On October 27 we will celebrate Reformation Sunday in part by holding our annual Rite of Confirmation for High School Juniors. This is one of the banner days in our church year, and a milestone for young people and their families! As we finalize the list of confirmands for this year, we will share them with the congregation in our weekly publications.
The call and challenge to pass on the faith to the young is not a new struggle in church history. Hans Wiersma of Augsburg College writes, “Confirmation has a long and complicated history; from a time of instruction in the early church to a sacrament in the medieval church, to Christian education for youth in the modern church.” Martin Luther, never one to withhold blunt admonitions from a broken church, called Confirmation “that monkey business!” Rather than scandalize or perhaps bore you with the historical context of that name-calling, let’s instead look at the nine lives of Confirmation- or understandings – that have dominated over the years. We should ask ourselves which of the following predominate in our own thoughts about this important thing we call Confirmation.
1. Confirmation as Preparation for the Lord’s Supper
Still prevalent in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, this view sees Confirmation as instruction culminating with First Communion and full participation in the congregation’s worship.
2. Confirmation as Catechism Instruction Straight-up
Favored by Luther and his closest partners, this view emphasizes the education of children – and parents – throughout the entirety of childhood, not necessarily culminating in a stand-alone rite or ceremony.
3. Confirmation as a Vow of Obedience to Christ
The emphasis here is on one’s solemn willingness to submit to Christ as Lord and to the discipline of the church and its pastors.
4. Confirmation as a Sacrament
Here, the ritual laying on of hands by the pastor is understood to confer a spiritual gift, or at least a reawakening of the Spirit. This view is close to the Roman Catholic understanding of Confirmation as a sacrament separate from and additional to baptism.
5. Confirmation as a Personal Conversion
This mode places special importance upon personal transformation as the renewal of baptism quickens the heart of faith. This piety seeks to “bring the head into the heart” of the Christian faith.
6. Confirmation as a Completion of Baptism
Here, baptism is understood to have been incomplete until the age of reason and further instruction of the child.
7. Confirmation as a Ratification of Baptism
Similar to #6, this view understands Confirmation as a publicly necessary way to demonstrate that baptism “took.” Here, baptism was complete in itself, but its ongoing effectiveness needs to be shown. This understanding lies behind our hymnal’s renaming of Confirmation as “Affirmation of Baptism.”
8. Confirmation as a Period of Discovery
More modern and open-ended, this view of Confirmation envisions a period of time to explore not only the content of Christian faith, but also to engage in self-understanding, civil service, spiritual practices, etc. This approach may or may not culminate in a rite or ceremony.
9. Confirmation as a Culturally Embedded Rite of Passage
This may be the most common view of the nine lives of Confirmation, one in which the milestone is so ingrained in the community it would take determination not to do it. An example of this can be found in countries like Germany or Norway where the rate of Confirmation far exceeds the rate of ongoing church attendance in adulthood. And this is truly not just an Old World phenomenon!
I hope this brief tour of the nine lives of confirmation was at least thought-provoking! In the end, we give thanks to God for naming our confirmands beloved sons and daughters in baptism. We trust in God who has promised great things and has confirmed his promises through the giving of Christ Jesus for us!