Children at the Lord’s Table? (1)

Cornel Venema is friend and gifted Reformed theologian. In his latest book he has tackled a serious problem in the Reformed world that needed to be addressed and he has done so in a thoughtful, thorough, biblical, and confessionally Reformed manner.

Background to the Review

Before we begin the review it will be useful to put the current question in its immediate historical and ecclesiastical context.

Over the last forty years the conservative and confessional Reformed churches (the two groups are not always identical) have been afflicted with a series of movements which reflect what I call the Quest for Illegitimate Certainty (QIRC—on this see RRC). Among these movements have been the theonomic and Christian Reconstruction movements, the Federal Vision movement, and the paedocommunion movement.

Each of these three movements has attracted followers from evangelical fundamentalism into the Reformed sphere and in the NAPARC (sideline) Reformed and Presbyterian churches. They have also stimulated ecclesiastical committees, reports, and controversies. Over the years, most of the NAPARC churches have addressed theonomy (e.g., the the RCUS and PCA have had Synodical and GA reports and most of the NAPARC denominations have rejected the self-described Federal Vision movement. A few have tackled paedocommunion. The Presbyterian Church in America, the largest of the NAPARC bodies, addressed infant communion in a 1998 report. The majority concluded, “It is the thesis of this report that…the main argument [for paedocommunion] is not sustained. The PCA is well advised to continue the classical Reformed practice of delaying the admission of children to the Lord’s Table until they reach a 
level of maturity at which they can profess their faith and partake of the elements with discernment.” We should be grateful that the GA adopted the majority report and recommendation that: “That the PCA continue the practice defined in our standards and administer the Lord’s Supper “only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves.”

About the same time that the PCA addressed this problem, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) received a report containing a majority report which rejected paedocommunion (and two minority reports advocating it). As the OPC site notes, these reports have no constitutional authority but they probably reflect the range of opinion in the OPC.

The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) addressed the doctrine and practice of paedocommunion at Synod in 2004. Synod concluded, “The confessions to which the URCNA subscribe (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort) accurately summarize the teaching of scripture in, for example, 1 Cor 11.24–25; 28. Thus our confessions, in harmony with the scripture, require that the Lord’s Supper be administered only to those who have publicly professed their faith, in the presence of God and His holy church.”

The question of paedocommunion has also been addressed recently by Matthew Winzer, in the Confessional Presbyterian (2007): 27–36.

Nevertheless, the paedocommunion problem persists. There was a minority report in the PCA written by Robert S, Rayburn (pastor of Faith PCA in Tacoma) which argued “That the common opinion of the Reformed church on this matter was and remains ill-considered.” This was essentially an Anabapist argument: the Reformation did not go far enough, it remained unduly influenced by medieval theology and practice. There are other advocates of paedocommunion, many of whom are federal visionists, theonomists, or at least sympathetic to theonomy or the federal vision. A website propounding paedocommunion provides a “Who’s Who” list of paedocommunion advocates which confirms this judgment. It offers the names of 15 proponents several of which are advocates of the FV or the NPP (e.g., James Jordan, Steve Wilkins, N. T. Wright) and many others of which are associated with the theonomic movement either as ought right advocates (e.g. Gary North, R. J. Rushdoony) or as advocates of quasi-theonomic ethic (e.g., G. I. Williamson who wrote essays in the 1980s advocating a sort of quasi-theonomic ethic). A couple of names on the list are a little surprising—Jack Collins (OT Prof at Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the PCA) and William Willimon, a mainline (UMC) Methodist and insightful critic of contemporary Christianity. There are other advocates of paedocommunion, however, who are not listed: Douglas Wilson, the de facto head of the CREC and a Tim Gallant (a graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, who operates a website devoted to paedocommunion), who advocated paedocommunion within the URCNA and whose views were rejected by the URCNA and who has since left for the Christian Reformed Church. The move by the CRCNA in 1995 to open the door to paedocommunion—recently ratified at synod—was overlooked in the furor over women in office, but the admission of infants to the Lord’s Table is arguably as significant a sign of the inroads of fundamentalism and evangelicalism into the CRCNA as the admission to women to presbyterial and ministerial office is a sign of liberalism.

