Monday, April 21, 2014

. . . But Confirmation Ain't One!

It's right there in the LSB Agenda (pp. 25-27). Pastors aren't making this up. They're not "doing their own thing." This is a recognized and authorized Rite we have agreed upon as a synod. The practice of First Communion Prior to Confirmation is not "sectarian." Heck, there's even a section in the LSB Pastoral Care Companion (pp. 664-670) with guidelines for pastoral examination before the Rite of First Communion.

And yet, many a Lutheran pastor continues to rant against this practice (even some on the confessional side of the aisle, amazingly). They tell their brother pastors that they're wrong for instituting this practice where they serve, either because they think the practice itself is wrong or because they believe it will cause confusion and shouldn't be practiced until we have greater consensus about it in the synod.

The first reason lacks any semblance of truth. There is not a thing wrong with this practice. You will not find anything in Scripture or our Lutheran Confessions that would support the notion that bringing children to the Sacrament at a young age, prior to Confirmation, is wrong. In fact, neither Scripture nor our Lutheran Confessions recognize Confirmation as necessary. Scripture never mentions it at all and the only references to Confirmation in our Confessions are negative in connotation. Lutherans do not recognize Confirmation as a Sacrament (except that, sadly, we kind of do - more on that below).

The second reason also must be rejected, regardless of how appealing it may sound. We already have consensus. Again, it's in our official Agenda. We have a Rite for it. We have guidelines for pastoral examination for it. It's approved. Sanctioned. Good to go. As well it should be, since the most common practice among us of making our children wait until they're teenagers before receiving the Holy Sacrament of our Lord's Body and Blood is just plain wrong. That was most definitely not the practice of our Lutheran Fathers. It's most definitely not the practice described in our Confessions. It's a practice that developed over the years due to the influence of pietism and rationalism. It's wrong. It needs to change. Now. Not later, now.

That change will not happen if we wait for some mysterious "greater consensus" in the synod. That change will happen one pastor and congregation at a time moving forward now. We should already be united in the desire to bring this change about. If we're not, then many need to dust off their copies of the Book of Concord, study what we believe, teach, and confess about what is necessary for admission to the Sacrament, and get on board. But, the rest of us are not waiting for you to do so. We're moving forward, with or without you. We desire to follow the practice described in our Confessions, admitting our baptized children to the Sacrament when they have learned the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, been instructed in the Gospel and Sacraments, examined and absolved by the pastor, and desire to receive the Supper for the forgiveness of their sins and strengthening of their faith, regardless of age.

Will this cause confusion in the synod? Good Lord, I hope so! We need this confusion in a bad way, since this confusion will provide us with an opportunity to catechize our people away from the many misconceptions they have regarding the Sacrament, who should be admitted to it and why, and Confirmation. In the process, we'll have to apologize to them, for they are simply holding to these erroneous beliefs because that's what they were taught.

They were taught that children must not be admitted to the Sacrament because they're too young and lack the cognitive ability to understand what it is. They were taught that children couldn't possibly understand what it means to examine themselves and receive absolution. They were taught that children were ill-equipped to have faith in these words: "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." They were taught that admission to the Sacrament is something that must be earned by going through two years of Confirmation classes and passing all the quizzes, tests, and the public questioning, which has made the Sacrament a sort-of prize for jumping through all the necessary hoops. They were taught that the really big thing - the really important thing - is Confirmation itself, as if Confirmation is a means of grace that delivers forgiveness, life, and salvation to their teenaged children (you know, like a sacrament). They were taught, in short, that the Holy Supper was only for those who had reached some arbitrary "age of reason/discretion" (you know, like Baptists, etc.).

According to the Roman Catholic Church, "Confirmation is a true sacrament instituted by Christ and different from baptism." Our Lutheran Confessions say, "Hogwash! Nowhere does Christ institute Confirmation as a sacrament. You're making that up, Rome" (I'm paraphrasing). And yet, according to the most common practice among us in our synod, you could make that Roman Catholic statement in many of our congregations and people would nod their heads in agreement. Practice teaches. Our most common practice of withholding the Sacrament from our children until they are teenagers has taught people all the things mentioned above. If you don't believe me, just ask people why we don't admit younger children to the Sacrament. You'll see.

Besides all that, it must be noted that we would not be witnessing the great shift toward every Sunday Communion that has been occurring among us over the past couple/few decades had we followed this "wait for greater consensus among us" approach. That shift has come about one pastor and congregation at a time moving forward now in the desire to bring their practice in line with our Confessions, which state, "Masses are celebrated among us every Lord's Day and on the other festivals" (Ap. XXIV:1). Some of us have even worked toward celebrating Masses "on the other festivals" where we serve. While that hasn't yet picked up the steam moving toward "every Lord's Day" has, it's a start. In any event, the point is that it's hard enough for Lutherans to bring about change (you all know the joke), since it's nearly impossible for us to ever admit we've been wrong about something (have we ever passed a synodical resolution admitting we were wrong about anything?), so these sorts of salutary changes among us can only be achieved incrementally over time, which, again, happens one pastor and congregation at a time moving forward now.

