Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why do we confirm? What are the goals of the catechism instruction of the youth?

Pr Eric Brown provided me the perfect introduction to some rambling thoughts on catechism instruction...

What totally new substance our confirmation instruction would receive if it again became sacramental instruction and the Fourth and Sixth Chief Parts did not just make up a more or less unrelated appendage. And don't let anyone come up with the excuse that the children are not yet mature enough or that they would misunderstand it. where that sort of thing is said, it may be assumed that the teacher is not yet mature enough. How one can say these things to children one can learn, with the necessary changes, from the Catholic instruction for First Communion. That is what we can do. The rest God must do: awaken the hunger and thirst for the Sacrament, which is always at the same time a hunger and thirst for the Word of God.
      Herman Sasse - Letter to Lutheran Pastors No. 6, in "We Confess: The Sacraments" - pg. 110 

I wonder what we might find from parents and the rest of the people in the pew if we polled them on the purpose of catechism and confirmation.  If some of the things I hear are representative of the feelings of the folks, it seems that they hope for catechism and confirmation to provide/deepen:
  • a personal relationship with Jesus Christ... 
  • develop a moral sensibility to help them face life's choices...
  • know the Bible and what it says...
  • become more fully identified as a LUTHERAN Christian...
  • know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord...  
The goals of many Lutheran folk for their children and grandchildren in catechism instruction and for their confirmation are not a whole lot different than the goals for youth ministry at the local Baptistomethopentecostal church (okay, delete LUTHERAN from the second to the last item on the list).

It seems that many publishers of Lutheran catechetical material agree with these goals. Most of the time is spent on the Commandments, a significant amount on the Creed, some time spent on Prayer but not a whole lot on Baptism, the Keys, or the Sacrament of the Altar. We are heavily invested in these areas but barely touch on such things as the way of worship, the church history that bore the fruit of the Lutheran Reformation, or our piety centered in the Divine Service and manifest in a life of regular private confession and absolution.

We want catechism to help our kids say "no" to premarital sex (or any other kind outside of marriage) and drugs and we want them to be pious but more a piety of prayer than one centered in the Word and Table of the Lord. We expect that those confirmed will have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord as well as Savior and live obedient lives to the commandments. But this does not sound very Lutheran at all.

Sasse's quote is spot on. The purpose of catechism is not to fill in a missing morality, teach obedience to the commandments, or develop and encourage a personal relationship with Jesus as Savior and Lord. The purpose of catechism is to equip the baptized children of God to live out their life and faith within the realm of the means of grace (Word and Sacraments). Personal morality flows from baptismal identity. Obedience flows from the gifts of grace received by faith. Piety has its source in and flows from our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord and within the framework of confession and forgiveness.

Our kids have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" through baptism and the faith imparted there by the Spirit.  This is not a decision or choice on their part.  Our kids develop a "moral sensibility" from their baptismal identity as the children of God, from their experience of confession and absolution, and from the 3rd use of the Law in which the commandments function as guide to those declared righteous.  Knowing the Bible and "what it says" means knowing Jesus Christ who is in every page and in every word of Scripture and Him we know by baptism and faith.  If to "know" Jesus as Savior and Lord means to ask Jesus into your life and surrender your life over to Him, then we just might have more problems than the hundred or so hours spent in catechism instruction can handle.  How better to know and "identify as a Lutheran Christian" than by knowing how and why we worship as we do, the character of the hymnody that forms the soundtrack to this faith, and the efficacy of the Word and Sacraments that actually do what they promise?

We have for too long held up entrance into communion as the carrot to get our kids through catechism and confirmation and yet when they receive first communion, they do not know how this relates to their identity and life as a child of God by baptism and faith.  As a Pastor I have dealt with kids who were not confirmed until sophomores in high school because their parents were not sure they were ready -- if they were not ready, whose fault is that.  I well recall a Roman Priest who told me "Give me a child until he is 10 years old and he will be a Catholic his whole life..."  Sadly, we Lutherans sometimes give a child to the Pastor for a year or two when they are young teens and then we look at the stats of youth that fall away and wonder what went wrong.