As a matter of logic the fact that the primary and most vociferous proponents of infant communion are advocates of, associated with, or tolerant of aberrant movements such as the Federal Vision and theonomy does not, in itself, prove that paedocommunion is wrong. The provenance of the doctrine, however, is relevant for understanding its impetus and its adoption in segments of the Reformed world. In my experience since 1980, many of those who are attracted to paedocommunion are recent converts to the Reformed faith from fundamentalism.

It is also worth noting that it is beyond doubt and admitted by all intelligent proponents of paedocommunion that the Reformed Churches do not and never have confessed paedocommunion. It is a fact that the Reformed Churches were aware of the theology and practice of paedocommunion as they formed their confession and practice of the Supper. As we begin the survey of Venema’s book, we should understand that the questions are really these: “Have the Reformed Churches been fundamentally wrong about the nature of holy communion and the relations between the sacraments of baptism and the Suppper since the early 16th century?”

I realize that this is a prejudicial way of stating the question. That is intentional. On matters indifferent to the being or safety of the churches we may be dispassionate and open-minded but on matters touching the being or essential theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed Churches we should be more than careful. We should be aggressively defensive of the Reformed confession. At ordination, Reformed ministers vow to take such a stance toward the confession. It may be that our confession is wrong. We confess the primary and unique authority of holy Scripture and thus our confession is subject to revision, but when the Donatists, Novatians, Valentinians, or more recently, the Anabaptists, or the Federal Visionists come knocking, we have every right to place the burden of proof squarely where it belongs (upon their shoulders) and to demand that they meet the highest standard of evidence and to exercise the greatest caution about their proposals. In the case that, in the NAPARC world at least, the theology and practice of paedocommunion usually comes wrapped in a theonomic or federal visionist bundle should also make us abundantly hesitant about it.

Part 2

33 comments

  1. 1) Do we have a list of those “fundamentalists” who practice paedocommunion? I am familiar only with a few Baptist denominations who do not allow children at their table until they’ve at least reached an age where they have been credobaptised. From which evangelical sources, then, are these recent members of Reformed churches coming, by and large (just curious)?

    2) Both Lutheran and Reformed churches observe the Lord’s Supper as sacramental (well, the Romans, too for that matter, I guess) even though they disagree over the manner in which the elements are received (by mouth or by faith), whereas Baptists and many other evangelicals view the meal as merely a memorial ordinance. Yet, some of these evangelicals do not practice paedocommunion, chiefly for the reason mentioned above. Apparently, the difference is that some of them agree with us on the basis that the communicant be at an age where self-examination is possible. Therefore, those coming into Reformed congregations must not have belonged to this latter group and must being coming from other evangelical denominations, which ever ones those might be.

    • Hi George,

      I didn’t write that paedocommunion is a fundamentalist doctrine but that it is often embraced and taught by ex-fundamentalists coming into Reformed Churches. The connection, as I see it, is that the ex-fundamentalists still have an essentially Baptistic view whereby they conflate the sign of initiation with the sign of renewal. In the Baptist practice, Baptism becomes not the sign of initiation (that’s often the altar call) but the sign of confirmation. Now, when the fundamentalist/Baptist becomes “Reformed” he continues conflating the two but switches horses so that now the Supper is turned into the sign of initiation.

      In both cases the signs of initiation and confirmation are conflated. The reason is that the fundamentalist cannot live with the tension created by a generally administered sign of initiation, which may not come to fruition immediately or ever, and the sign of confirmation. So, the Baptist resolves the tension by conflating them into a sign of renewal (over-realized eschatology) and the paedocommunionist resolves the tension by conflating them into the sign of initiation. In the latter case, it’s often accompanied by the FV confusion of the sign with the thing signified in baptism (baptismal regeneration or more precisely, a conditional baptismal election and union with Christ etc) which then becomes the ground for paedocommunion. In the PC scheme, the supper is not the sign of renewal and confirmation but the sign of initiation. The great cry of the paedocommunionist is that the infant is a member of the covenant community and all members of the covenant community have a right to the supper. Further, the FV-influenced advocates of PC also tend to reject or downplay the distinction between the internal and external aspects of or relations to the covenant of grace. On that see this booklet:

      http://www.wscal.edu/bookstore/store/details.php?id=1341

  2. Somewhat off topic, but not really…

    Dr. Clark, I appreciate your thorough reviews, and especially since you are a professor of historical theology I was wondering if at some point you might consider reviewing Rufus and Alexander.