Confirmation is not a sacrament. It isn't necessary. It was not instituted by Christ. It has no promises from God's Word attached to it. It is not a means of grace. We have two (or three, or four, depending on how we define things) sacraments, but Confirmation ain't one.

Confirmation is not a prerequisite for admittance to the Lord's Supper, either. Baptism is. Instruction, examination, and absolution is. But, not Confirmation.

Confirmation is a humanly ordained, public Rite in the Church, wherein baptized children (and adults) publicly confess the faith bestowed to them at Baptism. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I have nary a problem with Confirmation correctly defined and practiced. There is nothing wrong with the Church establishing a public Rite like this to have her catechumens (whether children or adult) publicly confess their faith before the congregation. Heck, I'm all for throwing a party, eating cake, and giving gifts, too. Nothing wrong with celebrating this. That's a good thing.

But, I am opposed to what our understanding of Confirmation has become and how we have tied the admission to our Lord's Table to it as a sort-of prize or diploma or something. We should have never allowed that to happen. Dr. Luther would assuredly throw a major tantrum about it were he alive today. I dare say that his comments in the Preface to his Small Catechism would seem rather tame compared to what he would say about making our children wait until they are thirteen or fourteen years old to receive the Supper.

Furthermore, while I can certainly understand why the people we serve are confused about this and why many of them reflexively object to changing things, there is simply no excuse for my brother pastors to be confused about this or object to changing things. I have been majorly disappointed and, to be perfectly blunt and honest, more than a little ticked, that some of my brother pastors not only object to this, but have even seen fit to run their mouths to my visiting parishioners about how wrong this is and how they can't believe that their pastor (me) would be allowing their small children to commune. It doesn't matter that the said children can recite the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord's Prayer from memory right there on the spot, or that they can tell these pastors what they believe about the Lord's Supper and why they want to receive it, all of which is more than probably 87.6% of the adults they'll be communing that day can do, by the way. Nope, doesn't matter. It's just immediately absurd to these guys that these children would be admitted to the altar, which is bad enough, but the fact that some of them also feel compelled to lecture my visiting parishioners about it, as if they've been duped by me into participating in some great heresy or something, is way over the line. If you won't commune these children, who have been instructed, examined, absolved, and admitted by me, then just say no and shut up about it, because the comments you make to them only reveal your ignorance in the matter.

For my part, I simply don't understand how brother pastors in the same synod would refuse to commune visiting children who have been admitted to the altar in their home congregations. Before we adopted the practice of First Communion Prior to Confirmation where I serve, there were several times when we had visiting children who had been admitted to the altar prior to the "sacred age of 13 or 14," and the possibility of refusing to commune them never entered my thinking. Who am I to excommunicate these children? Their pastor had instructed, examined, absolved, and admitted them, and I'm going to say, "Sorry, no Supper for you"? I don't think so. How absurd!

And, yes, I know the "but my people will be confused and maybe even scandalized if I communed the young children from your congregation" argument. I don't buy it. First, what would probably happen is that no one would even notice. Second, even if they did and asked you about it, you could simply say, "These children have been admitted to the altar at their home congregation, and I don't think it's right for me to excommunicate them." Third, what a golden opportunity for you to use this to catechize your flock; you're welcome (unless, of course, you're perfectly content with the practice of withholding the Sacrament from children until they're teenagers, which, if you deny visiting youngsters the Sacrament, you probably are, so just scratch this point, I guess). Fourth, do you not think that it's laughably absurd that you deny children who stand before you ready to confess their faith and be examined by you, but readily admit to the Supper any and every visiting older child or adult without batting an eye simply because they belong to another LCMS congregation? In the words of Everett in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, "I don't get it, Big Dan."     

It's right there in the LSB Agenda (pp. 25-27). Check it out. It's approved. Sanctioned. Good to go. As well it should be. Please, for the love of all things sacred, stop acting like it's not.     


Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

Ditto to all your points. I agree wholeheartedly. My only caveat would be, why do we need two separate rites? Either use one or the other. Do we really need an extra man-made rite in the Church?

I like the idea of just confirming them whenever they are deemed "fit" for the altar. Or, just do away with the Rite of Confirmation and use the Rite of First Communion exclusively. I don't like the piling up of rites.

But I agree with everything you say in your post about earlier communion not being sectarian. We are really being sectarian by NOT doing it.

Jay Watson said...

I don't always agree with my brother and pal, Rev'd Paul... :) but when I do I DO. He's 100% correct and I too endorse just the one rite...confirm them when they're ready for First Communion. The Catechesis is a multitude of ways will continue for them (and all of us)till death or the Eschaton!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

I'd have no problem with doing away with the Rite of Confirmation and using the Rite of First Communion exclusively, but, as they exist in our Agenda right now, they are not the same thing. If we were going to get rid of one, I'd think it would have to be the Rite of First Communion, which would mean that we'd use the Rite of Confirmation whenever they are deemed "fit" for the altar. Fine with me.

