Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mark's thoughts: Confirmation - ecclesiastical insanity

It is said that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.  If that is so, then surely I am trapped in ecclesiastical insanity.  I write this because I am a frustrated shepherd watching the same thing happen once again.  Awhile ago I wrote a piece entitled Confirmation – the magic talisman of the Lutheran Church in which I said:

During the last ten years I have come to realize that there is an almost infallible predictor of whether youth who are confirmed will still be regularly attending the Divine Service during the years that lead up to graduation from high school.  If prior to Confirmation, the pattern of their family was regular attendance, this will continue.  If prior to Confirmation, the pattern of their family was absence from the Divine Service, this will return.

As I watch this predictor prove its validity yet again with another group of high school youth (and college age youth in the area), I reaffirm what I wrote earlier:

For all of the handwringing about the age of Confirmation and the methodology of catechesis, I don’t believe that changes in these areas will make a marked change in the outcome.  They won’t because the real issue is the faithfulness of the parents.  If the parents consider Christ and his Means of Grace to be important, they will regularly bring their family to church.  And where parents regularly bring their family to church – where they model for their children the importance of the faith by what they do on Sunday morning – we will see youth continue to attend church.  Where this was not important before Confirmation and the parents didn’t bring the family to church on Sunday, it will not be important after Confirmation.  The result is that we will not see confirmed youth in Church.  The relationship between Confirmation and a later lack of faithful attendance by youth is not one of cause and effect.  It is instead the inevitable product of the manner in which the parents conduct their family and its life in the faith.

For this I have no real answers.  The source of the problem is threefold: the devil, the world, and the sinful nature.  A culture that cares only about being happy is too busy amusing itself to death to be bothered with Christ and the life of faith.  I suspect that in a country that is rapidly embracing a post-Christian existence, the Church will need to get to know a biblical word: remnant.

The “answer” insofar as it is one, is catechetical activity at church that involves parents with children at a much younger age – and an ecclesiastical culture that expects this. This in turn may help to foster and support the only true answer – parental involvement with catechesis at home.

What I do know for sure, is that Confirmation as we currently practice it is ecclesiastical insanity.  Ponder this for a moment:

Something that has taken on its present form and importance in the Lutheran Church largely due to non-Gospel factors is something that unfaithful parents are willing to make sacrifices to do, so that in good conscience they can then go on being unfaithful. 

That is perverse.  The fact that Confirmation (and by “Confirmation” I mean the entire process and mode of instruction that leads to the rite of Confirmation as it is commonly done today with eighth graders) has taken on this significance must surely be a sign that it is not a healthy thing for the Church.  I would argue that history of Confirmation’s development is filled with explanations for why this is so.

Then add on top of this the perversity that suggestions about changing – or even doing away with the rite of Confirmation as we know it – will draw the strongest of reactions from those who consider themselves to be faithful Lutherans.  In fact they believe that in defending Confirmation as it currently stands, they are defending “true Lutheranism.”  That is not just perverse.  It is ecclesiastical insanity.


  1. Amen! You echo many of the same frustrations I have.

  2. Let's have no movement to discontinue Confirmation. And as for youth attendance and the "falling away" from is nothing new. Some, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, regardless of parental early influence, will return. Others, lured away by the world or the culture, will live out their lives and die in unbelief...unsaved. And still some of the returning youth may even join another church, possibly Calvinist, could be Baptist, non-denominational.....and this too may be God's will. It is by the grace of God that salvation occurs in people, and those who reject Christ, the sacraments, and His word are a prescribed number which are not of the elect, and we are vain to think we can persuade by words or programs those intent on rejecting The Lord and the means of salvation.

  3. Decades ago, as a seminary student, a district president gave a talk to the senior class. He said he had grown up in a family of delinquents, but that his confirmation instruction stuck. He warned us not to be too quick to remove names from the books, and to trust God's power in the means of grace.

  4. I wonder how many Lutheran pastors (especially in the LCMS) inform their catechumens, perhaps only at the moment they take their vows as confirmands, that they are quia-subscribing, not to some CPH-published English translation of Martin Luther's Small Catechism, nor to revised and updated questions and answers originally prepared by Heinrich Schwan (how many catechumens even know who he was?), but rather to Luther's Small Catechism and the other Lutheran Symbols in the German language contained in the Book of Concord of 1580.

    Perhaps some catechumen might even be asked, and able to provide, the names of at least four such Symbols (the three creeds and the SC). A clever catechumen might even infer that Luther might have written a "Large Catechism."

    The Lutheran pastor then is only left with mentioning the other five Symbols, includng, in the LCMS, the one the Missouri Synod Constitution doesn't mention.

  5. "The result is that we will not see confirmed youth in Church."

    To the contrary, you will see the confirmed youth, who take their confirmation vow seriously, in church. You will not (or rarely) see the confirmed youth who do not take their vow seriously, in church.

    "What I do know for sure, is that Confirmation as we currently practice it is ecclesiastical insanity."

    Confirmation, as we currently practice it, is when the confirmand confesses the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from inspired Word of God, to be faithful and true. This is the confession held by the entire congregation as a member of the Missouri Synod. It is also a confession made by members of the Missouri Synod as called pastors at their ordination. That some liberal pastors in the Missouri Synod subsequently ignore their vows is no reason to regard ordination similarly "ecclesiastical insanity."

  6. I don't know the solution but I do know that formal catechesis by the pastor was useful for both myself and my children. At a difficult time in my life, having the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostle's Creed was very important and it is unlikely my father would have required that I memorize it. I think confirmation/catechesis by the pastor is helpful for children whose parents do attend regularly prior to confirmation class.