30 March 2007

Pastor Petersen

has raised one of the rather hot button topics over at his blog. But it does bring to mind a question that I would like to have input on:

Confessional Lutherans tend to be quite united on the rejection of making children wait until the 8th grade to receive the Holy Sacrament. We know that this practice is relatively recent in the church's life and does not accord with our Lutheran Symbols. But is there any sort of a consensus among confessional Lutherans about this question: is it better to confirm at a lower age and so admit to the table, or to keep confirmation the same age and introduce first communion? Pros and cons? And if there are those who have already done either, how was it received in the parish?

10 comments:

Larry Haga said...

Pastor,
I believe many children are ready to receive the Holy Supper at an earlier age than is the tradition in most of the LCMS today. Fathers should be catechized to catechize their households. When a child understands the Christian faith (according to the catechism) and desires the Sacrament, the child should be brought to the pastor for examination. If a child is not ready than the child is not ready. But if he or she is ready what possible reason is there to place the child under the ban? This does not exclude formal instruction of the child from the pastor. In fact this may well extend the time of catechesis, since there is no hurry to finish and commune. I've read someone say that this would never work to separate communion and confirmation, but catechesis is worth while on it's on merit. That just has to be made clear.
Larry H

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

I don't think confirmation, the way it is done among Lutherans, has much purpose if separated from first communion. All it will really be is a graduation ceremony, especially when it no longer has a function as a public admittance and recognition of basic catechesis.

I think if they are separated that there's no point of celebrating the ceremony of confirmation. At that point just catechize, examine, absolve and admit them to the Holy Supper.

The impression I get is that Luther would have been happy abolishing the ceremony at the end in favor of catechesis and preparation for the Supper. Not even in the broader application of sacraments, Lutherans don't include confirmation as a sacrament. We make far too big of a deal about the man-made ceremony at the end. It would be better if marriage were called a sacrament or confused with one than for confirmation to be a sacrament. Though we insist it isn't a sacrament, I think I've heard D. Scaer say that we certainly treat it like one.

Confirmation is nowhere near its chrismation origins and becomes and excuse for all kinds of goofiness - stoles,self-made creeds, etc.

This being said, my preference would be to keep the confirmation ceremony at the conclusion of the intensive catechesis but ratchet that down a few years earlier than 14 but keep confirmation and first communion together. The Pietists brought the age to 14. I think it is a very worthy evangelical and catholic reform to reduce the age down a bit. There are a lot of pragmatic reasons for that too IMO.

William Weedon said...

Larry,

Agreed 100%

John,

I've very much inclining that direction myself: Confirmation should be retained as the rite of admission to the Sacrament and it should lose the character of being "the end of catechesis." It should never have had that to begin with!

Past Elder said...

In the sacramental system which Martin and I were originally taught, and in which Confirmation is a sacrament, it is not connected to one's First Communion at all -- which is prepared for by one's first Confession -- but with Baptism. It is, as it were, the completion of Baptism. The Scriptural reference for this is Acts, where those who only had water baptism needed an Apostle from Jerusalem to confer baptism in the Spirit. Therefore only an apostle or a bishop in succession from one may administer Confirmation, and one prepares for it with catechesis not possible with infant baptism. Generally one takes the name of a saint, too. Thus Confirmation in the New Testament fulfils bar mitzvah in the Old, the confirmand now taking his place among adult confessing members of the church, a son in the Spirit rather than a son of the Law. One could even say that Baptism and Confirmation, though distinct sacraments, are two sides of the same coin.

Luther (and I) came to reject this view, and being a layman I'll base our teaching on the Little Catechism. In the 1941 synodical edition, in the Explanation, the treatment of Confirmation comes at the end of the discussion of the Sacrament of the Altar. Question 328 asks whom do we admit to the table and answers those who have received sufficient instruction and given an account of their faith. Upon which, question 329 asks What custom, therefore, do we observe? and answers Confirmation.

In other words, because we admit to the table only those with sufficient instruction in the faith and who have given an account of their faith, we therefore observe the custom, not sacrament, of confirmation! How clear is that? Question 330 then defines confirmation as the rite by which a baptised person renews his baptismal vow, publically confesses his faith, and is received into communicant membership by the congregation.

