing” is “criso” in Greek; hence “Chrismation”. (in the West it is called “Confirmation”)

In Chrismation, we are catechized, taught the truths of the faith by those who have been ordained and received the Spirit’s gift of teaching. The teaching we receive is optimally given to us at the beginning of our instruction in the faith (1 John 2:24). We are taught the Rule of Faith—the inherited, authoritative oral tradition that is articulated in written form in such places as the Nicene Creed and its summary in certain Fathers. Then, when being received into the Church, we are anointed either by the laying on of hands of the Bishop or with Bishop-blessed Holy Oil. These material objects are full of the Spirit, who is present in his grace of wisdom, knowledge, and purity; some also receive miraculous gifts. Our priests wipe Holy Oil on us, and yell out “The seal and gift of the Holy Spirit!” and the congregation and catechumens respond “Seal!” (This can be a very confusing experience for some marine mammals). So, having believed the word of God in the Gospel initially, we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14).

This anointing teaches us all the essentials of Christian life and belief (1 John 2:20) and abides in us forever (1 John 2:27) insofar as we always have the Spirit’s gifts, which includes our ability to remember and understand the Rule of Faith that we were taught in catechism. But we must also “let [it] abide in [us]” (1 John 2:24) because we must personally remember the gift of Chrismation and the Rule of Faith we were taught, and must make proper use of the wisdom, knowledge, and holiness that has been imparted to our human nature. It is by this rule of faith—a teaching with Trinitarian structure, with Father, Son, and Spirit as the main articles—that we know the truth, (1 John 2:20-21) and can recognize that people lie who say that true Christian teaching is contrary to the articles of the faith (1 John 2:22-23) such as the Father and the Son (which seem to be the articles denied by the false teachers St. John opposed).

The Kingdom of God is not just a fellowship of like-minded believers. It is a polis—it is a nation, an enduring organization with visible criteria for membership, and external signs by which it can be identified (structure and intent). Its subjects are given birth, given citizenship, and (if they progress to it) given office. Baptism is our birth (John 3:3). It is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) which seals us (Eph 1:13-14) as citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. When we receive the washing of regeneration and are born anew, we also are given citizenship in the Kingdom by the Spirit (Titus 3:5).

Why think all of these references to the gift of the Holy Spirit are talking about chrismation?  Why not something else, like regeneration?  Or why can’t the gift be had apart from it being given by Church officers?  I will argue (1) These references are probably all talking about the same thing, (2) They are not talking about regeneration or something that is normally “purely” Charismatic, (3) The qualities predicated of this gift fit the definition of what Chrismation is.

(1) First, it is more plausible to assume these verses are all talking about the same thing rather than different things.

a. This is because they use similar language; phrases like “gift of the Holy Spirit”, “seal”, and “anointing” (which recalls the prophetic practice of anointing a king with the Spirit of God) all sound similar. All three phrases are used in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (anointed, sealed, given the Spirit), which strongly implies their equivalence, and gives us reason to think they refer to the same thing elsewhere.

b. Further, similar qualities are predicated of the the thing (or things) mentioned in these various passages. The gift comes at the beginning of one’s Christian faith, but after hearing the Gospel and believing (Eph 1:13, Acts 2:38, 8:13-17, 19:1-7, possibly Heb 6:2). The gift is eternally valid, and cannot be taken away (1 John 2:27, Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30). The gift is received either by divine miracle with visibly-attested signs, or through the hierarchy’s teaching and laying-on of hands (Acts 8:13-17, John 2:24).

c. Finally, the laying-on of hands is considered to be a basic aspect of Christian teaching by the author of Hebrews (6:2). This makes it likely that the authors of the New Testament would all believe in (and perhaps talk about) whatever Hebrews 6:2 is referring to. With this in consideration, it is easier to see all of these references as talking about the same gift of the Spirit through laying-on of hands, for Christian teaching on this gift would be a part of the common deliverances of the faith.

