Why Confirmation Must End

This is not a joke. This is not me trying to be provocative (as some seemed to think with my comments on private Bible study–including my wife). This is serious.

What is Confirmation? You can easily find out if you ask a Roman Catholic. It’s an important Sacrament–but even Rome doesn’t tie it to a kid’s first Communion! What is it for Lutherans? Apparently, nothing different. It’s right up there with the High Holy Feast Day of Mothers (Third Sunday in May). It may take place on Pentecost (read: the day that the Holy Spirit descends on the youngsters); it may take place on Palm Sunday (the day Jesus enters into the holy cities of their hearts?). It doesn’t really matter. It’s a Sacrament. Let’s just admit we have three Sacraments (Absolution doesn’t count) and get on with it.

I remember my actual Confirmation day, but I remember very little of the actual catechesis. That could be for a number of reasons. I had three different pastors over two years (plus another female teacher in sixth grade). I was young and I cared more about buying candy at the store than about what I was being taught. There are any number of reasons (the girls in the class not being the least).

Perhaps our children leave Lutheran congregations because of Confirmation, not in spite of it.

What other deleterious effects does our current elevation of Confirmation have? How about a devaluation of Baptism–which, by the way, actually is a Sacrament? This is proportionately tied (I think; I haven’t done a scientific study–yet) to the fact that Confirmation, by its close association with Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, has become the important event because we all know that those kids are ready to “confirm” their devotion to God at that point.

I know that pastors and professors have worked hard to salvage this point by emphasizing that it is the Holy Spirit who confirms the kids in the Faith, not by the rite of Confirmation, but by the Word which is taught during their instruction. It’s a laudable effort, but I believe it fails theologically. What, then, is Baptism, if Confirmation becomes the point, or process, at which the Holy Spirit confirms them in the Faith? Why not just call it catechesis instead of spiritualizing it so they can wear white robes (when was the last time you saw a baby wearing one at Baptism?) and red carnations and get money and eat cake?

I know that it is very easy to snipe at practices I don’t like. I have a tendency that way. So what do I propose? Because we all know that the chances of actually getting rid of Confirmation are as good as the U.S. winning a World Cup. I’m not saying it won’t happen; but it’s going to take a better team.

If we’re going to keep the Day, let’s call it what it should be: First Communion. And let’s actually stick with–again–a real Sacrament. Let’s have catechesis first…and second, and third, and fourth, and forever. Let’s form a real Catechumenate made up of whomever is ready at the time: adults and children together. Let’s take as much time as we have to. Let’s teach the whole of the Faith, and not expect that children–or adults, for that matter–know what a Bible is and how to use it. Let’s teach the liturgy of the Church, both broadly as the form of the Church’s life throughout the liturgical year and narrowly as the form of the Divine Service. Let’s teach them how to pray. Let’s teach them how to examine themselves prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Let’s teach them to sorrowfully confess their sins when they weigh heavily upon them; let’s teach them to gladly receive the absolution of the Lord through the mouths of His servants, pastors.

Am I naÔve? Probably. I’m not even a pastor yet. But I know this: half-hearted (I had a football coach who used another term), short-term teaching and quasi-sacramentalism have no place in the Church of Christ.


Presentation of the AC, II

I want to say that I think Pr. Weedon has a valid point, to wit, that the Church of the Augsburg Confession is not a “new” thing, as in reinventing 1,500 years of Church history. On the other hand, being as we are in the season of the Church (Pentecost), I think it more than fitting that we celebrate a momentous event in the history of Christ’s Church. More than that, I think it irresponsible of Lutheran pastors who hold to the UAC to let the day pass without so much as a mention.

Anyway, I commend to you these words by Anthony Sacramone, whom I believe is somehow related(!) to the much-esteemed “Luther at the Movies.”


The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

It’s debatable whether today or October 31 is the greatest non-Christological festival in the Lutheran church. Go ahead and debate, and see Sasse’s comments here, posted last year. And a section from the Preface of the Augsburg Confession here.

I’m curious, did any of your Lutheran congregations make mention of this day in the service? The one I visited did not.

Good stuff at Ask the Pastor, and a cool picture at Cyberbrethren.


Happy Father’s Day

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV)

What a frightening, exciting, invigorating, frustrating, amazing thing is the vocation of fatherhood. May God give all fathers the courage, not of their own convictions–which are so often weak, faltering, and selfish–but of the convictions of His Holy Spirit.


Coming to America…For Eugenics

Did you know the United States has no law against sex selection of babies with in vitro fertilization? Because of that, couples are coming from other countries in order to choose the sex of their children here. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that couples are coming from China, which has laws against sex selection!

These aren’t infertile couples, but regular, egg-and-sperm-producing men and women who want a child of a particular sex. Now, I have a problem with in vitro fertilization anyway, because it likely leads to the destruction of embryos, or at least the creation of more embryos than are “used.” (See? We’ve all got the baby consumer lingo down.) So we shouldn’t be too surprised that this is the next step.