The 1991 Explanation added to the 1986 translation says the same thing but less clearly. It jumps from Who must not be given the Sacrament, which is the old To whom must the Lord's Supper be denied, straight to What is confirmation, leaving out What do we ask of those who commune and Whom do we admit from the 1941 Explanation. In so doing, the "therefore" is broken too; confirmation can not be as cleanly presented as something we do because of what we ask of and whom we admit to Communion. In the 1991 answer to What is Confirmation, neither Baptism nor Communion is mentioned (!), confirmation being a public rite preceded by instruction by which a baptised person is helped to identify with the life and mission of the Christian community! Holy Vatican II Batman, what does that mean exactly? Luckily there is a Note which follows, stating that instruction is necessary to be admitted to Communion and confirmation provides an opportunity for a Christian to rely on his baptismal promise and make a public confession of faith and pledge of fidelity to Christ (whew!) so the old question 330 survives in the Note, and the connexion to Baptism and Communion stands, as well as the "bar mitvah" aspect of becoming a full member of the community.

Now, in the pre Reformation church, and still in the non Reformation (read, Rome) church, first confession (meaning of sin, not of faith) and first Communion happen about the traditional age of reason, seven, and confirmation about the traditional age of the bar mitzvah, thirteen. However, this cannot stand if Confirmation is a "therefore" to what is expected of those who commune and to who is so admitted.

Under the understanding of Confirmation as presented in either Explanation to either version of the LC, Confirmation must precede Communion and be a preparation for it, bringing with it the connexion to Baptism and also establishing the person as an "adult", a full, comprehending, confessing member of the Christian community, whoops, church.

Therefore the age should be determined by the age at which one can so be admitted to the table, since it is to that for which confirmation exists among us. This avoids the error of Rome, making it a sacrament connected to Baptism but not Communion and removing from it being a communicant in all senses member of the church; this avoids the error of the East in "chrismating" infants, and avoids the error of the Protestants in witholding Baptism until an age at which one supposedly confesses his own faith.

Which does not settle what is the age, but should settle what is are criteria to determine the age: at what age can a person be admitted to Communion because he has had sufficient instruction to give an account of his faith and pledge fidelity fo Christ, relying on and renewing his Baptism, fully idenifying with the life and mission of the church as a full adult commuining member at the Lord's Table?

Side note, observation on the times: interesting that what started out as the age at which one became a man and don of the Law, one is now though to be entering a period of general confusion and upheaval lasting several years (teenagers!) before reaching manhood/adulthood!

tutal said...

This topic is one that I have been interested in for about the last year and a half. At one time I found myself in favor of communing infants, that is, until I spoke with one of my classmates on this very subject. He simply asked, what are our Lord's words on the matter? "Eat... Drink." Now if one cannot eat or drink (from the cup) this should at least give us pause. And it certainly did. In order to commune infants you have to modify, albeit slightly, what our Lord has to say on the matter. But as has been pointed out by others, this does not necessarily mean that one tacitly accepts our current communion practice either.

Right now I'm in the midst of researching for a paper on re-examining the age of first communion. What I'm finding is that a confusion over terms is making this matter a difficult one to talk about. Strictly speaking, confirmation is a rite, something that happens on one day. The way we treat it though is much along the same lines as the Baptist's public declaration of faith, and so, in a sense, we do harm to our own Baptismal theology as if the Baptism really doesn't count for much until we have that public declaration of faith.

This problematic view of confirmation is compounded when we attach first communion (and "communion membership") with it. Again this is kind of a nod towards the Baptist understanding of "church." The thing is the rite itself has nothing to do with communion, and everything to do with remembering one's own baptism, which is what one does every day in repentance and what this confirmand already just did upon hearing the words of the Invocation.

So then what is preventing separating the two? Or to be even more bold, what is preventing us from discontinuing the use of the rite of confirmation altogether? In a sense, it is sentimentality. I did it, my dad did it, my grandpa did it, and so on. But if one carefully ends the usage of the rite of confirmation, I think a wonderful door is opened up: lifelong catechesis and catechesis done as the body of Christ gathered together. Then our public "confession of faith" becomes what it is meant to be in the divine service: the creed. Our remembrance of our baptism starts from early on. And we then can start looking at when we admit children to the Lord's Table.

Children as early as three have vocally expressed their desire to receive our Lord's Body and Blood in communion. Many of them, if asked will be able to answer simple questions regarding this meal: What is it? What is it for? Who is it for? Then upon examining them satisfactorily and absolving them (AP 24.1) what, other than a false notion of an "age of accountability" would prevent their admittance to the Table?

