Saturday, May 27, 2017

Confirmation and Palm Sunday. . .

Like nearly every other Lutheran of my age, I was confirmed on Palm Sunday (April 7, 1968).  It was custom (along with the obligatory examination in front of the congregation).  I did not think anything much about it except to note that my godparents could not attend since my cousin was being confirmed in another LCMS congregation on the same day and, of course, that meant we could not go there and the family ended up having to choose sides).  But once I began preparation for the pastoral ministry, the whole idea of Palm Sunday began to raise questions.  I did not grow up with palms but with boys in their first big boy suits and girls in white lacy dresses.  I did not even think about Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem since I had the catechism to memorize.  I did not reflect upon the impending suffering and death of Jesus because my mind was on memorizing the 660 Bible passages of the 1941 Synodical Catechism.  I did not pause to consider Jesus' preparation to meet His death that would give us life because I was wondering if death just might be easier than the ordeal I was going to endure of a public examination and the hopes that I would not defame my parents or family or self.

Pastor Mark Surburg has written of it all here -- I encourage you to click on his blog and read up his summary of the history and the problems of confirmation day displacing Palm Sunday.  It is surely true for Luther that his problems with confirmation had to do with the insufficiency of baptism and the requirement that episcopal confirmation add something to complete baptism.  Nobody ever said that when I was confirmed but baptism was clearly an also ran to the emotional fervor and ceremonial attention given to confirmation on Palm Sunday.  At least that is not much of a problem, here, anyway.

In the South confirmation is not so big among Lutherans.  Families are spread out and there are no huge gatherings to honor the confirmand.  The examination has been replaced with an essay.  The time has shifted from Palm Sunday to Reformation Sunday (at least in my parish).  Catechism classes are usually an also ran to soccer, baseball, basketball, football, dance, and every other extracurricular activity of school and home.  Often the confirmation rite itself is but a blip on the radar of the busy schedules of our youth and their families.  We work to make it bigger because it is almost a forgotten moment in the lives of our parish, the confirmands, and their families.

Some have moved it to low Sunday (not so good to connect catechumens with Thomas and his doubts) or Pentecost (it is okay to displace the Spirit but not Jesus on a donkey!?).  Moving the date may be part of it but there is surely much more to this (as Pastor Surburg well explains).  It is not just when we confirm but why.  It is in the why that the biggest debate is taking place.  Along with it is what the content of the catechesis ought to be.  Those two questions are probably best reserved for their own blog post.  In the meantime, reading Pastor Surburg has given me something to think about as I remember that day soon to be 50 years ago!

My own personal history lies in stark contrast with the way things are today.  The suits have given way to jeans and sneakers.  The white dresses have been replaced with slacks and casual tops.  The day that once commanded place and privilege over Jesus and His donkey ride into Jerusalem has, for many, become an antiquated notion out of place with modern day schedules and priorities.  Even good solid families within the parish find confirmation day a shadow of its former robust self.  So what Luther was unable to do, culture has already done -- just not as Luther might have wanted.

Confirmation went from graduation to a minor promotion, from a celebration of learning to an emotional moment, and from something that competed with baptism to something the baptized struggle to explain (except in cultural terms).  Sometimes I wonder.  Should I be working as hard as I am to retain it or should we just bury it and start all over?  In the end, I think it is worth rehabilitation.  It is one more place where we stop the retreat of the faith and the faithful into a private faith that confesses a personal and subjective truth that has little to do with how one actually lives.  I am certainly not ready to put it back on Palm Sunday but neither am I ready to give it up.


Ted Badje said...

Pastor, I am certain there is a faithful few who take Confirmation seriously, no matter when it is held. Not everything is dark.

Carl Vehse said...

If the traditions of confirmation were perverted by the Age of Rationalism bogeyman, then why, in the past 170 years, have no confessional Lutheran leaders and pastors in Missouri Synod, who have the responsibility for carrying out the Rite of Confirmation, subsequently purged such errors from the Rite of Confirmation?