(2) Second, the gift is not synonymous with regeneration. Nor is it normally purely charismatic.

a. If the gift were synonymous with regeneration then everyone who was regenerate would have the gift as soon as they were regenerate. But we do not see this in the recorded history of the Church in the New Testament. Rather we see people repenting and exercising faith (implying regeneration) some time prior to having the gift. Two plausible examples are in Acts 8:14-25 with the Samaritans, and Acts 19:1-7 with the disciples of John the Baptist. In both cases we have people who have been Christians for awhile; and yet they have not received the Holy Spirit yet. Another possible case is Acts 9:6 and 17-18, where Paul seems to be regenerate and seeking Christ (which can only be done by God’s grace) prior to receiving the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Paul draws a distinction in Ephesians 1:13-14 between believing in the Gospel and being sealed in the Holy Spirit. This implies that one does not receive the Spirit until after having faith. For Reformed theology, this is hard to explain if we hold that the gift of the Spirit just is regeneration; after all, regeneration must precede faith, not follow it. So to say you believed, and then you received the gift, would seem to be backwards. Perhaps some Wesleyan could affirm what Paul says here, and still hold that receiving the Spirit is regeneration, and not admit it is something separate; but then they still have to explain what is going on in Acts with people having to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it might be wondered whether regeneration is sufficient to provide a person with the ability to adjudicate between heresy and orthodoxy (1 John 2:20-27) or whether it makes sense to describe it as “teaching”. Also, why would the author of Hebrews put it between baptism and resurrection in his ordo salutis (explanation of the order of salvation) if he meant to identify it with regeneration (Hebrews 6:2)? No one thinks we are regenerated after baptism.

b. A pure charismatic is someone who receives spiritual gifts without transmission through succession from hierarchy. Sometimes spiritual gifts are given from having hands laid on by hierarchs; but occasionally, someone is given a gift (whether “miraculous” or “non-miraculous”) directly from God without the hierarchy’s initial blessing. Though the gift can be given apart from the ordained ministry of the Church, this is the exception, not the rule. We have at least four examples of people who were given the Holy Spirit by hierarchs (Acts 8:14-25, 9:6, 17-18, 19:1-7, probably 2:38). But there are only two cases of pure charismatic reception of the Holy Spirit. These are Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) and the Gentile Pentecost (10:44-48). The rest of the time, it seems that the Holy Spirit indwells his Church by means of hierarchical blessing. These two Pentecost events are probably ways that God himself was directly alerting hierarchs to the importance and acceptability of blessing first Jewish and then Gentile believers. They can be seen as sort of jump-starter events, which are therefore probably unrepeatable (at least until we meet aliens who we don’t know need chrismation, in which case God might alert us to this fact).

(3) The features of the gift of the Holy Spirit fit with the definition of Chrismation.

a. It is something that happens after conversion and faith and repentance (Eph 1:13, Acts 2:38, 8:13-17, Heb 6:2). The same may be implied by 1 John 2:24, if the teaching referred to is indeed more than just the message of the Gospel, which seems plausible (because it gives us the ability to adjudicate between heresy and orthodoxy).

b. It is normally associated with or should accompany baptism (Acts 2:38, 8:14-17, 9:6, 17-18, Titus 3:5). Perhaps the same can be seen as an implication of John 3:5, though it is less clear that Jesus is not just talking about the part the Holy Spirit plays in baptism. If we take references to being “in Christ” by the Father’s will as talking about baptism (2 Cor 1:21) then this is another instance of close association between baptism and chrismation (2 Cor 1:21-22 sealing and anointing).

c. It is a teaching (1 John 2:20-27) that is nevertheless distinct from the minimal content of the initial preaching of the Gospel (Eph 1:13). This also probably follows from the fact that it is sufficient to help us identify and reject heresy (1 John 2:20-27).

d. It is received through the blessing of the hierarchs normally ( Acts 8:14-25, 9:6, 17-18, 19:1-7, probably 2:38).

