28 April 2009

Weighing In on John 3 & 6

I appreciate Pastor Stuckwisch’s resilience in keeping the matter of early communion before us. I also appreciate the contributions and expressed concerns of all who have posted. As I’ve not posted here since the blog's inception, and since this is a subject that continues to interest me, I’ll add my two cents.

It is not simply a pastoral heart that has me wanting to see our young admitted to the Sacrament earlier than later. I am convinced from Holy Scripture that such is better than a lengthy absence from the Table following admission to the Font.

John 3 and John 6, I believe, speak of the absolute necessity of conversion and faith. Unless the Holy Spirit has worked faith, where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel, there is no salvation. As our Lord puts it, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Only in Christ is anyone saved.

John 3 speaks of the absolute necessity of conversion and does so according to the initial Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I don’t think any of our Lutheran fathers ever questioned that. At the same time, to say that John 3 speaks “exclusively” of Baptism leads us down the path of concluding that anyone who dies before that blessed washing is necessarily damned. Our fathers did not say that. Level heads in the early church acknowledged that catechumens who died a martyr’s death before the Sacrament of Holy Baptism were not lost. It is not the absence of Baptism but the absence of faith that damns. An honest consideration of the testimony of the fathers, I believe, must conclude that the Church – when it was at its best – acknowledged that the Spirit is working faith through the Word even leading up to the receiving of Holy Baptism. Otherwise, what is the point of the Church’s questioning at the Font: “Do you renounce the devil . . . ?” And, “Do you believe . . . ?”

No one is baptized in the Church unless he is first examined. No one is baptized apart from repentance and faith. If a child is too young to answer for himself, parents or sponsors answer in his stead, but the question is still asked of the child. I conclude therefore that while I MAY have baptized someone who did not repent and believe, I do not know that to be the case. Rather, from the answers given, I can say that – as far as I know – I have always baptized those who were together with us in the One True Faith.

I realize the bugaboo John 6 presents to us Lutherans in respect to the Sacrament of the Altar. Still, I cannot escape the conclusion that while it speaks “chiefly” of faith – as John 3 speaks chiefly of the necessity of conversion – it does not speak exclusively of a spiritual eating and drinking of Christ’s flesh and blood. Rather, as John 3 speaks of conversion in the context of Holy Baptism, so John 6 speaks of spiritual eating and drinking in the language of that Sacrament wherein the true Body and Blood are given us Christians to eat and to drink in bread and wine. In other words, with the majority of Christians, including us Lutherans – when we aren’t fighting those who claim that the flesh counts for nothing – I run as quickly to the Sacrament of the Altar at John 6 as I do to Holy Baptism at John 3. I’ve got our Lutheran hymnody to back me up on that, too!

What does this contribute to the discussion at hand? Well, while I cannot say that an infant of faithful Christian parents who dies prior to the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is necessarily damned, that does not lead me to teach that Baptism should be postponed.

Our Confessions speak of the necessity of Holy Baptism, but they do not speak as if the Spirit cannot or does not work faith even leading up to Holy Baptism. That said, who of us does not groan inwardly until a child is brought to the Font? Who of us does not urge the speed of that day, rather than its slowness? We are not ex opera style legalists, but we urge that Baptism be given sooner rather than later. We are eager and anxious for the comfort and surety of what Christ has promised in His Water and His Word, all the while trusting the Spirit to be at work even before Baptism through the preached, confessed and prayed Gospel, whether dealing with infants or older converts to the Faith.

As a father, I must say that my attitude toward communing my daughters fell along the same line, being informed by what our Lord says in John 6. My daughters weren’t baptized immediately upon birth, but within a Sunday or two of the same. John 3 speaks of the necessity of Baptism, though I would have answered for my daughters before their baptism as I did on the day they were Washed. “Yes, I renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.” And, “Yes, I believe in God the Father . . . etc.”

Still, how much extra care and attention until the Sacrament was applied!

Likewise, how much consternation in this father’s heart until my daughters joined me at the Sacrament of the Altar! After all, John 6 speaks of the absolute necessity of faith in the very language most applicable to the Holy Supper. And if my daughters WERE eating and drinking by faith – otherwise, they could not be Christians - why not also orally in the Sacrament which Christ provided?

As John 3 rightly raised in me the eager desire to see my children washed, John 6 raised in me increasing concern that my daughters were not eating and drinking the very Body and Blood which Christ left us Christians in His Meal.

I don’t say my daughters would have been damned before admission to the Table. Neither would I say they’d have been damned had they died on the way to the Church the day of their Baptism. John 3 speaks of the absolute necessity of conversion, which the Spirit can work even leading up to Baptism. But John 3 – and other passages – made me anxious until my daughters WERE baptized. John 6 made me anxious until my daughters were communed.

