By Paul Koch –
I have learned to hate Confirmation.
For those outside of the Lutheran tradition, Confirmation is a day when the youth, being instructed in the teachings of the church, are called upon to give a public confession of the faith. They often dress up in white robes and stand before the congregation, where they are asked to answer questions such as:
“Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?”
“Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”
Now, the preparation for this moment varies widely from congregation to congregation. The vast majority still use Luther’s Small Catechism as the basis from which to organize their instruction, but in practice, it can look like anything from a weekend retreat to several years of formal instruction. It can be as simple as discussion about the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and Lord’s Prayer or as in depth as understanding the rhythm of the church lectionary and the basis of good hymnody.
Yet, these discrepancies are not the source of my disgust with Confirmation. As a pastor, I have developed and reworked what I think is a useful way to instruct the youth of my congregation in the confession of the church. I assume other pastors have done the same in their context. And I don’t hate the actual instruction—the Confirmation classes. I love the opportunity to hand over the faith that I have received to children of the congregation. Sure, it can be frustrating at times, especially when memory work is obviously being done on the car ride over and no real time is being dedicated to learning what it all means in the home or elsewhere. But I am not angry or upset about the chance to spend some quality time with these young children of our Lord.
What I’ve learned to hate is the day set aside for the rite of Confirmation, whether that day is Palm Sunday (as it was when I went through Confirmation), Pentecost (which is when we’ll be celebrating it at my church), or some other day. My hatred has nothing to do with the kids dressed up in their robes or the questions I’ll ask them in front of the congregation. It has nothing to do with the parents taking pictures afterward or the slicing of cake. Rather, my hatred comes from a lie that overshadows the whole day—a lie that I willingly receive because it masks my own fear.
My fear is what runs through my head every time I go through the motions of a Confirmation day. As I look into the eyes of these young faces, I fear that this moment will not be the beginning of a long and rich life of receiving the gifts of Christ in His church but the beginning of a steep and drastic move away from the gifts. I know, for some strange reason, that Confirmation is still valued in many homes. Families who rarely make it to church on a regular basis will actually try a little harder to make it to Confirmation classes. And so I know that for some families that day of Confirmation is the pinnacle of all the hard work and the highpoint of their participation in the life of the church. After that day, after the confession is made and the rite is completed, some will slowly and surely begin to fade from the regular reception of our Lord’s gifts. And this is what I hate.
The lie is to believe that this rite, however we dress it up at our given church, is somehow going to overcome the apathy thriving in the homes of God’s people. The lie is to think that a pastor’s work with children for one hour a day on one day out of the week can overcome parenting that places little value on Word and Sacrament. The lie is when we place anything, even the white robes of Confirmation day, above the living voice of the Gospel as if the works of our hands can overcome.
But I am afraid, and so I buy into the lie.
Yet, the comfort for my fear is no stranger to me, for the light that reveals this lie is Christ himself. Our rites and ceremonies will never fill a void where the Gospel has been silent. The proclamation of our Lord from the pulpit to the people and from the parents to their children turns fear into confidence and hate into joy.
So let us pray, teach, and preach Christ crucified in our homes and in our churches. Let us find cause again to love Confirmation day because it produces nothing at all but rather demonstrates the fruit of the living Word.