e. Laity cannot impart it (Acts 8:18-25). If they could, then why would Simon Magus have to go to the Apostles to acquire it?

f. Deacons cannot impart it (Acts 8:5, 14-17). If they could, then why didn’t Phillip help the new converts when he had a chance?

g. It is a spiritual experience that Christians have in the life of the Church (Heb 6:4). Along with baptism (enlightenment) and the Eucharist (tasting the heavenly gift) chrismation is also to be done (participation in the Holy Spirit).

h. It is an eternally-valid spiritual gift (Eph 1:13-14, 4:30, 1 John 2:27)

Conclusion: the New Testament teaches that an eternally-valid spiritual gift should be conferred on believers after they begin to exercise faith. This gift includes the teaching of a Christian about the basic articles of the faith. It is normally imparted by hierarchs (presumably of the third tier of ministry, considering that we only see Apostles doing it in Acts). Though God can miraculously give it to a person (in an extraordinary revelatory or prophetic event with visible external signs, as at Pentecost) it cannot be conferred through laity or deacons. This is an accurate (though not completely exhaustive) description of Chrismation.

One might ask “if you haven’t proven we must do absolutely everything that is meant by ‘Chrismation’ by Orthodox, Roman, or Anglican Christians, then can’t we find some other way to acquire this spiritual gift?” Though it is true that not absolutely everything about Chrismation has been proven from Scripture alone, there might be features of the spiritual gift mentioned in the biblical text that narrow down our options for what this gift could be, and rule out the other possible explanations besides Chrismation. The standard Protestant interpretations of regeneration or pure charismatic gifting seem to be ruled out by exegetical considerations. What is left but Chrismation? If an alternative can be proposed that fulfills all the other criteria, and that Protestants can validly do without Chrismating, then this may be acceptable. But the burden of proof is on the person who denies the necessity of Chrismation to show that there is another way to be obedient to Scripture in acquiring the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So far I have mostly argued for Chrismation. But what really makes Chrismation important is not that it is just another teaching of Scripture.  The importance of Chrismation is that it is the spiritual experience of the reality of the Kingdom of God. Citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is a profound thing, for it is a taste of the powers of the age to come (Heb 6:4)—the divine powers of the Holy Spirit. It is God imparting his very own holiness and making us saints through our participation in his holiness (Heb 12:10). In Chrismation, the blessing of one who has been sent by the Christ (a Bishop, carrying on the authority of the Apostles) seals a young disciple of the Christ in the teachings of his or her Master. The oil that reflects and contains the glory of God is applied to human flesh, purifying it and making it reflect God’s uncreated light (Psalm 104:15). The purification of our bodies also prepares us to receive Christ’s glorified flesh within us, tasting the heavenly gift (Heb 6:4) and participating in the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). In this way, the Church anticipates the glorification of the cosmos (Rom 8:21), and the incorporation of all things in heaven and on earth into the divine person who is Jesus Christ (Eph 1:10).

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3 Responses to “On the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation in Scripture”

  1. Spiritual Guy Says:

    I have been reading a lot lately along these same spiritual lines and I found this to be a very informative article. I am new here but I like very much what I’m seeing. I have found some very interesting and helpful information here and plan to visit frequently.
    Thank you.

  2. Jordan Says:

    First off, let me just say that i do not desire to carry on an extended argumentative exchange via commenting. i am of course open to response =)

    if your intention (in this post and others like it) is to (i) provide a reasonable defense for the positions that you hold in this case your view of chrismation then you have succeeded as per the numerous and diverse succession of posts that are here at WOQ.

    If your intention is (ii) to use your theo-philosophical argumentation par excellence as a starting place for the purpose of converting your non-orthodox readers such as myself (i am aware that the expressed intent of this site is not proselytizing) then we face a non-intellectual problem i.e. while you may have very persuasive philosophical grounds for your beliefs, you may run the risk of ignoring the existential grounds for disbelief. What I mean is, while your arguments are strong, there are those (myself included) who have peace in the salvific work of Christ, who exercise faith, receive grace, and produce the fruits of the spirit, who by and large do not feel perturbed that they may not have the “fullness” of grace that the Catholic (here i simply mean Roman, Orthodox and Anglican) Churches claim exclusively. In fact, (here i can only speak on my behalf) the more aggressive the Catholic claims exclusive-full-grace the more i am persuaded that they do not have it and are simply co-laborers with all normative christian sects.

