Thursday, October 22, 2015

Confirmation is adiaphora; catechesis is not. . .

Benedictine monk, author, scholar, and teacher at Yale, Aidan Kavanagh  once famously suggested that confirmation is a rite in search of a theology.  I do not know of nor can I speak to the situation in Rome with regard to confirmation.  As a Lutheran I resonate to his remark as an apt description of confirmation's status and checkered history.

Luther famously want to ditch confirmation entirely.  His chief focus was not on the teaching but on the elaborate rite which presumed to add something to baptism that baptism missed.  Luther never argued against the instructional need (hence the Small and Large Catechisms) nor upon the confession and absolution that was inherent in the whole idea.  What he railed against most of all were the "monkey business" ceremonial aspects of the rite that seemed to give spiritual priority to something absent the Lord's explicit command and promise.

But that is not where most of the problems have come for Lutherans.  Not in the least.  We have restored some of the ceremonies but there is little danger from the confirmation as much as there is from the goal or intent of the things itself.  Luther's Small Catechism was once the sine qua non of Lutheran identity.  Whether cradled into Lutheranism or a convert, the Small Catechism was the basic shape of the instructional endeavor to prepare the individual for life together in the Church.  Now the Catechism competes with all sorts of other curricula and has become an also ran among the myriad of choices available to Lutheran students and teachers.  In effect, the question asked of catechumens young and old has become largely irrelevant.  Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?

The formation of the faithful into the faith has been psychologized by those who see it as a spiritual journey and sentimentalized by those who deposit more weight to the rite than to the instruction.  In effect, we have shortchanged our children and guaranteed that they will not have credible Lutheran answers to the many questions life will surely thrust upon them in the teenage and young adult years.  Could this be a reason why so many fall away during that same time frame?

In addition we have fixed attention to First Communion without much real preparation so that getting them to the altar as quickly and easily as possible has become a higher priority than instructing them in the faith.  Clearly we should not have to choose between a poorly prepared communicant and a well catechized confirmand (or visa versa) but it seems we have doomed ourselves to such a choice between disappointing alternatives.  No one seems ready to postpone first communion until confirmation any more (especially if it means early into the high school years) and no one seems happy about memorization of the catechism as the primary focus of the instruction.  Worse, the church competes with parents, school activities, dance class, music, athletics, and technological distractions that make it easier for parents and students to complain that catechism is just too hard, too long, and too demanding.

The actual rite of confirmation is an adiaphoron (a may or may not rubric)  the catechesis has the full weight of the Lord's mandate yet in practice we treat the rite as the more significant of the two and console ourselves by suggesting that catechesis is a lifelong endeavor of which confirmation is but a brief portion.  Therein lies the problem, the lifelong part is conditioned upon what we do with the youth while we have them (both at home and in the church).  I wonder if this is not precisely the reason why such groups as Higher Things have gotten some traction -- not wanting to entertain our children to death we insist upon beefing up their diet with somethings more meaty and solid.

So my point is this -- we are pretty well down the road of a non-dogmatic Lutheranism and what we are doing in catechism instruction is only hastening our pace to an outcome which has the potential to end Lutheranism and confessional Christianity entirely.  It does not have to be this way.  I have found that the majority of our children want to know more than we teach them and are, in fact, hungry for the Word of God as a powerful Word and objective truth yesterday, today, and forever the same.  They do want to know the facts but they also want us to help them with the facts of the faith so that they are well equipped to grapple with the questions and deal with the issues the world is and will continue to throw at them.  If we fail in our purpose to equip them faithfully, we rob them of the chance to be faithful.


Carl Vehse said...

"Luther famously want to ditch confirmation entirely."

Give that he
1. prepared a list of Christian Questions and Answers, for those who intend to commune, which first appeared in an edition of the Small Catechism in 1551,
2. approved The Brandenburg Church Order of 1540, and
3. helped write and subscribed to The Wittenberg Reformation of 1545, a year before he died,
when and in what writing did Martin Luther famously state that he wanted to "ditch" confirmation entirely, other than, of course, as as a papish sacrament?

"In addition we have fixed attention to First Communion without much real preparation so that getting them to the altar as quickly and easily as possible has become a higher priority than instructing them in the faith. "

This may be true of paedocommunionists or advocates of communion before catechisis and confirmation, but not of Lutherans who typically include two years of instruction either within Lutheran school programs or in after-school confirmation classes, and who provide continue to provide post-Confirmation instruction to the youth and adults on Lutheran doctrine.