However, I do like the idea of retaining both of these Rites. One is for the young to bring them to the altar after some basic catechesis, the other is for older children after receiving more detailed or in-depth catechesis. Plus, that's two parties with two opportunities to eat cake and stuff. :)

Weslie O said...

Rev. Messer, since you like the idea of retaining both rites how would you (do you) handle Confirmation after First Communion? What if the child says, "I see no need to be confirmed." Time for discipline? Would this be akin to a member not coming to the Sunday adult Bible study?

I'm asking in all sincerity. My elders and I are discussing this very topic because we have 7-8 years olds who say "I want that" and confess rightly what the Supper is. It breaks my heart not to take the time to instruct them and offer them the Supper.

We're trying to figure out the nuts and bolts though of the Rite of Confirmation if this move is made.

Thank you.

Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

Weslie, my elders have had the same questions. If parents were actually doing their God-given duty and instructing their children in the home, this wouldn't be an issue at all.

amelithpastor said...

Great post, Tom. Having just completed our second class of pre-confirmation age children, preparing them for the Sacrament, I can already see the salutary effects. Granted, not everyone in the parish is on board yet, but most are. Traditions for traditions' sake die hard but this is one change that I firmly believe is necessary. So do the parents and their children who are now communing together at the rail, and prepared to worthily do so. Thanks for your help when we were initially exploring this change of practice! A blessed Easter season to you!

Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...


The way we handle this here is that I make very clear to the children and their parents that First Communion is not Confirmation, and that First Communion classes are not a "drop off your kids for class and leave" affair. The parents are intimately involved. In fact, I don't even begin First Communion classes with children until their parents have worked with them at home, teaching them to learn by heart the Ten Commandments, Creed, and Lord's Prayer. That's a prerequisite to beginning First Communion classes. And, the parents (or, a parent) must attend those classes with the children and continue to work with them at home on what is covered in class.

The content of First Communion classes is far more basic than what I cover in Confirmation classes later on and the children and parents are made well aware of this. The expectation is that these children will go on to receive that greater instruction later, and it is pointed out that this is the promise they'll be making during the First Communion Rite, which has the pastor saying to them during his address: "You will continue to be instructed and nurtured in the Christian faith and life," and asking them, "Do you intend to continue to hear and receive the instruction of Your Lord . . .," to which they respond, "Yes, with the help of God." And so, both the children and their parents know full well what the expectation is here, namely that First Communion classes and Confirmation classes later are a package deal, so that, if what you're describing comes to pass and a child says later, "I'm not going to Confirmation classes," yes, that will have to be dealt with, first by talking with the parents and reminding them of what their children (and they) vowed at First Communion and if that produces no fruit, then the child will have to refrain from receiving the Supper until such time as he/she desires to complete his/her instruction, all of which was made vividly clear ahead of time when they went through First Communion classes.

In my experience, however, this scenario is very rare. The parents who bring their children to First Communion classes and work with them (and me) in instructing them in the faith are almost always the faithful sort who will see to it that their children complete their instruction later on. And, we should keep in mind that these children will have had our Lord strengthening them in the faith via their ongoing reception of the Sacrament during the intervening years between First Communion and Confirmation classes, which is no small thing, of course. Not that what you're describing couldn't happen, but it's just very rare, especially considering the fact that we will have been providing pastoral care to these children and their parents, part of which would be to encourage them back to faithfulness if we saw them growing lax in attending Divine Service, etc. over the years. In other words, we will have seen what you're describing coming long before it arrives (in the vast majority of those very rare cases where this might happen) and will have already begun to deal with it.

I don't think this can be considered akin to adults who don't attend Bible Study, however. We're talking here about completing the instruction which was begun earlier, which is a different thing than having completed instruction and opting not to attend Bible Study. At least we practice things here.

Don't know if this is the best way to handle all of this, but it's how things are done here, at least for now, since we continue to have both First Communion and Confirmation here.

Cheryl said...

I have not seen this mentioned yet. In addition to an opportunity to deepen one's understanding of the faith, isn't Confirmation also the gateway to membership in the congregation? It is a way of saying not only that you embrace the articles of faith but that you intend to become a fully functioning, active member of the congregation in which you are confirmed (which heightens the sad irony of so many confirmands disappearing from the life of the church as soon as they are confirmed). I greatly appreciate this article. Confirmation and Communion are not the same thing and should not be automatically linked. I am so thankful to now be in a church that allows early communion.

Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

In my congregation, it would be easier, I think, just to confirm children when they have received a rudimentary instruction, and then simply continuing their Christian instruction over the next few years. The reason is that our constitution states that communicant membership by confirmation is when children have been instructed in the Christian Faith and gone through the Rite of Confirmation. I wouldn't really have to change anything. As it currently stands, there is no age mentioned, no time for beginning. All we would be doing is taking the Rite of Confirmation away from the 8th grade, after all the years of catechesis are completed, and moving it to whenever one is ready to be received into communicant membership.