For those of you who were confirmed in the Lutheran Church when you were children, or even when you were adults, that was one day of your life you will never forget!
The rite or ceremony of confirmation is as old as the Christian church itself. Going all the way back to the time of the first century believers, confirmation was part of the baptism ceremony. Whole families and entire groups of people were being brought into the church, not just children and babies but many adults. Their baptisms would be held on the evening before Easter. They would then be “confirmed” with holy water, prayers, the sign of the cross and the laying on of hands. On Easter morning these newly baptized and confirmed Christians would receive their first communion.
As the Christian church grew and became more established throughout the Roman Empire and Europe, fewer adults were being baptized than children. Christian parents brought their babies to the Savior’s waiting arms in this sacrament. With more infant baptisms, confirmation became a separate rite or ceremony. Sad to say, the idea gradually emerged that confirmation was a complement to baptism. By the Middle Ages confirmation was greatly desired because people thought it actually bestowed the Holy Spirit. Later confirmation was even considered necessary for salvation, and was made one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church.
When Luther reformed the church, he didn’t change everything, but only those things which were contrary to God’s Word and detracted from the Gospel. One thing he abolished was the Roman Catholic sacrament of confirmation. He called it “monkey business,” “a fraud,” and “humbug.” The reason Luther did this was that confirmation did not meet the scriptural guidelines for a sacrament.
What is it that makes something a sacrament? From your own days in confirmation class you remember that it had to be instituted by Christ. It has to have a visible means — like the water in baptism, or the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. It has to bestow the forgiveness of sins. Confirmation met none of these criteria.
Yet Luther was vitally concerned about the instruction of the young in the basic truths of Scripture. So he wrote his Small Catechism, which we still use today as we teach our children the love of the Savior and the truths of the Bible. Originally this book was to be used by fathers in the home — 16th century “home-schooling.” With his catechism Luther wanted to make sure that Christian young people knew what their baptism was all about, and that they were properly prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper.
After Luther died, most Lutherans wanted nothing to do with confirmation. As far as they were concerned the very word itself was Roman Catholic! Yet a great need was recognized for the instruction of the young, especially regarding the Lord’s Supper. So a new type of confirmation developed, though it was in no way uniform. There were actually six types of confirmation practiced from Norway to Finland to Germany to the New World.
When it comes to confirmation today, the following must be rejected: any view that gives the impression that baptism is not complete in itself; any idea that the covenant God made with us in baptism needs to be renewed later in life; any idea which suggests that baptism does not produce the faith that brings one fully into the membership of the holy Christian Church; and any view that sees the laying on of hands as having some spiritual value.
Our Practice Today
So what does confirmation mean for us today? There are three essential elements:
First, our children are instructed in the gospel of Christ and the truths of Holy Scripture by studying Luther’s Small Catechism. They learn the great biblical truths of sin and Christ’s salvation from sin. They learn how to live a God- pleasing Christian life in response to God’s love. They are prepared to receive the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. But this instruction is merely a complement to the ongoing instruction that should have been taking place all along in the home. It is a complement to what has been taught throughout the children’s earlier years in Sunday School and Christian Day School.
Secondly, our children profess their faith through the promises they make. In many of our churches we still have an examination of the confirmands in a service before confirmation itself. They sit in the front of the church and are questioned by the pastor. Sometimes the confirmands read a confession of faith that they have written. The confirmands then confess their faith before the altar, promising to remain faithful to their faithful Lord.
The third element in confirmation today is that prayers are offered for them by their fellow believers. We pray that the Holy Spirit will keep our young people faithful to their faithful God and Savior till their dying day.
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Confirmation should be a very special time for everyone. We pray that God would keep all of us faithful to Him and His Word until that day when we shall sing His praises together in heaven.
— Pastor Stephen Kurtzahn