In fact, rather than focusing on the associated adiaphora, confessional Lutherans in the Missouri Synod should emphasize what the Rite of Confirmation, following catechesis, is supposed to be: a public examination and public vow by the confirmand of his uncondtitional subscription to the doctrine in the Book of Concord of 1580 as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and his desire to become a communicant member of his congregation that holds and requires that same confessional subscription as a member of the Missouri Synod.

This correct Rite of Confirmation is congruent with the Evangelical Lutheran Church (and the Missouri Synod's supposed) position on closed communion. Such a correct Rite of Confirmation stands as a bulwark against the heterodox open communion practice of "early communion" (with "early" meaning any post-baptism time prior to confirmation).

Comparison to any confirmation vows during Martin Luther's day would need to realize that the referenced exposition of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to which a confirmand subscribes was not available until forty-four years after Luther's death.

David Gray said...

Obviously you'll have to change the confirmand's vow.

Carl Vehse said...

When the confirmation vow is not understood as a subscription to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church exposited in the Book of Concord of 1580, the confirmation vow is being understood as a subscription to open (early) communion and other Lufauxran practices.

David Gray said...

It means what the words say. Anyone can read them and understand what it means.

Carl Vehse said...

What needs to be understood is the meaning the words of the Lutheran Rite of Confirmation in the Missouri Synod today and the understanding of the confirmation vow by which the confirmand becomes a communicant member in his congregation.

In its November 1999 document, "Admission to the Lord’s Supper: Basics of Biblical and Confessional Teaching," the CTCR stated (pp. 45-6):

"[I]f individual church members are not seen as 'confessors' of their church body’s doctrine, then the concept of church membership is watered down to the point of meaninglessness. The rationale for any catechesis in the traditional sense of the term vanishes, and there emerges a resounding contradiction between our own confirmation process and the attitude with which we view members of other denominations. Indeed, there would be no theological rejoinder possible to a member of an adult membership class in one of our churches who publicly rejected (for example) the Lutheran doctrine of baptism and still wanted to join the congregation.

"[U]nless individual Christians can be seen as 'confessors' of their church body’s doctrine, Scripture’s teaching concerning altar and pulpit fellowship as historically confessed by the LCMS becomes virtually meaningless. It is true that one could maintain that on the denominational or even congregational levels, there should not be joint communion services. But if any of the individuals in those services could–at least in theory and under ordinary circumstances— commune together, then the formal practice would be emptied of all real meaning....

"The Eucharist is the congregation’s sacrament of unity. Differences of [or partial or no] confession cannot be a matter of indifference when seeking the unity presupposed by the Lord’s Supper, the very unity that the Supper is given to maintain and preserve."

Carl Vehse said...

In his paper, "Straight Talk About Closed Communion," Pr. William P. Terjesen states:

"Closed communion (some call it 'close communion') is the Bible-based practice of normally communing only those who have been properly instructed in the teachings of the Ev. Lutheran Church and who have shown, through confirmation, profession of faith, or other proper reception into one of our churches, that they are united with us in faith and doctrine.

"Closed communion is most definitely NOT simply the personal opinion or practice of some of our more conservative pastors. It is not an option that each pastor may do or not do as he sees fit....If I were to bar the way to Holy Communion for people simply on the basis of my personal preference or opinion, and not on the basis of the Word of God, the Lutheran Confessions and the theology and practice of the Missouri Synod, I would be a cad, a lout, and a false teacher. No, those who practice closed communion do so precisely because it is taught in the Bible and the Book of Concord, and is the official position of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

"We must come to grips with the biblical fact that when you join a church, that act is a public testimony given before God and the world, and bound with an oath, that you subscribe to the teachings of that church. Whatever your personal opinions may be, your membership in this church is your public confession of faith before the world that you believe and confess what we believe, teach and confess.

Romans 10:9-10 - 9) that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10) For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

"The confession of our mouths and the belief of our hearts is supposed to be the same thing. The idea that a person would belong to a church but not necessarily believe what that church teaches is an attitude unworthy of Christian profession."

The practice of "early communion" (i.e., prior to confirmation with its public confession of the doctrine exposited in the Book of Concord of 1580) is the lufauxran practice of open communion.

David Gray said...

Any vow means what the words constituting the vow mean. No external source can alter the meaning of those words.