But it gets even nastier when one considers the step after this. What if someone screws up and a baby (sorry, embryo–have to be as impersonal as possible) of the “wrong” sex is implanted? Even if the “mother” doesn’t have an abortion, what can her relationship with her child be like? What if that child learns that not only did his or her parents want a child of the opposite sex, they actually took pains to insure a child of the opposite sex. Oops.

The Australians in the story say,

“It’s not like we want some 6-foot-tall, blue-eyed Brad Pitt lookalike,” Robert said. “I naturally have something and my wife naturally has something and it’s taken out of our bodies and then you’re getting a doctor to mix it together and put it back in. … We’re not messing around with God the creator.”

Well, as long as you don’t want Brad Pitt. By the way, Robert, are you comfortable with the way you look? As for “taking it out, mixing it together, and putting it back in”: at some point in the distant Neanderthal past, all that “mixing” took place inside your wife’s body; it was indeed a mystery; and neither you nor your wife had anything directly to do with the mixing. Who could it have been, if it wasn’t a Doctor? That’s my question.

[O]ne doctor who offers embryo selection for about $20,000 says he is serving the marketplace and helping Nature, not playing God. People will be less alarmed as sex selection becomes more routine, said Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg of the Fertility Institutes of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

“It’s new. It’s scary. We understand that,” Steinberg said. His Web site features an image of a Chinese flag alongside information about sex selection. “Near 100% (99.99%) effective gender selection methods to help balance families,” the Web site promises.

I don’t know if MSNBC intended the connections, but those comments made a lovely juxtaposition, didn’t they? He’s right; he’s not playing God. It seems to me that God generally works against Nature-with-a-capital-N and the market. I’m not playing God, I’m just helping Nature! I’m not playing God, I’m just serving the market! Indeed. Once my clinics are everywhere, I won’t care what you thi–I mean, you’ll be less alarmed.

Finally, why is the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (heard of it?) against sex selection? “The group says the practice risks reinforcing sexism in society and diverts medical resources from real medical needs.” Which are clearly the most pressing moral and ethical reasons not to do it. Heck, the reason I’m against it is because my money could be going to more worthwhile medical practices, for people in genuine need, such as abortion. Now that’s a real medical need: because at first it’s just the skirt that doesn’t fit; what’s next? It’s a completely slippery slope all the way down to actually caring for the kid.


“Proleptic Laughter”

I put a new quote on the sidebar, but lest you miss it, I’m posting it here. It deserves to be the theme for not just Lutheran blogs, but Lutheran conversation in general.

“Nothing is more serious or worthy of debate than theology. And just for that reason a little proleptic laughter is always in order.” (Gilbert Meilaender, “How Churches Crack Up,” First Things, June/July 1991 [#14], p. 42)


“The Politics of Translation”

Christians’ attitudes toward modernity have primarily been characterized by a sense of inferiority. As John Milbank observes, “The pathos of modern theology is its false humility.” Our preaching and theology has been one ceaseless effort to conform to the canons of intelligibility produced by the economic and intellectual formations characteristic of modern and, in particular, liberal societies.

Christians in modernity thought their task was to make the Gospel intelligible to the world rather than to help the world understand why it could not be intelligible without the Gospel. Desiring to become part of the modernist project, preachers and theologians accepted the presumption that Christianity is a set of beliefs, a worldview designed to give meaning to our lives. As a result, the politics of Christian discourse was relegated to the private in the name of being politically responsible in, to, and for liberal social orders. We accepted the politics of translation believing that neither we nor our non-Christian or half-Christian neighbors could be expected to submit to the discipline of Christian speech. (Stanley Hauerwas, Sanctify Them in the Truth, pp. 192-193)


Private Bible Study is a Bad Idea

1. Small Group Bible Study is a Bad Idea.

What are the assumptions behind this being a good idea?
First, that we all “learn” better if we do not have that darn pastor with theological knowledge breathing down our necks. Second, that if we all pool our ignorance, surely we can come up with something that applies to our lives. Third, that it is unnecessary to have someone with the right answers (or at least the right foundation to think about the right answers) in the room when we get together as a group.

2. Individual Bible Study is a Bad Idea.

What are the assumptions behind this being a good idea?
First, that any individual can come to the Biblical text and come away from it with the correct understanding, if only one thinks long and hard about it. Second, that the Holy Spirit will automatically guide the person into the right understanding, if only he or she prays hard enough. (Of course, this begs the question why sincere and well-meaning–perhaps those two adjectives are the immediate problem–Christians can come to contradictory understandings of a text. Perhaps the Holy Spirit was having an off-day.) Third, that my interpretation is just as valid as your interpretation. Okay, perhaps this isn’t a direct assumption, but it surely follows from the way Americans tend to do things.

[If you want to know what I think are actual good ideas, keep reading. If you do not read below the break, save the commenting space for someone else.]
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