Thursday, October 22, 2015
Confirmation is adiaphora; catechesis is not. . .
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.