A right understanding of John 3 keeps me from treating Baptism as the absolute point at which the Spirit is able to work faith, and a right understanding of John 6 keeps me from saying that the only faithful practice is to follow up infant baptism with infant communion. I Corinthians also helps in that regard, as does the proprium of the Eucharist itself. One need not reach a certain age to be born again, but I must say - at the very least - that the Supper is given to those who are able to eat and drink. As has been said in this discussion, Israel need not have forced its infants to eat manna or drink from the rock before they were weaned. But as soon as they were? As soon as a child COULD eat the Passover Lamb?

And now, as soon as a child is instructed sufficiently to confess that what he or she is receiving is what Christ has given and shed?

For me, John 6 urges toward sooner than later with respect to the Altar as much as John 3 does with respect to the Font.

ESV John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

ESV John 6:53 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd, Brandon, MS


Christopher Gillespie said...

Pr. Sawyer,

Thank you for your focus on parental concern for your children. Properly speaking, this is what I believe is guiding the wisdom from Pr. Stuckwisch and others. Namely, desiring what is good and proper for all believers including children but with the appropriate caution that 1 Cor. demands.

From the perspective of John 6 and the LS, would you say we have erred on the side of exception, much like many have with John 3 and baptism?

Paul McCain said...

Rick, just curious, what's the youngest child you've communed so far in your ministry? And have you successfully delinked first communion from confirmation?

WM Cwirla said...

One really can't speak of John 3 baptismally and deny the implications for the Lord's Supper in John 6. However, neither really speak as to age.

I'm not suggesting analogy here, but a potential parallel. In the OT, circumcision was at 8 days, but there is no age specified in Exodus 12 regarding participation in the Passover. Later rabbinic Judaism usually had age 13 with a prior year examination (that's what Jesus was doing hanging with the teachers in the temple after 12); others had as high as 18 years old.

We need to be reconciled to the fact that even the early church was not uniform in communion practice with regard to age, and so we dare not dogmatize any particular age. The ability to recite doctrine is traceable to Aquinas and is western.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

The youngest child that I've communed has been four years old; that was a year ago. Prior to that, as I recall, the youngest was five (maybe six) years old. At present, I have several four- and five-year-olds, and a few older children, who are not communing yet, but who are at various stages of catechesis and will most likely begin communing within the calendar year.

First Communion has been separate from Confirmation since I was ordained at Emmaus. There was some precedent for that separation prior to my call and ordination, and I built on that from the start. For quite a few years, the typical age of First Communion was around seven or eight years. As we have had more and more children at Emmaus, and especially younger siblings who eagerly learn along with their big brothers and sisters, the average age has gone down. But a lot finally hinges on the faith and life of the parents and family. That has been a huge part of my point in these discussions. A family context of ongoing catechesis, both at home and faithfully in church each week, provides as much or more benefit than diligence in memory work and regular participation in catechesis class. Ideally, all of these things work together, of course (and with most of my families, all of these things are happening very consistently).

Pastor Cwirla, I've never heard this bit about later rabbinic Judaism waiting until twelve or thirteen before participation in the Passover. Can you point me to some good sources on that? Did it include both boys and girls in the same way, or what distinctions were there in the catechesis of boys and girls? How did the rabbis rectify waiting until that late age with the institution and regulations of the Passover in Exodus and Deuteronomy?

But as to your point (I think), I agree that one cannot be dogmatic about any particular age. Thanks for your helpful comments.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Hi, Christopher. Regarding your question, it seems to me that, as Pastor Cwirla remarks, we can hardly take John 3 baptismally while denying the implications of John 6 to the Sacrament. It does seem to me that we've missed out on that. Not that it speaks directly to the age of admission. Even John 3 doesn't do that wrt baptism. But the language of our Lord in both chapters makes it hard for me not to be comparably eager for children to approach the Altar as I am to see them approach the Font.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Hi, Paul. I'm not sure if the "Rick" is me or Pr. Stuckwisch, but I'll answer on my behalf.

The youngest I've admitted here was in second grade - a seven year old. The daughter of faithful members of Good Shepherd, the child attends our school, hears my preaching and teaching daily in Matins, and recites the Catechism in class every morning.

As to delinking first communion from confirmation, I haven't seen a need or convincing rationale for doing so, Paul.

In reading Chemnitz' Examin on the subject, I note that he conceives of a laudable usage of the rite of confirmation when children have "arrived at years of discretion" and it is evident that the "elements of the (church's) doctrine have been sufficiently grasped." (Examin, II. p. 212)

Nothing of what Chemnitz says strikes me as outside the realm of the 7 year old I confirmed last year, or the 8 and 10 year olds I confirmed this year.

I'm not sure what Chemnitz regarded "years of discretion," but I am mindful of the following from Bente's historical introduction to the Confessions. It seems to me that the age of discretion could easily be argued for around 8 years old "or less," which certainly conforms to what I have experienced here. That said, I see no reason not to confirm those I admit to the altar.