Carl Vehse said...

The context of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, the stated position of the Missouri Synod, and the constitution of member congregations (twice in my congregation's constitution) confirm that the understanding of the confirmation vow is to an unconditional subscription to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church which is exposited in the Book of Concord of 1580.

LCCV (Lufauxran commments may vary)

David Gray said...

Nothing external to a vow alters the meaning of a vow.

Carl Vehse said...

It is Lufauxranism that "alters the meaning of a vow" away from confessional Lutheranism.

As I previously stated, confession Lutheranism confirms the understanding of the confirmation vow as an unconditional subscription to the Lutheran confessions.

David Gray said...

The Eighth Commandment.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

What does this mean?--Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

Carl Vehse said...

From the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Rule and Norm, 9-11:

"In the pure churches and schools these public common writings [the Creeds and Lutheran Symbols previously noted] have been always regarded as the sum and model of the doctrine which Dr. Luther, of blessed memory, has admirably deduced from God's Word, and firmly established against the Papacy and other sects; and to his full explanations in his doctrinal and polemical writings we wish to appeal, in the manner and as far as Dr. Luther himself in the Latin preface to his published works has given necessary and Christian admonition concerning his writings, and has expressly drawn this distinction namely, that the Word of God alone should be and remain the only standard and rule of doctrine, to which the writings of no man should be regarded as equal, but to which everything should be subjected....

"But what has thus far been said concerning the summary of our Christian doctrine is intended to mean only this, that we should have a unanimously accepted, definite, common form of doctrine, which all our evangelical churches together and in common confess, from and according to which, because it has been derived from God's Word, all other writings should be judged and adjusted as to how far they are to be approved and accepted.

"For that we embodied the above-mentioned writing, namely, the Augsburg Confession, Apology, Smalcald Articles, Luther's Large and Small Catechisms, in the oft-mentioned Sum of our Christian doctrine, was done for the reason that these have always and everywhere been regarded as the common, unanimously accepted meaning of our churches, and, moreover, have been subscribed at that time by the chief and most enlightened theologians, and have held sway in all evangelical churches and schools."

Carl Vehse said...

From FC SD, XII, 40:

Since now, in the sight of God and of all Christendom [the entire Church of Christ], we wish to testify to those now living and those who shall come after us that this declaration [Formula of Concord] herewith presented concerning all the controverted articles aforementioned and explained, and no other, is our faith, doctrine, and confession, in which we are also willing, by God's grace, to appear with intrepid hearts before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, and give an account of it; and that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to it, but, by the help of God's grace, intend to abide thereby: therefore, after mature deliberation, we have, in God's fear and with the invocation of His name, attached our signatures with our own hands.

David Gray said...

None of which means anything whatsoever regarding the actual contents of the vows. And you should know that.

Joanne said...

It seems so simple to me. At baptism we promised God and this congregation that we would raise up this child in the fear and knowledge of God. At confirmation we present this child to God and this congregation and confirm to them that we fulfilled this promise. This child now knows what we all know by way of instruction. It is a confirmation to the child, to the parents, to the congregation that this child is instructed and is now prepared to subscribe publicly to the teachings of this church. He is ready to join us all now in the unity of our altar. Adult baptism is different in that we instruct before we baptize.

Carl Vehse said...

What I know, as stated in the SD excerpts, is that the "Creeds and Lutheran Symbols have been always regarded as the sum and model of the doctrine."

Furthermore I know from the SD that these Symbols, contained the Book of Concord, are the "unanimously accepted, definite, common form of doctrine, which all our evangelical churches together and in common confess."

And just as the signers of the Formula of Concord, which references the other accepted Symbols, declare to be "our faith, doctrine, and confession" and "a witness of the truth and as the unanimously received correct understanding of our predecessors," so too the Lutheran confirmand also declares in his vow.

Lufauxrans, of course, confess to something else or something less.

David Gray said...

Strickert/Vehse/Who Knows

None of that matters a whit in regard to what the vow means. All that matters in a vow is the content of the vow.

Carl Vehse said...

The Lutheran confirmation vow is exactly what it states - a confession of 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.