"The actual rite of confirmation is an adiaphoron"

The actual rite of confirmation is similar to the rite of ordination/installation. As K&A Thesis VI on the Ministry states: "The ordination of those called, with the laying on of hands, is not by divine institution but is an apostolic church ordinance and merely a public, solemn confirmation of the call." (Ordination der Berufenen mit Handauflegung ist nicht göttlicher Einsegung, sondern eine apostolische kirchliche Ordnung, und nur eine öffentliche seierliche Bestätigung jenes Berufes.)

John said...

Sad that the church is competing with the parents, when it is the head of the household for whom Luther wrote The Small Catechism.

Are congregations setting a curriculum including The Small Catechism and requiring Confirmands to complete it before Confirmation, or is everyone Confirmed, regardless?

Confirmation may be an adiaphoron, but that doesn't equate to being bad, or useless. Shouldn't it be used to note that the Confirmand has reached a certain benchmark in Catechesis, that being a thorough knowledge of The Small Catechism?

Confirmation instruction in 5th and 6th grade?

Anonymous said...

Mr Vehse

Pr Peters is correct; while ordination does have a structured history with component parts rather consistently from apostolic times, the rite of confirmation has no such history and it is of much later origin.

Carl Vehse said...

The Lutheran rite of confirmation obviously had no history (such as the documents referenced above) before the 16th century. However confirmation as practiced within the Roman Church at that time goes back centuries earlier. Even in the early church confirmation was developing as a rite performed separately from baptism when more of those baptised were infants rather than adult converts.

And the question still remains: When and in what writing did Martin Luther famously state that he wanted to "ditch" confirmation entirely, other than, of course, as as a papish sacrament?

Gabriel said...

Carl Vehse, the question is irrelevant. The substance not the rite/ritual is important when it comes to Confirmation (a non-sacrament).

Here in Denmark, kids go thru confirmation classes: where the State Church/Folkekirke priests/præster main duty is to entertain the kids for 1 year and make sure they have a nice celebration. Many kids after the graduation party (where they get a huge amount of monetary gifts ... more than couples EARN at their own wedding) regret the fake ceremony they went thru ... because they do not BELIEVE.

Even in the conservative parishes, kids can graduate confirmation without hearing or reading or knowing-the-existance of The Small Catechism. Instead, the teachers tell them Bible stories ... they should have heard when they were 5 yrs.

Carl Vehse said...

"Carl Vehse, the question is irrelevant."

No. The question is relevant because it asks for substantiation to a claim that was made in the article. There are too many claims floating around of things Luther said, which he never really said or even said the opposite.

It is sad that in Denmark the churches have perverted Lutheran catechesis into a State-funded babysitting service, and Lutheran confirmation into a means of monetary gain rather than a public confession of Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to be faithful and true.

And it must be admitted that similar problems existed in the U.S., in both Lutheran and Lufauxran church bodies. But that should be reason and incentive for confessional Lutherans to re-establish catechesis and confirmation into what each was intended to accomplish, even more so today with our literate—well, at least semi-literate—youth.

Anonymous said...

Luther referred to confirmation as Affenspiel (moneky business), fanciful myth (Luegentand), mumbo-jumbo (Gaukelwerk) in sermons. Luther conceeded that confirmation might be permitted as long as it was understood that God knew nothing of it nor commanded nothing about it. He also said that he could not find fault with the practice of the pastor examining the faith of the children to see if it is good and sinceere, lay hands on them and confirm them in this way. However, Luther did little to encourage this. While he did approve Bugenhagen's Church Order which approved an evangelical rite of confirmation, Luther qualified his approval as a general approval that was accompanied by some misgivings. The next year Luther suggested that a pastor who had his own concerns about confirmation was free to refuse to confirm. Luther had little interest in the rite but was greatly concerned about the catechetical instruction that was primarily preparation for communing. The Lutheran legacy of confirmation was decidedly different in different areas. Later church orders also avoided the name confirmation and insted the practice was referred to as Beichtverhoer or Beichten or Communiciren der Kinder. Some believed that this catechetical instruction through preaching continue until they were 20 years old or married. More attention was given to the prescribed examination with little liturgical direction as to the rite for most church orders. So in Sweden the Roman practiced continued for decades but in other areas of the Reformation it ended right away.

Carl Vehse said...

Anonymous: "Luther referred to confirmation as Affenspiel (moneky business), fanciful myth (Luegentand), mumbo-jumbo (Gaukelwerk) in sermons."

References or links, please.

And distinguish whether the descriptions were from "early Luther" (before he published his Large and Small Catechisms) or whether Luther was referring to the Romanist sacrament of confirmation, which he definitely opposed.