Confirmation – More Than a ‘Graduation’
by Marvin Bergman
Perhaps a brief overview of confirmation can help to clarify its role in the life of the church. In the early church, when adults were the center of its outreach, the church developed a “catechumenate.” Though the catechumenate took many forms, the content was a confession of faith, instruction in the Word of God, Baptism, anointing with oil, laying on of hands, and Holy Communion.
In the fifth century, leaders of Western churches began to describe a bishop’s anointing of a priest with oil and the laying on of hands as a confirmation. Then, the initiation rites of those churches were divided into three separate parts: Baptism, confirmation, and first Communion. The claim made by the church in the Middle Ages was that the grace of God was given in Baptism for the remission of sins, while the anointing of oil and the laying on of hands in confirmation resulted in a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit which provided strength for daily living. Confirmation became one of the seven sacraments of the church in 1150.
The Middle Age practice of confirmation became a target of Luther’s Reformation. He was amazed that the laying on of hands and anointing were called a sacrament, since neither was commanded by Christ nor ever endorsed as a channel of God’s grace. Luther’s focus was instruction in the Word of God, and he preached sermons on the key teachings of the Scriptures. He then wrote the Small and Large Catechisms for parents and pastors.
Today in the LCMS, some 99 percent of the congregations offer the rite of confirmation. The aim remains the same as the early churches: to answer Christ’s call to go to the nations and make disciples by baptizing and teaching. In our society, outreach among children, youth, and their parents presents meaning opportunities to connect with the non-connected.