23 February 2009

Proposed Pastoral Practice regarding Confirmation and First Communion

[The following is a proposal that I have been making to our board of elders regarding the practice of confirmation and first communion here at Messiah. I would welcome your comments and suggestions. -Peperkorn]

A Proposed Practice Regarding First Communion and Confirmation of children at Messiah Lutheran Church

By Pastor Todd A. Peperkorn

December 18, 2008

Proposed pastoral practice regarding First Communion:

That Messiah Lutheran Church admit children to Holy Communion when the pastor, the child, the parents and at least one elder all concur that the child is prepared to receive Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. “Preparation” shall include but not be limited to a clear confession of faith in the Gospel by means of reciting by heart the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, by being examined and absolved by the pastor (Individual Confession and Absolution), and by verbally expressing their desire to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Proposed pastoral practice regarding Confirmation:

That Messiah Lutheran Church confirm those children in the Christian Faith who can recite by heart the Small Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther with Explanation, who have been examined and absolved, and who are able to confess the faith and answer the questions placed upon confirmands in the Rite of Confirmation found in the Lutheran Service Book.


The reason for this proposed practice is simple: It is of great benefit for all Christians to receive Christ’s Body and Blood, and that we should be about giving our children Jesus as much as possible, and as soon as possible.

The challenges for this proposed policy are several:

1) By separating confirmation and first communion, we run the risk of denigrating the importance of the rite of confirmation.

2) This practice, while gaining acceptance in the LCMS as a whole, is not universally accepted, and does require explanation.

3) Because this is based on the confession of faith of the individual and not an arbitrary age, it makes the practice appear random, when in fact this is more consistent with our understanding of worthiness of receiving the Sacrament.

Quotations From the Book of Concord

6 Confirmation and extreme unction are rites received from the Fathers that not even the Church requires as necessary to salvation, because they do not have God’s command. Therefore, it is useful to distinguish these rites from the former, which have God’s direct command and a clear promise of grace.

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 185.

38 We cheerfully maintain the old traditions made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and peace. We interpret them in a more moderate way and reject the opinion that holds they justify. 39 Our enemies falsely accuse us of setting aside good ordinances and Church discipline. We can truly declare that the public form of the churches is more fitting with us than with the adversaries. 40 If anyone will consider it in the right way, we conform to the canons more closely than the adversaries. Among the adversaries, unwilling celebrants, and those hired for pay, and very frequently only for pay, celebrate the Masses. They sing psalms, not that they may learn or pray, but for the sake of the service (as though this work were a service) or, at least, for the sake of reward. Among us many use the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day. They do so after they have been first instructed, examined, and absolved. The children sing psalms in order that they may learn. The people also sing so that they may either learn or pray. 41 Among the adversaries there is no catechizing of the children whatever, about which even the canons give commands. Among us the pastors and ministers of the churches are encouraged publicly to instruct and hear the youth. This ceremony produces the best fruit. 42 Among the adversaries, in many regions, no sermons are delivered during the entire year, except during Lent. Yet the chief service of God is to preach the Gospel. When the adversaries do preach, they speak of human traditions, of the worship of saints and similar trifles, which the people justly hate. Therefore, they are immediately deserted in the beginning, after the reading of the Gospel text. A few better ones begin now to speak of good works; but about the righteousness of faith, faith in Christ, and the comfort of consciences, they say nothing. Indeed, this most wholesome part of the Gospel they rail at with their reproaches. 43 On the contrary, in our churches all the sermons are filled with such topics as these: repentance; the fear of God; faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, the comfort of consciences by faith; the exercises of faith; prayer, what its nature should be, and that we should be fully confident that it is powerful, that it is heard; the cross; the authority of officials and all civil ordinances; the distinction between the kingdom of Christ, or the spiritual kingdom, and political affairs; marriage; the education and instruction of children; chastity; all the offices of love. 44 From this condition of the churches it may be determined that we earnestly keep Church discipline, godly ceremonies, and good Church customs.

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 193.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Just to add some clarity in the section on first communion, in addition to knowing the 10 Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, I would delineate that they understand what the Supper is. While this understanding is implied in the requirement that they desire the Lord's Body and Blood for forgiveness, it might be good to just spell it out -- the requirement for safe Communion is discerning the Body and Blood -- make sure that is listed.

That's a small nitpick - otherwise very well done (and something I might borrow if that is all right at some point).

Jdog said...

This is the practice of our congregation with regards to 1st Communion here in Brooklyn. I appreciate seeing it in written form!