It is not confession of the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, limited to those articles of doctrine as you have learned to know it from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true. That is the vow and quatenus subscription of a Lufauxran.

Unknown said...

Martin Chemnitz, the great teacher of the Lutheran confession of faith and Concordist, presents a type of confirmation and basic elements of a rite of confirmation for use. Perhaps we should have bias toward what the first generation of Lutherans were doing. Ad fontes is still a motto worth following.

25 With these things explained in this manner, the examination of the canons on confirmation will be easy and plain. For when the first canon condemns the kind of confirmation which consists of catechetical instruction of the children and their profession of faith, it has this meaning and purpose: Our theologians have often shown that if traditions that are useless, superstitious, and in conflict with Scripture are removed, the rite of confirmation can be used in godly fashion and for the edification of the church, namely in this way, that those who were baptized in infancy (for that is now the condition of the church) would, when they have arrived at the years of discretion, be diligently instructed in the sure and simple teaching of the church’s doctrine and, when it is evident that the elements of the doctrine have been sufficiently grasped, be brought afterward to the bishop and the church. There the child who was baptized in infancy would by a brief and simple admonition be reminded of his Baptism, namely, that he was baptized, how, why, and into what he was baptized, what in this Baptism the whole Trinity conferred upon and sealed to him, namely, the covenant of peace and the compact of grace, how there Satan was renounced and a profession of faith and a promise of obedience made.

Second, the child himself would give his own public profession of this doctrine and faith.

Third, he would be questioned concerning the chief parts of the Christian religion and would respond with respect to each of them or, if he should show lack of understanding in some part, he would be better instructed.

Fourth, he would be reminded and would show by his confession that he disagrees with all heathenish, heretical, fanatical, and ungodly opinions.

Fifth, there would be added an earnest and serious exhortation from the Word of God that he should persevere in his baptismal covenant and in this doctrine and faith and, by making progress in the same, might thereafter be firmly established.

Sixth, public prayer would be made for these children that God would deign, by His Holy Spirit, to govern, preserve, and strengthen them in this profession. To this prayer there could be added without superstition the laying on of hands. This prayer would not be in vain, for it relies upon the promise concerning the gift of preservation and on God’s strengthening grace.

Such a rite of confirmation would surely be very useful for the edification of the young and of the whole church. It would also be in harmony with both Scripture and the purer antiquity. For the account in Acts 19:1–7 clearly shows that when the Apostles laid their hands on someone an examination with respect to the doctrine and a profession of faith were made. Also, there are examples from the apostolic church of exhortation to perseverance and of confirming through the Word in the once-accepted doctrine and faith (Acts 14:22; 15:30–32; 18:11). And the account in Acts 8:14–17 shows that public prayer was added. Thus Canon 7 of the Council of Laodicaea and Canon 8 of the Council of Arles speak concerning an examination and profession of doctrine and faith in confirmation, as we have noted above. And for this reason a canon of a Council of Orleans requires a ripe age in the confirmand.

Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent, electronic ed., vol. 2 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 211–213.

Carl Vehse said...

The rite of confirmation described by Martin Chemnitz in his Examen Concilii Tridentini, 25, p. 297 (1565–73), is mirrored in the previously-given excerpts from the Formula of Concord of 1577 (included in the Book of Concord of 1580).

And Chemnitz's description is also mirrored in the Lutheran rite of confirmation of the LCMS, especially in the questions asked of the confirmands:

• Do you desire to be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and of this congregation?
• Do you hold all the canonical books of the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, and the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Bible, as you have learned to know it from Luther's Small Catechism, to be the true and correct one?
• Do you also, as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, intend to continue steadfast in the confession of this Church, and suffer all, even death, rather than to fall away from it?
• Do you intend faithfully to conform all your life to the rule of the divine Word, to be diligent in the use of the means of grace, to walk as it becometh the Gospel of Christ, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to the Triune God, even unto death?

In this age of liberalism and Lufauxran re-interpretations, it is important that the intentions of the first generation of Lutherans and their example provided in the Lutheran Confessions be maintained in the Rite of Confirmation and the understanding of the vows by the confirmands in becoming communicant members of congregations within the Evangelical Lutheran Church.