Comes September and classes resume for our young people preparing for confirmation. The strongest Biblical support we have for the concept of confirmation comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:32 as He sends out the Twelve: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven…” In other words, a public confession of faith is crucial in the life of a Christian. We confess Christ, and Christ confesses us before His Father. So confirmation instruction prepares us for a public confession of Christ.
That these words occur as Jesus sends out His disciples is no small thing. The words preceding this verse warn against persecution and fear. For centuries it was the custom for a bishop to slap those he confirmed lightly on the cheek as a sign of the hard days ahead. Most LCMS churches still place the rite at the 8th or 9th grade level. A century ago many “came of age” when they graduated from “grammar school” and already began working at the age of 13 or 14.
Today high school graduation seems a more appropriate sending time for the rite of confirmation. Few churches, though, go with this timing because of tradition and all the interference from high school sports and other activities. I’ve always thought that confirmation instruction could be more impactful if we tied it to senior high youth ministry, making it the substantive content of a high school student’s learning in our churches. Preparation for Communion could happen at an earlier age, as early as fifth grade. Such preparation needs to take in all six chief parts of the Small Catechism and can be accomplished well in a class attended by both students and their parents.
Placing confirmation instruction during high school aligns well with eighteen being the age at which we send our students off to college or work. These are years when being grounded in their faith is so crucial. Studying the Word with a caring adult and valued peers provides a pivotal buffer to the struggles students face in high school. Their public confession of faith at this time of passage can be more fully understood and more powerful in their life story.
That said, most churches will maintain the present timing of preparation for confirmation. My hope is that this preparation will place a high value on the following:
Confirmation offers an incredible opportunity for a pastor to develop a lasting relationship with his catechumens. The pastor should be the primary instructor in confirmation ministry.
The participation of parents in confirmation instruction is crucial.
Scriptural memorization, as difficult as it might be to get it done, still brings one of confirmation ministry’s most lasting benefits.
The six chief parts of the Small Catechism still offer the best structure and vocabulary for learning the Christian faith.
Confirmation instruction is incomplete if it only emphasizes cognitive learning without providing an emphasis on relationship with Christ and with other Christians.
So it begins again, this preparation for being sent and confessing Christ. Pastor and parents, smile at the opportunity you have to ground your student in Christ and His Word. Savor these years. Make the most of them. The mission of Christ is at stake.