    I can not outline 3 points as to why I come to that conclusion. perhaps it’s because the existential is so often ineffable. unless i am being tricked by a cartesian devil, am self deluded, or otherwise holistically incapacitated I can not wrap myself around why the Catholic sects of christianity have any more weighty claims to grace than any other. sure there are some really great arguments out there that persuade many. there are likewise equally numerous and garrulous arguments for their opposites. If anything this only seems to demonstrate either the failure of Reason, or the anxious gullibility of Man (this is not in anyway a criticism of how you or any other person who is associated with this blog practices their faith. it is simply a generalized observation of the Dialectic at its best).

    I’m trying to refrain from being overly analytic and overly “touchy-feely” but murkiness is the nature of the medium and the late hour.

    i can’t guarantee i’ll respond but i’d be happy to read your or anyone else’s thoughts. goodnight and god bless.

  3. MG Says:

    Jordan–

    you wrote:

    “First off, let me just say that i do not desire to carry on an extended argumentative exchange via commenting. i am of course open to response =)

    if your intention (in this post and others like it) is to (i) provide a reasonable defense for the positions that you hold in this case your view of chrismation then you have succeeded as per the numerous and diverse succession of posts that are here at WOQ.

    If your intention is (ii) to use your theo-philosophical argumentation par excellence as a starting place for the purpose of converting your non-orthodox readers such as myself (i am aware that the expressed intent of this site is not proselytizing) then we face a non-intellectual problem i.e. while you may have very persuasive philosophical grounds for your beliefs, you may run the risk of ignoring the existential grounds for disbelief. What I mean is, while your arguments are strong, there are those (myself included) who have peace in the salvific work of Christ, who exercise faith, receive grace, and produce the fruits of the spirit, who by and large do not feel perturbed that they may not have the “fullness” of grace that the Catholic (here i simply mean Roman, Orthodox and Anglican) Churches claim exclusively.”

    First we have to settle matters of doctrine. What is the Church? Is there such thing as the Church as a visible hierarchical institution, or only many churches, all manifestations to varying degrees of the invisible group called the church, united by a common faith?

    Second we have to settle matters of fact. Which is the Church? Is Roman Catholicism the Church? Is Lutheranism the Church? Is Eastern Orthodoxy the Church?

    Third we have to settle what follows practically from something being the Church. What should we do about the Church? If a particular organization was the Church and not just a church, what would follow for how someone should behave?

    Fourth we have to settle what follows from someone being aware of the Church. If I know what the Church is, which the Church is, and what we should do about the Church, then I must ACT. If I am aware that some organization is the Church, and I’ve identified what particular organization that is, and I know the fact that the Church is some particular organization implies that everyone is objectively obligated to join it, then I am subjectively obligated to join it.

    An objective duty is what we’re actually obligated to do. A subjective duty is what we think we’re obligated to do (even if we’re wrong about this). We are praiseworthy or blameworthy for our fulfillment of our subjective duties. This is because we can only work with what we know—or what we think we know. We have to deal with the things we’re aware of and react appropriately–taking into account the possibility we are wrong and the strength of our respective reasons for accepting the various things we do accept.

    So lets say you find my arguments for the Orthodox view of the Church more persuasive than the arguments for the Protestant view. If this is the only factor we are taking into account, then probably you would be most reasonable in accepting the Orthodox view of the Church. If Orthodoxy is the Church, then everyone has an objective duty to join it. And if so, you would have a subjective duty to join the Orthodox Church. For when you think you have an objective duty, this turns into a subjective duty.