    You may be familiar with the work; it is a “Session Church” defense of close / confessional communion.
    I was thinking it would serve as a good spring board for your writing a contemporary defense of quia “every-member” subscription.

    I hope you give both such a review and writing a book (or at least a substantial essay) some consideration.
    If I am ever able to study for a degree at WScal, I’d write a thesis on this topic (DV).

  3. I really don’t understand why paedocommunion is such an issue for the Reformed. It’s quite simple really:

    1Cor 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

    How a child can “discern the body” is beyond me. It just makes sense to require a profession of faith first.

    These people claim to be holding up the importance of children as members of the church, and that’s to be commended, but in this they are ironically allowing children to ignorantly “eat and drink judgment”. How is that caring for the children?

    I don’t get it at all.

  4. How Pentecostals view it, however, I do get.

    Pentecostals view baptism as fundamentally the opposite of the Reformed.

    For the Reformed, God speaks in baptism to the one being baptized, saying, “If you believe, you will be saved.”

    For Pentecostals, the one being baptized is speaking to God, saying, “I promise to obey you; behold, here I am publicly obeying your command to be baptized.”

    I am quite serious. I do not speak as an outside observer.

    As for communion, they use it almost like a catechism for young children. They use communion as a teaching tool. At least, that’s what parents do with it.

    As for the Pentecostal church itself, well, it’s another opportunity to beat you over the head with the law. I remember growing up as a Pentecostal, absolutely DREADING the first Sunday of the month. That was when I was REALLY confronted with my sin in the most uncomfortable way. I was terrified of having unconfessed sins charged against me. I tried to confess all my sins, but I was taught that if I was still guilty for whatever sin I had not confessed.

    And when it came to the Lord’s Supper, if I had unconfessed sins, then I was eating and drinking damnation. OH I hated it! I hated it every single time with a passionate hatred! But the Lord commanded us to take the Lord’s Supper, so I had no choice but to confess what sins I could think of and eat of the table.

    So for the Pentecostals, the Lord’s Supper is neither a means of grace nor a mere memorial. It’s more like having a gun pointed at your head that cannot just take your life, but has the power to damn you eternally.

    And I think quite a bit of these ways of understanding the sacraments is present in Evangelical Churches, particularly the Arminian Churches. The Reformed are by no means immune to them at all. I don’t really know for sure, but I’ve heard other people relate similar experiences.

    So why would the Federal Vision folks have a screwy view of communion? I don’t know, but might it have something to do with the fact that they’ve distorted the gospel and they think communion is really just a threatening with the law? If they, at the same time, see baptism as “regenerating” (which really isn’t regeneration at all because it can be undone), wouldn’t they want the regenerate to be confronted with the law like everyone else?

    No one will convince me that there’s anything more glamorous or sophisticated going on than this.

  5. Echo,

    How a child can “discern the body” is beyond me. It just makes sense to require a profession of faith first.

    It does to me as well. But a child can discern the body (i.e. have true faith). The error of paedocommunion isn’t that a child is allowed to the table but that an ignorant one is. I find that my fellow credo-communionists seem to think that being a child somehow means there is no ability to have true faith. But this can only come from the assumption that children aren’t quite as human as the rest of us, which I find pretty odd at best and really objectionable at worst.

    Granted, in the ordinary course of things most children need to simply grow into their knowledge of Christ; and there is a lot to be said for a slow maturing and growing into a thing (something PCs overlook to some peril, I think). In point of fact, most adults could stand three years as a catechumen first(!). I have no trouble meeting a child at the rail because s/he is a child, but only if s/he comes in ignorance, same for any adult.

