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 nave? 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.

Timotheos

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21 thoughts on “Why Confirmation Must End

  1. I’m still supportive of confirmation. However, I think we need to do a better job of chatechesis prior to. Start the kids out at an earlier age, maybe.

    Considering a recent debate of mine where I was defending the existing traditional age (14-ish), the other side convinced me that children as young as 8 can be taught to properly self-examine.

    Not trying to rehash that old argument here. Just throwing it out for feedback purposes.

  2. Tim,

    I like when you write about theological issues.

    I gave Random Dan a hard time when he said to get rid of confirmation altogether. He was right in many of his criticisms, but anything that reduces good teaching to any group of people right now is ill-advised.

    But you seem to be arguing something different. You are asking for more teaching and an elevation of first communion and a de-emphasis on confirmation and those ideas are right on the mark.

    My first communion was separate from confirmation (2 years earlier) and it was a big deal in our church. But most churches lump them together on confirmation day. The problem with that is that you get a confirmation day that is almost all confirmation and barely a mention of first communion. That’s a huge problem.

    That said, my confirmation classes were incredibly helpful and instructive in my faith. I came from a lapsed Catholic family, so when my Lutheran pastor asked me, point blank, what we have to DO to get to heaven and I told him “believe and a bunch of other things” only to have him make me go over the texts again until I learned God’s answer: believe! In 3 years of instruction, if that was all I learned, it was still valuable.

    Anyway, Tim, with your flock, I hope that you will teach them all the things you’ve mentioned, about the liturgy, about the sacraments, about the confessions and I would add, about understanding scripture and about understanding practice.

    If anything, I think Sunday School for youth (post-confirmation) is way too dumbed down. They don’t give their youth enough credit and challenge them. Heck, Sunday School class for me during high school was like “Advanced Coloring”. At that time, I was preparing to go out
    into the great Mormon world and they could’ve been preparing me for that, but they didn’t. My confirmation did to some extent four years before, but Sunday School failed miserably. This is unexcusable.

    Adherence to the confessions seems to be the key feature that makes a lot of the other practices and teaching sound. I think that the confessional movement in our church (shouldn’t be a movement, it should be the norm) needs to be supported. A lot of other things fall into place in a congregation with a confessional pastor and a knowledgable, catechized congregation devoted to the same.

  3. I agree with you Tim. Confirmation has morphed into a graduation day. Instead of a diploma you get Communion. This practice teaches our children that salvation is earned. At some churches it doesn’t even matter if learned anything at all just that for a prescribed period of time you and those around your age met with the Pastor on Wednesday nights.
    Lord Have Mercy!!

  4. David says: (shouldn’t be a movement, it should be the norm).

    Indeed. I think you hit on the very core of many of our current difficulties.

  5. Steven G. says “This practice teaches our children that salvation is earned.”

    This is the single most important aspect of Satan’s diabolicaly false message.

    Thank you, Steven, for bringing this point to the discussion.

  6. Hi Tim,

    You bring up something very interesting. I agree with your principles of wanting children to be raised with nourishment of the word. You do mention getting rid of confirmation, but having a true catechumenate. How do you envision this taking shape? I’m intersted in your thoughts and would like to brainstorm ways we can be more faithful in our churches.

    One thing is for sure – we need to foster a church culture where parents are expected to disciple their children as they raise them. This is their vocation. I think in most churches, sunday school is expected to do that while parents sit back and watch.

  7. I wouldn’t get rid of Catechesis. The downward slide in Catechesis is why we have so many STUUUUUUPID arguments between lay and ordained people. It is a case of reaping what we sow.
    I know how I am going to do Catechesis. I can tell you 2 things:
    1. It is radically different than the norm of today.
    2. It is in line with our confessional / historical view of Catechesis.

    (Of COURSE I want to keep it I’m Captain Catechism, Darn it!)

    CC

  8. CC,
    Don’t confuse confirmation with catechesis. Of course we must teach the faith, however the rite of confirmation, which Timotheos was addressing does have its problems.

  9. tutal,

    Point well taken, but what Tim is talking about is the sputtering and cough of the once great seminal experience of the Lutheran Faith. This was the Church bringing the lost and the damned into the fold. The young and the inexperienced were brought into the light of their Baptisms and they were preparing them to “examine themselves” in light of the Lord’s Supper.
    Somewhere along the lines, this became a shake and bake process that kids suffer through and adults race through.
    Verily, I admit that some parishes do a better job, but I question the actual number. So what is the great commonality among LCMS Lutherans? What is the event that all parish Lutherans recall as their Catechesis? The answer is CONFIRMATION.
    It’s a practice that has fallen into disarray and needs to be revolutionized to be what it is intended to be and not just a quickly-forgotten formality.

    ==MORE TO COME==

  10. Maybe it’s a purely post-Christendom Europe point of view, but it seems to me that purely “sociological” confirmations are called to disappear soon: the neo-pagans will not bother with that anymore. In a way, that’s good, because the people who will bring their kids to catechism leading to confirmation will really be motivated and supportive of what the church does for their kids (as opposed to the “give-my-son-his-ticket to-adolescence” mentality). More and more too, you see kids asking their less-than-commited parents to come to catechism class. We have one case like that in our church.
    Do you guys in the States have the joke about the three pastors and the bats?

  11. J.M., I was hoping you would post on this. We haven’t heard from you in awhile.
    😉

    I’m thinking there will always be a sociological aspect to confirmation. Basic human nature will dictate such.

    All the Lutheran congregations I am familiar with in and out of LCMS place a priority on confirmation. However, what is taught (or rather not taught) in some of these confirmation classes are the issue of concern.