    You wrote:

    “In fact, (here i can only speak on my behalf) the more aggressive the Catholic claims exclusive-full-grace the more i am persuaded that they do not have it and are simply co-laborers with all normative christian sects.”

    What do you mean by aggressive? If the claims were “Protestants all go to hell” that would be one thing. But if the claim was “very probably, Roman Catholicism is the one visible Church of Christ on earth; but this does not imply that Protestants all go to hell” then this would be an example of something that some people might call “aggressive” (even though it isn’t)—its a claim that one’s views have strong intellectual backing. Are you referring to aggression in terms of *degrees of exclusivity* of aggression in terms of *degrees of epistemic confidence*?

    You wrote:

    “I can not outline 3 points as to why I come to that conclusion. perhaps it’s because the existential is so often ineffable. unless i am being tricked by a cartesian devil, am self deluded, or otherwise holistically incapacitated I can not wrap myself around why the Catholic sects of christianity have any more weighty claims to grace than any other.”

    Wouldn’t this follow from one of them being true? And wouldn’t the truth of one of them probably follow from good reasons to accept one of them? And shouldn’t we believe what is probably true?

    You wrote:

    “sure there are some really great arguments out there that persuade many. there are likewise equally numerous and garrulous arguments for their opposites.”

    But you have a responsibility to weigh the arguments yourself. If everyone around you started saying “I’m not persuaded that 1+1=2” then that wouldn’t be grounds to doubt it, would it?

    Also, you would be surprised how few people are aware of the arguments for Apostolic Succession in their sophisticated form. And how few people who have heard arguments for Catholicism reject the arguments based on false assumptions about what it implies about Protestantism.

    You wrote:

    “If anything this only seems to demonstrate either the failure of Reason, or the anxious gullibility of Man (this is not in anyway a criticism of how you or any other person who is associated with this blog practices their faith. it is simply a generalized observation of the Dialectic at its best).”

    If this did imply what you think it does (which I sincerely doubt—see above) it could also demonstrate that previous experiences and circumstances make a person blamelessly unable to accept the truth.

    You wrote:

    “I’m trying to refrain from being overly analytic and overly “touchy-feely” but murkiness is the nature of the medium and the late hour.
    i can’t guarantee i’ll respond but i’d be happy to read your or anyone else’s thoughts. goodnight and god bless.”

    Jordan what a lot of this seems to come down to is that you still aren’t specifying why you aren’t interested in becoming Orthodox. Is it because the evidence is insufficient? If so, why all of this talk about the overriding importance of “existential barriers”, which apparently trump arguments? Is it because of existential (presumably non-rational, perhaps irrational) barriers only? If so, why all this talk about the fact that other people aren’t convinced, which is apparently an excuse (perhaps a good one, perhaps not—excuses are not intrinsically bad; some are quite good) for not needing to take seriously the force of an argument as you perceive it? Notice: you haven’t said that *you* personally don’t find the arguments more persuasive than their counters. If this is in fact the case, then that seems like an intellectual claim you need to make.

    Isn’t the existential barrier you bring up actually an argument? Namely, if you seem good where you’re at, then probably you don’t need to relocate? It seems to me like this is reasoning going on. Its not “cold, hard, feelingless, abstract, ivory-tower” reason. But it is rational (naturally truth-oriented through naturally truth-conducive means) nonetheless. And if it is rational, would you be willing to hear a response to the argument?

    Alternately, do you just not *feel like it*, without there being any argumentative force behind this claim? Is that the reason why? I can’t see how this claim considered by itself is sufficient.

    So I’m curious. Which of the above four things (“first… second…”) do you dispute me on? Do you have reasons that rebut any of my answers to the four questions? Or do you just have reasons that undercut them?

    1. Is my definition of Church wrong? 2. Have I wrongly identified the object of that definition? 3. Have I wrongly drawn the implications of the fact “x is the Church”? 4. Or does my fourth point not follow from the previous three?

    Thank you for coming on over and interacting; God bless you likewise.

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