    I suspect what many CCers mean by “discern the body” can tend toward an intellectualism most adults couldn’t pass. I know I couldn’t. But intellectualism is at least as much a danger as abiding ignorance, no?

  6. Echo, Zrim, and others,

    As I understand it, one pedocommunionist argument goes basically like this:
    Just as pedobaptists believe that “repent and be baptized” is not a command in terms of sequence for those who are already (by virtue of inclusion in covenant households, such as children of believers) part of the covenant community. That is, we understand “repent and be baptized” does not mean “don’t baptize anyone before they articulate (or unless they presently do verbalize) credible gospel repentance”…

    But rather, we understand that “repent and be baptized” applies to covenant children in the way that insofar as they are capable at any point, they must be repentant of sin in keeping with the sign of their baptism…

    So also, mutatis mutandis, the requirement to examine oneself and discern the body applies to those already in the covenant community insofar as they have that capability. As a child can “take and eat” they should do so, and as they are increasingly able to understand and express self-examination and the discernment of Christ’s body along with their eating&drinking… then they are simply nurtured in that understanding and articulation.

    Anyway, there is a solution to your expressed befuddlement and incredulity. You can familiarize yourself with their arguments:
    http://www.paedocommunion.com/articles/gallant_examination_and_remembrance.php
    And there are more at that site, and linked there. I don’t find their arguments persuasive, but I’ve taken the time to find out what those arguments are.

  7. You said: “It is also worth noting that it is beyond doubt and admitted by all intelligent proponents of paedocommunion that the Reformed Churches do not and never have confessed paedocommunion. It is a fact that the Reformed Churches were aware of the theology and practice of paedocommunion as they formed their confession and practice of the Supper. As we begin the survey of Venema’s book, we should understand that the questions are really these: “Have the Reformed Churches been fundamentally wrong about the nature of holy communion and the relations between the sacraments of baptism and the Supper since the early 16th century?””

    In one of the churches I attended they pray the “sinners prayer” with children and then allow all the children above the third grade to have communion. Only problem there was not enough help so all the kids were there and they handed out the emblems to all the kids. My wife went down stairs (in the childrens church) and saw this before my 4 year old could partake.

    My question is should there not be a “fence” around the Lord’s table? Or it is alright my child partakes of communion at 4 years old?

    • Hi Stephen,

      The scenario you describe is not “infant communion” (where 3-month-olds commune) but it is a very young age to admit children to communion. I don’t believe that the historical practice of the Reformed Churches is to allow such young children to commune.

      Theologically and practically, it seems confused. It’s probably grounded in a misunderstanding in the nature of the Supper. If the Supper is a covenant renewal and participation in the body of Christ (the recent White Horse Inn broadcast on Word and Sacrament Ministry was very helpful on this — it’s online. I linked it on the HB just the other day) then the question is whether young children are ready to participate. Do they understand that, in the Supper, believers eat the body and blood of Christ? Are they able to make a credible profession of faith? Do they have the understanding required in 1 Cor 11? Do they understand the nature of a covenant renewal ceremony? Is it wise to allow such young children to implicate themselves and others in such a holy mystery? (1 Cor 11)?

      Yes, there should be a fence, as it were, around the table or at least the elders should “fence” the table. Reformed practice is that children should learn the catechism and make profession of faith before the congregation (in the 16th century) and elders (more common now) before coming to the table. I doubt many 4-year-olds have learned the catechism.

      I take it that this was happening in “children’s church”? That dubious institution has problems all its own!

    • Prof. Clark,

      You ask: [a] Do they understand that, in the Supper, believers eat the body and blood of Christ? [b] Are they able to make a credible profession of faith? [c] Do they have the understanding required in 1 Cor 11? [d] Do they understand the nature of a covenant renewal ceremony?

      1stly, All of the questions could be used to preclude most adults from partaking of the sacrament.

