[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. -LL]
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 Christâ€™s Body and Blood in Holy Communion. â€œPreparationâ€ 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 Apostlesâ€™ Creed, and the Lordâ€™s Prayer, by being examined and absolved by the pastor (Individual Confession and Absolution), and by verbally expressing their desire to receive Christâ€™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 Christâ€™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 Godâ€™s command. Therefore, it is useful to distinguish these rites from the former, which have Godâ€™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 Lordâ€™s Supper every Lordâ€™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.