    I think, what we are reflecting is some people seem to be placing their cart (confirmation ceremony) ahead of their horse (catechesis).

    >>>

    My Sr. pastor has two classes (which he calls chatechesis, not confirmation). The Jr. Pastor leads the ‘teen’ class with visits from the Sr. pastor. The Sr. Pastor leads the ‘adult’ class, which is also required attendance for the Vicar. Vicar “gets” to lead some of the adult classes, which is sometimes more of a learning experience for the Vicar then for the class,.. but I digress,..

    The adult class is also a “refresher” class, and there are a number of congregants who have taken the refresher 3-4 times. Usually with their spouse and sometimes with their children. If one year of catechesis doesn’t suit someone, he encourages them to take the class again. Wife and I took the refresher class together last year.

  12. Hi Lawrence, good to be back!

    I think our confessional circle DO have a problem of catechesis. I know it is a challenge in France and what i read here shows there are problems in the States too (although, quite frankly, some LC-MS people I know are very happy with how things are doing, but it’s another issue).
    We are reviewing our edition of the Small Catechism (MINOR revision!!)and discussions over this have shown that some of our pastors (and good ones!) do not use the SC for children instructon anymore!!
    I do not know.I like to use the SC for adult classes, I think it’s a great tool, but I would maybe (certainly) be miserable if I had to use it with today’s teenagers.
    One final note: I do not have any problem with confirmation (and first communion, for that matter) having a sociological dimension, as long as it is not ONLY sociological. The church is a human group, and every human group can be analized sociologically. We are not angels, but people living in families from Missouri, Saxony, France that are part of Lutheran churches.We have a history, certain ways to do things (goood or bad)and, yes, things we expect from our kids. Where is the problem with that?

  13. I think that the biggest problem with the whole confirmation issue today (and I speak as one who thinks confirmation is okay to stay) is the mentality that it is a finite process. Adults coming into the Lutheran Church take several weeks worth of 1 hour Sunday sessions (maybe 12 weeks at best) and then they’re in. Kids take 1, 2, 3, or 4 year catechesis programs of varying quality and content but again, the final year of instruction they are confirmed and then what? I’m with captain catechesis – I think that confirmation is a good rite to keep in the Church, however I share Timotheos’ (and others) concerns here. Catechesis must be seen by the faithful as a life long process. It is not a Tony Robbins seminar!

  14. J.M. asks: “We have a history, certain ways to do things (goood or bad)and, yes, things we expect from our kids. Where is the problem with that?”

    Problem is post-confirmation, when chatechesis stops for many (most?) people.

  15. Greetings in Christ!

    It has been quite a while since I have posted here but this topic is one that is near and dear to my heart. Granted, I come from a different denomination (Catholicism), but the topic of Confirmation; when it should be administered and how it fits in with Baptism and Holy Communion is a hot topic within the Catholic Church right now.

    The problem as I see it is this. In the early Church one was initiated in the faith by Baptism, followed by Confirmation, then topped off with Holy Communion since being in communion with the entire community and more importantly with the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion is the culmination of initiation. Somewhere along the way confirmation became the culminating moment of Christian initation, thus it has become a “graduation” after which you are officially a Christian and can go about your business without ever having to grow or learn anything.

    In order to solve this problem and return to our roots of having baptism, followed by confirmation, followed by admittance to Holy Communion many Catholic Bishops are returning Confirmation to an earlier age so that the proper, more historical order is preserved, and it ceases to be a “graduation.” I agree with that position. I think we need to confirm people at a very young age, maybe even at baptism like the eastern orthodox do. Alot of our problems of catechesis and sacramental prepartion would be solved.

    Thus endeth my two cents.

    Fr. Dana Christensen

  16. Thanks, Fr. Christensen, for your comments. Good to hear from you again! It is helpful for us to get a Roman Catholic perspective.

    Tim

  17. Well said, Fr. Christensen.

    Confirmation is a singular event. Catechesis is the process of ‘continuing education’. What we have come to in many respects is look at confirmation as the entire process.

    Confirmation, as a ceremony, requires a level of education/maturity and that requires some kind of age standard or soon we will be confirming infants.

    Catechesis, on the other hand, is ageless and timeless. It should start at an early age, and continue throughout or life.

  18. I hope it is not too late to post on this topic. I have been doing some research on Confirmation and especially it’s meaning in the LCMS. I am in a congregation where the elders have brought together a “Confirmation Handbook” which I find very disturbing for a “saved by grace” LCMS Congregation. They have initiated a points system where some of the confirmands can confirm with “Honors”. They even get to wear a ribbon around their neck. How does one receive these points? They can receive points by doing service for the church. (helping with projects, acolyting, youth gatherings, and also dress code, behavior, and classroom success) They can also lose points. The “Handbook” also states that when they do confirm they become members of the LCMS but not of our congregation. In order to become a member of the congregation they must appeal to Pastor and the elders and they will be evaluated on “several aspects” including attendance to Worship and Sunday school, willingness to serve, participation in youth group and other church activities, and recommendation of the pastor. The church actually believes that this is the way to make them stay in the church after confirmation. I feel that this is completely works related and will set these young people up for a lifetime of thinking that they somehow must earn their salvation. It will also make those donning their ribbons believe that they are better Christians than their non-honored counterparts. Could you please help. I talked to the pastor and he told me to talk to the two elders that came up with the program though many of my questions were of a scriptural nature. I tried to talk to an elder but he said that they are trying this.
    Also, there is no membership in the LCMS for individuals. I brought this to their attention but they aren’t concerned. I don’t know where to go from here. Could I please have some other views?
    Thank you so much,
    Anna
    annacc100@aol.com

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