Of note, the practice came about in response to the desire to faithful and yet address some particular problems of our community. For us the difficulty lies in the concurrence of the "parent" who is often a step, foster, guardian, or single-mother. Most of the time the parent will not participate in catechesis, regardless of invitations by the pastor or other neighbors who are members of the church. Yet, 50% of our youth or more attend church on their own initiative, walking 10 or more blocks. In addition, although they come frequently, they do not always come consistently. 2 or 3 Sundays on, 2 Sundays off. Holding a class with a set beginning and end helps very little when their is no reinforcement or structure from home for the majority of our youth.
Thus the role of a sponsor becomes critical; a "father" or "mother" who pledges to speak inundate child with the Word. Thus the role of memorization and a focus on the desire for the Sacrament become key measures rather than age, attendance requirements, and grade. Memorization is a key measure because the Holy Spirit provides consistency (He will remind you) in the swarm of demonic and humanistic voices we hear daily in the school, street, and city. And besides, our youth memorize song lyrics like there's no tomorrow. Too bad we can't find a good rhymed version of the Catechism and other doctrines in English (if only we all spoke German!). They all sound too corny to my ears.

Rev. Jonathan P. Priest

Pastor Kind said...

Why not just commune them right off the bat as soon as they can swallow it? (I'm not trying to be a smartaleck) The more I study this, the more I am convinced that the child communion guys have it right. And believe me, the East holds no attraction for me at all. It seems to me the same arguments that we faithfully uphold for infant baptism hold water (or wine) for child communion too. I wish folks could have a forum to discuss this without everyone freaking out and thinking the guy posting is some kind of a crypto eastern orthodox wierdo. Having said all of that, I think earlier is better than later! We haven't made any moves toward that in my parish. So good job and hope it goes over!

James T. B said...

We cannot commune people who do not know what is going on. Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us that a person can take the sacrament to his harm. He therefore uses a third person imperative to tell us that people must examine themselves before partaking of the sacrament. This requires a certain level of knowledge and spiritual maturity.

In essence, what you seek to do is recognize that some youngsters are spiritually mature and knowledgeable enough to examine themselves and take the sacrament to their blessing and not to their harm before they take traditional instruction.

If such is the case, why not confirm them immediately and open the table to them? That is basically what confirmation is, a public rite that acknowledges spiritually maturity and knowledge. If they get it from formal catechesis, fine. If they get it from parents or other sources, fine. The point is that if they are ready to partake in the Lord's Supper, they are ready to be confirmed. Again, isn't confirmation simply a public recognition that someone is ready to partake?

Pastor Kind said...

That's exactly the way I've always explained it. A person has to be able to examine him or herself. But the text from I Corinthians just doesn't support the exclusion of children (or the mentally disabled for that matter).

When St. Paul says "let a man so examine himself" he is speaking to a situation where the sacrament is being received without faith in Christ's Word concerning it. The people are abusing it, treating it as a common meal, treating oneanother in an unchristian way, not recognizing the body of Christ in the Sacrament. People receiving in faith are not the concern in this text. Luther makes this point, by the way: "When in 1 Corinthians Paul said that a man should examine himself, he spoke only of adults because he spoke of those who were quarreling among themselves. However, he doesn't here forbid that the sacrament of the altar be given even to little children." AE 54:58.

Children are the example of faith, are they not? A child's faith does not have the rational hangups about the sacrament. They simply receive what they are (that is, would be) given and believe.

The more I look at this, the more I see the argument that a person must have the capability to examine oneself properly before taking the sacrament to be the same as the argument that people must be able to rationally confess their faith prior to baptism.

I'm not concerned about the rite of confirmation here. I think it a helpful rite in order to show forth that proper catechesis is happening. I'm not eschewing catechesis! Far from it. But as a pre-requisite for the Sacrament? I'm no longer convinced it should be. Rather, as in Baptism, isn't catechesis important to add understanding to faith, not as a prerequisite to receive Christ's gifts?

I know this sounds radical because we have all had the Pauline passage drilled into our heads. It's time, I think, to take a fresh look at this passage and its application, and honestly ask if we are denying Christians Christ's sacrament unnecessarily and perhaps contrary to His will. That's scary to be sure. It scares the heck out of me! Both in terms of the welfare of Christ's children, and in terms of the headaches we would have to endure to change a thousand year old practice.

Let's wrestle with this, rather than just writing the issue off.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Pastor Kind, most excellent statements. I feel like I just woke up. That quote by Luther seals it. Thanks!