"Luther was accustomed to direct his admonition to partake of the Lord’s Supper diligently also to children, and that, too, to children of comparatively tender years. . . In this sermon of December 19, 1528, we read: ‘Hence, you parents and heads of families, invite your subordinates to this Sacrament; and we shall demand an account of you if you neglect it. If you will not go yourselves, let the young go; we are much concerned about them. When they come, we shall learn, by examining them, how you instruct them in the Word as prescribed. Hence, do come more frequently to the Sacrament, and also admonish your children to do so when they have reached the age of discretion. For in this way we want to learn who are Christians, and who are not. If you will not do so, we shall speak to you on the subject. For even though you older people insist on going to the devil, we shall still inquire about your children. . .’ (121 f.) The tender age at which the young were held to partake of the Lord’s Supper appears from Bugenhagen’s preface to the Danish edition of the Enchiridion of 1538, where he says ‘that, after this confession is made, also the little children of about eight years or less should be admitted to the table of Him who says: ‘Suffer the little children to come to Me.’’ (Bente, Triglotta, p. 82)

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

I am curious. If - with Luther - we have examined to see how children have been instructed in the Faith, and - with Chemnitz - determine that they have been "diligently instructed in the sure and certain teaching of the church's doctrine," and it is evident that the elements of that doctrine are sufficiently grasped - why would we not confirm?

Chemnitz points out that the rite of confirmation was originally connected to the rite of Holy Baptism. In that place, no one in the ancient Church was admitted whom the Church had not confirmed as having been baptized and being together in the same Faith.

Nothing I have read from our Lutheran fathers - or from anyone involved in this discussion - suggests that we would admit to the Table anyone we have not examined to see (and hear) that the elements of the Faith are sufficiently grasped.

Why not confirm?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Pastor Sawyer, I should have realized that the "Rick" being addressed was you, not me. Sorry to interject.

I do appreciate your post and further comments, by the way. We have not dealt sufficiently or seriously enough with the significance and implications of the baptismal rite. As you point out, that rite assumes faith on the part of the candidate for Holy Baptism; not only in the renunciation and confession, but already in the prayer following the opening exorcism.

On Confirmation, you can read what I've written on that on my own blog. The term is used for a wide variety of things, and has been used for rather diverse purposes in the history of the Church. Simply to speak of "confirmation," then, is ambiguous at best. That which originated with the rite of baptism was an anointing with oil following the washing of water and the Word. If that is what is in mind, let's do that with Holy Baptism.

However, in the case of the confirmation rite, such as we have it, I believe these oaths and promises are better suited to an older, not younger, person. In fact, while granting that the renunciations of the baptismal rite are also a very serious oath, I have some qualms about asking a young child, still under the authority, supervision and protection of his father and mother, making the sort of vows on his or her own life that the confirmation rite requires. It is, or should be, in my opinion, a mature adult confession that would better serve at the time a young person is leaving the home, whether for marriage or college, whether at 18 or 21 or whenever.

That's my opinion, but I'm not as worked up over the administration of a man-made rite as I am concerned about the administration of the Body and Blood of Christ.

In my own pastoral practice, I have found that the separation of First Communion from the rite of confirmation has contributed to my emphasis on ongoing catechesis. Of course, there are those who can still view "confirmation" as a "graduation" from catechesis, rather than another step in the lifelong process of catechesis. But my families seem to have understood that the continuation of formal catechesis classes for another four or five (or six) years between First Communion and the rite of confirmation, points to the further continuation of catechesis in the rhythm of the entire Christian life. Thus, for example, it has not been uncommon for the already-confirmed older siblings of my young catechumens to continue attending my catechesis classes. Some parents have similarly taken my suggestion of waiting a year or two longer for the rite of confirmation; so that my confirmands generally range in age from thirteen to sixteen years old.

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

A few historical notes on confirmation: In the west, confirmation derives from a second post-baptismal anointing that was performed originally only in the Roman rite and only by the Bishop of Rome. This was not a ritual that occurred in other major western rites, such as the Mozarabic, Gallican, or Ambrosian. In the early middle ages, as the Roman rite began to spread and influence the other western rites, this second anointing was introduced to locales outside of Rome, to be performed only by the bishop of the diocese. As diocese became larger and bishops could not be present for every baptism, confirmation was delayed and became separated from baptism. However, the witnesses do not indicate that confirmation was a prerequisite for first communion. In some places the neophyte was communed immediately following baptism, regardless of whether he had received confirmation. In other places, first communion might typically be delayed until confirmation, but not in the case of the sick. Those who were ill were communed, even if they had not yet been confirmed. This appears to be the relationship between confirmation and first communion, at least through the eleventh century.