      2ndly, I am not convinced that a, b,and d are sufficient to exclude children from Holy Communion. This is linked with,

      3rdly, The whole debate really centres around 1 Cor. 11 and what this means, in [c] you raise the issue of understanding, but what is it that needs to be understood? This becomes ever more important when we know that some biblical injunctions are not directed to children, so “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)

    • Prof. Clark,

      The last church I attended was in a run down are in the N.E. of England where a large number of people with special needs were housed. Some attended our congregation where they professed faith but couldn’t communicate that very well and we celebrated weekly communion which again they knew was special but ask them to explain what goes on, well you would have to be from another planet if you expect them to articulate a well thoughout position. I started attending this congregation after I left the Plymouth Brethren which, I am sure you know, practice closed communion. Again, at this assembly work was done with drug addicts etc who later professed faith but would not have been able to expound the Heidelberg Catechism’s teaching on the sacrament of Holy Communion.

      If you wish to practice “fencing adults from the table who do not understand what is happening” then that is up to you, but I am concerned that this may have disasterous pastoral consequences.

      You may be interested in this article.

      My favourite Communion hymn:

      Bread of heaven, on thee I feed,
      for thy flesh is meat indeed:
      ever may my soul be fed
      with this true and living bread;
      day by day with strength supplied
      through the life of him who died.

      Vine of heaven, thy blood supplies
      this blest cup of sacrifice:
      ’tis thy wounds my healing give;
      to thy cross I look and live:
      thou my life, oh let me be
      rooted, grafted, built on thee!

      – Josiah Conder

  8. Richard,

    Wouldn’t it help to distinguish between children and adults and between those adults who can but who do not yet understand the supper and those special needs adults who cannot understand?

    The Reformed Churches have historically allowed special needs adults at the Lord’s Table. That is not an opening, however, for infants nor is it an opening for those who have the capacity to understand but who are not yet ready.

    No, it is not up to me. This was a decision made by the Synod of Dort in 1619, to which we adhere at OURC. It was a decision made by our consistory, we trust, in obedience to God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed Churches.

    • Prof. Clark,

      Wouldn’t it help to distinguish between children and adults and between those adults who can but who do not yet understand the supper and those special needs adults who cannot understand?

      Those are certainly valid distinctions, but what do you mean by “understand the supper”? What forms the content of that understanding? Further, how does the minister determine whether person x has attained the appropriate level of understanding?

      As I am planning on buying Venema’s book when it’s available in the UK, if he deals with these issues then don’t worry too much about these questions.

      The Reformed Churches have historically allowed special needs adults at the Lord’s Table. That is not an opening, however, for infants nor is it an opening for those who have the capacity to understand but who are not yet ready.

      Infants aside; I do worry that such an approach sets up extra-biblical guards of the Table. As I understand it, if person x believes in Christ for salvation then he is welcome at the Table and the minister does not have the authority to exclude them from the Supper based upon what they do or do not understand about the Supper. Obviously there should be teaching on the Supper but I don’t see a biblical warrant for excluding professors from the Table unless they live openly sinful lives without repentance.

      With regards to children; if they can have faith and faith is the precondition for partaking the Supper then I can’t see a reason for excluding them. If a special needs adult can partake with a lower level of understanding then why not a child who like such a special needs adult has a lower level awareness of what is going on?

      No, it is not up to me. This was a decision made by the Synod of Dort in 1619, to which we adhere at OURC. It was a decision made by our consistory, we trust, in obedience to God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed Churches.

      My apologies, I meant your denomination not you personally.

      I am still thinking this all through, within the CofE we have voices on both sides, and yes there are Reformed men in the CofE, not many but some! e.g. The Fellowship of Word and Spirit and Church Society.

  9. Very interesting. Anybody interested in this book might want to check out this interview with Venema about it. (Did I pick up that link from here? I can’t remember)

    A few questions:

    Reformed practice is that children should learn the catechism and make profession of faith before the congregation (in the 16th century) and elders (more common now) before coming to the table. I doubt many 4-year-olds have learned the catechism.

    (a) I’d be very interested to learn the typical (and marginal) age-span of new communicants among various reformed communities (and even congregations). For instance, I’ve heard a rumor that you can’t commune in the CRC until you’re 18!

