Learning to Hate Confirmation

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?”

And,

“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.

faith-banner-lutheran

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.

JaggedWordLogo2

13 thoughts on “Learning to Hate Confirmation

  1. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov: 22:6

    Paul, you know this one. And yes, we’re all a little skeptical examining our brief measure of experience. Still, I’ve had not one, but two elderly (80’s) people show up in my congregation after a moment long ago like the ones you are talking about. One of them I had for 3 Sundays in my little church, and he died in Christ’s victory. The other is with me still with great joy and reflection after a long stay with the Brethren.

    I am all in with you on the frustration of it all, but I at least can say I’ve seen better outcomes. Peace, Brother.

    Like

    1. Point well taken Don. I too have seen better outcomes than the bleak picture I paint in the post. I wonder though if we don’t over-inflate the role typical Confirmation plays in training up a child. Not that I want to do away with it, just have a more honest understanding of what we’re accomplishing.

      Like

  2. Man, I can’t believe the things you feel compelled to complain about…now you have to add Confirmation to the LCMS disgruntled Pastor’s list. With all that is going on in the world today, so many larger issues can be discussed. Why not leave Confirmation alone. It is entirely possible that nitpicking can become a bad habit where there is no real issue to argue about.

    Like

      1. No….your point was “shock and awe” as usual, and much of it nonsense. At the end of your remarks, you then try to walk your words back…and we are supposed to then recognize what a brilliant point you have made.

        Like

      2. I apologize for my remarks, because I was clearly impertinent and insulting, which I can be all too often. I excuse my snarky conduct as mere directness, which is as good excuse as any to be rude. My old “Adam” is a New York City street guy who still gives and receives his lumps. In my youth, I had my share of black eyes, bloody lips, and bruises from disagreements with those as equally rude as I was.I have been a challenge for the Holy Spirit to transform me…and at 71 am still a work in progress. Seven years in the Marine Corps and combat in Vietnam made me even more rude, and a college education did not make me less confrontational. But I will tell you straight out that the “Jagged Word” is more like an LCMS underground movement, a gathering place for complainers and dissenting pastors who don’t begin a message with statements like, ” Confirmation in the church…etc” Instead, you start with “I hate Confirmation.” What kind of approach is that? Sure..a journalistic “hook” to immediately get reader attention seems effective, but I think a Pastor should measure words more carefully. It is not a respectful tone…and if I should find myself in an LCMS service with preaching like that…I would consider drinking less beer and joining the Baptist church nearby. Anyway…after today I won’t visit Jagged Word again. All you guys do is complain anyway.

        Like

    1. John, 70% of LCMS youth who are confirmed leave the church within five years. Confirmation isn’t something we need to look at? Really? Confirmation, Sunday School, youth group, the whole thing needs to be examined. There was a shift a few decades ago that placed the responsibility to pass on the faith on the shoulders of the church/pastor. That’s not God’s design. Check out Deuteronomy 6:6-9 or Psalm 78:5-8 for just a couple of many examples. It’s at home. That’s the crux of this article, that all the work a pastor may do in teaching children means little to nothing if the parents are not doing so at home.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Luther was disturbed by the rite of confirmation and actually opposed it, believing it to be out of keeping with scripture, in favor on ongoing catechesis. Even in the pre-reformation church, it was not formalized as a rite for over 1,000 years. I find your feelings similar to those of Savonius in “The Hammer of God” when he is giving the sacrament to the confirmands. The rite was not broadly accepted during the early Reformation and the practice of affirming baptism comes from pietistic roots. I even have an old, bi-lingual catechism that belonged to my wife’s grandfather which cites confirmation as a “ratification” of one’s baptism. I know that Arthur Repp cited the muddiness of confirmation, years ago. Dr. Stuckwisch reiterates some of the sketchiness of the rite, as embraced by the Lutheran church in his defense of paedocommunion. It is interesting to note that advocates of confirmation and many arguments for closed communion practices tread close to arguments against infant baptism and are more favorable to the early church practice of catechumens preparing, not simply to receive the Lord’s Supper, but preparing for baptism.

    So, there is reason enough to be uncomfortable and to doubt whether everyone who is wearing or has worn a robe has done it for reasons beyond making parents happy. But you can always find comfort in speaking the Word, teaching, training, and administering the sacrament knowing that the true results are in God’s hands. Celebrate the day one that points to the importance of ongoing catechesis in all of our lives – not as a graduation, or coming of age, or admission to the table, not as anything with finality.

    Like

  4. A lot of people seem to see confirmation as graduation. The confirmands can give the right answers, but you really don’t know what they believe. Even children brought up with devout, loving Christian parents, daily prayers and devotions, and regular church attendance can fall away. We can do all that is humanly possible, but the final result is between the individual and God.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dale, I have to disagree. People, in general, don’t read much in their lives. That’s just a fact, has always been. People, by and large, are also adverse to lifelong study. Most of what people dig into is either pop self-help, professional, or other garbage – the bestseller lists tell us that. Even evangelical Bible-readers are none too bright as they rely on inner lights with no confession and it shows when they start talking. So, I won’t even count those who claim to be doing a ton of Bible reading.

      What we can hope for in our religious studies is that people might take the time to at least read scripture along with the very simple Small Catechism (not with the whole explanation, just the catechism) on a consistent basis. It is short and has all the essentials. Adding another layer, another publication or program to this simple foundation, muddying the waters with more structure or fun and games is not going to be the solution. Catechesis is not complicated.

      We start children out reading the Bible as early on as possible, using the major stories, simple translations. truth be told, many congregations avoid introducing the catechism at an early enough age but it can be done as early as 7 and ought to be. That’s an issue I am trying to change in our Sunday School program. In my church, formal classes are 3 years, not two, and we do a first communion at the end of the first year. Not the most common thing in the LCMS but it is done in quite a few congregations.

      Where we have a disconnect, where I am, is that many Sunday School parents are unchurched, barely churched or come from other denominational traditions. that leaves us with little foundation to work with in the home and you cannot make it a rule that parents study if they want their children in Sunday School. Even among the lifelong Lutherans, 90% of them leave after service and never grace a bible class. This is nothing new. Back in the mid-70’s when there are 350-500 people a week in worship, bible class attendance was barely 2 dozen. So, that’s our parents and, maybe, grandparents who weren’t very good at catechizing us, then. They didn’t give us a good example.

      I think the mistake is making confirmation and end in itself or a stepping stone. It is neither and one of the biggest issues is making people members (and this may actually say something to your point) rather than disciples off of confirmation. Vows and membership rolls should never be the issue. But, in the end, I think stripping it down and demystifying, deprogramming, things would be best, maybe even doing away with it and letting pastors assess the individuals as being prepared to receive the sacrament.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Encouraging to read honest thoughts & ideas about a tremendously important subject. 1st step is always identifying the problem. It is always easier to avoid looking at the problem. God lead & guide you all.

    Like

Comments are closed.