It appears that only with the tying of an age of discretion to confession and communion (thirteenth century) does confirmation come to be seen in the west as a prerequisite for communion.

Paul McCain said...

Hah, sorry, I was directing my question to Sawyer, Rick. Not, Stuckwisch, Rick.

: )

But thanks for the comment Rick S. Wait, that doesn't work either.

Paul McCain said...

The ability to recite doctrine is traceable to Aquinas and is western.
But of course I don't think anyone in this conversation has advocated simply "reciting doctrine." But thanks for that tidbit anyway.

: )

WM Cwirla said...

The exact quote from Aquinas is: "When children begin to have some use of reason, so that they can conceive a devotion toward this Sacrament (the Eucharist), then this Sacrament can be given to them."

My point was that withholding communion from children until they have attained some measure of reason is a 13th century western development to which we are heir. It was not so in the earlier, undivided church.

Paul McCain said...

I find your remark, somewhat reasonable.

Paul McCain said...

But then again, in an undivided church they had weirdos camping out on the top of poles.

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Hey, Paul. Glad we got the "Rick's" straightened out! (Or have we!) :-)

I'm still curious as to why you seem to value the separation of early communion from confirmation.

If we just stick with what you've frequently cited, namely, that our Confessions speak of not giving the Sacrament to those who have not been examined and absolved, who have not been taught the Faith and who cannot at least repeat the elements of the same . . . and if we stick with what Bente gives us regarding Luther's wanting to know who are Christians . . . and Chemnitz's valuing confirmation at the "years of discretion" - I guess I'm unclear why you wouldn't just confirm at the point of admission?

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

I certainly grant what Cwirla has said, and thank him for the observation. We are heirs of a later tendency to withhold Communion until the age of discretion.

I also grant what Grobien has contributed. However, some of this also has to do with that tradition which put confirmation into the hands of the bishop while elevating it to the point of a sacrament. The reason Communion was given at times prior to confirmation was that confirmation could only come by the bishop, but the Lord's Body and Blood were given by the priest. Also, while that may suggest confirmation had risen over the Eucharist as well as over Baptism, I suspect it also testifies that - in times of emergency - even misguided Christians seem to know that the Lord's Body and Blood trump a bishop's hands!

So . . . If I had a four year old dying of cancer and he expressed the desire to have the Supper?

Not that he would, but if he did?

Nah, he probably wouldn't. "Make a Wish" is more likely to put swimming with dolphins before his fading eyes than we are, I'm afraid, the blessed Body and Blood.

So, if the child DIDN'T ask . . .

Would this pastor suggest the Medicine of Immortality to a four year old dying of cancer?

I believe I would be hard pressed not to - considering John 6:54!

Rev. Rick Sawyer said...

Stckw wrote: Pastor Sawyer, I should have realized that the "Rick" being addressed was you, not me. Sorry to interject.Not to worry, brother! We’re just sittin’ around the table with cigars and beers! :-)

Stckw wrote: We have not dealt sufficiently or seriously enough with the significance and implications of the baptismal rite.Agreed! For one, we DO have the same verba used for confirmation already in the Baptismal rite . . .

In the LSB Rite of Confirmation (p. 273), the catechumens are instructed by the rubrics to kneel and receive the confirmation blessing. The pastor places his hands on the head of each catechumen and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead while saying:

(Name), the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life + everlasting.In the LSB Rite of Holy Baptism (p. 271), the pastor places his hands on the head of the newly baptized while saying:

The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life + everlasting.As Chemnitz pointed out, Baptism is the origin of the confirmation, and I am glad we retain it at that point, as indicated above – though I doubt many recognize it as such.

Also, Chemnitz speaks as if confirmation is not limited to a single rite – or even to a rite at all. In that event, why not confirm at Baptism, and at the time we bring people to the Altar, and at a later point – as you’ve indicated – when children reach the age of maturity or emancipation from their parents, as well as when they go to college or get married?

In other words, as catechesis never stops, why should confirmation – not necessarily as a rite but as the ongoing life of the Christian?

Rev. Gifford A. Grobien said...

However, some of this also has to do with that tradition which put confirmation into the hands of the bishop while elevating it to the point of a sacrament. Even more, my point is that confirmation in the west is unique to the Roman tradition. The other rites of the west simply did not have such a thing. This ought to be a significant indication to us regarding the relative unimportance of confirmation.

I know traditions develop and change over time, and one could argue that because we have it we ought to use it.

But whatever the case, if it does operate in some way as admission to the Supper, then we need to be very clear that it is not according to some criteria attained by human effort or maturity, such as the memorization of certain texts, the reaching an age of discretion, or an oath to remain faithful even unto death, and to be very explicit that catechesis continues throughout one's life on this earth.

I see that you are trying to get at this with your suggestion of ongoing confirmation. But what is to keep this from becoming another innovation that will further complicate the issue?