    (b) historical reformed practice aside (I know that’s heretical around here!), isn’t “discern the body” somewhat less than “learn the whole catechism”? i.e. it does seem to me that a 4-year old could have a credible understanding of their sin, and justification sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus.

    (c) Back to historical practice, I’d be interested in hearing more about the shift from fully public profession of faith (to the congregation), to mostly private profession (to the elders). How/when did that shift occur?

    • Rube,

      My children came to the table at about ages 11-13. If we begin catechizing our children when we should, c. age 5, then they could be finished easily by age 8! It takes no more than 3 years to learn the HC or the WSC. Some CRCs have traditionally postponed communion too long, tying it to congregational voting etc but this is a relatively modern trend I think. It certainly wasn’t 16th and 17th century praxis. Calvin thought that children should be ready to come to the table by age 10.

      I think that “discern the body” is a loaded phrase. Here are some thoughts from an earlier post and from Calvin’s Short Treatise.

      From a biblical-theological perspective, it takes considerable perception and maturity to appreciate sufficiently what it means to “this is my body,” and what it means to eat the “proper” and “natural” body and blood by the operation of the Spirit.

      From the pov of human development, not on the basis of new-fangled theories, but on the basis of the ancient “parrot, pert, poet” model, children aren’t ready to appreciate the transcendent realities embedded in the Supper until they reach the ‘poet” stage of development. That may occur at different points for different people but it probably doesn’t occur in most people before age 8 or 9.

    • Do you mean ‘pert’? A rough correspondence of grammar, logic, rhetoric with elementary, middle, high school would put rhetoric=poet much later than 8 or 9.

    • No, I meant poet.

      I wouldn’t make that correspondence. In my experience, people go through these stages at different times. Some children may enter the pert (analytical) stage earlier than others. They may enter the poet stage earlier than others. I think of the poet stage beginning around 12-14. It might be earlier, it might be later. I’m more interested in the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual development of the child than I am the child’s age.

  10. As to the shift from public profession (reciting the catechism in response to questions from the pastor) to private, I don’t know. I <guess it occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries. OTOH, in the more conservative German Reformed congregations (RCUS) the practice of reciting the catechism continues to this day. I don’t know if the practice was restored or if it was unbroken. Tracking down the history of practice is sometimes quite difficult, especially in immigrant groups because it involves travel, expense, multiple languages and time periods. Groups don’t always record shifts in practice and it sometimes happens over long-ish periods and is thus unnoticed.

  11. This discussion prompted me to do some digging through my files of “things collected” over the years. Some time back I came across a short document entitled “History and Understanding of Catechetical, Instruction, Holy Communion, and Confirmation” in an LCMS congregation. Although it contains no author or date of composition it contains numerous claims about the history of the practice of confirmation (in German Lutheran church, at least) and the subsequent introduction of confirmands to the Lord’s Supper.

    The document includes the following:

    “…The facts about Luther’s practice of catechetical instruction are listed below:

    1) Luther did very little to encourage an evangelical type of confirmation
    2) Luther was, indeed, very concerned with the need for catechetical instruction
    3) He, as the scriptures teach, saw that faith is kept alive through the Word
    4) He saw the child needing instruction – what we are unable to do at Baptism – and that the child might receive the sacrament of Holy Communion in a “worthy manner”
    5) Luther’s emphasis on instruction and continued growth in the faith began to link confirmation not only with Baptism, but also with the Lord’s Supper
    6) Luther emphasized the biblical focus on “that we may know Him”
    7) Luther still expected children and adults to continue in their studies in the Word even after they were admitted to the Lord’s Supper…”

    The document goes on to explain that the primary motivation for catechetical instruction was the “general ignorance (at the time) concerning the Bible and the need to prepare for Holy Communion.” This “ignorance” of the scriptures referred to the general populace – only the priests and a “few educated people” knew how the read the scriptures (in Latin) and even priests were very ignorant of the scriptures, but were just “going through the motions” (of what they had been indoctrinated with).

    The development of “confirmation,” as it came to be known followed “no uniform pattern…most Lutherans wanting nothing to do with [the confirmation of the Roman church]. Six general types of confirmation were developed: Catechetical, traditional, hierarchical, sacramental, pietistic, and rationalistic. The first 4 appeared in the late 16th century and the last two in the 17th and 18th century [following the leading philosophical influences of the times].