I write this not merely to Pastors and their churches but to parents and family members as well.  If you wait until your child is approaching high school to talk to them about God (or sex), you are too late.  Period.  If you want your child to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and fail to instruct them in or give them the means by which our faith is nourished, sustained, and strengthened, you are swimming upstream.  Teach them of their baptism from birth.  Teach them of the Sacrament of the Altar from birth.  Simply read to them the Word of God and help them read it for themselves.  Bring them to the worship of God's House and instruct them in the Divine Service, the Church Year, and hymnody.  Then bring them to catechism and present them for confirmation.  What a difference that might make!


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I was asked by the secretary of another congregation what materials I used for Confirmation classes. I said, "The Catechism".

But often Catechism class is a matter of sadness to me -- I love teaching it -- I love showing the reality of life. But... well, the ones who seem to remain in the Church are the ones who were brought to Church all the time by their parents before. I end up hoping that maybe my scant 60 hours with them over two years might plant some seeds.

But really, that's peanuts compared to the influence parents, grandparents, or even the kindly neighbor who brings the neighbor's kids to Church.

Irenaeus said...

Okay, first of all, love the picture on this post...LOVE IT!

Secondly, our parish's Confirmation program is inter-generational, meaning we instruct the Confirmation-age youth with adults in a Monday evening class. The purpose behind this is to show youth that Christian education is meant for life, not just for Confirmation. Additionally, bonds are formed between the youth and the adults, adults who they see continually in worship and service around the church and community for years to come. It is for the adults a yearly review of the Catechism, and those who participate have never once complained of getting "bored," or desiring something "new." The discussion that arises from both the adults and youth converge as a wonderful testimony to God's activity in each one of their lives in spite of their being at different places because of age and experience. The added bonus to all of this, of course, is that the parents of the Confirmation-age youth are not only invited and encouraged to attend, they usually do, thus effectively reducing the "drop off" Christian education mentality (drop 'em off and pick'em up later!).

Anonymous said...

I well recall a Roman Priest who told me "Give me a child until he is 10 years old and he will be a Catholic his whole life..."

Oh yeah, that was a very popular saying prior to Vatican II.

Now, with the U.S. population of lapsed Catholics at around 15 million, the collapse of Catholicism in Europe (witness the cultural Catholicism of Spain and France where people may still identify as Catholics but rarely go to mass), I'm not so sure any priest could honestly make that statement today.

Catholics have just as poor and maybe even worse a record of losing kids after Confirmation as Lutherans.

There is also the problem of our contemporary culture and educational system. One of my Lutheran nieces attended a private womens' college that focused heavily on global issues and diversity.

By the time she graduated she was challenging everything she had been taught in Confirmation class.


Dixie said...

Oh my goodness! I just totally LOVE that photo. It reminds me of my first Holy Communion day lined up in the gangway between the church and the rectory before going in for the Mass at St. Joseph Croatian Church with one of boys tormenting us girls. AND my favorite irreverant Catholic blogger, the Crescat, has it in a prominant position on her blog page, too.

Anonymous said...

If you want to find the weakness of
the current LCMS, then look no
further than our confirmation classes

Too many pastors have given this
teaching task of our youth to other
people like a layman, or the DCE.

Too many pastors do not want anything
to do with teaching confirmation
classes for our youth.

Until this sad trend is reversed
the Missouri Synod will continue
to have no impact on the next

Anonymous said...

My LCMS Church puts together their own booklet and CD for the parents to teach their children at home. They do have some group interaction with the youth director but the emphasis is on the parents teaching their children. Good news bad news, a lot of the families come from Catholic, Baptist, Non-denominational backgrounds. I believe that the youth director has a meeting with the parents prior to the start of Confirmation to familiarize them with the materials.

Anonymous said...

True - children are given a relationship with Christ in Baptism as a gift of God.

Unfortunately parents fail to nurture that faith. Then they dump them on the church to fix things. No wonder you don't see them again after confirmation until they want to get married to another pagan.

Anonymous said...

Some years back the LCMS did a study
about the church activity of high
school students in our parishes.

They found that the a teenager's
activity in church worship is in
exact ratio to their parent's
worship habits. Bottom line: If
parents are not in worship during
their teenagers high school years
do not expect their children to be
there either.

Unknown said...

This could not have come at more opportune time for me. Some people at my church do not approve of my 5th grader starting confirmation this year because their kids were not ready at his age.