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.