    Quoting, “…It was not until the 18th century that the rite of confirmation grew in importance. This was partly due to the movement called “Rationalism.” Many in the Reformed and Lutheran circles began to regard confirmation as the second half of Baptism, thus elevating confirmation equal to Baptism (history repeating itself?)….some people believed that ‘Confirmation is more important, because now the individual [student] has something to say’ …they believed that Baptism made you a member of the Christian church and confirmation determined your affiliation with a particular denomination or congregation. Thus, confirmation became known as “The Great Festival of Youth…”

    Continuing, “…Confirmation and catechetical instruction slowly became more systematized…it became part of the “social structure” in Germany [and became] synonymous for [the] graduation 8th of grade children….confirmation, in their minds, often meant an end to schooling in the faith…in 19th century America, Lutheran children were confirmed between the ages of 13-14, as in Germany…”

    Personally, I have come to have mixed emotions about this practice of catechesis: On the one hand, there is a definite need for children to be instructed in the Church’s confessions of faith (Luther’s Small Catechism or the HC in the Reformed) so they won’t be approaching the Lord’s Supper in ignorance, “failing to recognize the body,” as has been pointed out by other blog respondents. But I used to teach 7th and 8th grade Sunday school at one time and I witnessed what appeared to be a “rite of passage” mind-set regarding confirmation and a child’s first admission to the Lord’s table (particularly on the part of the parents), many of whom I never saw in church again.

    There is neither a Biblical nor a true Lutheran tradition of catechetical instruction or confirmation; its structure is not founded either in the early church or in the Reformation; it is a relatively new practice in the general scheme of things. Certainly Luther’s concern (and I assume Calvin’s) that the child be instructed well enough in the Gospel to recognize the body at the Lord’s Supper, but everything else about confirmation is simply (and to some extent, sadly) and evolution and development of a process in the post-Reformation church.

    Moreover, Luther’s concern about “continued post-confirmation studies in the Word” are often never realized. Underscoring this need for continuing Christian education into adulthood, the LCMS’s first president, C.F.W. Walther, mad the following remark about the Lutheran Confessions,

    “…The Book of Concord should be in every Lutheran home. For that reason [our church] should provide a good, inexpensive copy, and pastors should see to it that every home has one… If a person isn’t familiar with this book, he’ll think, ‘That old book is just for pastors. I don’t have to preach. After [working] all day, I can’t sit down and study in the evening. If I read my morning and evening devotions, that’s enough.’ No, that’s not enough! The Lord doesn’t want us to remain children, who are blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine; instead of that, He wants us to grow in knowledge so that we can teach others…” (Essays for the Church, vol. 2 [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992, p. 51).

    What was true for Walther in the 19th century is true for us in the 21st, but we have grown lazy and languished in our dedication to study. As in the Confessional Reformed churches there are movements in some Lutheran synods to recapture some of this fervor, but it’s a slow, up-hill process.

    (sorry for being long-winded)

    “…

    • Hi George,

      I appreciate this.

      When I say “confirmation,” I’m not using in the sense that it is used above in your post. The Reformed history of catechesis, though linked to Luther’s concerns (as we’re organically linked to Luther as a matter of history and doctrine in many ways) nevertheless is structured by a a covenantal conception of God’s relations to his people. I used the word “confirmation” to denote “covenant renewal.” In our theology (i.e. our understanding of the history of redemption and biblical revelation) baptism is the sign/seal of initiation into the visible covenant community and communion is the sign/seal of covenant renewal and personal appropriation of those promises made at baptism.

    • Scott –

      Yes, thanks, I’m gradually becoming more aware of the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed views of catechetical instruction, though I thought the aforementioned bit of background behind the Lutheran practice might be of interest to some.

      I’m still trying to process the entirer concept of “covenant theology,” but I am making gradual progress. As you say, I can see similarities to Lutheran practices…in a round about way, but there are certainly differences, as well.

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