I really hope to flush these things out a bit more. I'd be also interested in your thoughts and the thoughts of others as to how to actually do this so as not to cause doubt in the minds of a congregation.

Chris Jones said...

Confirmation as practiced in the Lutheran Church is rather an odd ceremony, which has no historical precedent and no coherent theological meaning. Whatever it is, it is not the same thing as confirmation/chrismation in the early Church. In particular, I see no rational basis for making a man-made rite into a barrier to the Lord's table.

I wrote up my thoughts on this on my weblog a while back; the post can be found here. I'd be very curious what people think of what I wrote there.

William Weedon said...

Matt,

Have you had the joy of Repp's study on Confirmation? It will confirm many of your suspicions. Another interesting place to research is in the Examen, volume II, p. 212. Note that Chemnitz is obviously describing the rite as it was then being practiced. I will write it out for those who do not have the book:

Our theologians have often shown that if traditions that are useless, superstitious and in conflict with Scripture are removed, the rite of confirmation can be used in a godly fashion and for the edification of the church, namely, in this way, that those who were baptized in infancy (for that is now the condition of the church) would, when they have arrived at the years of discretion, be diligently instructed in teh sure and simple teaching of the church's doctrine, and when it is evident that the elements of the doctrine have been grasped, be brought afterward to the bishop and the church. There the child who was baptized in infancy would by a brief and simple admonition be reminded of his Baptism, namely, what in his Baptism the whole Trinity conferred upon and sealed to him, namely, the covenant of peace and the compact of grace, how there Satan was renounced and a profession of faith and a promise of obedience was made.

Second, that the child himself would give his own public profession of this doctrine and faith.

Third, he would be questioned concerning the chief parts of the Christian religion and would respond with respect to each of them or, if he should show lack of understanding, he would be better instructed.

Fourth, he would be reminded and would show by his confession that he disagrees with all heathenish, fanatical, and ungodly opinions.

Fifth, there would be added an earnest and serious exhortation from the Word of God that he would persevere in his baptismal covenant and in this doctrine and faith and, by making progress in the same, might thereafter be firmly established.

Sixth, public prayer would be made for these children that God would deign, by His Holy Spirit, to govern, preserve, and strengthen them in this profession. To this prayer there could be added without superstition the laying on of hands. This prayer would not be in vain, for it relies upon the promise concerning the gift of preservation and on God's strengthening grace.

Such a rite of confirmation would be very useful for the edification of the young and the whole church. It would also be in harmony with both the Scriptures and the purer antiquity.

William Weedon said...

Matt,

One more thought. There was a time I spoke quite recklessly about Confirmation - wishing that it didn't exist in the Church. My congregational members have taught me a different way of looking at it. It is to them a great and joyous moment. By no means is it more important than Baptism, but it is to them the logical conclusion of being baptized as infants. It's the joyous moment when they publicly profess what was professed in their stead as infants and receive the prayer of the entire church that they persevere in saving faith until their end. They remember their Confirmations with joy. I don't think it would be right to lose the rite, but I do think it would be fitting in every way to lower the age at which it is celebrated.

Past Elder said...

Not sure whether to post here or the more recent post featuring the Chemnitz quotation.

There is nothing about Confirmation that in any way states or implies that there is something lacking in Baptism. Nor does anything done in Baptism, including the oils, replace Confirmation. The traditional RC understanding of Confirmation is that it takes its name not from its nature but its effect -- to confirm, to strengthen one in professing the true faith, to give the resolution to rather die than abandon the true faith, to bolster one against all spiritual enemies.

Actually I can find nothing in the Chemnitz quote to dispute on RC grounds -- except that it does not mention the episcopal authority needed to confer it, or mention the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit prayed for at the end of the rite: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

Chemnitz' comments are an excellent description indeed of a rite in harmony with Scripture and the purer antiquity.

And there is no mention of Communion or preparation for it, nor is there in the Roman understanding. Now I grant that the Explanation to the LC is not the LC itself. Nonetheless it has been a feature of editions of the LC since Luther's time. And as rehearsed above, in it the connexion with preparation for Communion is quite clear.

So maybe that's the prior question -- not age, but what is confirmation anyway, something as decribed in the Explanation, or in the Examen. And since the Explanation has a long Lutheran history back to Luther's time, why does it seem to take a somewhat different understanding?